To say that Eamon Dolan is glad to be back at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is a bit of an understatement: “I suppose I might seem cooler if I kept my heart off my sleeve, but I am compelled to state my exact emotions: it feels simply wonderful to be back home—better even than I’d imagined.” Dolan returned to HMH in May 2011 after moving to the Penguin Press in 2007. Since his return Dolan has immersed himself in preparing for the launch of his own imprint, Eamon Dolan Books.
What does it take to be a book editor with your own imprint? For Dolan, it’s “doing what editors always do, except perhaps slightly more of it.” That means even more conversations with agents, more fan letters to writers, and generally opening the brain to “as many ideas as possible.” But having an open mind, while necessary for shaping a nascent imprint, by no means indicates that Dolan doesn’t already know “what makes an Eamon Dolan book.”
“Starting the imprint has been rather hectic, but it’s also given me the chance to step back and ponder,” Dolan told PW. “Every editor’s list is, in an oblique way, his autobiography, and I’ve had a chance over these last months to peruse my own, identifying my strongest interests and hopes.” Dolan said that the imprint has allowed him more latitude than ever before in exploring projects. Beginning May 15, that exploration will take the form of the first Eamon Dolan book, Father’s Day by Buzz Bissinger, a writer-editor reunion from 2005’s Three Nights in August.
But what makes an Eamon Dolan book? “I love books that make an argument, whether overtly or covertly,” he said. “I also want a book to give me hope. Though I’ve published quite a few exposés of grim truths in my time, I always gravitate toward stories or arguments that point toward a solution or offer a sense of promise. Stuffing all of this into a nutshell, I’d say that I want to publish books that change people’s minds.” Dolan has signed 14 titles to date. In addition to Father’s Day, Dolan’s list will include David Sheff’s Clean (Jan. 2013), which offers a new research-based paradigm for dealing with addiction, and the just acquired The Boy Who Played with Fusion, an account of a 14-year-old who successfully built his own nuclear reactor, set for a 2014 publication.
Dolan, who has been in publishing for 25 years, said he knew he wanted to be an editor in college, “even before I knew what an editor really did. I realized that I was a good prose stylist, but I lacked the sustained imagination that it takes to be an actual writer,” he said. “So, I reasoned, perhaps I could help actual writers sharpen their prose and ideas. And it turns out that I could.” Dolan edited a number of bestselling books in his first stint at HMH, including The God Delusion and Fast Food Nation (the book he acquired that has most influenced his own thinking), before leaving for Penguin. But upon returning to HMH last year, Dolan said, “The essence of the place feels the same: collaborative, open, gracious, hardworking, deeply bibliophilic.”