My wife always tells me, 'Mark, you have two speeds—zero and 10,’ ” says Mark Tauber, 39, publisher at HarperOne. That top speed has served him well in a career that began in book publishing and detoured to help launch two still-thriving Internet startups, bringing him back to publishing and to a city he has always loved.
From the beginning Tauber moved quickly. While at Princeton Theological Seminary—where he completed a master’s of divinity in 1994—he worked at the div school bookstore, so books and religion were his natural element. His first job out of seminary was doing publicity for Bibles and academic religion titles at Oxford University Press. In 1996 he moved to San Francisco to work in publicity and marketing at Harper San Francisco.
Fast forward to 1999, when Tauber met Steve Waldman and got excited about launching a multifaith Web site; he left Harper and San Francisco to help Waldman start Beliefnet with three others. (Talk about full circle—Beliefnet was recently acquired by News Corp. Though the idea did not originate with him, “I helped build the case for it within the company,” Tauber says. Waldman remains as CEO.)
Zip to 2001: Tauber left Beliefnet to launch Waterfront Media with another Beliefnet founder, Ben Wolin, and Mike Keriakos, who had also worked at Beliefnet. The company provides consumers with digital newsletters, Web sites and subscription services for authors, doctors and health organizations. Early offerings included Andrew Weil and Bishop John Shelby Spong, as well as the Left Behind series and the South Beach Diet (Waterfront is now exclusively focused on health). “We set up three desks in my kitchen in Brooklyn Heights,” Tauber says. “[Wolin and Keriakos] would come over every day and wake me up, and we would start working these long hours. Now they have 100 employees, and they’re not in a kitchen anymore.” Before the company began to make money, the partners all had side projects, and Tauber’s was agenting. One of his first clients was Jim Wallis (God’s Politics; The Great Awakening). “That gave me the taste for publishing again,” he says.
Leap to late 2002, when Tauber returned to HSF as associate publisher. “I missed publishing and I missed the city,” he says. Tauber fell in love with San Francisco as a child on visits to relatives, his affection strengthened by his previous stint at HSF. “And I got to work in the more intimate, boutique-like atmosphere here, with the same core team I’d worked with before.” In 2005, Tauber was named deputy publisher; his promotion to publisher became official in January 2008. Unlike many houses these days, HarperOne—renamed last year—is in growth mode and adding positions. “Religion is a category that’s growing, and pretty profitably for us,” says Tauber. “The topics are perennially of interest to people.”
Tauber brought lots of change to Harper, restaffing and ramping up the pace. His dot-com experience taught him to create strategies and change them quickly when something wasn’t working. “It’s not that Harper was sleepy, but we were happy to take five years to establish a solid backlist title, and that’s mainly what we were known for. I wanted to make books bestsellers right away and become a frontlist player.” Tauber notes that HarperOne has had some 35 New York Times bestsellers since 2005: “Now HarperCollins counts on us to contribute more than a few big frontlist books.”
Settled in his beloved City by the Bay, with a 15-month-old daughter, another child on the way and what he calls “a pretty great job,” Tauber might finally stay put for a while. “Some of the authors I work with have had a profound impact on culture and even on shaping history,” he says. “They’ve made great gains against injustice and ignorance through their lives and their writing, and that’s really why I am in this thing. I believe we can, through our books and authors, actually help change people’s lives and circumstances in material, spiritual and intellectual ways and at the same time continue to grow revenue and profit.”