Nan A. Talese on Publishing: “It’s the Authors Who Count”
Publishing legend Nan A. Talese on the roots of her Doubleday imprint.May 2012 By Nan A. Talese
Earlier this year, Book Business magazine contacted publishing legend Nan A. Talese to ask if she'd consider penning a guest column for our magazine. Talese has worked with some of the most decorated authors in literary fiction and, since 1990, in addition to her duties as senior vice president at Doubleday, served as publisher and editorial director of her own imprint, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. Imagine our delight when she agreed.
We asked specifically about her imprint, with focus on the lessons she's learned along the way that remain applicable to publishing in this time of great change. Unsurprisingly, her insights are wise, humble and, at a point when so many in publishing are fretting about platforms and channels and formats, bring us back to that most essential piece in any of our workflows: the author.
Ms. Talese asked me to introduce her column, which arrived in an e-mail, but which reads like a piece of correspondence via post—a love letter of sorts to the authors with whom she's built her career and staked her reputation.
This probably comes to you late, but you started me thinking about how the imprint came to be. I had just moved to Doubleday in 1988, two years earlier, having started in publishing at Random House, where I was really an inexperienced nobody with an office in the basement. Then I went to Simon and Schuster as a senior editor, then on to Houghton Mifflin where at the time of my departure I was publisher and editor in chief. But the shuttle to Boston finally did me in. I always felt that it was to the shuttle that I resigned.
With each move, authors were kind enough to follow me. It was at Simon and Schuster that I published Ian McEwan's first novel, "The Cement Garden," that I became Margaret Atwood's publisher, with "Lady Oracle," published Barry Unsworth's novel "The Idol Hunter" (I changed the title from "Pascali's Island," which became a splendid film starring Ben Kingsley). It taught me a lesson. It was there that I commissioned "Schindler's List" by Thomas Keneally. I had long admired Keneally's writing but had not been able to publish him. He was aware of my interest and so sent me a handwritten note from California saying he had come upon these remarkable files of survivors of the Holocaust, and the world now knows the rest of the story.