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Seneca


STUART ROBERTS


Building new audiences
through books is one of the most thrilling parts of my work.

Stuart Roberts, 2022 AD

Seneca

Stuart wears the Aero Half Zip in Navy

The editor of New York Times bestsellers by Gucci Mane, Lana Del Rey, Logic, and others discusses his journey from Kansas to Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster in New York.

All words by Stuart Roberts in conversation with Seneca.

I WAS 17 OR SO AND HAD THE AHA MOMENT OF LOOKING AT A BOOK AND SEEING THE COPYRIGHT PAGE.


It says Simon & Schuster, and there's an address –– 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York. And you're like, oh, this is a building somewhere where this happens. You realize there's a business built around these books which are deeply meaningful to you. That helped me visualize a path to actually making this a career and a life.

I MOVED TO NEW YORK WHEN I WAS 19. I WASN'T GOING TO SCHOOL BUT IT WAS THE BEST EDUCATION.

I was working at A.P.C., playing music with my brother. I was just being young, casting about. Working somewhere like A.P.C. you're interfacing with a creative class of downtown cool kids who are moving the needle in culture. Literary agents are coming in, writers, filmmakers, musicians. Suddenly 1230 Avenue of the Americas wasn't so distant, literally and figuratively. Now it’s a train ride away. Publishing started to feel real.

Around that time I started gravitating more towards publishing. There’s a small press I really admired, still do, called Ugly Duckling Presse. I hit them up and asked, "Can I volunteer? Can I do something? Can I hang around?" and they were like, "Sure, come through." I can’t even call it an internship. I was helping them hand-stitch chapbooks. That was a big moment of being like, okay, these are little micro steps within a macro goal. .

My gas tank was starting to run on E. I’m 21. What's the next move? I was craving an actual formal education, so I moved back to Kansas to go to KU. I told myself, “It's going to be three years, then I can go to the next step”.

I'M FROM LAWRENCE, KANSAS, BORN AND RAISED.

It's rural, but it's a university town. It's a pocket of culture within nowheresville, which gives it a really unique energy.

It has a rich literary history. Langston Hughes was raised there. William Burroughs spent the last 15 years of his life there. So you had crazy old Burroughs wandering the streets of this quiet town, bringing this coterie of underground icons with him. Patti Smith, Tim Leary, Keith Haring, Kurt Cobain, Allen Ginsberg would come through.
Seneca


THIS PRIVATE PROCESS OF HELPING AN AUTHOR CRAFT A BOOK BECOMES PUBLIC.

YOU’RE SEEING IT OUT IN THE WORLD
ACTUALLY BEING READ.

I moved back to New York after finishing college to go to the Columbia Publishing Course. It took me a year after that to get a job in publishing. I interviewed with every major publisher, whether it was Random House or McMillan or Hachette or whatever it was. Nothing. So I went back to work at A.P.C. and was interviewing, interviewing, interviewing, which was its own grind. It's discouraging.you go on 12 interviews and you don't get any of them. You're like, “do I keep doing this?”
I met the staffing director for Simon & Schuster, and she called me up one day and was like, "we have a position we think you might be a good fit for. It would be working for Alice Mayhew." I knew Alice’s name —the myth of Alice. A couple years prior, she published Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, which was one of the best-selling books of that decade. She's considered one of the greatest nonfiction editors of the past 100 years. She had been at S&S over forty years, defining the identity of their list—serious nonfiction, starting with Woodward and Sernstein’s All The Presidents Men. I went to interview with her and we hit it off immediately. It felt like kismet. We had several conversations in her office and a few weeks later she wrote me, “I want you to come work with me, be my partner.”
So now I’m working as an assistant editor for this titan of the industry, one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. You’re dropped into this world where a couple months in, I was having lunch at the Peninsula Hotel with President Carter. You're like, "where the fuck am I?" This is the big leagues.

ON RELEASE DAY, YOU SCROLL THROUGH THE COMMENTS ON INSTAGRAM AND SEE KIDS SAYING, "THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK I'VE READ SINCE HIGH SCHOOL."

Release day was special. I remember taking a lunch break to go listen to him live on Brian Lehrer and tearing up. He was emotionally telling his beautiful story to an audience that had probably had no idea who this person was. That cultural transmission was really cool to see.

That whole week was a thrill ride because not only was it getting a lot of attention, but it was selling. Suddenly you're reaching readers who publishers too often fail to reach. So it's like finding ways to broaden the cultural footprint of where a book can travel and to whom and how and what impact it has in the reader's life. It’s life-affirming to see a book connect and come into the world.

IT WAS THE FIRST BOOK I ACQUIRED. I REMEMBER BRINGING UP GUCCI MANE TO ALICE.

She was incredibly supportive as a boss. But Gucci Mane couldn't be further from what she was publishing. I had to explain to her and our publisher who Gucci was and why he mattered, which was an amazing exchange. She saw that I saw it, which was enough for her. My team finally got the vision, and we went for it. And it worked.

To me, it felt obvious. It’s Gucci. The timing couldn’t have been better. He had gone through this profound transformation in prison. He was a butterfly emerging from the cocoon, and he was revered.

THIS IS
AMERICAN HISTORY.
IT'S BLACK HISTORY.
IT'S MUSIC HISTORY.

This is much more than a piece of pop culture or celebrity merchandise. I was like, this needs to be published in a serious way, the way that Simon & Schuster would publish a presidential memoir.
Seneca

The main lessons I’ve learned are self-education and persistence ––it’s cliché, but trust the process. One of the things I’m working on is trying to stop feeling I need to control every outcome of my life or my work, of being able to trust in yourself and trust that the outcomes will manifest themselves appropriately, maybe not as you expected them to, but appropriately.
When I was younger, I was really on the chessboard trying to move 20 steps ahead to set up certain outcomes. And that’s a really exhausting way to live one's life, or it was for me. So I guess it's more of think about the step in front of you. Try not to control so much the steps that come after that.
Seneca
MAKE YOUR IDEAS REAL IN THE WORLD. TAKE THEM OUTSIDE OF YOUR HEAD AND TRY TO EXECUTE THEM.
STUART ROBERTS, 2022 AD

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