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The publisher as protagonist

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"An older publisher who ran one of the conglomerates once said to me, 'You shouldn't allow yourself to become such good friends with your authors, Morgan,' " Entrekin recalls. "And I said, 'But that's one of the joys of this business.' And he said, 'Yeah, but you'll get hurt and disappointed by them.'

"And I looked at him and said, 'Yes, that may happen. But, that would be the same theory as, 'Oh, you should never fall in love, because you might get a broken heart.' One of the great pleasures of this business is the friendships that you have with authors."

Entrekin says he has come to accept that he won't be able to keep all of his writers on board. "It's sort of like being the Oakland A's, if you follow baseball, or the Kansas City Royals. They're going to develop ballplayers that the Yankees are then going to be able to offer more money."

On the first chilly afternoon back in his New York office after a holiday in Nashville, stacks of books cover the floor, the chairs, and the couch. They lie in horizontal piles on metal shelves, with no apparent concern for the ordinary conventions of shelving. Conspicuously absent from the manuscripts, bound books, unopened Christmas cards, and other detritus that litter Entrekin's desk, is a computer. (He may be a throwback, but he's no anachronism: He uses a BlackBerry to check e-mail.)

Even after nearly three decades as a professional reader and despite the heaps of books that threaten to overtake his office, Entrekin still can't wait to read. A stack of 30 books sits next to his bed at home.

"I love reading," he says. "I love it. I know people think I'm insane. If I'm dating a girl, and we go away for the weekend, all I'll want to do is read. And she'll say, 'Isn't this all you do all the time anyway?' "

Every summer, Entrekin retreats to the Greek isle of Patmos for a minimum of three weeks. He has been traveling there by himself for 11 years. He spends his days recharging - practicing yoga, swimming, getting healthier - and, of course, catching up on his reading.

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