Sign In
Not a member? Sign up!

Forgot your password?
Join Our Mailing List

Robert Loomis, Book Editor, Retiring From Random House

May 09th, 2011 @ 5:06pm EDT
If anyone is qualified to talk about the good old days of book publishing, it is Robert Loomis. He began working at Random House 54 years ago, back when the publisher’s founders, Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer, were still roaming the halls. “Before we bought lots of companies and before a lot of companies bought us,” Mr. Loomis said in an interview last week. “Things were smaller. They were simpler. The money was not as great. But it seems as though it was more fun.” On Friday a memorandum went out to Random House employees — all 2,600 of them — announcing that Mr. Loomis, who turns 85 in August, had finally decided to retire.
“I never wanted this day to ever come,” the memo, sent by Gina Centrello, the president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group, began. Then, with “sadness, great personal fondness and the deepest respect and gratitude,” Ms. Centrello delivered the news. “Book publishing formats and channels of distribution continue to evolve, ” she continued, “but creative publishing begins with the author-editor relationship. Bob epitomizes the editor’s role at its best.” Mr. Loomis holds a revered place in the publishing industry as an editor known for nurturing writers including Maya Angelou, William Styron, Shelby Foote and Calvin Trillin. He is considered one of the last great old-school editors, a legend from the days when writers tended to stay put at a publisher rather than jump to a new one with each book, and when editors called all the shots within a publishing house, even if then, as now, they remained largely unknown to the public.
“There will be no more Bob Loomises, at least not in the big companies,” said Peter Matson, the co-chairman of the literary agency Sterling Lord Literistic. “The publishing business has been turned on its head. The authority that people like Bob Loomis had has been captured by the marketing side of publishing.”

The news of Mr. Loomis’s retirement — “the R. word,” as one friend called it — had begun to spread early last week, as he called writers and other friends to deliver the news.

“We cavalierly say that something is the end of an era,” said Esther Newberg, a veteran agent. “This really is the end of an era. He represents the best of old publishing: a gentleman scholar with a sense of humor. And you try to find that these days.”

Writers no doubt will miss the notes he wrote in the margins of manuscripts, etched in tiny handwriting. “When something in the manuscript was boring, he would write, –We know,’ ” Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, said in an e-mail. “He would correctly point out that in most instances, the word –very’ is unnecessary.”

Maya Angelou, after hearing that he was retiring, said in an e-mail, “Robert Loomis has been my editor since 1968. He has guided and encouraged me through 31 books. I can’t imagine trusting a manuscript in the hands of anyone else. I am not finished writing, so I cannot let him retire.”

One literary agent said in protest: “He’s retiring? But I have a book with him.” (A Random House spokeswoman said that Mr. Loomis will finish all his current projects, even if he does so after his official retirement date at the end of June.)

Fellow editors recalled their encounters with Mr. Loomis, who was known for his openness to colleagues. Karen Rinaldi, the general manager and publishing director of Rodale Books, said that when she left Random House years ago, she asked him for a piece of departing advice.

“And he goes, –Every day when I wake up in the morning and I come to work, I have no idea what’s going to happen. All the books that I think are going to sell don’t work, and all the books I don’t think are going to work sell a lot and win awards. That’s why I love this business so much,’ ” she said. “He basically said, I can’t give you any advice, and gave me the best advice and wisdom I could have asked for.”

While his work has remained essentially the same, he said last week that he has mixed feelings about the topic most discussed in publishing these days: e-books. “They have increased readership, which is good, but I personally am not very turned on by e-books,” he said. “The physical book has always meant something to me. I’m like the horse who goes back to the stall. I’m not that adventurous.”

In 2007, at a party celebrating his 50th anniversary at Random House, he refused to entertain a discussion about his retirement. But in recent months he has scaled back his office hours somewhat, coming in at 8:30 a.m. but leaving by 4 p.m. (One friend said Mr. Loomis is still capable of having two double bourbons at lunch and then working the rest of the day.)

By the time the memo had gone out on Friday announcing that Mr. Loomis would be leaving the company, he was already in Sag Harbor out on Long Island, where he spends weekends with his wife, the writer Hilary Mills, and their 8-year-old chocolate Lab, Mudslide.

More than a year ago he sold the Cessna 172 that he used to keep there for jaunts to visit friends, like the Styrons on Martha’s Vineyard.

“I’ve been in this business for 60 years, and I want some time to myself,” Mr. Loomis said, adding that when he broke the news to Ms. Centrello, she said, “I don’t want to hear this.”

He added, “I don’t think when I finally said it, anybody really believed me.”
Original Source