In any book, one of the most heartfelt thank yous from an author usually goes to the book editor, and for many years, some of the most prominent authors have thanked Nan Talese. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
Nan Talese was once dubbed the "high priestess of all New York editor/publishers."
"People have said, 'I'm so glad to meet you,'" she says. "Now, I cannot figure it out. (laughs)."
Talese: The hard thing is to write. What I do is easy.
Mishkin: Maybe it's easy for you.
Talese: It's easy for me.
Talese is held in such high regard that she has her own imprint, akin to her own department of the publishing giant Doubleday.
On the walls of her Midtown office hang pictures of some of the writers with whom she's worked for decades, including best-selling authors Margaret Atwood and Pat Conroy.
At her Upper East Side home, there are notes from book projects both present and past.
"What I usually do is - I won't do it because it's undignified - I lie down here with my feet up here and I read the manuscripts," Talese says. "I read very, very slowly. because I hear the words."
Her appreciation for what writers endure is helped immensely by the fact that she lives with a writer, and a pretty fair one at that: her husband of more than 55 years, Gay Talese.
"As Gay writes his book, I read aloud the pages as they come out, and I think it puts me in the atmosphere of the writer's working," Nan Talese says. "I think it's helped me a great deal."
The help goes both ways. Talese says when her husband was working on his breakthrough book about the New York Times, "The Kingdom and the Power," he sensed that she was not being as honest as she could be about a chapter that was giving him trouble.
"I was coming up the stairs to be with the children, and at that time, he was writing on the first floor, and he called,'Nan!' and I knew it, and so I said, 'Yes?' and I went downstairs, and he said, 'When you read my pages, I want you to read as an editor, not as a wife,'" she says.
To her large stable of writers, old and new, she is occasionally a therapist, often a friend, but mostly an editor.
"It's always the author's book," she says. "All I do is ask the questions that might be asked by either readers or critics."
There are hundreds of stories behind the creation of these books. When Pat Conroy was finishing his 1995 novel "Beach Music," Talese called him and said it shouldn't be in the third person, but rather the first person. So Conroy came to New York and the two of them went to work.
"He said, 'The only thing is, I'm very bad on placement of things, so don't do your arrows and say this should be 300 pages earlier.' He said, 'Do it on a yellow sheet on paper.' Well, we ended up with five yellow sheets of paper, and he re-wrote the whole thing, and it was a huge success. It sold almost 1 million copies," she says.
Sometimes, a best seller results from a chance encounter, like the one writer Thomas Keneally described in a note to Talese in 1980.
"'I'm here in California in a leather shop, and the owner has showed me these files of someone who was in the Holocaust.' He didn't say much more than that, and he said, 'You've always been very kind in liking my writing. Are you interested?'" she says.
She was, and it led to Keneally writing "Schindler's List."
Nan Talese grew up in Rye and went to Manhattanville College in Westchester. She was the youngest of three, the self-described "good one."
"I was a debutante, and I lived, you know, a very proper life in a very social place, which I hated," she says.
In her first years in the business, she had to prove herself to writers like A.E. Hotchner.
"Hotch said later, 'This teenager came in and I thought she was going to bring coffee or bring me to my editor,' but instead they said, 'This is your editor,'" she says.
Her connection to writers came to extend beyond her career. Nan and Gay Talese were married in 1959. They have two daughters.
As one of the most prominent couples in New York literary circles, their marriage has been the subject of much scrutiny, including magazine profiles.
Mishkin: Do you understand why it's of interest to people in New York?
Talese: Well, because I think Gay writes about scandalous things. I mean, the neighbor's wife, the sexual revolution.
"I don't know. I just believe in him, and I'm sure if I said, 'Please don't say that,' he wouldn't," she adds. "I mean, he's a really very good person."
Gay Talese is now writing a book about a marriage: his own.
"I trust Gay tremendously," Nan Talese says. "I remember Diane Rehm asking me on the air what do I think of it, and I said, 'Well, I don't think he knows anything about marriage, so it's OK with me.' (laughs)"
The one book that hurt her reputation was "A Million Little Pieces," James Frey's 2003 memoir about addiction. It was highly praised until it was revealed that Frey had fabricated parts of the story, leading to public condemnation on Oprah.
"Everyone was willing to let the writer hang, and I wasn't. And so when James was asked to go on Oprah, and someone for Doubleday was to go, and they said, 'Well Nan, you're the one who really believes in him, so why don't you go?' So I did. And the least favorite thing to do," she says.
"In the book, she slits her wrists, but in actuality, she hung herself. And they began booing about that, and I said, 'The point is the suicide, not whether it was wrists or hanging,'" she adds. "But it's just amazing how people get very righteous about things."
Over a career that now spans more than 50 years, has Nan Talese ever thought about writing her own book?
"No, never," she says. "I don't write. I've never, I mean, even writing letters makes me nervous, and especially to authors."
For those authors, often working in solitude, she's created a home, and her writers keep coming back.
"In a room with a piece of white paper or a computer in front of you and everything has to come out of your mind, and the fact that you have someone who is going to read this who really respects and honors you, is what it's about. That's what the loyalty is about," she says.