Pam Dorman Is Back At Viking Books—And at Square One

pubcrawldorman Pam Dorman Is Back At Viking Books—And at Square OneWhen Pam Dorman decided this past May to return to Viking Books—where she’d been an editor for 19 years—she had not been gone for very long. It was just two and a half years ago, in January 2006, when she announced she would be leaving to start her own boutique imprint at Hyperion.

By the time of the switch, Ms. Dorman had established herself at Viking as an editor with a rare intuition for spotting debut novels of a certain character that could sell millions of copies. Bridget Jones’s Diary was hers. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, too. Also Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean. Also, Must Love Dogs! All told, she turned out best sellers consistently, an uncommon achievement in an industry where many acquiring editors unapologetically operate under the defeatist assumption that if a book succeeds, it’s because of blind luck.

Ms. Dorman was a prize for Hyperion. They wanted her so badly, in fact, that they deployed the old “give them their own imprint” trick, a sort of trump card publishing houses play when they want to make it really hard for whomever they’re after to say no.

So, Ms. Dorman said yes, and pretty soon she was running Voice/Hyperion, an imprint of her very own devoted entirely to fiction for women age 35 and up. The vast majority of Ms. Dorman’s authors, meanwhile, remained at Viking, orphaned briefly after her departure but quickly reassigned to other editors.

Over at Hyperion, it became clear fairly quickly that Ms. Dorman’s new job wasn’t working out, and though a few of the books she acquired during her time there stand to become best sellers once they’re issued in paperback, a lot of what she brought in just didn’t hit the way it was supposed to. She wanted to go home.

Fortunately, Penguin’s president, Susan Petersen Kennedy, and Viking’s president, Clare Ferraro, welcomed Ms. Dorman back. They gave her an imprint of her own just like she had at Hyperion, and the autonomy to publish whatever kind of fiction she wants.

You might expect, in light of this, that Ms. Dorman would get some of her authors back. But no! She told The Observer that nobody’s going anywhere, leaving her to start with nothing yet again while the superstars she brought to Viking during her first tour continue on with their adopted parents.

“Susan Petersen Kennedy has a very, very strong sense of right and wrong, and she may have felt that Pam gave up her right to those authors permanently when she left,” e-mailed a veteran publisher at a different New York house when asked to analyze the situation. “She clearly felt that Pam’s talents were valuable enough to want her back, but not so valuable that she would disrupt relationships that had been developing in the time Pam was away. And, it would have been immensely disrespectful to the other editor(s) all of whom are also valuable to the company.”

Ms. Dorman, for her part, isn’t worrying about it.

“They’re doing fine!” she said of her authors on Monday. “You know, I love them, and I’ve stayed in good touch with a number of them. If I can be helpful to them in some way, like an old friend or a former editor would be, that’s great. But they are happily settled.”

Case in point: Sue Monk Kidd has been working with Molly Stern, the dominant fiction editor at Viking who was referred to by an editor at another house as “the future face of the company.”

Ms. Dorman said she’s excited to begin her list anew. “What Susan and Clare have said to me over and over again is, ‘Look: you’re really good at finding new talent.’ And I hope that’s true. That’s what my mandate is.

“Building a list from scratch, which is what I did at Voice, too, is really different from having 19 years of backlist and lots and lots of authors who you gather over the years,” she went on. “There’s something incredibly refreshing about it. You have no baggage. You have nothing that you’re looking at and thinking, ‘Why did I buy this?’”

Lesson learned: You actually can go home again, but your stuff might be gone.

lneyfakh@observer.com