After 27 years in network television, Lisa Sharkey, HarperCollins's new editorial executive, said she's very much at home in the publishing game. A self-described book person, Sharkey—a former producer at Good Morning America and, later, head of Al Roker's production company—was recently brought on to head a new unit called the Creative Development Team. Her job: acquire of-the-moment books, turn them around quickly and place them in the appropriate imprint.
The seeds for what became Sharkey's position started germinating years before she was actually offered the job. When HC started promoting diet guru Jorge Cruise, Sharkey was at GMA. By championing Cruise- on the show, she became friendly with HC CEO Jane Friedman. While no job grew out of that encounter, Sharkey said she and Friedman stayed in touch “socially and professionally.”
Last year the time became right for Sharkey to move to HC. While she was hired in the aftermath of Judith Regan's firing and is generally considered a quasi-replacement for Regan, head of corporate communications Erin Crum said this was not the case, adding that the timing of Regan's firing and Sharkey's hiring was “coincidental.”
Overseeing a team of six, including editors Maureen O'Brien and Doug Grad, Sharkey is hoping to bring in “dozens” of titles annually and has already signed six. The first to bow, the July paperback Pet Food Nation, offers a vet's take on the pet food recall that made news in the spring. It came together, Sharkey said, after O'Brien came into the office distressed because her dog had been sickened by tainted food.
A forthcoming paperback about the presidential election by former ABC news political director and current Time magazine editor Mark Halperin (whom Sharkey used to work with) is also on the list. The book, currently titled The Undecided Voter's Guide, will be turned around quickly (like Pet Food Nation) and is indicative of the kind of title Sharkey thinks her floating department can do effectively—namely, quick books that grow out of news events. (Sharkey said the book resulted from a “brainstorming meeting” she set up with the author after she learned he was leaving ABC.)
Sharkey, who said she's been receiving manuscripts as well as “approaching people from the news world” about potential projects, has been busy taking meetings with agents in both Hollywood and the literary community. And, although her focus is on books with a strong news peg, her team has already placed projects at a variety of imprints, including HarperOne, Collins, Harper and Amistad.
As for the logistics of each book—who edits, handles publicity, etc.—Sharkey said decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Some titles might be edited by O'Brien or Grad, while others might be handled by an editor at one of the imprints.
Speaking to the unusual process, Sharkey said her team needs to work both sides of the fence. “Basically, we are buying and selling at the same time. We're buying projects and bringing them into the company, but then have to sell them into the imprints.”