In this dedicated issue, supported by HarperStudio, we catch up with the small publisher with the big list, whose launch we covered in depth early this year (Shelf Awareness, January 26, 2009).
In this dedicated issue, supported by HarperStudio, we catch up with the small publisher with the big list, whose launch we covered in depth early this year (Shelf Awareness, January 26, 2009).
They've been busy in the atelier on 53rd Street.
HarperStudio has released its initial titles, starting in late April, and is now in its first full season, with 12 books coming out between August and December. The HarperCollins division also has acquired more than 50 books that will appear over the next two to three years.
Most important, the division is conducting business in a way president and publisher Bob Miller envisioned for HarperStudio. It's offering books nonreturnable, signing up authors for relatively low advances and splitting profits, expanding books technologically (for example, adding sophisticated video segments to e-books), and constantly experimenting with creative ways of marketing and publishing titles, in many cases using online communities, blogs, vlogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter in new ways. (See following story.)
Working with authors has been as Miller hoped, saying, "It's a collaborative process from the beginning." Many upcoming titles are by well-known people like Tom Peters, Michael Eisner, Erica Jong and Brad Meltzer who have "pet projects that might not fit their previous titles." Miller is proud of how these titles developed, saying, "These books are generated from ideas rather than bidding the most at auction."
On the sales side, most major bookselling accounts are buying nonreturnable, but "only some" independents are on board. Miller said, "I understand it's a tentative time in the economy to ask people to make changes in how they do business, but because indies historically have lower return rates, they can be rewarded if they buy nonreturnable." Oddly big box stores, which buy most of their inventory nonreturnable, have not signed up to buy books nonreturnable.
Of the first titles that have appeared, Who Is Mark Twain?, HarperStudio's debut book that contained unpublished short pieces by Mark Twain, and Emeril at the Grill by chef Emeril Lagasse "did really well," Miller said. "And we're really proud of Burn This Book," the collection of essays about censorship published with the PEN American Center that was edited by Toni Morrison.
Miller continues to see the HarperStudio as an alternative to traditional ways of publishing at the big New York houses. As people debate the publishing model, Miller again said he would propose the HarperStudio approach for consideration: "We contribute everything we can and the authors contribute everything they can, and we split the profits while we at HarperStudio take the risk."
One of the most innovative of HarperStudio's innovative authors is Gary Vaynerchuk, the wine merchant who has built a worldwide following online via his video blog about wine, Wine Library TV, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Launched in 2006, the vlog has "an incredible following," as Miller put it, and has made Vaynerchuk's family's store in Springfield, N.J., a leader in the business. The first of his 10-book series with HarperStudio is Crush It!: Why Now Is the Time to Cash in Your Passion, which comes out October 13 and offers readers advice from his experience using the Internet to create a global brand and transform "his entire life and earning potential by building his personal brand."
"Gary Vaynerchuk is using all the techniques he discusses in the book to sell the book," Miller commented. "And he's inventing some new ones." So much so that HarperStudio senior v-p and associate publisher Debbie Stier said that she has learned from Vaynerchuk and applied his lessons to other campaigns and authors.
Among the enticements on the site, which Vanyerchuk updates daily: a Crush It! overlay fans can use to put on their Twitter avatars (usually their pictures); a "street team map," on which fans sign up by area and pledge to support him and the book ("people call stores to order the book and report feedback"); sign ups for a newsletter with news about the book.
Vaynerchuk is running two contests for Crush It!. For the bookseller who "engineers the most compelling, creative, and successful marketing idea for the book," Vanyerchuk will offer a four-hour consulting session similar to the ones he regularly conducts for Fortune 500 companies. He estimates the session's value at $20,000.
For consumers who attend his book signings, he is offering the chance to go for free on a week-long Crush It! Cruise next March in the Caribbean, which includes daily business seminars led by Vaynerchuk as well as wine events and more. Fans will be eligible for a drawing that will be held November 19, at the end of the book tour, that will be conducted live on ustream.tv.
Vaynerchuk is streaming all his events, something Stier recommends for all stores.
"Gary Vaynerchuk is an exciting example of what publishers and authors can do together," Miller said. Debbie Stier added, "Gary's the perfect 2009 author. It's the best relationship between an author and publisher, like a great marriage with back and forth, give and take, riffing off each other, and no one's counting."
For The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene, which went on sale last week, the rapper author has used his site to promote the book "aggressively." His team is "very versed digitally in a way book publishing isn't," Miller said, and has done a lot of computer-to-computer and sharing sites. (As an up-and-coming rapper, 50 Cent was a fan of Greene's 2000 bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power. In this book, the two examine 50 Cent's belief that his ultimate success came once he learned not to fear anything. The book covers similar experiences by others.)
