What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
I publish mostly nonfiction, so I’ll confine my predictions to that realm. I think the Web is at last proving itself an extremely fertile source of raw material for books. We’ve just seen this with Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton, and I strongly suspect we’ll see it again with What If? by Randall Munroe, the genius behind the xkcd website. (My colleague Courtney Young at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish What If? this fall.)
These days, books are also starting to harness the recent explosion of research that’s effectively connecting psychology and hard science. I’m not talking about behavioral economics, which has underpinned many best-sellers in the past decade or so, but the slew of newer work that reveals the wiring and purpose behind our moods and feelings. Those past best-sellers were, in general terms, highlighting cognitive processes that guide (or misguide) us. The new crop deals more directly with the emotive processes that guide us. The Power of Habitby Charles Duhiggand Quietby Susan Cain were early exemplars of this trend. I’m hoping that Age of Opportunity, Laurence Steinberg’s book-length epiphany about adolescence, will become another exemplar when I publish it in September.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I want nonfiction that makes an argument (whether overt or covert) and/or reveals some hidden order in the world. I really like big ideas, but I don’t like broad surveys, and a polemical or structural imperative helps sharpen an author’s focus. Argument also brings an author’s passion to the fore and makes her “voice” more audible as a result. Most editors would say that voice is key for them; we know we have a winning project in hand when there’s nothing else we’d rather hear than that author speaking about that subject at that moment.
In fiction, I crave voice even more. I also fall hard for stories that move fast, give me hope and depict a world so vividly that I can imagine aspects of it that aren’t actually described.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
This answer ducks the question, but it is honest: I don’t think any topic can ever be played out. However, certain rhetorical approaches have worn out their welcomes with me, most notably the “how X changed the world” gimmick, where X equals a particular animal, vegetable, mineral, date, dessert topping….
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
Having my own imprint lets me pursue my interests more freely than I ever could have before. I publish at most 10 books a year, a reasonable number that allows me to edit each one thoroughly, even obsessively. I also get to publish in areas like popular culture that have long fascinated me but that I haven’t been able to pursue much before, when administrative duties or expectations that I’d stick to particular genres prevented me from following my bliss. That bliss recently led me to publish Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin and Fosse by Sam Wasson, two of my favorite projects of the last several years.
Returning to HMH (where I worked before from 1998 to 2007) has made me at least as happy as having my own imprint. This place is collaborative to its core, and it is a hotbed of kindness, diligence, intelligence and wit. That environment makes me feel good every day, and it’s a boon to my books and authors as well.
Eamon Dolan runs an eponymous imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that publishes about 10 titles a year. He was previously editor in chief at Penguin Press and at Houghton Mifflin. Among the best-selling books he’s edited are Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer and Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin.