The word synergy, in the world of book publishing, feels like a term that died in the ’90s. Back then, almost every publisher housed within a media conglomerate was touting the ways it would use its TV-making or movie-making sister companies to sell books. Fox would boost HarperCollins. Viacom/CBS would boost Simon & Schuster. Not much came of all that talk. But Ellen Archer, president and publisher of Hyperion, is reviving synergy. In fact, Archer thinks it will be one of the keys to the success of her house in 2012.
For Archer, upcoming projects at Hyperion tied in with other entertainment units get a boost from being linked to a major platform, which is something she thinks is more important than ever in today’s marketplace. Since discoverability—helping readers find new books—remains the most difficult hurdle for publishers in a retail environment where Borders is gone and the price clubs are being more selective about the titles they carry, Archer believes having a platform is essential. Following that strategy, Hyperion has seen a noted success in its Castle book series, a line of mysteries spun off the prime time ABC show, Castle. (The books are nontraditional tie-ins in that they are mysteries “written” by the main character on the show, a novelist who shadows a sexy NYPD detective to gain material for his books.) The third title in the line, Heat Rises—the series is named Nikki Heat, after the detective on the show—came out in September and debuted at #1 on the New York Times list. Archer also credits a major ABC TV plug, in part, for the success Hyperion had with Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. The book, with corresponding audio CDs, was also released in September—the physical package had a list price of $60—and was launched with a two-hour special on ABC News, hosted by Diane Sawyer.
Speaking about why synergy is now working for Hyperion, Archer said she thinks it comes from the top: “Anne Sweeney, who is co-chair of the Disney media networks group, has made it her mission to collaborate and align the [company’s divisions] more closely, because it make so much sense.” Archer believes closer working ties at Disney can give Hyperion an edge, and that the publisher “is in a unique situation to offer, selectively, great opportunities to authors in franchise situations.”
Although Hyperion will slightly cut back its total list in 2012 to approximately 80 titles down from 100 last year, Archer expects to see an uptick in coordinated projects with other units at its parent company. In December, Hyperion found a hit in Chris Powell’s Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb Cycle Solution, which landed at #2 on the Times list. Powell is a TV personality—he’s a trainer featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition—and his book came to Hyperion after an ABC executive suggested the house take him on.
A number of other forthcoming book projects at Hyperion are also hooked into ABC. Archer is expecting to see a major bump for the paperback of Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin. The novel was originally self-published and is now serving as the basis for the forthcoming ABC prime time dramedy GCB, which stars Kristin Chenoweth and is set to premiere on March 4. The book, Archer said, will be getting pushed on air and will “help launch the show.” And building off the success of the Nikki Heat books, Hyperion has a line of Derrick Storm novellas—Storm is the title character in protagonist Richard Castle’s most popular book series—set for late May. The titles will be e-originals—Archer is calling them “bookisodes”—and will start appearing just after Castle goes off the air for the summer. The second two bookisodes, scheduled for July and August, respectively, will be designed to keep the show’s fans “engaged” while the show is on hiatus, Archer said. Demonstrating the true collaboration between platforms, Castle’s creator Andrew Marlowe worked closely with the ghostwriter of the books under Richard Castle’s name.
Similar to the Derrick Storm books, Hyperion also has a title planned for fans of ABC’s cult hit, Revenge. The book, which is set for August 2012, will deliver the backstory of Revenge’s title character, Emily Thorne. (On the show, Thorne is executing a complex vengeance plot targeted at a wealthy enclave of residents in the Hamptons and has a mysterious, little-discussed background.)
Although Archer thinks that platform and brands are more important than ever, Hyperion is not giving up on the harder-to-break-out books. Acknowledging that fiction remains the hardest sell for publishers—Archer said the declines in hardcover fiction sales illustrate this—she thinks some hope may be found in special sales: “Where are the opportunities for new relationships? Anthropologie? Urban Outfitters? I think special sales will become a very big area.”
Outside of bricks-and-mortar stores, Archer believes publishers will need to do more to point readers to e-only content. She estimated that in two years 25% of Hyperion’s list could be e-originals and, if that happens, a number of structures need to change, especially how readers find books. “Right now people are still shopping by looking at the paper product,” she said. “They’re using paper books as a catalogue, and then downloading [titles]. We [as publishers] need to be asking, what is the digital equivalent of that.”