Wednesday, May 20, 2009 Dedicated Issue: Atria

Can't make it to BEA? Click here to order galleys from Atria Galley Grab!

Atria: Stardust by Joseph Kanon Atria: Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus Atria: How to Rule the World From Your Couch by Laura Day Atria: Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano Atria: The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman

Editors' Note

Channeling Atria

Now in its seventh year, Atria has hit major milestones, including publishing more than 165 New York Times bestsellers and establishing itself as a major force in a variety of book categories. How the Simon & Schuster imprint did this and its plans for the future make a compelling story, one that Shelf Awareness is presenting in this issue that is published with Atria's support.

Incidentally Atria has created a "virtual galley grab" to get the word out about its upcoming titles--a list that Atria believes continues and expands on its accomplishments. Under the "virtual galley grab," booksellers, librarians and reviewers, both those coming to BookExpo America and those who can't make it to New York, can "take" galleys online. Click here for more information.


Galley from Atria

Books & Authors

Atria: 'Books That Have Meaning and Purpose and Help People'

Atria has a "problem" that a lot of other publishers wouldn't mind facing. The Simon & Schuster imprint is strong in such widely different areas that many people identify it in a variety of ways--as, for example, an African-American publisher or a preeminent New Age house or one of the industry's leading Latino publishers or international fiction pioneer or a house with some of the best general commercial titles around. They aren't exactly wrong, but they aren't exactly right either. Atria is in fact all those things.

Consider the range of some of the authors and titles Atria has published during its seven years: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne; Zane's series of erotic African American novels; Marlo Thomas (Atria's first book was Thomas's The Right Words at the Right Time--also the imprint's first No. 1 New York Times bestseller); the Dalai Lama; Jude Deveraux, Jodi Picoult; Shirley MacLaine; Vince Flynn's thrillers; memoirs by Helen Mirren and Prince; pastor T.D. Jakes's entrepreneurial and spiritual titles; Jennifer Weiner of Good in Bed fame.

In fact, about a quarter of Atria's list is African American, 15% is Latino and Spanish language. The rest is divided equally between fiction and nonfiction, and is both commercial and literary. Atria publishes in hardcover as well as trade paperback through its Washington Square Press imprint. Its mass market partner is Pocket Books.

Judith Curr, executive v-p and publisher of Atria, commented, "We have a mixture of celebrity and recurring authors and new authors--Spanish and African American and New Age and self help. There's something for everyone." This makes holidays easy for staffers, she added. "We have a lot of relatives, and we can make them all happy."

Atria's Beginnings

Curr moved to the U.S. from her native Australia in 1996, when she became editor-in-chief (and later publisher) at Ballantine. In 1999, she moved to Pocket Books as president and publisher. Later, when Carolyn Reidy became head of the S&S adult division, she decided to change Pocket's focus, reverting to its traditional mass market emphasis. This led to the founding of Atria, which began when Curr was given what she called "the core of the old Pocket hardcover list" and the mission of founding a hardcover imprint.

Curr enjoyed the challenge, she said. "I have always done the best when I had things to start off myself." (In Australia, she was part of a group that started Transworld.) Clearly it's working: Atria has published 165 New York Times bestsellers since its launch in 2002.

A lot of thought and work went into naming the imprint, and the search was given special impetus "because a Tibetan healer came in and said we should have a name that embodies our intentions," Curr said. Atria has a variety of meanings related to the imprint's mission (as well as one very practical advantage): it's the name of an ancient city that was connected to the ocean by a series of canals, and "our job is to connect authors to readers," as Curr put it. Atria is the plural of a large open space in a building as well as the plural of the name of the valve in the heart, and "we want to publish books that have meaning and purpose and help people." Atria is the name of a star in the Southern Hemisphere (which has special Down Under resonance for Curr) "and we're a publisher for the Latin American market, too."

About the practical advantage Atria: having a name that starts with the first letter of the alphabet means that "if you're starting a new organization in an established organization," Curr said with a smile, "you'll be on the top of every memo."

The company aims to include an image on each catalogue cover that expresses these meanings such as sky, stars and water.

