Imprint: Nan A. Talese
of Nan Talese's publications, the intriguing novel Marie
Antoinette, The Journey,
by Antonia Fraser (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2001),
is a recent film produced by Sofia Coppola.
With a career spanning more than 30 years at top publishing
houses, Nan Talese’s roster of authors would be the envy
of any publisher.
The list includes authors Margaret Atwood, A. Alvarez, A. E.
Hotchner, Barry Unsworth, Peter Ackroyd, Pat Conroy, Antonia
Fraser, Thomas Cahill, Thomas Keneally, Ian McEwan, Valerie
Martin, and Marion Meade.
Random House, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, and Doubleday
all appear on Talese’s resume. It came as no surprise,
then, that the literary imprint Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, established
in 1990, gave Talese the freedom and autonomy she likes.
Talese says it is essential the authors whom she works with
be “good writers, good storytellers, and have a passion
for their subject.”
A few years ago, Marion Meade’s Bobbed Hair & Bathtub
Gin – Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, released by
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday stood as an example of wit, passion,
and good writing.
A biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy
Parker, and Edna Ferber during a romanticized era, the book
continues to provide a good read. These are unquiet women, in
decades energized by women winning the right to vote, boozing
nightly at speakeasies — despite prohibition — and
writers who did not sleep, or who did. In New York, Paris, the
French Riviera, and Hollywood.
“The book has a great musical rhythm to it, don’t
you think?” Talese had commented during a telephone interview.
“Parker has a sharp wit, Zelda is a lively spirit with
a dark side, Ferber is matronly, and Millay is the most sexually
free of the group.”
Marion Meade’s book included the infamous quote, “I
don’t read books, I just sell them,” by Frank Doubleday.
“That’s too bad,” Talese comments with some
embarrassment for the publishing legend who seemed too concentrated
on the bottom line.
When book publishing companies go public, she explains, “it
can get dangerous” because “demands for higher profits”
for shareholders are put in opposition to agents who “are
reckless in their demands for author advances.”
Writing is a business, she acknowledges.
However, “Writing novels for a living is a privilege,”
she adds, quoting a fiction writer who once admitted that it
requires good business sense as much as talent to forge a career
as a full-time novelist.
Her own business insight extends beyond book publishing. As
a result of the conversion of many of the authors’ titles
from print to screen, Talese stays involved in publishing’s
Talese likes the film versions of many of the books she has
edited. “I like The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood,
Houghton Mifflin/1988) and Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy, Houghton
Mifflin/1986) very much,” she says. “Pat (Conroy)
worked with Barbara Streisand on several rewrites of the screenplay.”
Even though the film version of Mary Reilly (Valerie Martin,
Doubleday/1990) had a “fantastic group of actors (John
Malkovich, Julia Roberts, Glenn Close) and a great director
(Stephen Frears)—” she comments, “—it
“When a book goes to film, there is no role for an editor,”
Talese had commented in an online interview at Writes of Passage.
“However, if the editor is also the publisher, then the
editor/publisher would be involved in the negotiation of taking
the book to film.”
At the time when another of Pat Conroy’s novels, Beach
Music (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1995), was optioned by CBS,
he was asked to write the screenplay. Always protective of her
authors, she suggested he “put a limit on the amount of
rewrites in his contract,” a tip she says she learned
from her husband, journalist and best-selling nonfiction author
She mentions that another of her author’s novels, Antonia
Fraser’s Marie Antoinette, The Journey (Nan A.
Talese/Doubleday, 2001), is being made into a film by Sofia
When asked if Fraser also wrote the screenplay, she remarked
with a chuckle, “she’s too smart for that,”
referring to the producers, writers, and directors who all have
a hand in the screenwriting (or, more accurately, rewriting)
process. Ideally, “a film is one person’s vision,”
One reason author Marti Leimbach’s novel, Dying Young
(Doubleday/1989), did not make the smooth transition from fiction
to film, she notes, is the change of location. In the novel,
“it takes place in New England during winter; it is a
major character in the story,” she explains. In the film,
the setting was changed to San Francisco, altering the mood
of the story significantly.
In 1972 she edited A. Alvarez’s The Savage God, A Guide
to Suicide (Random House). Dying and suicide are topics that
continue to fascinate Talese. She was taught at a young age
that suicide “is the one unforgivable sin,” yet
still believes “a person has the right to own his or her
Early in her career, Talese was working with A. E. Hotchner
on his biography of Ernest Hemingway, and until that time, she
notes, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning writer’s death
had been reported an accident, not suicide.
Hemingway’s widow (and fourth wife) Mary, now with Hemingway’s
sons grown, originally had agreed that the truth surrounding
the circumstances of her legendary husband’s death should
finally be told in Hotchner’s book (Papa Hemingway, Random
House/1983) but then had reconsidered and had tried to hold
back its publication.
While visiting similar dark themes, Marion Meade revealed shadowy
hearts in Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin when describing events
in these four writers lives. Meade documents alcoholism, illegal
abortions, unhappy marriages, divorces, suicides, and schizophrenia.
Themes that purge notions most people may still hold about writers.
Including the idea that writers’ lives are glamorous.
“That’s because they don’t live with them,”
Talese quips. She is married to noted author Gay Talese. “I
once suggested a speaking panel of writers’ spouses,”
she says, which might shed new light on the topic. “Like
Joan Didion and Gregory Dunne.”