My Turn as the Crafts Editor at a Smut Publisher

In a recent email exchange with a prospective author and an editorial colleague, I mentioned how I’d spent some time away from my current employer before returning as the prodigal editor for the series I’m working on now. When the author asked where I’d been and why, I just said that it was kind of a long story but that I’d be happy to tell it if he was interested. When my fellow editor added, “It is a very cool story, and if I recall correctly, there’s at least one kinky book involved,” it struck me that it was indeed a pretty good yarn, one which more than just this particular author might get a kick out of.

Whether out of embarrassment, hesitation to speak ill (or say things that might be interpreted that way, just because of the content) of a previous employer, or just because of a need to put the experience behind me, I’ve been publicly silent on the topic of my brief hiatus, but enough time has gone by that I think I can safely tell the tale to a wider audience. Still, because I generally intend this blog to be appropriate for all audiences, I think I’ll use the “Continue Reading” link for the first time ever on this particular post.

Though I was happy in my current job in April 2007, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by an ad I noticed for a Crafts Editor position:

Talented, creative, experienced crafts editor needed to lead a crafts program of approximately 15-20 titles per year. Proven success in idea generation, hands-on editing from concept through finished book, and established knowledge of the crafts market required. We’re looking for an editor with great taste, exceptional creativity, and the skills necessary to make innovative and sophisticated books that will appeal to the newest generation of crafters. Minimum 2-3 years of craft book editing experience and a working knowledge of both hard and soft crafts required. Personal passion for crafting preferred.

For reasons I outlined at the time, this looked like a logical next step in my career, a way to combine my private passions (crafting) with my profession (editing). So, I applied and was soon called in for an interview. The first few questions I was asked included one that would set the tone for much of the ones that would follow: “Are you easily offended?”

It turns out that this question really needed to be asked early, as a few previous applicants had ended their candidacy for the position at the point in the interview when they learned about the publisher’s core business line: “highly illustrated, sensual lifestyle books,” a mission that Boston Magazine would later praise (?) as “smut for sophisticates” in an article you can preview here without having to follow the link:

smut_for_sophisticates

Yes, though the photographer and cofounding publisher is tremendously talented at what he does with a camera, as demonstrated in his SFW work on the books I would eventually edit (for example, see his pictures in my knitting and origami titles):

I learned in my interview that his specialty (and the publisher’s previously defined niche) is a little more along these lines:

Well, I guess I’m not easily offended, or I just really wanted the chance to edit craft books, because I made it through the rest of the interview and was offered the position. My belief that this was a good career move for me did require some convincing at home, along with a discussion regarding the inevitable issue of what friends and family would think when they visited the home page for the “craft publisher” I told them I would now be working for, but I have an understanding spouse who wants me to be happy in my profession, so she ultimately left it up to me.

For the most part, my job was as tame as you’d expect for someone acquiring books on sewing, card making, and collage jewelry, and aside from sitting through editorial pitch meetings with language that would make a sailor blush (at some places, it’s hard to imagine what a sexual harassment lawsuit would actually look like when sexual objectification was part of the premise of the business), I didn’t have much involvement in the day-to-day dealings of the steamier side of the business. Everyone liked to laugh at me as the up-tight prude in the office, the only one actually not expected to be viewing porn during office hours.

Still, as much as I insisted to people who knew me that I was completely uninvolved in this part of the business, the context did tend to breed incorrect assumptions when I told friends I was working on a book titled Sensual Knits. To be fair, though, I could see their point. I mean, the same studio in which the cover for that book was shot also saw a fair amount of the “humpy humpy,” as it was sometimes known on office shoot days. But many books of this sort were actually shot on location in fancy places I wasn’t invited, and the studio door was always closed (right behind my cube) when unclothed models were present, so my usual 9 to 5 was less lurid than my friends would like to think.

Of course, that truth didn’t make it any easier for me to explain to my five-year-old niece, my neighbor’s young girls, and the parents of other models for our Jellybean Tiaras (a great kids craft book on how to make jewelry from candy, which I’m sad to see will likely never be published) photo shoot what photos like this were doing on the walls of our studio cum office (no pun intended):

Sex Drive

And when I say that the humpy humpy didn’t really have much impact on my day-to-day work, I don’t mean to imply that I don’t have my share of stories to tell of the occasions when that side of the business inevitably crept over into my cube. For example, my boss’s office has a pretty big window, so it was kind of hard not to notice simulated sex on her desk (for a “quickies” book) from where I sat.

There was also the time when I received a batch of projects from the author of Switch ‘N Stitch (another book–on turning old sweaters into new wearables, home accents, and accessories–that was completed but will probably never be published) and questioned the size of one of the cardigans. It looked rather small (mostly because the felting process was a little more extreme than the contributor probably expected) and I was wondering if it would fit any of the models we’d booked for the shoot. Good thing it was humpy humpy day at the office and one of the models was about that same size.

Over the pizza we’d ordered in to serve during a break in shooting for models, stylists, etc., I expressed my concerns to my boss (the photographer), and he called over the model, who was reclining in a bathrobe with her pizza over by the window (shades open, mind you). As she approached, my boss held out the tiny cardigan and said, “Here, try this on to see if it fits.” A real pro, used to taking directions, she nonchalantly nodded her head, put her pizza down, and dropped her robe, leaving her without a stitch on. As my mouth dropped (along with my eyes, briefly, before quickly darting back up upon seeing a piercing that was never intended for the public), she leisurely attempted to close the cardigan around her small torso, while someone pulled her robe back up and someone else made a frantic dash to the window to close the shades that faced the exterior of our giant office park. Anyway, the important part, which is all I really felt like relaying when I got home, was that the garment did not fit, so I’d need the author to come up with a replacement project.

And our poor editorial assistant … Wait, scratch that. Who am I kidding? Here is a guy who truly loved his job. When he wasn’t throwing cats (for a gift book called Catapult) or finding inspirational quotes online (for another gift book, which bears his nom de plume), he was following around naked models, watching porn, and taking trips to sex shops. A computer technician once came in to fix his machine and had a very confusing conversation with the boss before leaving.

“I was looking for an Ethernet cable and I found … er … sex toys in his drawer. I just though you should know,” he said in a very serious and embarrassed tone. To which the boss replies, “What?!? He should have returned those dildos weeks ago! I told him that we wouldn’t get a refund after 30 days!” The guy practically ran screaming through the door, leaving an office full of laughter in the cartoon-style cutout shape of his body. Good times.

Alas, the good times (along with the bad, which I don’t feel like dwelling on in this space) are gone. After laying off all staff and closing up shop in February 2008, the company no longer really exists in more than just name, but the owners have since gone on to found a smutty-romance-novel ebook company. The wave of the future. One hundred percent electronic! And I wish them well. For whatever else I might have to say about my time at their other failed business, they certainly supplied me with what you’d have to admit are some pretty good stories that have made me laugh to beat the band. Parts anyway.

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