What are some upcoming trends?
When I agreed to do this, I took a look at some of your previous interviews and was pleased to see that most everyone was as grumpy about this question as I’m going to be. Trends can be useful but they aren’t very inspiring. Instead, I’ll name an unlikely trend I personally would like to see. This is publicity-specific, but I would love to see more major broadcast opportunities go to female authors who are not in showbiz—more scientists, historians, novelists, poets, businesswomen, activists. So many of these crucial opportunities go to actresses. Too many, in my opinion.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I sometimes use my work reading almost as a night school. I enjoy working on nonfiction that challenges me intellectually or teaches me something about the world, particularly when told from an insider’s perspective or a faraway place—though of course fiction, too, can do this. I learned more than I expect the average person knows about peat bogs, for example, from working on the Scottish mystery writer Peter May’s novels. And now I’m learning about peatlands again—protecting them as a strategy for carbon emissions reduction—while working on Paul Hawken’s Drawdown. I guess what I’m trying to say is get in touch with me about bog books.
Also, though, a biography of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson written by [New Yorker staff writer] D.T. Max or [GQ writer/editor] Caity Weaver—those are my draft picks for a project very close to my heart.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
Sometimes the books you want to win the prizes don’t. Sometimes you see a book climb the charts and trample 100 better books in its path and think “ugh, really?” But at a safe distance, I love them all. Particularly Ghost Cats of the South (2008) by Randy Russell.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I work on titles from the Viking, Penguin Books, and Penguin Classics imprints, so I get to do a little bit of (almost) everything. Right now, I’m working on a book of poetry criticism, a debut novel, a single-volume history of Europe in the 19th century, a self-help book by a Buddhist monk, a cultural history of American ghost stories, a novel about gay soldiers fighting in the Civil War, a guide for the general reader to the current big unknowns in science, and a bunch of other things that have nothing to do with each other.
The strength of the Penguin backlist allows the editors to take some chances with the Penguin Originals, and I’m always particularly excited to work on those books. [VP and publisher] Elda Rotor and her team are doing some amazing things with the Classics list.
Olivia Taussig is a publicist with Viking and Penguin Books.