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More NORWESCON--Tom Doherty Interview

The biggest thing I took out the interview with Tom Doherty is that the man really loves his job.

As I said in the last entry, Robert Sawyer surprised me by allowing me to open the questioning. I refered to the fact that there were more interviews in which his name was mentioned available on the web than there were interviews with him. When you influence that many people in your life, you know you've done something right. I referred him to an interview with one of his editors who said that although there'd been many editors-in-chief at Tor over the years, Tom really had a mind like a steel-trap when it came to the art of telling a story and he essentially acted as his own editor-in-chief. I then asked him to respond to this comment, particularly how he saw his position with Tor. Editor or Publisher?

He said he was a coach. The object was to get the best work out of everyone involved, and that required wearing every hat and none-at-all at the same time. Tor is a family business, and he runs it with that firmly in mind. Both his daughters work for him. There are no weekly staff meetings where everyone tries to push their project. Sales and the editorial staff work side-by-side. His answer ran on for a good ten minutes, but it did give him a chance to discuss the history of the company in some detail.

Being a writer, I brought up the fact that Tor just updated their website this month, stating that they were now "Actively seeking Chick-Lit." The website also says that Tor's definition of Chick-Lit was a bit different than most publishers, so I asked for his definition.

He responded that Tor's definition was whatever his daughter--who is editing the line--decided it was. That response took five seconds. It was apparent that he delegated his authority to his editors and he let them do their job. One of the points he emphasized was that if you were a new writer looking to sell to Tor books, your best bet was to find books they've published similar to yours, check the inside cover--they name the editor on each book they publish--and send your ms. to the editor listed there.

Gordon Van Gelder asked him if in the course of his career he'd ever been shot at. I'm not even going to try to tell you the story he told. Let's just say that it should go on your MUST ASK list if you ever meet him.

I did manage to evoke a small gasp from the audience when I asked my third--and what turned out to be my final--question. They say that failures can be one of the best educational tools in any endeavor. With that in mind, I asked him what was his most educational failure with Tor.

He gave me a look, then smiled to soften the blow a bit. After which he replied that although he wasn't trying to dodge the question, he preferred to believe that successes taught much more than failures ever did, and that he didn't dwell on the failures. In my opinion, this said more about the man than if he had answered the question anyway. There was always a smile on his face. It's rare when you get to meet a genuinely happy person, let alone a genuinely happy publisher. But Tom Doherty is that. He loves his work. When asked who his favorite authors were, he said, "That's easy. I publish their books."

No great mystery. No labrynthine answers. Just a man doing what he loves, and doing it well.

We should all be so lucky.

Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of The Abyss.

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