Cover Story: Susan Isaacs: The Insider Interview
After 35 years of writing novels—not just novels, mind you: bestsellers—Susan Isaacs has a very clear understanding of how the book publishing industry works. Her take on the business from the perspective of a prolific author (13 novels and one book of nonfiction) offers unique insight into how and why things are changing.
Isaacs loves to tell the story of how her first book came to be published in the late 1970s. A former editor of Seventeen magazine and a freelance political speechwriter, she was home with young children and living in Long Island. "I wrote a mystery. It was the usual [situation of] reading too many mysteries and then saying, 'I think I can do this.'" A school acquaintance of her husband's was managing editor of Simon & Schuster and offered to read the book. He liked it, and told Isaacs, "You don't expect friends to write a good book!"
This contact introduced Isaacs to her first agent, "a wonderful woman named Gloria Safier," who told her, "I really like this book. Go home to your typewriter where you belong and I'll sell it." Although Isaacs did not learn the next part of the story until much later, the book was turned down by a number of houses citing reasons along the lines of: "Not even Long Island housewives want to read about Long Island housewives." How wrong they were!
Times Books, which was then still owned by The New York Times, bought the manuscript, although at the time they did not seem like a particularly natural fit. According to Isaacs,"They hadn't published fiction before. They were known for boring books. They did books on Lithuanian saints—stuff like that."