On May 1, former Houghton Mifflin publisher Janet Silver starts her new job as an editor at large at Nan Talese’s boutique literary imprint at Doubleday.
Back in January, Ms. Silver and several other editors at Houghton Mifflin were made redundant as part of the company’s merger with Harcourt.
But Ms. Silver and Ms. Talese may have the better end of the stick: The author list Ms. Silver built at Houghton, which included Philip Roth and Jonathan Safran Foer, did not play a small role in Ms. Talese’s desire to recruit her.
“I called Janet and she sent us a list of the authors she had worked with and the ones who’d said they wanted to come with her, if not immediately then eventually,” Ms. Talese said. “We ran down the financials and … we made an agreement with her that she would stay up there in Massachusetts. It was all done in a rather good fashion.”
So far, Ms. Silver has formally moved three of her authors to her new list at Doubleday: Monique Truong, Peter Ho Davies and John Pipkin. That leaves about a dozen more, all of whom, according to Ms. Silver, could still end up following her to Doubleday.
That means Philip Roth and Jonathan Safran Foer are in play. Mr. Foer, according to Ms. Silver, couldn’t think of changing houses when she got her job because he’d just turned in the manuscript for his forthcoming nonfiction book about vegetarianism. After that one is published, Mr. Foer will only owe Harcourt Houghton Mifflin one more book: a Passover Haggadah. After that, he’ll be free to find a new publisher. And Mr. Roth, who only signs contracts for one book at a time, will be a free agent after his next book, Indignation, comes out this September; according to Ms. Silver, he is already working on a new novel.
Ms. Talese has put in a call to Mr. Roth’s agent, Andrew Wylie, and told him the author was welcome at her imprint.
It would be a natural move, Ms. Talese explained to Pub Crawl Monday. "When I was first in publishing I was a line editor on Philip’s first and second novels. He knows me and I know him and he knows [her journalist husband] Gay. So it’s just up to him. Things change so quickly in publishing."
Ms. Talese has reason to be optimistic: when she left Houghton Mifflin for Doubleday in 1988, she was allowed to bring all her authors-including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan– with her. The fact that Houghton Mifflin, once a beloved, ambitious literary house, has been all but dismantled as a result of the Harcourt merger, suggests that authors will be even more eager to jump ship now than they were when Ms. Talese went through this twenty years ago.