It might not have had as many lives as your average cat, but Weinstein Books has gone through more than a few reincarnations. The publishing unit tied to Bob and Harvey Weinstein was unveiled in 2001, when the independent film-producing brothers were intent on creating a mini–media empire, complete with book division and glossy magazine (Talk). Today, the magazine is long dead, the film studio has been reborn (after being sold to Disney), and the books division, which has remained open throughout the brothers’ tumultuous last decade, persists. Now with a full-time staff of two, the latest iteration of Weinstein Books is about to release its first spate of titles.
Originally launched as Miramax Books, the unit was renamed Weinstein Books in 2007. Then, Rob Weisbach was leading a staff of nine, aiming to do about 12 titles per year with an emphasis on lifestyle books from celebrities (like Padma Lakshmi’s cookbook Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet) and literary fiction. By 2008 Weisbach was out, and then publisher Judy Hottensen took over.
After cutting titles and staff, Weinstein Books announced a partnership with Perseus in October 2009 and reorganized again in August 2011 when Hottensen—by then, the last remaining employee at the unit—left for Grove/Atlantic (where she had worked before joining Weinstein years earlier). The new team at Weinstein, which has Georgina Levitt as publishing director and Amanda Murray as editorial director, was announced in February, and the pair will release their first title, Bully (which is based on the Weinstein-produced documentary of the same name), in September.
For Harvey Weinstein, the latest rejiggering represents another chance for him to get back into a business he has always claimed to love. “As Miramax Books, we were the hot independent,” he said via e-mail. “We took a couple days off for bad behavior, got parole, and now we are back on a tear.”
The focus of the Weinsteins’ book divisions, in most respects, has not changed through the years. Regardless of the unit’s name or its publisher, the list has been driven by a mix of nonfiction from bold-faced names, commercial fiction, and literary fiction. Levitt said the nonfiction from the unit will continue to be “personality and media-driven,” and the fiction, according to Murray, will be “in line with that of previous administrations.” Murray added that Weinstein Books will now also be looking for franchise YA titles.
As for the logistics, Murray, who was most recently at Simon & Schuster (and before that Little, Brown), is working out of Perseus’s offices, while Levitt (who left Vanguard for this role) is in the Weinstein Company’s Tribeca space. The pair said they will focus on building titles off of the company’s film slate—Levitt regularly attends developmental meetings with the film staff—but that they are not looking to do straight tie-ins. They are, they said, keen to publish more books like Bully, which expands on the subject of the film. (The documentary explores the crisis around intense teasing at American schools.) The book, which is subtitled An Action Plan for Teachers and Parents to Combat the Bullying Epidemic in America, features interviews with the kids who appear in the documentary as well as the film’s director, along with essays on the topic from a mix of contributors ranging from actor Joe Pantoliano (who struggled with dyslexia as a child, and was bullied) to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. To piggyback on interest in the film, the book is scheduled to hit stores while Bully is still in theaters. (The documentary is currently playing in major markets like Los Angeles and New York, but is expected to roll out to cities across the country throughout the summer and into the early fall.)
Another title with strong ties to a Weinstein film, which is also a far cry from a standard tie-in, is Abdel Sellou’s August memoir, You Changed My Life. (see sidebar). Sellou’s book is currently out in France, where his life story is the basis of the French narrative feature, Intouchables. The film is the second-highest-grossing French film of all time, and the Weinstein Company has acquired its U.S. distribution, will be releasing the movie in the States this fall. The feel-good drama follows the unlikely friendship that developed between Sellou, an Algerian ex-convict, and the wealthy, crippled, Frenchman he was hired to care for; the book is set to publish when the film is released.
With Perseus handling all printing and distribution for Weinstein Books, as well as the selling of first serial and foreign rights, Murray and Levitt are focused on assembling the right team for each title. The pair said they plan on doing about 10 books a season and are relying on freelancers for all the work they will not be handling on their own. In Levitt’s mind, the tiny staff is actually a benefit, as well as a nod to where corporate America at large is headed. “This is happening more in publishing and other industries,” Levitt said, speaking to the choice to have a small staff that farms out work on an as-needed basis. “It means we can look at every book we’re publishing as an event, and we can hand-select the team to build around it.”