Our Exit Interview with Don Weise

By Neal Comment

don-weise.jpgOne of the most common reactions to the recent sale of Avalon Publishing Group to Perseus, and the subsequent elimination of most of the Avalon brands, was “I can’t believe they’re getting rid of Don Weise.” After all, Avalon’s senior editor was widely respected within the publishing community. But when I met up with Weise for lunch last week around the corner from his office, he was taking the development in stride, even as he conceded that it had seemed to take everyone at the company by surprise. “I don’t hold it against Perseus,” he said. “If I were in their shoes, I might have done the same thing. And had they offered me a job, I’m not even 100% sure I would have taken it.”

In fact, he admits, he’d already been thinking about looking for new positions with other publishers even before the sale. “I never meant to make gay books my career—it was a very happy accident,” he says. “I knew I was never going to build my career by doing only one kind of book.” Luckily, the queer-themed material he specialized in had enormous crossover appeal, and could easily fit into the frontlist at most major houses. (The memoir The History of Swimming, for example, rests comfortably next to Scribner‘s edition of Name all the Animals.) He credits Avalon head Charlie Winton and executives Michelle Martin and Will Balliet with creating an environment that allowed his editorial sensibility to flourish, and worries that openness will be lost in the new, Perseus-controlled company. “In four years, I was never told no over any book I brought into sales conference,” he says. “Now, if somebody came to me with a serious gay biography, I don’t know who I would send him to.”

At least, not until he finds his next editorial position. “The transition won’t be as stark as some people might imagine,” he muses, noting that his job at Avalon was already like having one foot in the world of small presses and another in the world of big publishing. So even though he’s never really had to do a job interview—”I walked into PGW and got a job as a customer service rep, and just kept moving up from there”—he’s confident that he’ll land on his feet soon. “And then,” he jokes, “I’ll finally be able to say no to a proposal by telling the agent I can’t push it through the sales conference meeting.”