As booksellers, we take pride in our collection of stories that fill up our shelves. But it takes a certain mind to choose which stories must be shared to world — to immortalize it in print. We were lucky enough to be able to pick the mind of one such person: Elda Rotor, the Vice President and Publisher of Penguin Classics. Read our conversation to get a peek of a publisher’s life.

What’s a day in the life of an editorial director?

A day in the life of an editor includes various parts of our publishing process and business, all with the intent of moving things forward, whether that be ideas for new books or books that are about to be published. Examples of some activities today: I read a few more short stories by Yusuf Idris, a major 20th century Egyptian writer whose collection we are publishing into Penguin Classics next summer. I looked at competitive and comparative titles for a new anthology I’m interested in pursuing and talked with my academic marketing director about the ideal page length and price point for course adoption. We set first printings for our fall titles, and reviewed prices for our Classics reprints. I went through and answered dozens of emails!

What are the qualities that make for a good editor?

I think a good editor is one who has a combination of being a good listener – hearing what makes the best parts of a story ring true, and working with an author or editor to get a work to the best place it can be – and being in touch with the world, in that you can see the connections between what makes the book you are working on special and who the reader out there may be – what is that person’s interests, needs, curiosities, and how is the book in your hand going to connect?

What makes Penguin Classics different from the other trade publishers? Penguin has such a strong brand name and readers all over the world trust Penguin. Do you have a guiding philosophy on what to include in the Penguin Classics pantheon? Can you share a bit on the process of how a book becomes a Penguin Classic?

It’s a real honor to work for Penguin Classics, particularly because of the heritage of the brand, as an authoritative publisher of classic works of literature, and because many, many people come to Penguin Classics first in the classroom. What rings true I think for the books that we bring to the series is the idea that there is a quality to the work of literature that connects modern readers to ideas and writings of the past in an impactful and relevant way.  There is a quality that connects generations of readers, from different perspectives, to the same work – without the need to share the same interpretation or response to the work, but certainly something significant.

What other works by Filipinos would you love to be made a Penguin Classic?

I am open to suggestions. During my visit to Manila, there were suggestions to add a Filipina classic writer to the series so I’d be curious to know what the top recommendations would be.

How do you go about the design process when publishing new editions?

We work closely with our very talented art department led by Paul Buckley, our art director.  We have packaging meetings once a week where editors initially pitch the title and share any ideas they have for what we want to convey visually. The designers and in-house directors share portfolios of potential artists if we want to commission new art – which is one of my favorite parts about Penguin Classics. We have featured cover art by two Filipina artists, Kristin Collantes (Nick Joaquin) and Sarah Gonzales (Carlos Bulosan).

In a world of ever-expanding and diverse narratives, why do classics matter? How are classics relevant?

There are many writers who have offered thoughtful reasons why classics matter. Drawing from a number of them I think two of the most compelling aspects of what makes classics relevant are connected to each other – that they prove we are never alone, and that they give us a lens from the past to give us a new perspective om our current lives and what to hope for in the future.

How does Penguin Classics keep works written in a different time and generation fresh for modern readers?

We think about how to contextualize the work, and that influences our choice in contributors we invite. Sometimes we like to invite writers who we think will offer a fresh perspective, or whose own creative work seems to have some connections to the classic, or we work with esteemed academics and up-and-coming scholars to bring their expertise to general readers.

What is the future for book publishing and Penguin Classics amidst constant technological advances in book production and distribution?

Penguin Random House is always looking towards innovation in all aspects of the business, and especially the most effective new ways of bringing books to readers.

Many classics have been adapted into graphic novels, like Frankenstein and Sun Tzu’s Art of War, among others. Do you think, in the future, the reverse is also possible, that there would be space in Penguin Classics for classic comic books and graphic novels? 

It is a possibility, you never know.

Which Filipino author/s do you think all Filipinos should read? 

Jose Rizal.  Starting with Rizal sets the stage in terms of historical impact, revolutionary spirit, and a powerful narrative.

What do you find is the most personally fulfilling aspect of book publishing?

Every day is different, and every day involves some creative input, collaboration or discovery. I am always learning something new.

What advice can you give to aspiring Filipino writers?

Stay true to your craft, learn from those that came before you, and nurture and support the community of writers you are part of.


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