The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group named Daniel Menaker the new editor-in-chief of its Random House side, ending one of the most closely watched job searches in recent publishing history. Menaker, an executive editor at HarperCollins who also did a six-year turn at Random House, is best-known for his 25 years at the New Yorker, many of which he spent editing fiction and nonfiction.
In making the announcement, Random also said that Jon Karp, who had reportedly been seeking the editor-in-chief position after Ann Godoff's departure, is being promoted to editorial director, reporting to Menaker. Longtime Random editors Bob Loomis and Kate Medina are being made divisional executive vice-presidents and will report directly to publisher Gina Centrello, as will Menaker. The editor-in-chief's job had been vacant for about six weeks, after former editor-in-chief Godoff was let go for what the company called a subpar financial performance. During the waiting period, the house—particularly Centrello—had been under the microscope, as publishers chattered about the stature and literary credentials of potential candidates. In the end, though, Random got one of the most respected names in publishing in Menaker, someone who has a sterling literary reputation but is also responsible for bestsellers such as Primary Colors, which he edited in his first tour of Random. No start date was set for Menaker.
Observers generally applauded the Menaker selection as a smart choice for the publisher, for a number of reasons. Menaker's novel was edited by Sonny Mehta, which could mean that Menaker would bring conviviality to the Random-Knopf relationship, which has sometimes been frosty. Menaker also worked in Ann Godoff's Random House and is seen as someone who could get along well with many of her staffers, although he was recruited by Harry Evans and is not considered a product of the Godoff regime. He is also an author in his own right, having written two short story collections and the novel The Treatment; he has been represented by Esther Newberg, an agent who could prove a key contact for a publisher seeking leverage with authors contemplating a defection to Godoff's new Penguin imprint.
The last issue, Menaker said, doesn't trouble him. "Ann is a great publisher," he said. "Anyone who wants to be loyal to her, I will understand. On the other hand, I want to keep as many people at Random House as possible who will be comfortable with me as an editor."
Reports of a possible Menaker hire first surfaced in PW NewsLine, the magazine's daily publishing news publication, last Tuesday. At the time Menaker declined to comment, and he said last Thursday after the announcement was made that the deal had been close to, but not fully, completed when the original story ran.
Asked to characterize a Menaker Random House, the man who many consider one of publishing's most stand-up people, said, "I hope to really make it a collegial place. I really want to be accessible."
Menaker will be managing some of his former peers, and he said an egalitarian spirit is essential. "I don't even like the phrase 'reporting to.' It's officialese," he said.
From a publishing standpoint, Menaker said one of his key goals will be to "satisfy the expectations of a company that needs to see revenue" while "continuing a really vital part of our culture of letters."
As for working with a publisher whose tastes may run a little different than his own, he said, "I want to emphasize, and not in a publishing bull***t way, I have a wonderful relationship with Gina; there's a complementariness and a compatibility. She knows many things I don't know." Centrello, in her statement announcing the hire, pointedly referred to the editor's "literary sensibility and editorial judgement," and added that she thinks he will "perpetuate and enhance the great literary tradition of Random House."
Finally, Menaker said he's not concerned by the perception of limited autonomy. "It's curious to me that people would understand this position before it was filled, before the responsibilities had been outlined. It's like guessing the contents of a ship before it docks."