Last year marked a number of milestones for Grand Central Publishing. For one thing, it was the 10th year that the publisher operated under the Grand Central umbrella, having changed its name from Warner Books in 2007. Last January also saw the departure of both Jamie Raab, who was Warner Books’ publisher for 18 years and oversaw the rebranding of the company, and Deb Futter, who had been v-p and editor-in-chief of hardcovers and publisher of Twelve Books.
Michael Pietsch, CEO of Grand Central parent company Hachette Book Group, moved quickly to appoint new leadership at the publisher, naming Dutton publisher Ben Sevier as senior v-p and publisher last February; Karen Kosztolnyik, who had been at GCP before moving to Simon & Schuster, returned as v-p and editor-in-chief in May.
In an interview in PW’s offices, both Sevier and Kosztolnyik said they were quite satisfied with how the transition year went. Sevier described 2017 as a “nice entry” into GCP, noting that it gave him time to see how the GCP teams work together. He noted that GCP continued to seamlessly publish many of its franchise authors, such as David Baldacci and Sandra Brown. GCP also had an unexpected hit with Al Franken, whose Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, sold more than 235,000 copies, despite Franken stepping down from the Senate following sexual misconduct accusations. The publisher had 14 nonfiction and eight fiction titles hit PW’s bestseller lists last year and 21 titles hit the trade paperback list.
“It’s been thrilling to see how instantaneously Ben and Karen mind-melded with GCP’s authors and its superb editorial, marketing, publicity, and design teams,” Pietsch said, noting that, in addition to building new lists, “they’ve focused relentlessly on opportunities like the paperback of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, which just hit #1 on the IndieBound list and crossed 100,000 copies sold.”
The biggest personnel move Sevier has made to date was promoting Sean Desmond from editorial director to publisher of Twelve to replace the departed Futter. Sevier said he sees no need for major changes at GCP but does expect to make some gradual shifts. One area he has targeted is marketing, where he plans to add more muscle, particularly in digital. “We need to find new ways to reach consumers directly,” Sevier noted, adding that a new content management system will give GCP the tools to better promote its titles.
On the publishing side, one goal, Kosztolnyik said, is to “find the franchise authors of tomorrow.” She added, “We’ve proven we know how to build authors’ careers.”
Both Sevier and Kosztolnyik are particularly excited about Noah Hawley, whose Before the Fall has sold more than 750,000 copies in all formats and who has a new book set for 2019. Later this year, GCP will release paperback editions of two of Hawley’s earlier books, A Conspiracy of Tall Men and The Punch.
Another book that Sevier has high hopes for is the just-signed Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Sevier acquired North American rights to the book along with Wes Miller, one of HBG’s senior editors. Rights have already sold in 11 foreign markets, with more deals coming. GCP plans to release the book in fall 2019.
Two recently signed debut authors are John Fried and Kira Jane Buxton. Fried’s The Martin Chronicles, a story about a boy growing up in 1980s Manhattan, is due out in February 2019, and Buxton’s Hollow Kingdom, set for summer 2019, is described by GCP as “a modern-day Animal Farm told from the point of view of a domesticated crow trying to save the world after humanity succumbs to a virus manifested from addiction to technology.”
GCP is also set to publish Joanne Proulx’s adult debut this September. We All Love Beautiful Girls is centered on three suburban families “whose lives spiral dangerously out of control after tragedy strikes,” the publisher said.
Sevier noted that, though GCP’s core of franchise commercial fiction is well established, he sees a chance to expand the division’s nonfiction. Twelve will continue to focus on serious nonfiction, publishing one title per month. Other nonfiction titles in the pipeline include Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s former communication director, and Alive and Alone by Dan Schilling, an account of a one-man stand during the Afghan war. The publisher took Franchesca Ramsey, author of Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoir and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, to Winter Institute to promote the title, which is due out in May.
GCP’s biggest book this year may be Sally Field’s memoir, In Pieces, which the publisher acquired last December and which is set for release September 18. GCP announced a 300,000-copy first printing, and among its promotional plans are an author appearance at BookExpo and an author tour.
Pietsch said he is excited about the Field book, as well as the rest of the 2018 list: “The GCP team is really firing on all cylinders, and I see a steady expansion of GCP’s range of successful publishing ahead.”