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An Amazon Best Book of 2016
A celebration of the writing and editing life, as well as a look behind the scenes at some of the most influential magazines in America (and the writers who made them what they are).
You might not know Terry McDonell, but you certainly know his work. Among the magazines he has top-edited: Outside, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Sports Illustrated. In this revealing memoir, McDonell talks about what really happens when editors and writers work with deadlines ticking (or drinks on the bar). His stories about the people and personalities he’s known are both heartbreaking and bitingly funny—playing “acid golf” with Hunter S. Thompson, practicing brinksmanship with David Carr and Steve Jobs, working the European fashion scene with Liz Tilberis, pitching TV pilots with Richard Price.
Here, too, is an expert’s practical advice on how to recruit—and keep—high-profile talent; what makes a compelling lede; how to grow online traffic that translates into dollars; and how, in whatever format, on whatever platform, a good editor really works, and what it takes to write well.
Taking us from the raucous days of New Journalism to today’s digital landscape, McDonell argues that the need for clear storytelling from trustworthy news sources has never been stronger. Says Jeffrey Eugenides: “Every time I run into Terry, I think how great it would be to have dinner with him. Hear about the writers he's known and edited over the years, what the magazine business was like back then, how it's changed and where it's going, inside info about Edward Abbey, Jim Harrison, Annie Proulx, old New York, and the Swimsuit issue. That dinner is this book.”
Early on in this engaging memoir, McDonell jokingly defines hubris as his hope, when starting out, that "I could become a great editor, by editing great writers and getting to know them." As this book's short, anecdote-rich chapters show, hope became reality during a career that included stints at Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Newsweek. McDonell covers the nuts and bolts of getting weekly and monthly magazines out deadlines, budgets, ad sales, cover selections and the transition from print to digital media; these sections have the same verve that energizes his profiles of people whose talents he tapped, including Thomas McGuane, Peter Matthiessen, Jim Harrison, Richard Price, and Richard Ford. His prose zings with witty insights, such as this recent appraisal of a 2005 blog post about a panel discussion dismissing the Internet's relevance to journalism: "Reading it was like snorkeling over a ship that had wrecked on the hidden reefs of some long-ago trade route." He also writes with great warmth about former colleagues, likening his rowdy relationship with George Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson to the plot of Treasure Island: "Adventurous boy kidnapped by pirates; joins pirates." This book will fascinate anyone interested in what goes on behind the scenes in publishing. 18 b&w photos.