What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
My biggest publishing successes have come when I didn’t follow trends; my biggest flops have come when I chased a trend I had no business getting involved with. When I was first publishing David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004), a number of people told me readers wouldn’t tolerate the unconventional narrative structure. I ignored them because I knew this was a great work by an original talent. That’s why I tend to be on the lookout more for talent than for trends. That doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to the landscape, but as an editor, I work in a very book-by-book, writer-by-writer manner.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m always looking for the same thing: a unique talent telling a compelling story in an original way. More specifically, right now I’m especially (but not exclusively) looking for a few categories: 1) the next generation of literary superstars; 2) spy and crime fiction with sharp prose and complex characters, especially by and/or about women; 3) history, biography and narrative nonfiction by original scholar-writers who are also masterful storytellers. These are hard to find, but I love looking for them.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I find it hard to read about animals suffering. Last year, I read too many literary novels with animals suffering in the opening scenes.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I don’t know if this is unique, but in my corner—let’s call it a sphere or a realm, not a corner, which sounds very dead-end-y—independent bookstores remain vital to what I do. I publish mostly literary fiction, history, memoirs, biographies and current affairs. The indies continue to be among the earliest, most fervent champions for many of my writers. When I published Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son in 2012, dozens of indie booksellers read it early and took it on as a personal mission. I wouldn’t know how to do my job without them.
David Ebershoff is the vice president and executive editor at Random House. He works with a wide range of award-winning and best-selling writers, including David Mitchell, Gary Shteyngart, Teju Cole, Diane Keaton, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He edited the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for 2013 in both fiction and history, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson and Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall. The author of three novels, including, most recently, The 19th Wife, Ebershoff also teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.