Welcome to Book Editors: Close Up at http://www.authorlink.com . This Authorlink column provides an intimate look at important book editors in New York and elsewhere. Interviews focus on editors as real people. The columns study their likes, dislikes, preferences, prejudices, and why they buy the books they do.

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Dan Slater
Editor of New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.

August 1999


What recent acquisitions have you made?

Most recent acquisitions include SEA OF HEARTBREAK by bestselling author Bruce Henderson (a nonfiction book about the disastrous Sydney-Hobart race), NOT BETWEEN BROTHERS, an historical epic by David Marion Wilkinson, and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, a movie companion guide to the upcoming movie "The Blair Witch Project."

How did you first become involved in publishing?

After graduating with a double major in Political Science and English, my prospects for a job seemed doubly bleak. I did, however, manage to land a job working for Associated Press. After becoming disenfranchised by the field of journalism, I mused over other careers that involve working closely with writers and editing copy. The answer was obvious — publishing. It was an easy and rewarding transition.

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

The job I have right now is the one I most want. I would have loved to become an author, but realizing my strength is in editing rather than in writing, I'll stick to the editing for now. Being the Zamboni driver for the Maple Leafs would be pretty cushy, though.

Who influenced you most as a child to read?

Definitely my mother. Being an avid reader herself, she was always encouraging me to read whatever I could get my hands on. Her bookshelves were always filled with such a wide variety of books — from serious literary fiction to classics to travelogues and memoirs, political history, philosophy, and quirky fiction — that my love of reading and my literary tastes remain very broad to this day. Of course, she was also the one who yelled at me when I stayed up all night reading under the covers…

Who is your favorite author?

A very hard question to answer as I have so many, and it's impossible to choose just one. For now, I'll say Tom Wolfe. His social satire has always amazed me, and his plotlines are riveting.

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

A typical query should include a cover letter, a synopsis, and three sample chapters. The best letters are from authors who do not try to be too cute or self-inflated or aggressive — they simply tell me who they are, giving me some background, some credentials (if any), and what they are able to do to help promote the book.

Do you accept email queries? If so, are there any length restrictions or other tips

I do not accept E-mail queries. They tend to clutter up my inbox, and for the most part they are too abbreviated to evaluate.

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

My advice is to stick with it and keep writing. A lot of authors quickly get discouraged by the "doom and gloom" aura surrounding the prospects of getting published. However, if you pen a fantastic piece of work, someone somewhere will take notice. Enlisting an agent is also beneficial — they will know how and to whom to position your work, and are often your biggest advocates.

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

Manuscripts over 600 pages long — unless you are an author such as Stephen King, this points to a serious flaw in self-editing. Telling a story from more than one viewpoint Stereotypical, flat, uninspired characters

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

Originality, grabbing a reader from page one and sustaining the pace all the way through, the manuscript, commercial potential, and incredible writing are three things that have influenced my decision regarding the last projects I signed up.

All of this can be achieved in numerous ways — a particular narrative voice that I can identify with; a mind-blowing premise that makes me want to read more; an issue that is prevalent in society portrayed in a novel way. What it really comes down to is falling in love with a project enough to champion it in-house.