Wednesday 8 June 2011

Mike Fuhr - Publishing Profile

Mike Fuhr is one of the people responsible for me becoming a book reviewer. I have known his for 8 years, and through his roles at Random House of Canada. He introduced me to ARC's (Advance Reader's Copies) and desk copies of new and upcoming books. He only asked for short comments. Within a few months I was publishing reviews and have not looked back. Mike Plays Guitar, loves good food and good drink, and always has a good recommendation for a book to read coming out soon.

1. You have degrees in both broadcasting and creative writing, what lead you to a long and illustrious career in publishing?

Well, I'm not sure whether 15ish years counts as long and illustrious but I've had the occasional moment here or there. I've always loved music and I wanted to be a record producer when I was a kid. Of course, I had no patience for learning an instrument or really working on theory so that didn't work out. I did, however, have a love of music which lead to studying Radio Broadcasting 20-odd years ago at Fanshawe College. The summer between first and second years I came to the realization that radio wasn't for me. I was loving books too much, so I went back to high school, earned my credits to get into university and then into publishing.

2. How did you go about pursuing a career in the publishing industry?

Well, after earning a degree in Creative Writing with a minor in English, I figured it the best way of putting food on the table. A friend of mine had taken the fantastic Book & Magazine Publishing Program at Centennial College so I enlisted in that and (thankfully) haven't looked back since.

3. What is your favorite part about working in publishing?

Quite honestly, chatting with booksellers. They are the lifeblood of the industry. Inevitably they are great characters themselves with interesting back-stories and informed opinions. I love them.

4. What is your least favorite part about working in publishing?

Being a slow reader.

5. If someone wanted to get into the publishing industry are there any books you would recommend to them?

No, I don't think so. I think reading Canadian Bookseller Magazine (if it still exists) or the Quill and Quire are you best bets if you want to know about the industry. But, going out on a limb and taking someone out for coffee so you can pick their brains in person is a better strategy than reading any book.

6. Do you aspire to write and publishing your own book someday? Are there any projects underway?

Yep - I'm not-so-hard at work on my first novel. I'm about ½ way done.

7. You now hold the title of Director - National Accounts Marketing, Random House of Canada Ltd. What does your average day look like in that role?

No two days are the same so there really is no 'average.' The parts of my job that aren't so 'glamourous' include: sitting in millions of meetings, mailing books in the warehouse, tending to excel spreadsheets, planning the minutia of author events, worrying about author events with a healthy dash of 'hurry up and wait' thrown in for good measure. But that's balanced (almost daily) by actually meeting the authors whose books I'm mailing and obsessing over and, of course, introducing booksellers from across the country to these interesting people and their lifework. That's very rewarding!

8. As with any digital media, movies, music, games … there is a market for illegal distribution, either through torrent sites, p2p networks and more. There are websites and blogs dedicated to how to strip DRM from eBooks of various formats. How do you actively work towards protecting your company's profits?

I guilt my friends into actually buying books - either physical (my preference) or digital (the new reality). I give them 'the look' and tell them it's wrong taking money out our authors' pockets.

9. Do you read eBooks? If so do you use a specific reader? What percentage of books that you read are in electronic format?

I read manuscripts on my antiquated Sony e-reader. It's pretty good and it saves killing trees when reading something early. We don't produce nearly as many advance reading copies as we used to so if I want to read something early it has to be on my e-reader. I don't mind; it saves me shifting around in bed.

10. What were some of your favorite books and authors as a child?

I remember liking The Hardy Boys and The Hobbit. Stuff I likely wouldn't necessarily enjoy now but that meant something at the time. When I started reading Catcher and the Rye, that was when I hit literary puberty and something clicked…

11. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?

Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, James Joyce and Ernest Hemmingway. When I was in university I read some short stories by Janet Frame that killed me. And The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe; one of the most fucked-up and gruesome coming of age stories of all time. I loved it.

12. Who are some of your favorite authors or books now?

Depends on my mood. My love of Capote' s In Cold Blood gave me an appreciation for well-written narrative non-fiction. So, books like The Golden Spruce by John Valiant, Hellhound on his Trail by Hampton Sides and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson really get me going. I love books that put a time period into context and provide a gentle history lesson. Fiction-wise I tend to like the more literary stuff. I like acrobatics - but not when they punish storytelling. Inevitably I want someone to tell me a story. How it's told is the crucial bit. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante is a fascinating murder mystery where you know the identity of the murderer (the narrator) but because she's suffering from Alzheimer's Disease she becomes increasingly unreliable. A great device perfectly executed. No one really does third person anymore so it was an absolute delight to read (on my e-reader, which I finished yesterday afternoon) Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock. This could by my new favourite book of all time. It has everything a reluctant middle-aged male reader like me loves: serial killing, survival, irony, black humour, warped religion and gallons of blood. It's a vast over-simplification but I'd say Pollock is a more literary Chuck Palahaniuk. But, he's more than that. To me, he's the dirty, macho heir to Ernest Hemmingway.

13. If you were not working in publishing what do you think you would be doing?


14. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?

That recent adaptation of Mildred Pierce starring Kate Winslet was staggeringly good. I love Breaking Bad, The Wire, Generation Kill, the first season of Carnivale. I tried watching the first season of True Blood a couple of weeks ago but found it hard to feel invested in those characters. They're too goofy. Same with Buffy. Maybe I have a thing about vampires; a reflexive rolling of the eyes for them an anything to do with fantasy or science fiction.

15. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?

In Cold Blood (Capote) Consumption (Patterson) Devil All the Time (Pollock) Mojo Music Guide An Atlas of the World The Canadian Living Slow Cooker Collection - provided there was food and electricity not to mention a crock pot on said island! Catcher in the Rye (Salinger) Hamlet (Shakespeare) Radiance (Lambert) The Back Daliah (Ellroy)

16. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to work in the publishing industry?

Don't get your hopes up. If you're set on a career in this industry you need to realize you have to work your way up. Be humble and don't act entitled. You might have great ideas but you don't know it all - and the best part: you never will. Read widely. Try writing a book and see how it feels. I guarantee you will be humbled by how hard it really is. Then, keep that in mind when dealing with authors and know that you are caring for their babies. A little empathy goes a long way.

17. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?

Marry rich.

Thank you Mike for answering some questions for us here at Book Reviews and More, as my first interview of someone in the publishing industry who is not an author it was fun and informative.

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