When Markus Dohle took over as chairman of Random House in 2008, he set about reorganizing a number of things at the country’s largest trade publisher. One of his first projects was the restructuring of the Crown Publishing Group. As part of that, CPG was downsized and put under new leadership—in 2009 Dohle brought in Maya Mavjee, who had been overseeing Doubleday Canada, to replace Jenny Frost as group publisher. Since then, Crown has gone through a number of staff changes and structural shifts, although Mavjee has rarely spoken on the record about her thinking or the process. With that in mind, PW sat down with several top Crown executives, and Mavjee herself, to discuss the new Crown.
The old Crown, many felt, was too big and confusing. Agents complained that they didn’t know to which division, or subdivision, they should send proposals. Authors—though this complaint is not unique—complained about getting lost in the shuffle. The new Crown, per Dohle’s mandate, has been downsized and streamlined. Among other changes, Shaye Areheart Books was closed and non-editorial divisions like Fodor’s Travel Group and Random House Audio were separated from the trade units. In an attempt to offer a coherent editorial outlay, four distinct editorial areas have been developed: the general trade division, under Molly Stern, specializes in commercial fiction and narrative nonfiction, and includes Crown, Hogarth, and Broadway Paperbacks; the branded/platform division, overseen by Tina Constable, houses Crown Archetype, Harmony, Crown Business, Crown Forum, Deepak Chopra Books, and Three Rivers Press; the illustrated publishing subdivision, which predominantly does cooking and craft titles, includes Clarkson Potter, Potter Craft, Potter Style, Watson-Guptill, Amphoto Books, and Billboard, and is run by Pam Krauss; and the religious publishing area, run by Steve Cobb, which includes WaterBrook Multnomah and Image Books. In addition, there is Ten Speed Press, which Random acquired in 2009, and is arguably best known for its cooking titles (as well as for the bestseller-turned-brand What Color Is Your Parachute); it is still based in San Francisco, where longtime publisher Aaron Wehner remains in charge.
Explaining her thinking behind the new structure, Mavjee said that Crown, when she arrived, had “really great bones.” Her intention, she elaborated, was to “create a really strategic focus in each of the [division’s existing] areas where we would build expertise and really take some of the projects to the next level in terms of sales.” Noting that the “diversity” of the previous Crown “in some ways created complexity,” Mavjee hopes the new Crown makes more sense to agents and authors. “Now I think what we have is a structure where each publisher has a strength and a sense of leadership in each of their key areas. And if you’re Suzanne Somers, you understand why you’re being published next to a Tim Ferriss or a Jillian Michaels, and if you’re Gillian Flynn, you understand why you’re next to an imprint like Hogarth.”
If the new Crown still sounds a bit unwieldy and overwhelming, the first thing to note is that it houses fewer imprints and is notably smaller than when Dohle took the reins at Random House. And one of the most notable changes, if not the quote-unquote biggest, is the addition of Stern. A star editor whose acquisitions ran the gamut from smaller-but-lauded books like Koren Zalickas’s memoir Smashed to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians to the sought after debut novel from Danielle Trussoni, Angelology, Stern’s departure from Viking was somewhat fraught, as she had to honor her employment contract before taking the Crown job. Stern said her objective at Random House is to maintain Crown’s reputation for publishing high-quality nonfiction while amping up its fiction list. Although some of the biggest recent hits from Crown may not be attributable to Stern—Gillian Flynn’s currently unstoppable Gone Girl was acquired well before Stern arrived at RH, by Sarah Knight at the now-shuttered Shaye Areheart (after Flynn’s first two-book deal was inked by Sally Kim, also at Shaye Areheart)—her stamp will soon be more visible, once a number of high-profile acquisitions she’s made bear fruit. Among Stern’s big buys at Crown: Chris Pavone’s The Expats, a thriller by a former Clarkson Potter editor, which was published this spring and is selling well; Alexander Soderberg’s The Andalucian Friend, which PW reported as one of the most talked-about books at 2011’s Frankfurt Book Fair (where Stern acquired it), and which will be coming out in the U.S. next March; and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks author Rebecca Skloot’s next, currently untitled, book.
As Stern explains, her approach is about melding the commercial with the literary. “I have a particular love of the great writer and the great story,” she said. “I think there’s no reason why those two things can’t coexist very powerfully in a really commercial way. That is something we really set our sights on here. There just wasn’t that much of it [before], to be honest. I mean, Crown was big and diverse and complex, and fiction was always—you know, it was a piece of it—but it wasn’t as loud as it could have been. I felt there was an enormous opportunity for me to come in and use my experience and my history doing that to make a bigger statement with fiction that had great narrative drive and writerly credibility.”
Some have grumbled, though, that Hogarth—it released its inaugural four-book list this spring (featuring, among other titles, Anouk Markovits’s I Am Forbidden and Stephanie Reents’s The Kissing List)—does not seem to fit with the image of a bigger, splashier fiction program. But Stern readily admits that Hogarth is of a different piece, and is quieter and smaller. Hogarth will remain fiction-focused, she said, and a partnership with RH’s U.K. sister company, Chatto & Windus, generating about four books a season. Noting that it’s a “very carefully curated” list, Stern said that Hogarth is a place for “the voice-driven, very unique, maybe even slightly avant-garde book that still has a core quality of entertainment.” Stern cited the forthcoming novel by Herman Koch, The Dinner (Feb. 2013), which was written in Dutch and became a bestseller in Holland and Germany, as a typical Hogarth title. Calling the novel a “Gothic satire,” Stern said it is “a book people are going to be talking about…it’s international, [will] create conversation, is really well-written, and idea-driven. But it’s also really different than The Expats…or Gone Girl.”
Another change elsewhere in Crown has been the creation of a business development unit, headed up by Ranjana Wingender. Handling digital product innovation—this includes apps and, as Wingender put it, “anything beyond our traditional e-book program”—the division works closely with the marketing division (run by Jill Flaxman) and the publicity department (run by David Drake). In addition to Wingender, the business development unit also has a digital product manager and a director of brand strategy. The latter, recent hire Kimberly Snead, is a unique presence in a publishing house—Snead previously worked for companies like Kraft and Nickelodeon—and she is tasked with identifying author talent that Crown can build into brands. Haylie Pomroy, an L.A.-based nutritionist who has a book called The Fast Metabolism Diet coming from Harmony in March, is one author the division is trying to mold into such a brand. Pomroy, who came to Crown with a literary agent but nothing else—not a manager or talent agent, as is the case with most established celebrities—is, as Drake explained, someone who is “relatively unknown but with huge growth potential.” Constable (who oversees Harmony as part of the branded/platform area) said an outside branding agency has been hired to come up with a logo that will be adorning ancillary material related to the book (including a Web site and a possible app).
Considering all the shifts that Crown has gone through since she joined RH, Mavjee feels the editorial changes are the most significant. “I think everything grows out of that,” she said, citing the establishment of Stern’s program, and Constable’s, as the most significant editorial moves. And those, Mavjee hopes, have helped clear up what Crown is, and how it breaks down, to people outside Random House. She also hopes the new Crown delivers on a more “organic” way of publishing. “I wanted to get away from this idea where we buy a book...and then we hand it on to a department. There was this sense in publishing that things move from one group to the next, and I wanted it to be more organic—to have the publicity, marketing, editorial and sales conversations really happening from the beginning.”