Banking on Book Clubs

What this thriving editor is looking for in her new imprint aimed at women. by Kara Gebhart Uhl
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Best known for editing such works as Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton, Pamela Dorman is one of the publishing industry’s leading women’s fiction editors. After 19 years as an editor at Viking Penguin, in 2006 Dorman switched publishing houses to Hyperion, where she served as vice president and editorial director of Voice. In June she moved back to Penguin and is currently vice president and publisher of her new imprint, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking.

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What’s your vision for Pamela Dorman Books? The imprint will publish upmarket commercial fiction primarily aimed at women. I look for fiction with strong narrative drive and strong characters. I also hope to do some narrative nonfiction and memoir. Recently, I published Kelly Corrigan’s bestseller The Middle Place, about her relationship with her beloved father as they both faced cancer.

What makes a good author/editor relationship? A good author/editor relationship involves having a similar vision for the book; ideally, an editor has a sense of what changes would help bring the author’s original vision to fruition. I think it’s best when authors are keen to revise, and I love the process that results when it’s truly collaborative.

Do you recommend authors hire their own publicists? Hiring an outside publicist really depends on the book, the house and the author’s expectations. I’ve been in situations in which the addition of an outside publicist was a huge help and others in which it was a duplication of efforts, and a waste of time and money. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Having launched the careers of many bestselling authors, do you see a common thread in bestselling books? With regard to what makes a bestseller, I wish I knew! I can say that the most successful books I’ve published deal with family relationships, and often, with a single, galvanizing event that catapults a character or characters into change. This was true in The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, for instance, when a doctor’s decision to send his Down syndrome daughter away at birth is the catalyst for everything that follows.

What does the future look like for women’s fiction? I think the future is very bright. The enormous growth of reading groups, which are largely populated by women, is one of the key factors that has made books aimed at women successful. It can be anything from a light and fun read, like Claire Cook’s novels, to an historical novel such as Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund or Lauren Groff’s recent novel The Monsters of Templeton.

All have been bestsellers and book-club favorites. Women are the largest book-buying audience in America, so I have continued faith that books appealing to that large niche will continue to sell well.