The headline said "Victoria Meyer Out." Those three words fit the paper's space restraints, but said nothing about Victoria Meyer, the beating heart of Simon & Schuster's publicity department for 20 years.
Try "best publicity mind in the business," "true intellectual," or "grace under incessant fire." Try "rigorous thinker" and "leader." Try "respected colleague" who never fudges or shifts. Victoria Meyer is what every publicist wants to be when they grow up: brilliant, dignified, organized, unflappable, unstoppable, charming.
For more than two decades, she has given words to what a corporation was doing and why. Writing. Books. Collaboration. Audience. Profits. She found the inherent value in each book, understanding how it could live in the world and find its readers. She kept an almost paranormal equilibrium among publishers, authors, and the press—not always a consenting threesome. She was at ease and levelheaded, and her decisions were about doing the right thing for the book, not the right thing for her.
"Some think that all publicists do is call media contacts and book interviews," one former colleague of hers—an industry COO—told me. "But Victoria Meyer does so much more than that. She thinks like a publisher—she sees the big picture and meticulously constructs campaigns whose interlocking parts fit seamlessly together. When it comes to planning and executing a complicated, high-visibility campaign, she is one of—if not the—best in the business."
Among those who hire and manage publicity departments, four magic words can blast a candidate to the forefront of a pack: "trained by Victoria Meyer." She has shaped the best of a generation of book promoters, now doing great work all over the industry. She makes order and clarity out of the chaos of activity, noise, and need. She inspires admiration and loyalty in a world where there seems to be little; an iconic, singular intelligence that challenges and inspires all her publicists, authors, and colleagues.
I met Victoria while sitting in an office being interviewed for a job. A tall, red-headed woman poked her head in the door of the office. "What do you have for me?" said the woman who was interviewing me (the boss Victoria and I would soon share). "Absolutely nothing," Victoria responded. "The morning shows said no. Again." And she walked off. That word "again" said it all: no matter how many times the question was asked, the answer was still no. Get over it. Move on. Beating a dead horse is not Victoria's style.
Only a few war stories are in circulation about Victoria, and they are hilarious: her reaction to a bill for a private jet rental; her words to an author barricaded in the Plaza Hotel with a couple of fifths and possibly a handgun; and what she did with the chit for a pair of cowboy boots made from the skin of an exotic beast. Victoria doesn't blow these tales about the room, but there were witnesses, and thankfully, at some point, they get drunk and tell.
Victoria's people—the ones she's trained, who are sprinkled throughout the industry—are devastated by the news of her departure. Her presence lent dignity to a tough job. "When you walked in with Victoria Meyer, you weren't a bunch of loud publicists; you were with the smartest person in the room," said one. "She never shot down one of my ideas," said another, "and always let me try new things. She might have found those things idiotic, but she always encouraged me, knowing I'd learn."
Watching Victoria settle in with former S&S publisher David Rosenthal at the beginning of their collaboration was better than watching cable. David shares Victoria's exacting intellectual sensibility (only sometimes he wanted a guy in a gorilla suit, too). David came to trust Victoria implicitly and always deferred to her. (She never let him rent the monkey costume, either.) Together, they published David McCullough's John Adams, Doris Kearns Goodwin's A Team of Rivals, Hillary Clinton's Living History, Taylor Branch's trilogy on the civil rights movement, and the current bestseller Little Bee by Chris Cleave.
Nothing is certain in publishing anymore. Add one more thing to the list of things to be anxious about: that Victoria Meyer will walk out of Simon & Schuster on October 15.
Beth Wareham is the executive director of publicity for Workman Publishing. She worked with Victoria Meyer for three years as a publicity director at Simon & Schuster.