African-American Focus

Soon after Atria began, like Hillary Clinton in her 2000 Senatorial campaign, Curr went on "a listening tour"--in her case, of booksellers. "We had a good editorial staff, but I wanted to learn more," she said. The biggest tip turned out to be from "someone who said no one's really focusing on African American books." This led to one of the strongest African American publishing programs at a major imprint. Besides Zane ("she's fantastic") and Jakes, Atria has published Sister Souljah, Tavis Smiley and others. This year six Atria authors were nominated for NAACP awards and two won, and many titles have been on Essence's bestseller lists.

In 2005, Atria took another big step in this area, co-publishing the titles of Strebor Books, the publishing house originally founded by Zane to publish her books. Strebor is a significant publisher of African-American authors and now does some 30 trade paperback titles a year.

Latino and Spanish-Language Publishing

After several years, "the next step" was Latino and Spanish-American titles, Curr said. For this, Atria hired Johanna Castillo, an agent who specialized in the area, as senior editor.

Among Atria's current major titles in this area:

This month Atria is publishing Maria Celeste Arraras's Make Your Life in Prime Time simultaneously in Spanish and English. Celeste, the Hispanic TV personality, is on two publicity tours simultaneously. As Atria learned with The Secret, Spanish-language TV in North America is a powerful force, Curr noted.

Another upcoming title is Captive, a memoir by Clara Rojas, who was a captive of leftist guerrillas in Colombia--and was held and released with Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian-French former Senator and Presidential candidate. Rojas's book is about her search for her child, who was born during her time in captivity. Captive is currently a No. 1 bestseller in France. In the U.S., it will appear in October in Spanish and come out in English six months later. Curr predicted that Spanish-language TV will be important in spreading the word about this title, too.

New Age

During Curr's listening tour, a Borders staffer noted that some smaller publishers couldn't keep up with success when some of their titles broke out and suggested Curr buy rights to When GOD Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life by SQuire Rushnell, which had been published by Beyond Words, the mind/body/spirit publisher in Hillsboro, Ore., founded in 1983 by Richard Cohn. In fact, Atria did buy rights to When GOD Winks, and the arrangement worked out so well that Atria bought other titles. Eventually the two houses decided that to form a joint venture, which went into effect in late 2006.

Among the titles published by Atria/Beyond Words are Dr. Masaru Emoto's bestselling water books, including The Hidden Messages in Water, Mike Dooley's Notes from the Universe series and other titles, including the prize-winning Why the Dalai Lama Matters by Robert Thurman. Atria does production, selling, printing, some design, some of the publicity and marketing; Atria and Beyond Words split the profits. Curr calls this "a very good business model," applicable in other areas, under which Atria acts like "a mother ship that moves along, and smaller ships go back and forth and bring surprising and wonderful things to us. We find gems that way."

But of course Atria's biggest title--one that evolved out of the connection with Beyond Words--was The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, which has sold many millions of copies worldwide. "We learned a lot from The Secret," Curr said. One of those items of wisdom had to do with the power of the non English-speaking market in North America. Atria sold 400,000 copies in Spanish in the U.S. "I believe if it happens once, it can happen again if conditions are right," Curr said.

"My theory is if the markets are getting smaller, you want to have more of them, like French-language editions for Canada," Curr continued.

The saga of The Secret began in April 2007, when Cynthia Black, Beyond Words's president and editor-in-chief, called Curr and told her she should see the movie The Secret. "I went to the site, saw it and thought we had to buy this," Curr said. At that point, no book existed--but by November, The Secret the book went on sale, "the first big Atria/Beyond Words book," she said. And in a bit of understatement: "We got off to a nice start."

Beyond Words publishes some 15 originals a year. "It's a very vigorous program," Curr said. "All the titles have steady backlist sales, and sooner or later they get something that really pops."

International Publishing

Atria International publishes books from around the world that have a definite focus. "The idea is that if you want to find out what's in the mind of other cultures, you should read nonfiction; but if you want to find out what's in their hearts, you have to read their fiction," Curr said. The books in the program "take you inside the lives of everyday people." Thus Atria International books include The Feathered Serpent by Xu Xiaobin, a February title about "four generations of Chinese people with a backdrop of 100 years of political turmoil."

Coincidentally there are "quite a few" Australian novels on Atria's list this year. Recently published, Carpentaria by Alexis Wright won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's most prestigious book prize, and is an aboriginal novel. Curr called it "a very unusual book," in part because the aboriginal tradition is oral, so there is no "big body of literature reflecting or representing that culture."

