A few days ago (I’m writing this in early July), Len Leone died at the age of 92. Len was Art Director at Bantam Books for more than thirty years, and he was the first art director I ever worked with. Len was responsible for many of the classic paperback covers of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and he was still playing at the top of his game when he retired. In the paperback book business, he was a true force of nature.
Len wasn’t a mentor. In fact, I think he thought I was a horse’s ass. The most important thing that Len ever did for me was, when I took over the science fiction program, he hooked me up with a junior person in Bantam’s art department named Jamie Warren. Jamie and I formed one of the greatest collaborative relationships I’ve ever had in publishing, and she’s probably more responsible for Bantam Spectra’s success than I was. That was the most important thing Len did for me. However, the best thing Len did for me was to exemplify an ideal. Len was a Real ProTM.
If you’ve been reading the columns I’ve been writing this year, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing a great deal. In the midst of the huge current upheaval in the book business, it’s easy – and right – to focus on innovation and new opportunities. I suppose I should be writing about those as well (maybe next column), but I also feel that in many ways that territory is well covered (thank you, Mike Shatzkin, Kris Rusch, and others). What I feel compelled to focus on now is what I see as the critical need for our business to aspire to the highest standards as it evolves. I think it’s critical that we appreciate the difference between the Real ProTM and someone who can simply get the job done.
To me, a Real ProTM (by the way, the trademark thing is an affectation here used for dramatic effect; as far as I know there’s no actual trademark on this term) is someone who takes his or her profession very seriously, who studies the history of his or her profession, admires the best practitioners of his or her profession, and is invested in improving the profession. One of the things that struck me about the early cover meetings I attended at Bantam was that Len was deeply versed in book packaging. He was of course extensively trained in design and composition, but that was a small part of what made him so effective. He was also fully aware of everything the competition was doing (I walked into his office multiple times to see him perusing competitors’ sales kits with his staff), an admirer of the great covers in the history of paperbacks, and seemingly aware of the work of every skilled cover illustrator. So many of his cover meetings happened in shorthand version. “I’m thinking a dramatic landscape,” the editor would say. “Something Bama-esque?” Len would ask. “That would be great,” the editor would respond. End of conversation. Six weeks or so later, there would be a fabulous cover with a dramatic landscape painted by someone inspired by James Bama.
A Real ProTM doesn’t need to be an Old ProTM. When I was casting about for copyeditors to volunteer their skills to Ninc’s new anthology, I Never Thought I’d See You Again, one of our members put me in touch with her daughter, who she said was a copyeditor and was willing to help. Needing all the help we could get, I gave her one of the stories. When I got the copyedited manuscript back, I realized that this member’s daughter wasn’t just a copyeditor; she was a Real ProTM. She didn’t just follow the Chicago Manual of Style (or simply fly by the seat of her pants, as many copyeditors seem to be doing now). She understood the nuance of the author’s style and only suggested changes that complemented that style. She hasn’t been doing this for a long time, but she’s studied the craft, she does things the right way, and she clearly wants to get better at what she’s doing. Continued on page 15