THE RAG BIZ has Women's Wear Daily ; show biz Variety , and the book biz has Publishers Weekly , its very own "bible." PW 's circulation is about 36,000, but the readership is at least four times that. (In some houses, your status is determined not by the size and location of your office but by your position on the PW routing list.) Possibly the most heavily relied upon section of PW is the "Forecasts" -- the advance book reviews. There, the big and little boats launched so hopefully by publishers first touch the perilous seas. The Forecast often tells them whether a book will sink or float. Just as the actors crowd into Sardi's on opening night to catch the first reviews, so does everybody in the book business check out Forecasts. The fiction editor of Forecasts is also the overall editor of the section and the executive editor of the magazine itself, Barbara Anne Bannon. She has been with Publishers Weekly so long it is impossible to imagine the magazine wihtout her, and few try.
Bannon came to the R. R. Bowker Company, the publishers of PW , as a young girl straight out of Manhattanwille College, long before Bowker became a part of Xerox Corporation. "I've done what everyone tells you one should never do. I went right from college to one particular magazine and stayed there and worked my way up. And I've never gotten over, naive as it sounds, my enthusiasm for being paid to read books." The aspects of Bannon's job which she enjoys most are book reviewing and interviewing authors and it was she who, years ago, fought for the establishment of the popular "PW Interviews."
PW reviews some 5,000 books a year, and may go as high as 5,500 this year. These include hardcover fiction and nonfiction, children's books and paperbacks. "I'm certainly not going to pretend that I review 5,000 books a year," laughs Bannon. "One of the perks of my job is that I do get to pick and choose what I want to read, although, on the other hand, there are books I might not choose to read personally, but which have so much involved that I feel it's my job to take on the review. We've got a small but very good Forecast staff, and we also use no more than about 20 outside readers, all of whom are specialists in their fields and most of whom have been with us for years. Depending on what else I'm doing, I can read and review in one week anywhere from three to ten books, although it's been a long time since my administrative duties have allowed me to review ten books every week. I read all the time -- mostly at home, nights and weekends."
Just how influential are the Forecast reviews both inside and outside the book trade? They are quoted more and more frequently in ads directed at the general public, usually with Barbara Bannon's name attached. "One essential fact is that we are reviewing for the trade -- booksellers, lebrarians, and publishers all around the world. It could easily go to your head; in a given year, sometimes millions of dollars may be influenced by the reviews in PW . For instance, Paula Diamond of Harper & Row told me that, at the time The Thorn Birds was up for auction, just when the PW review had been written and was going into print, that it did play a role in what was then the highest paperback sale on record."
Since every major book reviewer reads PW , do the PW reviews influence reviews in general media? "Only in this sense," says Bannon, "and I know this to be true, since I've been told this by everyone from Peter Prescott to bill McPherson: they will go through the Forecast section and something will catch their attention that they might have overlooked. As a matter of fact, I've had several people tell me that this is what happened with The World According to Garp . I think the freatest pleasure one gets from this kind of work is a sense of finding something." (In an earlier life, I myself was a Forecast editor at PW , AND I remember vivdly Barbara's finding House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, which later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. But for her early and vocal enthusiasm, that book might easily have been overlooked.)
What's Bannon finding now, at this minte? "I've just rad a first novel, A Certain Slant of Light , by Margaret Wander Bonnano, which Seaview is publishing, and I'm tremendously impressed and excited by it. It has a lot of the quality of Final Payments about it, in that it has a Catholic background. Another novel I enjoyed is Stealing Home by Philip O'Connor, coming from Knopf in March. The 'stealing home' is a reference to both Little League baseball and a man coming back to his family.
"I firmly believe that no really good, worthwhile book is going to go unpublished in this country. It may not be taken by the first publisher approached, but it will be taken. The problem is not that the good book may fo unpublished, but that there's too much junk being published, and I think this is more true in nonfiction than in fiction. Yet I think that, as long as there are editors of integrity -- and there are, in every publishing house, editors who will fight for their books -- you will continue to see good books published. Even a house owned by the most profit-minded bottom-line conglomerate has a literary image to protect; they want to publish books they can be proud of. Although there's a story, possibly imaginary, about the network which bought a publishing house and at the first editorial meeting after the sale, a network executive came up with a bright idea: 'From now on, we'll publish nothing but best sellersa.'"
We have a laugh, but the story must really be apocryphal, because we cannot imagine a house letting a network executive sit in on an editorial meeting.But while we're on the sebject of best sellers, what are Bannon's predictions?
"Oh, Lord," she sighs, casting her blue eyes heavenward, oracular reponsibilities weighing her down. But she rises gamely to the occasion. "Good as Gold , by Joseph Heller, will make the list," she says off the top of her head. "I'm not sure about Birdy . Coward-McCann and Geoghegan has a lot riding on Ghost Story by Peter Straub, one of the most terrifying horror nowels I've ever read. I read it over the weekend and it upset me. It will sell. I think Sphinx is very saleable. And The Year of the French , by Thomas Flanagan, from Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Those are all novels.
"In nonfiction, Beyond Reason , by Margaret Trudeau, Jonathan Miller's The Body in Question, Jimmy Carter: The Man and the Myth by Lasky, David Halberstam's The Powers That Be. Anyone's Daughter , Shana Alexander's book bout Patty Hearst, and A Time to Heal , Gerald Ford's memoirs. I think the time is right for that one."
Barbara Bannon has a large silver bowl at home, presented to her jointly by the American Booksellers Association and the Publishers Publicity Association. On it is inscrbed: "The Irita Van Doren Award 1978 to Barbara A. Bannon, for her many contributions to the cause of the book as an instrument of culture in American life." Barbara takes that award -- and the book itself -- very serikously indeed. CAPTION: Picture, Photo of Barbara Bannon, copysight (c) 1979, Helen Marcus