Another title from Down Under is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, who is "a wonderful new voice," Curr said. Published in April, the title is about a young girl who is abandoned on a voyage to Australia in 1913, grows up there and then returns to England to try to discover her family background. Morton's first novel published here, The House at Riverton, now in paperback, is about the long, slow decline of a British family from the point of view of one their servants and did very well in the U.S.

Atria International is also doing "a lot in translation. We are always trying to find new voices to launch." The project sounds particularly close to Curr's heart: "The world has become much more global as the Internet is breaking down boundaries," she said. In addition, she noted, "American publishers always sell rights. But we're keen to buy foreign rights, too."

One such title is The Sound of Water by Sanjay Bahadur, to be published at the end of June, a trade paperback about a mining disaster in India. Miners are trapped, and water is rising. Of the people outside, half will gain by the miners' death, half will gain by their survival.

Another title with international tones is Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam by Kamran Pasha, a trade paperback published last month by Washington Square Press. The book is from the point of view of Aisha, the prophet Mohammed's young wife, who after his death became a powerful force in the expanding Muslim world. Pasha is an American Muslim who has written for Kings, the TV show based on the story of King David, among other TV shows. The title is an example of the increasing number of trade paperback original books published by Washington Square Press.

Publishing Style

"Our authors' progress is our progress, and our progress is mirrored by our authors' progress," Curr said. This is particularly true, she added, in fiction, where Atria has developed many authors who publish a book a year, with increasing print runs for successive titles. For example, Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult sold 35,000 copies in hardcover. Now her latest has 600,000 copies in hardcover.

Another example is Vince Flynn, "a bona fide No. 1." His books, which include Extreme Measures, Separation of Powers and Protect and Defend, now have 500,000 copies in hardcover, and his last two books "went straight to No. 1." Curr called this a special feat for thrillers, "the hardest category."

Atria has published Jennifer Weiner since Good in Bed, her first novel, and "now she's a household name." Certain Girls was published last year; Best Friends Forever appears in July.

Brad Thor was a travel writer working on a book when "one of our reps sat next to him on a train in Switzerland," Curr said. The pair talked, and Thor mentioned he was working on a book. The rep encouraged him to send it along. Thor is now an established No. 1 New York Times bestselling thriller author, and his next book, The Apostle, appears at the end of June.

In every case, "somewhere along the line, we unlocked the key about getting the message across," Curr said. "Each book has a key that we have to find. We always try to find a new way in for the books nowadays. We always have to have a plan to begin. But once published, we need to be able to adjust and modify and change that plan, reacting to what's happening in the marketplace."


Galley from Atria

Upcoming Titles

This year Atria got off to "a strong start," she said, with Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You--At Work and in Life by Dr. Spencer Johnson. The book is being published in Spanish in the U.S. this month, and in French for French-speaking Canada. Atria has seven other books currently on the New York Times bestseller list, and according to Curr, "with exceptionally strong fall and summer line-ups, we see this continuing through the rest of the year." She added, "That is why we've created an online 'virtual galley grab'--so that booksellers, librarians and reviewers can easily sample some of the terrific books we have coming up in 2009."


How to Rule the World from Your Couch is by Laura Day, the author of The Circle. For more than 20 years, Day has taught companies and individuals about the power of intuition and how to use it to improve all aspects of their lives: from finding love, healing their bodies, communicating better, making better decisions and perhaps most important, to realize their dreams. She offers a range of techniques that readers can employ--from their couches.


God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation by Joseph Sebarenzi with Laura Mullane is a memoir by a Rwandan genocide survivor and former speaker of parliament who has represented Rwanda around the world. Now teaching at the School for International Training in Vermont, Sebarenzi lost both parents, seven siblings and many other relatives in the genocide, yet pushed for peace and reconciliation rather than revenge. God Sleeps in Rwanda appears September 8.


Nanny Returns marks the return of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, authors of The Nanny Diaries, the 2002 bestseller and hit movie. Here familiar characters get tangled in the world of power, wealth and privilege on the Upper East Side in New York City.


Fit Home Team by Jorge and Laura Posada and their two children is by the New York Yankee catcher and his family and aims to tell "how to play as a family inside and out and emphasizes children having good exercise and healthy habits," Curr said. Because the Posadas have a young child who had a fused brain, "they realized how important health is." (Happily their son is a "healthy normal kid now.") The book will be published September 8, hopefully boosted by a long string of post-season appearances by Posada's team, and will be important in the Latino market as well as among sports fans and those with health concerns.


Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility is an October 13 title by Mireille Guiliano, the author of the 2004 bestseller French Women Don't Get Fat. Atria editorial director Peter Borland called this a "life style book that focuses on the working world," in which the former CEO of Veuve Clicquot offers "her French woman's philosophy about balance and being comfortable in your own skin."


The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch appears December 29 and reminds Borland of TV's 24, but with a twist. "Every chapter accounts for an hour but the story is told in reverse," Borland said, and the protagonist is "given an opportunity to prevent his wife's murder [he is a suspect] and a much greater catastrophe from happening."


Next January the second, er, tale in the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn--"mysteries from the point of view of a dog"--appears. It's called Thereby Hangs a Tail, and follows up on Dog on It, the New York Times-bestselling series debut. Borland called Chet, who helps out his down-on-his-luck private investigator owner, Bernie, "a great character. Seeing the world through Chet's doggy eyes always puts a smile on your face."


Joe Kanon and Stardust

Stardust by Joe Kanon, who is new to the Atria list, is "about a man going to Hollywood, investigating the supposed suicide of his brother, who had a great career and wife," Curr said. "It's right after the war, at the beginning of McCarthyism." Stardust could be "the big breakout book" for the former publishing executive, whose earlier work includes The Good German (made into a 2006 film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett) and Los Alamos, which won an Edgar for Best First Novel in 1998. "He has not been published in a way to reach the largest possible audience," Curr said.

Peter Borland, editorial director at Atria, noted that Stardust is Kanon's first book set in the U.S. since Los Alamos and deals with themes that "Joe loves--politics and espionage and the creative community." Among the people he focuses is the famous German expatriate community during the war, who included Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, Fritz Lang and Alma Mahler. "They went from the cafes of Berlin to swimming pools under the palms" and "formed a very odd community that was under continuous observation by the government," Borland said. Because Kanon does so much research, including "walking the streets he writes about," readers "feel immersed in this moment in Los Angeles."

Kanon, who was head of Houghton Mifflin and E.P. Dutton before leaving publishing in 1995, will be touring, meeting booksellers and doing events. "He's just mesmerizing when he talks about the book," Borland said.

The first of a two-book deal, Stardust will be released September 29.


Here Joe Kanon answers questions we put to him:

On your nightstand now:

Louis de Bernieres's Birds Without Wings, a wonderful novel about the end of the Ottoman Empire as experienced by one Turkish village. I've been living in it for days.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Hardy Boys. I must have read every book in the series. I especially enjoyed the old, pre-war editions, when Frank and Joe raced around town in a "roadster" with running boards--that was living.

Your top five authors:

Just five? If I started at the beginning, I'd never get past Shakespeare, but if we limit the list to the 20th century, these five would always be on my shelves: Marcel Proust. James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Graham Greene. But that would leave out Philip Roth and E. M. Forster and Isak Dinesen and Orwell--it's really closer to 50.

Book you've faked reading:

The Hobbit. I couldn't get past page three, but Tolkien fans think everyone's read and loved it, so they never ask you if you did.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, his two-book account of a walking trip through Central Europe--part travel, part memoir, but really in a genre of its own. Not only will you learn things and roll around in glorious prose--this book will make you happy.

Book you've bought for the cover:

None, but I think the cover for Stardust is terrific, so I hope other people do.

Book that changed your life:

Richard Rhodes's The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I was so fascinated by its account of the Manhattan Project that I visited Los Alamos as a tourist, and it was on that trip that I got the idea for my first book, Los Alamos, and became a writer. I read lots of other books about the Project during the research, but Rhodes's remains the ur text.

Favorite line from a book:

Actually, my favorite line is from a movie, Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game: "What you must understand about life is that everyone has his reasons." I also like, for less serious reasons, this one from Waugh's Vile Bodies: " 'What war?' said the Prime Minister sharply. 'No one has said anything to me about a war. I really think I should have been told.' "

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Great Gatsby.

What do you miss about your time as a publisher?

The people, office life in general and working on several things at a time. Writing is solitary, and you work on one book for years. On the other hand, there are no meetings.

What attracts you to the immediate post-war period?

Primarily the fact that the moral issues are so dramatic and complicated. I also think it was the pivotal moment of the century, the beginning of the world we live in now. The decisions that were made then--or not made--still affect us.

Had you always wanted to be a writer?