HarperStudio is also trying to bundle a song with the book and is interested in some special offers that allow purchasers of the book to download singles from 50 Cent's new album, which goes on sale in November.
For Green Porno: A Book and Short Films by Isabella Rossellini, which includes a DVD, HarperStudio will use behind-the-scenes video footage that has never been seen before in an effort to get viral attention in the same way earlier Green Porno footage has. The division will run some Facebook ads, with landing pages that will offer "something special," Stier said. It's also working with Groupable, a new company that partners with sponsors--which Stier called "a great opportunity for authors." Already the company has gotten some sponsors for Green Porno.
Actress, model, translator, TV reporter and daughter of Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, Isabella Rossellini wrote, directed and starred in the Green Porno shorts, about "the reproducing habits of bugs and insects." The shorts are humorous and educational and feature Rossellini in costumes. Rossellini is involved in Wildlife Conservation and is a volunteer and trainer for the Guide Dog Foundation. The book goes on sale September 22.
HarperStudio has also worked with Groupable on Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran and is linking with lots of mothers' groups online.
In the book, which published in late August, the ADHD expert and psychotherapist explain the roots of children's organizational problems and discuss how parents can help to fix them with the right organizational system for the child.
For Strange Things Happen: A Life with the Police, Polo and Pygmies, the memoir by Stewart Copeland, drummer in the Police, the audio version will have musical interludes between each chapter, an example of HarperStudio "trying to push formats where we can," as Miller put it. Besides covering Copeland's experience in the band--"and, yes, there are chapters about Sting"--the book, which goes on sale September 29, tells the story of Copeland's life growing up in the Middle East the son of an agent in the CIA, his love of polo and his experience filmmaking with Pygmies in the Congo.
Double Take is a memoir by Kevin Michael Connolly, who was born legless and at age 19 discovered photography, which has become his passion. He is best known for his Rolling Exhibition, consisting of pictures he took around the world while rolling on a skateboard. Often the subjects are surprised, curious, shocked onlookers. Double Take has already received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. (See excerpt below.)
Connolly has a strong following on Photog and Flickr, which, Stier noted, are not just places to post photographs but are communities. Connolly will promote the book there and make special offers that tie in with the book, such as giving purchasers framed copies of his photographs.
HarperStudio's first New York Times bestseller was Emeril Lagasse's Emeril at the Grill. This fall Emeril is back with a collection of recipes to fit today's busy lifestyles. Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast includes recipes for everything from 11-minute Simple Italian Wedding Soup to the 60-minute Pork Loin with Apples and Prunes. Emeril 20-40-60 goes on sale October 27.
This Is Why You're Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley grew out of a blog on Tumblr, which Stier described as "an amazing community where things go viral really fast," in part because it takes only one click to re-blog something. Within two weeks of its start, the blog had millions of hits and is one of the top two or three blogs on Tumblr. HarperStudio will promote the book on Tumblr.
This Is Why You're Fat digs into what the authors call "the old stand-bys, the carnival foods of their childhoods, the sticky mess of a deep-fried candy bar, the indulgence of a greasy burger with all the fixin's." (See a recipe for Bacon Cinnamon Rolls (!) below.)
Incidentally the authors are a kind of new media power couple: she is the viral media editor at BuzzFeed.com, and he is the video editor for Gawker Media. "They are a generation who knows things in ways we don't," Stier said.
I Am Neurotic (And So Are You) by Lianna Kong is another book that began as a blog. On the I Am Neurotic blog, Kong and her friends shared and joked about their neuroses; it quickly morphed into a site for confessional therapy by the neurotic masses. The book collects "the best" neuroses and includes photographs. I Am Neurotic goes on sale October 13.
For the book, HarperStudio is creating T-shirts and a video campaign that it will use on Facebook and the authors' blog.
The Book of the Shepherd: The Story of One Simple Prayer and How It Changed the World by Joann Davis is a fable, HarperStudio's only fictional title. The story begins in a Vermont study, where the new owner of the house finds a rare book that takes a year to have translated because of its strange hybrid language. The book turns out to be The Book of the Shepherd, set in a mythical time, the account of a shepherd who is called by a dream to find "the new way." He goes on a journey accompanied by a former slave and a boy whom the shepherd first saw being beaten in a market. The group encounters more characters--the Story Teller, the Apothecary, the Blind Man and the Stranger--who impart lessons to them. In a cave, the travelers come to learn that "sometimes the treasure we seek has been inside us all along."
Paulo Coelho himself wrote: "The Book of the Shepherd, a timeless story about one man who is seeking 'the new way,' is an inspiring and moving fable."
