From his high-ceilinged office abutting the construction site at ground zero, Rob Weisbach, the president and publisher of Weinstein Books, has, for the past two years, been working to build off of—and to distinguish himself from—one of the more notable rise-and-fall publishing ventures of the last 10 years: Miramax Books.
Weinstein Books officially launched on October 1. Before that, Weisbach was sorting out the publishing details that followed Harvey and Bob Weinstein's acrimonious split from corporate parent Disney. Specifically, publishing a previously announced list of titles under the Miramax banner (with profits going partly to Disney) while setting up new titles at the Weinsteins' reinvented publishing house: Weinstein Books.
Aside from the odd profit-sharing model and schedule, Weisbach has had to contend with the legacy of Miramax. When Bob and Harvey Weinstein got into the publishing business in 2001, their book division was the subject of endless buzz: Miramax Books was going to be a place where books would be glamorously married with movies, a publishing house that was going to bring high-profile authors into a media empire that included a hot indie film studio and a glossy new magazine, Talk. Today Talk is dead, the Weinsteins are quietly producing a much smaller slate of films and Weinstein Books is significantly scaled back, but, according to Weisbach, similar in spirit to its original incarnation.
The new Weinstein Books, with a staff of nine and a goal of publishing about 12 titles annually, has the look of a small indie with the resources of a major house. Now distributed by Hachette, Weinstein Books' first list (five titles) included books by chef-cum-TV-star Padma Lakshmi (who's gained a following as the host, for two seasons now, of Top Chef) and funnyman Chris Elliot. As Weisbach discussed that first list, as well as his spring/summer '08 one, over lunch at the downtown outpost of Les Halles, he was ebullient.
The house's lead fall title, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, a story collection by Canadian physician (and winner of the Giller Prize) Vincent Lam, has been getting solid reviews. PW gave it a starred review and Entertainment Weekly, which profiled Lam and four other debut novelists in a fall books preview, gave the book an A-. (According to Nielsen BookScan, the title has sold 4,000 copies.) And Lakshmi's cookbook Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet—which got a promo push on Top Chef—is going back to press.
According to Weisbach, Weinstein Books, like Miramax, will offer eclectic lists. Certainly the house's 2008 spring/summer catalogue speaks to this. Besides the Man Booker—nominated literary fiction The Gift of Rain (which was published in the U.K. in May 2007), there's a wellness title from fitness guru Kathy Freston; a chick lit novel called Whacked by former E! Entertainment host Jules Asner; and Courage, a memoir by British prime minister Gordon Brown.
The publishing ethic at Weinstein Books is, Weisbach noted, still very much in line with that of Miramax. “We want to publish each title with attentiveness. That was always the appeal of Miramax, to do a few books and give each one lots of attention.”
When asked if the highly touted synergy between the filmmaking and publishing divisions still exists, Weisbach said there continue to be “close ties” to the film execs. He pointed to a forthcoming book called The Mad Ones by Tom Fullson, about the notorious New York gangster Gallo Brothers that the Weinstein Company has optioned. (There is also a Weinstein Co. first-look option on Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, which Weinstein Books published in September.)
So what about Weisbach's boss, Harvey Weinstein, who, according to some press reports, has mellowed since his days as the infamous, bullish New York king of the indie film world? Weisbach said Weinstein is very involved, and, as in the old days, is a “big supporter of the book side.”