Stephen Rubin, the outspoken and influential publishing executive whose publication of works by such authors as Dan Brown, John Grisham, and Michael Wolff made him a force in the book business over the past 40 years—and whose memoir, Words and Music, caused quite a stir in the business after its publication earlier this year—died on October 13 in Manhattan. He was 81.
The Bronx-raised Rubin began his career in journalism, which included stints at Vanity Fair and the New York Times and the founding of a news syndicate, Writers Bloc, before pivoting to publishing in the 1980s. His publishing career is best defined by his work at two publishers: Doubleday, now an imprint of Penguin Random House, and Henry Holt, the Macmillan Publishers imprint. (He was most recently a publishing consultant for Simon & Schuster.)
Rubin was hired at Bantam Books as executive editor in 1984 by its publisher, Jack Romanos, where he switfly became editor-in-chief upon Romanos's exit for Simon & Schuster. There, Rubin acquired paperback rights to Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides, which became a major hit for the publisher.
Two years later, Bantam was acquired by Bertelsmann, PRH's owner, where it was folded into the Bantam Doubleday Dell group (and has since weathered a handful of corporate reorganizations). In 1990, Bertelsmann brought Rubin over "to run a troubled Doubleday" six years later, representatives of Doubleday said in a statement. There, he rose through the ranks to president and publisher, before spending a time in the U.K. as head of Bantam Doubleday Dell International and chair of Transworld.
At Doubleday, Rubin "reduced editorial categories and title and head counts," the publisher said. He also oversaw the publication of John Grisham's The Firm and Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code—both massive hits.
“Steve Rubin was a great publisher,” Grisham said in a statement. “He loved books, especially those on the bestseller lists, and he knew how to get them there. He was a writer’s dream—loyal, generous, and never shy with his opinions. He was seldom wrong, but never in doubt.”
Brown added: “Steve’s infectious enthusiasm for my work was every author’s dream. A world-class oenophile, Steve used to send me cases of lavish Italian wines—a secret plot, he joked, to saddle me with a refined palate so I could never afford to stop writing. I am eternally grateful for his belief, his encouragement, and, above all, his friendship.”
Bill Thomas, Doubleday's current publisher, said Rubin, a lifelong opera lover, "approached publishing like an impresario, bringing together all the players on-stage and off, cajoling, encouraging, and nudging to make sure that when the curtain rose the stars—the authors he published—shone brightly in the spotlight." He added: "Steve approached his job with brio and style, and a sense of joy. He had fun, and working for him was fun. And like a great opera singer, he was oversized, brash, and dramatic, sartorially resplendent, and given to big gestures. He was, in a word, 'grand.' "
By 2009, Rubin had become executive v-p and publisher at large at Penguin Random House, following the combination of Doubleday with Knopf and new PRH CEO Markus Dohle's decision to let Knopf's Sonny Mehta, not Rubin, run the group. That move (and perhaps the promise of what Rubin called, in his memoir, a “bountiful, contractual one-time payment” from his former employer) encouraged Rubin to leave for Macmillan, where he ran Henry Holt. There, he acquired Killing Lincoln, the first title in former Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly's extremely successful Killing series, and Michael Wolff's massive and divisive Trump-era hit, Fire and Fury.
Rubin was predeceased, in 2010, by his wife, Cynthia, a music publicist with whom, in 2011, he founded the Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at the San Francisco Conservatory in Music. He is survived by nieces Sara Elan Rotter and Yael Rotter and nephews Andrew Rotter and David Rotter. Arrangements for a service are forthcoming.
This story has been updated with further information.