For The Book of the Shepherd, Davis (see her Book Brahmin below) is "immersing herself in Paulo Coelho's community, blogging and sending out e-cards," Stier said. Davis created a video with the prayer that the shepherd finds at the end of the book. The story of the book is told on the person's hands. The division is doing at outreach to Unitarian ministers.
Miller added that the book has "terrific potential outside the mainstream review market."
In the OMG category, from This Is Why We're Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley, which goes on sale October 27:
Bacon Cinnamon Rolls
Recipe by Andy Phelan
one roll of ready-to-cook cinnamon rolls
one container of cream cheese
one container of bacon strips
Cook the bacon in a pan till one side is mostly done but not fully cooked through. Dry the bacon of grease, then slather the mostly cooked side of the bacon with cream cheese. Unroll the cinnamon rolls on a hard surface. Place the cream cheese slathered bacon into the unrolled cinnamon rolls. Roll the cinnamon rolls back up with the cream cheese bacon inside. Place the rolls on a nonstick baking sheet and bake for 17-20 minutes at 350 F degrees. Remove from oven and top with icing provided in the cinnamon roll packaging.
The following is from Double Take: A Memoir by Kevin Michael Connolly, which goes on sale October 13:
Dad raced home to ring his parents in Connecticut, who weren't originally going to come out for my birth. Once the information reached them about my lack of legs, Grandma and Grandpa hopped the next flight to Montana.
My Dad's parents met my Mom's at the airport the next day. Already aware of the gravity of the situation, my grandma asked in a solemn tone:
"So . . . how are things?"
My Mom's father laughed. "Everything's fine as long as you don't sling him over your shoulder, 'cause there's nothing to grab."
While the concern, apprehension, and fear were real, a bit of black humor helped to loosen the knot of tension. Everyone had his or her own crack.
The doctors: "He'll never be a professional basketball player, but that probably wasn't going to happen anyway."
My Dad: "Hell of a birthday present."
23 years later, even I chime in. "After all that labor? Must've been like climbing forty flights of stairs for half a chocolate bar."
Soon after the tests returned, I was given a label.
"The doctors said it was Bilateral Amelia. And I asked what that meant," Mom said.
"It basically means 'no limbs'. It's pretty simple. Treat him like a normal guy and he'll have a normal life," the doctor told her.
Except "normal life" couldn't really begin yet, since the hospital held me for a week while I was placed under bright lights and tested to see what else could possibly be wrong. To top it off, only my Mom and Dad were able to hold me--an activity that I'm told grandparents prize highly. Needless to say, the four Grandpas and Grandmas were getting pretty impatient.
The doctors didn't budge, or give an inkling as to how long they expected to keep me in the hospital. Finally, Dad had had enough. There was a house and a sock drawer--retrofitted into a crib--with my name on it.
"This shit isn't happening anymore," Dad said. "I'm taking him home."
"Well, you can't. The medical proce--"
"I don't give a damn . I'm taking him home. You can figure out the rest."
Rolling Stone Magazine editor Jason Fine, who edited Michael, which goes on sale November 11, answers questions about the book about the late King of Pop:
There are a ton of insta-books on Michael Jackson and other MJ books in the pipeline. How is Rolling Stone's book different from the others?
This book will be the definitive look at Jackson's life and music. We will tell the full story of his career, in a fascinating essay by Mikal Gilmore, who has been writing about Jackson since the early days, and we will delve deep into his music--examining in detail the early years at Motown, his move to become a solo artist in the '70s, and his key blockbuster solo albums: Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. We will also draw on deep reporting into Jackson's private life for a piece that looks at what went wrong in his later years, and we will provide sharp, authoritative critical guides to his songs, videos and other work. It will also contain intimate tributes from artists who knew and worked with Jackson. Unlike the insta-books flooding the market, this book is the ultimate guide to Michael Jackson, with beautiful photographs and elegant design, in classic Rolling Stone style.
The music industry has obviously changed dramatically since the '80s and the media in general is much more fragmented. Does the death of Michael Jackson represent the death of a certain kind of popular culture?
Not really. Michael Jackson was a one-of-a-kind icon, on par with Elvis and Sinatra. His music is alive in so many different styles of R&B, rap and hip-hop--from the Black Eyed Peas to Justin Timberlake to Ne-Yo and Usher.
Someone who is not a Jackson fan said recently that Thriller has the sound of a TV commercial. What do you make of that? I instantly disagreed but have been thinking about how pivotal that Pepsi commercial was in his career.
Jackson was such a huge artist that his music was everywhere--on the radio, MTV, in TV commercials. Thriller sold more albums than any other in history, and for a time it became so big it was like the white noise of our pop culture, and globally too. My wife tells a story of going to Egypt on tour in the '90s, and people came up to her in small villages and asked if she knew Michael Jackson. He was that big. For some people, perhaps, the ubiquity diminished the value of the music. But go listen to "Billie Jean" or "Beat It" now and tell me it's not amazing.
