The announcement last week that Mary Matalin, the Bush-supporting strategist and pundit, would launch a conservative imprint within Simon & Schuster inspired the usual mixed reaction among publishing folk. "It's a brilliant idea," many said on the record, pointing to the fact that Matalin has the single most important thing an editor must possess these days: no, not a sharp blue pencil, but a loaded BlackBerry. Still, privately, there was the usual griping and sniffing, aka thinly veiled jealousy and fear, that characterizes the inverted Marxian—as in Groucho—philosophy that pervades the book business. Matalin, after all, is not One of Us; she's an outsider, a hired gun, an interloper—not to mention a real, live Republican. Do we want to be members of a club that would have her?
Those qualities aside, Matalin's (and S&S's) biggest asset may be her true belief in the right-wing cause. Whether we like it or not, she seems to have her finger on the proverbial political pulse. Most other New York publishing houses that have right-wing imprints are, for the most part, peopled by non-cons trying to cater to a market they don't truly understand. But Matalin, to coin a phrase, feels Bush America's pain—and now she's going to sell books to it.
This should be a source of some concern to other houses, who will likely find themselves in some heated auctions for the political celebrity books sure to come out of the Bush administration—think Colin Powell's much rumored next autobiography, or, eventually, something from Condoleezza Rice. For a novice publisher, Matalin will have extremely deep pockets she's not afraid to empty for the six to 10 books a year she expects to publish. "It's their money," she said when asked about her plans to negotiate.
But her outsiderness is one of the reasons why the as yet unnamed imprint may just succeed. Never mind that Matalin is not a "real" editor; she is, for better or worse, a public figure with lots and lots and lots of connections that can turn into very high-profile books. Or that, according to Robert Barnett, who has represented Matalin in her own writing projects and will surely pitch her many ideas going forward, she is possessed of "big-time smarts and skill at public relations." (The last might be the understatement of the year.) Matalin herself told PW's Jim Milliot that she loves books, and that even though publishing is filled with liberals, "publishers have created a market for us." (Think about that one, folks.) David Rosenthal, her putative boss at Simon & Schuster and a self-confessed "lefty" whose views couldn't be more opposite from hers, nonetheless declares her a "real person, a classy politician and a classy woman," and offers perhaps his highest praise (though it may come back to haunt him): she is "infuriating and provocative."
Still, of course, there are risks, not least of which is that—and this is what other publishers are hoping turns out to be true—there are already enough books published for the "red state" market. Besides, Matalin actually does seem to have a conscience, which puts her at risk of losing her publishing nerve. That's a problem that her two biggest competitors—the recklessly anti-intellectual, D.C.-based Regnery, and the maverick, tough-gal editor Judith Regan, who has no politics at all—don't seem to have.
But neither Rosenthal nor Matalin—a mother who calls publishing "the perfect stay-at-home job"—seems to be worried. In fact, Rosenthal says he expects to announce Matalin's first acquisition as early as this week, and Matalin has already bonded with Pocket Books publisher Louise Burke, whom Rosenthal describes as on the "more conservative" side and Matalin calls "a kindred spirit." Nobody's saying what that book will be, beyond that it will "reflect [Matalin's] philosophy and be of a certain quality."
One thing is for sure: Matalin won't be publishing her husband, James Carville, who has written many books, some of them for S&S. While the new conservatism may be hard to pin down, Matalin says, one thing's for sure: "It ain't liberal—and James is a liberal."
Now don't you worry about Carville. He has his hands full being a pundit and a strategist for the beleaguered Democratic party.
Then again, maybe he'd like to compete with his wife in this new arena. Hey, you, up at Bertelsmann: can't somebody give this poor guy an imprint?