Memoirs by former publishing executives have become something of a cottage industry this year. On September 19, former Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s Turning Pages: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Publisher is due out from Skyhorse Publishing, and on November 7, Lyons Press will release Scribners: Five Generations in Publishing by Charles Scribner III. These titles follow Applause Books’ January publication of Stephen Rubin’s Words and Music: Confessions of an Optimist, which recounts his executive days at Random House and Macmillan.

Unlike Rubin’s book, which at times offers harsh critiques of his colleagues, the upcoming titles are by men who grew up with publishing in their veins. Sargent’s ancestors include Doubledays, while Scribner’s family name still adorns one of publishing’s most admired imprints.

And besides writing books due out within a few weeks of each other, they have some other shared history: Sargent writes in his prologue that his great grandfather, Frank Nelson Doubleday, got his start in publishing when he quit school “and went to work for Charles Scribner, a prominent publisher of the time.” In his book, Scribner notes that while 1897 was a good year for Scribners, the company did suffer a major loss when the business manager of Scribners magazine left, noting that “Frank Nelson Doubleday joined the company 20 years earlier as a fourteen-year-old lad.”

Sargent and Scribner also had a shared mentor. Jeremiah Kaplan hired Sargent to work at Macmillan, and Kaplan would later bring Sargent to S&S when he moved there. Kaplan was the president of Macmillan when the Scribner family sold the company to them. After the deal, Scribner worked for Kaplan as v-p of special projects.

Similar to Rubin in his book, Sargent and Scribner describe publishing as an exciting, rewarding, and at times very stressful life at the executive level. Scribner’s account is cleverly written and punchy, with a focus on how publishing’s movers and shakers (including authors) operated, while Sargent’s memoir maintains the CEO-of-the-people style that made him one of publishing’s most popular CEOs—an approach that got him fired.

To answer the question many in the industry still wonder about, does Sargent disclose why he was in let go in late 2020? The answer is not exactly, but he does drop several clues. When the Covid pandemic hit, Macmillan’s owners, in particular Stefan von Holtzbrinck, were worried about the company’s liquidity and had Sargent implement a number of cost cuts, which included cutting salaries. As Macmillan’s financial results remained better than expected, Sargent convinced von Holtzbrinck to undo the cuts, though Sargent admits he was “impolite” during those discussions.

In August, von Holtzbrinck called Sargent again with a plan to “protect the capital structure of his family’s holdings,” Sargent writes. Sargent reluctantly agreed to implement the plan, but as work on the project progressed, he said he became certain the plan was wrong and that “hundreds” of employees would lose their jobs. (He goes no further about what the plan was. His account doesn’t counter the widespread belief that von Holtzbrinck wanted to sell the trade division, but it also doesn’t discount the idea that von Holtzbrinck wanted to consolidate and streamline Macmillan’s various departments.)

Sargent told von Holtzbrinck in an email on August 21 that he would not carry out the plan, and von Holtzbrinck responded that the plan would be scrapped, since the board agreed it could not go ahead without his support. Sargent writes that he thought things were settled, but “the next day I got the gate.”

Sargent notes that he doesn’t burn with anger over his dismissal and was grateful for the time he had running the company and appreciated the “remarkable autonomy” the von Holtzbrinck family gave him. He also offered a salute to Macmillan employees, saying they will always have his respect and admiration for achieving all the goals that had been set for them.

Until that episode, Sargent had a stellar career and was involved in some of publishing’s most important developments around such hot-button issues as free speech, copyright protections, and publisher relations with Amazon. Regarding the latter, Sargent was running Macmillan when Amazon decided to turn off the buy buttons on Macmillan titles in a dispute over e-book terms. After a week of tense negotiations, a deal was reached, which led Amazon to post an infamous statement in the Kindle forum, explaining that it would have to eventually accept an agreement with Macmillan “because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles.”

Sargent joined Macmillan in 1996 as head of St. Martin’s and quickly rose up the ranks. In the book, he recounts interactions with publishing legends, including Roger Straus as he was heading toward retirement; the decision to publish Monica Lewinsky’s book, which drew criticism inside and outside of the company; and the decision to publish Fortunate Son, a book critical of then–Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush that Macmillan would later need to recall.

Sargent once again dealt with White House issues in 2018 when Macmillan’s Holt division published Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, one of the first books critical of then-president Trump. After word spread about the impending publication, Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to Macmillan, but the company released the title anyway, and it went on to become one of its biggest bestsellers.

No book about Macmillan can be written without some comment on its former headquarters. The Flatiron Building was one of New York’s first skyscrapers, and though it was elegantly designed, the problem, as Sargent notes, “was everything else.” When the lease was up in 2018, despite much employee support for staying, Sargent decided Macmillan had no choice but to find a new home.

Tracing Scribners

If Sargent’s book is about modern publishing history, Scribner’s is a deep dive into the history of Scribners—known for much of its life as Charles Scribner’s Sons. Founded in 1846 by Charles Scribner—the father of five sons—and a partner in New York City, the company shortened its name to Scribner in 1994 following its acquisition by Viacom, S&S’s parent company.

From the start, Scribners published some of the bestselling authors in America, beginning with the British authors Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The book also details Scribners’ long association with New York City—including the building of both a printing plant on West 43rd Street that was closed in 1955, and a new headquarters at 597 Fifth Avenue, which is now a New York landmark, and which also housed the Scribners bookstore.

Large sections of Scribner’s book feature stories about two of the company’s most famous authors, F. Scott Fiztgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Scribner also gives plenty of attention to legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, who worked with both Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

Scribner also describes communications among various key players, including Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Perkins, and Scribner’s father and grandfather. Hemingway, Scribner, writes, considered his grandfather “his best friend.” The Scribner family’s close relationship with the Hemingways would yield a number of bestselling Hemingway novels released after his death.

While Scribners is well-known for its fiction, Scribner’s father considered the publisher’s reference works to be its “crown jewel.” The heart of the reference department was based on the Dictionary of American Biography and began with the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Scribners trade and reference divisions would go their separate ways in 1998, when Viacom sold S&S’s reference and education divisions to Pearson.

Scribner picks 1983 as the year it became clear that the family’s ownership of the house was beginning to slip away. Two of Scribners’ top executives left the company, and as Scribner writes, “the days of private family publishing firms were clearly numbered, as history would confirm.” He acknowledges that by the early 1980s the company was undercapitalized, prompting his father to arrange a merger with Macmillan in a stock transaction. While Scribner said his father chose a stock deal because he “wanted to keep the family in the book business,” the choice would be a happy one for shareholders when, four years later, Robert Maxwell won a bidding war for Macmillan, and in the process Macmillan’s stock finished six times higher than its price after the Scribners-Macmillan merger.

Still, Scribner writes, the Maxwell purchase wasn’t necessarily a happy one for the family. He notes that the deal “was the end of a fine company, and my father and I were sad at this outcome we never envisioned.”

Scribner would continue to work in various capacities at what had been his family’s company. He left the S&S payroll in 2004 and returned to his previous life as an art historian.