Where did Jackson learn to dance? (Did he get the pulled up pants from Fred Astaire?)
Complicated question. He learned from all over--breakdancing, old movies.
Some people feel Jackson's later albums are interesting musically. Do you agree?
Absolutely! Especially Bad and Dangerous, but Invincible and History have very interesting elements to them too that were often overlooked at the time. We will have a piece specifically addressing these later albums.
We've been talking a lot about the cover of Michael. Why aren't there more quality portraits of Jackson?
Michael wasn't photographed a lot in his later years, and he was rarely photographed casually. He was very concerned about how he looked and his image, so there aren't a lot of photographers he was comfortable with. Also, Michael bought up many of the photos that do exist so they are not on the market.
What is your favorite Jackson song?
"Rock with You" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" are probably my all-time favorites. There's something about that album [Off the Wall] that's just so exuberant, like he's breaking loose for the first time, it's impossible to resist.
Joann Davis was an editor at Publishers Weekly, Warner Books, Morrow and HarperCollins and has published nine books, including The Best Things in Life Aren't Things, What I Love Most About You, The Little Secret That Can Change Your Life and A Friend Is a Gift. HarperStudio is publishing her Book of the Shepherd: The Story of One Simple Prayer and How It Changed the World, on October 27.
On your nightstand now:
Right now I am reading a book called Prophetic Charisma about the inner workings of cults and cult leaders. I have always been fascinated by the differences between the "disquietingly normal" people who lead and their followers--and what followers are willing to surrender to belong. In this Twitter age of "follow" and "following," there might be some greater relevance here.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I wasn't a reader when I was a child. I was a listener. Hearing Aunt Pearl read the "funnies" or "Justice Triumphs" from the newspaper to Old Nanny was much more satisfying to me than reading Judy's Summer Vacation.
The book I first remember liking, though, was Run, Spot, Run. That little first-grade reader taught me to keep it simple. Later I read, Of Human Bondage and was caught by the idea that one should not ignore one's feelings. Ever.
Your top five authors:
Whew! That's a difficult one. But as Teddy Roosevelt once said, "To govern is to choose." So here goes.
I guess I will have to say M. Scott Peck, Charles Dickens, my husband, Kenneth C. Davis, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John--oops, that's seven. Each of those authors has given me that "glimpse of truth" for which I had forgotten to ask, as Joseph Conrad once wrote.
Book you've faked reading:
The thing I've discovered about faking--otherwise known as "bull crit"--is that it takes a certain dramatic talent, which I don't have. And besides, hearing other people talk about the books they haven't read is much more fun.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Two books I give away again and again are People of the Lie and The Road Less Traveled. Both books are by M. Scott Peck, the late psychiatrist, who offered breakthrough analysis of narcissism, character disorder and why we suffer to achieve spiritual maturity. As a recovering Catholic, I was not surprised to learn that Peck converted.
I am also a huge fan of Blindness by Jose Saramago. What people do when they think no one is watching is frighteningly telling.
Book you've bought for the cover:
My husband is a historian whose office is carpeted in books--literally. There is simply no place to walk in there. As a result, I am careful not to buy books I don't really want to read. That rules out buying books for the cover.
Besides, we all know that books are way too expensive. Just kidding.
Book that changed your life:
Charlotte's Web is the most profound book I ever read. Definitely a "two-hankie" book. (Ken reads it aloud to me every few years and both of us sob.) For me, the message is that true love is recklessly generous. It involves sacrifice. To learn such a lesson from a spider and a pig in a barnyard is pretty awesome.
Favorite line from a book:
Can I name a few? O.K., I will settle for just one.
"I've been watching you all day and I like you."--Spoken by Charlotte A. Cavatica to Wilbur.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Don't Know Much About History by my husband, Kenneth C. Davis. The coming of age of a writer is a pretty magical thing to witness for the first time. It still takes my breath away to think about it. I'd love to relive it.
How has your career in the book industry affected your life as an author:
Publishing taught me to find people I trust and trust them. Which brings me to Bob Miller, my publisher extraordinaire, from whom all publishing blessings flow to me. Bob is the ultimate author friend. My own book would simply not exist without him. And he has surrounded himself with all those wonderful people at HarperStudio like Debbie Stier, Julia Cheiffetz and Katie Salisbury and Jessica Wiener and Sarah Burningham. More reasons to be happy.
Do you miss being in the publishing world in New York:
I don't work in house any more as I once did. But I am still in publishing and publishing is still in me. That's because I know that books change lives. That story is essential. That we are the stories we tell and always will be. Not an easy lesson to forget. No matter where you are.