Publicists in Stirrup Pants: Self-Help Tome Yields Book-World Gossip

Photo: Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

Author Megan Hustad combed through the dustiest self-help tomes for nuggets of wisdom that might actually apply to today's postcollegiates. The end result, How to Be Useful, has helpful career hints for associates and architect grunts alike. But the wide array of publishing people Hustad thanks in the acknowledgments section — including Perseus CEO David Steinberger, Spiegel & Grau executive editor Tina Pohlman, Pantheon top honcho Edward Kastenmeier, and literary rising stars like Dinaw Mingetsu and Ben Ehrenreich — and Hustad's onetime path up the publishing ladder (at Knopf, Basic Books, and Counterpoint) reveal the book's secret mission: dishing blind items on the indignities of the book world usually reserved for happy-hour cocktails and industry functions. Who wouldn't want to know the backstory on these embarrassing publishing tidbits?

• The midlevel publicist with a fashion-clueless attachment to black stirrup pants that made her the laughingstock of her co-workers
• The publishing executive so reliant on assistants he needed Hustad to fix a "broken" printer by adding paper to the empty tray
• The "cold cold fish" publishing higher-up who took pleasure in humiliating her male assistant for five years before he escaped to a different company
• The editor who drove her co-workers crazy with her breathless, cheerleader-style proclamations that she was "so happy" whether brokering a deal, ordering lunch, or approving cover art
• Hustad's former colleague who regularly turned up for work "looking like a cross between Pippi Longstocking and an overmedicated 1970s housewife"
• The editor fervently wishing for an assistant "who's in the office until nine, then goes home and reads manuscripts"
• The marketing assistant whose cringe-inducing cover-art suggestions at a sales conference just four days into the job had her demoted to stuffing envelopes in the mailroom without her shoes on
•The executive who shouted, during meetings, "I've got the biggest dick in the room!" Okay, yeah, that was Judith Regan.

But sometimes Hustad's "success literature" tag bears out: Take the story of the San Francisco bookstore clerk whose methodical networking (along with a fluke correspondence with HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman) eventually landed her a high-ranking, six-figure publicity job with a major New York House. But if that story sounds like a lifeline for unhappy publishing assistants ready to take the bus out of Port Authority to grad school, guess again: If it's who we think it is, that "lucky" publicist is out of publishing altogether, and not by choice. —Sarah Weinman