Tor Back Then

By Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor

I joined Tor full-time at the end of 1988. But I’d already been working in the office every day for several months, providing dogsbody editorial assistance to Debbie Notkin and Beth Meacham and occasionally helping the production department. Even before that, I’d done freelance copyediting and proofreading for Tor for around a year. So my becoming a full-time employee wasn’t so much a sudden change as it was like the completion of a lengthy merger.

Beth Meacham, then Tor’s editor-in-chief, hired me with the odd title “administrative editor.” My brief was to help Beth with editorial administrivia while also taking over the Tor Doubles, which had been launched under the editorship of Debbie Notkin the previous year. (Debbie, an experienced Bay Area bookseller, had been recruited to come to New York and be a Tor editor, but she had only committed to a year, and the time had come for her to move home.) I was sternly warned to not expect to acquire books of my own any time soon. My first day on staff was December 1, 1988. The date on the contract for the first book I acquired for Tor—Rebecca Ore’s The Illegal Rebirth of Billy the Kid—is April 4, 1989.

My office was on the 24th Street side of Tor’s premises at 49 West 24th Street, across from the back door of the Masonic Hall. Our floor’s internal walls mostly didn’t go to the ceiling, so as I puttered away in my office, I could often hear Beth Meacham to one side of me, conducting high-octane negotiations with agents or expressing exasperation with someone else’s foolishness in the mild and low-key manner for which Beth is well known. And on the opposite side of my other wall, I could listen to the sagacious phone calls of Ralph Arnote, Tor’s silver-haired and terrifyingly experienced director of ID sales. Ralph was one of those indefatigable salesmen who had built the postwar mass-market paperback infrastructure in this country, a grizzled road warrior who’d worked with everyone, sold everybody’s books, and drunk them all under the table while never losing at cards. One never knew exactly how much to believe of Ralph’s stories—I recall one tale that ended with a speedboat in Havana crashing into a bar—but there was no denying his charm (every woman in the office had her Ralph name—Claire Eddy was Francine, Beth was Penelope), or his deep, devious understanding of the ins and outs of an industry built on the back of newspaper and periodical distribution. Between Beth and Ralph, I managed to overhear a pretty comprehensive education in book publishing.

What I miss most about those days was that there were so few of us, and we all spilled over into one another’s work. I commissioned and art-directed my own covers, two every month for the Doubles program plus any other books I was responsible for. I wrote press releases. I maintained mailing lists for SF-and-fantasy-specific marketing initiatives. I set type and fixed cover mechanicals. My wife, Teresa, was Tor’s managing editor, and I had some experience as a production freelancer, so naturally I wound up involved with production. Tor had departments, and we all had distinct jobs, but there was always too much to be done for anyone to be a total specialist. On at least one occasion I wrote cover copy for some other editor’s Western that I had never read and had no intention of reading. Not only did everyone on staff have a pretty good idea what was going on in the whole company, but it was hard to avoid knowing—once again, those walls didn’t quite reach the ceiling. It seemed like a natural and reasonable state of affairs. Now that we’re bigger and part of a much larger corporation, there are entire enormous Tor and Forge projects that I don’t know a thing about. That seems unnatural, and it’ll never stop feeling wrong.

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