An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Mark Tavani
Senior Editor, Mortalis/Ballantine/Random House Publishing Group

By Chrisy Long

July 2006

". . . I wanted to do something that involved my greatest passion—writing."


Authorlink: How did you first become involved in publishing?

Tavani: I had majored in writing at the University of Pittsburgh and when I decided that I did not want make a career of being a forestry aid, I also decided that I wanted to do something that involved my greatest passion—writing. I began looking into the publishing industry, one contact led to another, and eventually I was put in touch with Nita Taublib at Bantam. Bantam didn't have any suitable and open positions at that time, but Ballantine did, and Nita suggested I speak with them. I did and the next day I had a job offer.

"I remember one time pretending I had an earache so I could curl up in bed and finish Terry Brooks's THE SWORD OF SHANNAR."


Authorlink: What did you do before occupying your current position?

Tavani: I delivered beer and worked as a forestry aid—though not at the same time.

Authorlink: What job would you do if you could do any job in the world?

Tavani: I would be a critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and highly paid novelist. In my spare time, I would find small ways to make the world a better place.

Authorlink: What is your earliest memory of your love for words or books?

Tavani: I was a healthy kid with very steady school attendance, but I blew that every once in a while by faking sick so I could stay home and read. I remember one time pretending I had an earache so I could curl up in bed and finish Terry Brooks's THE SWORD OF SHANNAR.

Authorlink: Who influenced you most as a child to read?

Tavani: My dad. I found the piles of books he kept in the basement simultaneously intimidating and exciting. Plus, he used to take me the library once or twice a month just to make sure I was reading new things.

". . . that impressed me most —the marriage of style and substance was simply so complete."


Authorlink: Who are your favorite two or three authors?

Tavani: S.E. Hinton, Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison

Authorlink: Why do you like each of them?

Tavani: I started reading SE Hinton';s books when I was nine or ten and over the next few years read every one I could find. THE OUTSIDERS; TEX; RUMBLE FISH; THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOWI loved them all. And more than anything, I related to them in a way I may never relate to a book again. What made it even more amazing is that a huge part of what I was relating to was Hinton's ability to capture the adolescent male mind. Hinton, of course, is a woman, and she wrote the first oneTHE OUTSIDERSwhen she was only sixteen. I'll never understand how she did it.

Chabon, to my mind, perfectly blends entertaining storytelling with razor-sharp prose. Plus, he's extremely passionate about the subject matter he explores; as a reader, I find that infectious.

Morrison, I think, is a grand storyteller with classic sensibilities and the courage to explore some important topics. JAZZ may not be her most celebrated work, but that was the one that impressed me most—the marriage of style and substance was simply so complete.

Authorlink: What is your favorite book of all time and why?

Tavani: THE OUTSIDERS; as for why, see my last answer.

"I just want to sense an agent's enthusiasm. If I sense he or she really means it, that's always what gets me."


Authorlink: What categories do you acquire for?

Tavani: Now that I've spouted off about a few literary novels…commercial fiction, thrillers, narrative nonfiction, true crime, and sports books, mostly.

Authorlink: What other categories personally interest you?

Tavani: Literary fiction and history

Authorlink: Of the projects you've edited and published, can you give us two examples of books (titles and authors) that would best represent your interests or tastes?

Tavani: With THE TEMPLAR LEGACY, Steve Berry constructed the kind of high-concept suspense that never fails to entertain me; with SIX BAD THINGS, Charlie Huston perfected the kind of dark, edgy, dangerous fiction I find fascinating and addictive.

Authorlink: What do you want to see in a query? How long?

Tavani: The length can vary—I just want to sense an agent's enthusiasm. If I sense he or she really means it, that's always what gets me.

Authorlink: Do you accept email queries?

Tavani: Sure.

Authorlink: Do you accept direct queries from authors or do you prefer to work with agents?

Tavani: I'm forced by the sheer volume of submissions to work only with agents.

"Find a good agent and truly place your trust in him or her."


Authorlink: Specifically for literary agents, do you have advice for what you expect from them in a query or submission?

Tavani: Again, enthusiasm. Beyond that, I leave the details to the agent.

Authorlink: What advice, if any, do you have for the new writer trying to break in?

Tavani: 1. Be patient. 2. Find a good agent and truly place your trust in him or her. 3. Be open to suggestions, but believe in your work.

Authorlink: What are your three biggest turn-offs when you're considering a manuscript (packaging? typefaces? no SASE? viewpoint shifts?)

Tavani: Sloppiness. Mistakes and typos are obviously unavoidable, but I don't want to get the sense that the material was dashed off.

Authorlink: What was it about the last three manuscripts you've acquired that caught your eye? Made the decision for you to buy?

Tavani: A suspense novel I just acquired features a plot as emotionally involving as it was exciting, and two main characters who are flawed but instantly sympathetic. A true crime project I recently acquired features a dual-narrator structure that I found fresh and enlightening. An historical thriller I acquired is set in a fascinating time and involves a great deal of intriguing American history.

Authorlink: Do you have a favorite quote or first line of a novel, some wisdom that has guided you?

Tavani: I once heard this motto: "If you finish it, you should buy it." But that's more a joke than a truth. I wouldn't say I have any such guiding quote.

—Chrisy Long