Not consciously. I was always a great reader, and I suppose I may have imagined being a journalist, but I started working in publishing when I was young and was happy being surrounded by books that way. Still, it must have been there somehow because when I finally did sit down to write it seemed the most natural thing in the world.


Ann Pearlman and The Christmas Cookie Club

The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman is a first novel about "a group of women who get together once a year and bring cookies, give to charity and tell the story of what's going on in their lives," as Curr put it. Pearlman has been a family psychotherapist for 30 years and "really knows the dynamics women face in their lives and tells it with deep understanding." At the same time, "it's fun."

Pearlman has also written Getting Free: Women and Psychotherapy, Keep the Home Fires Burning and Infidelity: A Memoir and, for a change of pace, was co-writer of Inside the Crips: Life Inside L.A.'s Most Notorious Gang by Colton Simpson, the memoir of a former Crips member.

Emily Bestler, v-p and executive editorial director, called The Christmas Cookie Club "warm, inspiring and wise, but with a bit of an edge" because of some of its topics: adultery, divorce, a baby in jeopardy, a son has died. "It's Desperate Housewives meets The Friday Night Knitting Club."

Amazingly the story of a club of a dozen women who meet once a year and bring cookies and talk about the cookies and their lives as they "sit around and have wine and dance to the radio" is based on a club that Pearlman has been a member of for many years.

The Christmas Cookie Club features a recipe at the beginning of each chapter. "The recipes are delicious and were vetted by Williams-Sonoma tasters," Bestler said. "We're going to have a great time with publicity," which will include a lot online, cooking and food angles as well as the obvious: reaching out to book clubs.

CBS, S&S's parent company, has picked up The Christmas Cookie Club as a movie. The book will be served up October 20.


Here Ann Pearlman answers questions we posed:

On your nightstand now:  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening by Stephen Kuusisto, Three Junes by Julia Glass, Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult, Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing and The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. I have a nightstand that's piled high!

Favorite book when you were a child:

Carolyn Haywood's The B Is for Betsy books and then Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. By the time I was a teenager, I immersed myself in Eugene O'Neil's heavily psychoanalytic plays.

Your top five authors:

I'm a promiscuous reader and have been since I was a kid. There are so many books that have enriched my life, so many authors who were there for me when I needed them. It's difficult to pick one without a bunch of others shouting, "What about me?" and "What about me?" Each book is a door into another world and another mind. Each book represents the great diversity of our fascinations and sensibilities. Nevertheless:

Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Russell Banks, Toni Morrison, William Styron.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never faked reading.

Book you're an evangelist for:  

Right now it's The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I'm also pushing graphic novels like Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Hiawatha by Susan Jeffers. I love her illustrations of poems and fairy tales. In fact, I have bought a lot of children's books for their covers and illustrations.

Book that changed your life:

I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as a teenager, and it riveted me as I began to understand Smith and Hickock's lives and motivations. It was the first time biographies and nonfiction had used the fictive techniques that bring the reader into another worldview. Likewise, Ragtime by E.L Doctorow with its fictional use of historical people recognized the blur between truth and fiction. As a therapist, I'm aware of the narrative involved in each of our memories as we try to make sense of our lives.

Favorite line from a book:

"Let us treat men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are."--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience. This deceptively simple line captures the importance of each of us and drives home the seriousness of our interactions.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:  

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

When I was in eighth grade, we were asked to write an essay on a painting that had been donated to our school. I found myself writing a poem, and its creation transported me. I wanted to recapture that feeling and knew I'd always write.
Are you working on another book?  

Yes. I'm writing a novel about Tara and Sky, the sisters, who appeared in The Christmas Cookie Club.
How did your background as a psychotherapist affect the story you tell in The Christmas Cookie Club?

In both my writing and my therapy, I bring a love and fascination with people and seeing the world from another's eyes. I hear about lives from the inside out and have the privilege of witnessing the decades-long sweep of human drama as we struggle to be the heroes of our own stories. I am well aware of our foibles, sins, resilience, forgiveness and courage. As a therapist, I'm impressed by people's survival in spite of trauma and joy in spite of tragedy. Regardless of backgrounds, life events and temperaments, each of us brings our entire history to bear in the experience of every single day. I hope that the arc of individual history, loving friendships between these diverse women and their amazing resilience is apparent on the one Monday night in early December portrayed in The Christmas Cookie Club.


Powered by: Xtenit