I once worked in publishing so listening to Amy Einhorn, NJ native and publisher of the bestselling novels The Help and The Postmistress, speak was important to me. What follows is what I learned from listening to Ms. Einhorn. If the current-day publishing industry isn’t your thing, then stop reading right now and hop on over to another one of your favorite blogs. I’ll see you tomorrow!
Listening to Amy Einhorn, Publisher of The Help
Ms. Einhorn spoke before a good-sized crowd of mostly women at the Montclair, NJ Adult School on Monday, March 22. Petite, dressed entirely in black and animated, Ms. Einhorn talked about her career arc and how publishing has changed during her 20 years in the business. From her “old-school” $13k/yr beginnings at FSG in 1990, to her stint at “lavish times in publishing” Random House, “pop culture publishing” at Pocket Books, to her newest incarnation “hitting the sweet spot between literary and commercial” with her own imprint, Amy Einhorn Books (at G.P. Putnam’s Sons) beginning in 2007, Ms. Einhorn spoke rapidly, passionately and knowledgeably about the publishing industry.
She talked about The Help and how this bestseller benefitted from her new imprint’s careful planning and rollout. Ms. Einhorn mentioned how The Help didn’t appear on the New York Times Best-Seller List for seven long weeks when most books destined to become best sellers hit the list within four weeks. She said it’s “pretty unheard of” to rise from 16th to 1st in a year as The Help did.
Ms. Einhorn spoke about the September-March editorial work on the manuscript; the back-and-forth discussions trying to decide what month to publish the book (November/December is predominately for heavy hitters, February for discovery writers, April for women authors, May/June for chick lit. . .); and the struggle, time and sheer hard work involved in getting the book jacket blurbs written (Blurbs don’t matter much to regular readers like us, but apparently they do matter incredibly when it comes to how many books booksellers order; fun fact: 7,000 bound galleys of The Help were printed/sent to booksellers for early review/to build interest at a time when some books have first printings of 7,000!). All this while designing and testing 75 potential covers for the book! According to Ms. Einhorn, the “secret of success” to the popularity of The Help is the power of booksellers like Elaine Petrocelli of Book Passage, an independent bookstore in CA, who was “hand selling the book,” along with a “gazillion” book bloggers, and word of mouth.
Prior to answering the many questions from those in attendance, she touched briefly on book publishing and e-books. Admitting she’s “not an expert,” Ms. Einhorn said, “Whatever we tell you today will change by tomorrow. Publishers are in the business of content, no matter how it’s delivered. Publishers want the content read.”
She mentioned the newspaper industry and how it’s like newspaper publishers forgot they were in the business of delivering news, not newspapers. Perhaps newspapers should have gotten internet friendly much sooner and set up delivering the news in a different format; perhaps the industry would be in different shape today.
I got the idea from listening to Ms. Einhorn that publishers aren’t too concerned about the medium through which the content is delivered. Ms. Einhorn elicited a huge laugh from her audience when she mentioned that book publishers and e-book folks are in the awkward stages of talking and figuring things out; she likened the stage of their relationship to the old teenage game “Seven Minutes in Heaven”: Two teens go into a dark closet for 7 minutes. Even though they might not know quite what to do or say, they will figure it out, given enough time!