Just a few years after a major downsizing in the publishing program at Harper San Francisco, HarperCollins president and CEO Jane Friedman said the division, which celebrated its 25th anniversary March 7 with a gala waterfront party, has become a stable and profitable division.
Harper is the only major New York house that maintains a major West Coast presence. And while that presence is a highly focused one--HSF specializes in spiritual, philosophical and psychological titles--it has seen its fair share of changes. Steve Hanselman, senior v-p and publisher of HSF, told PW that after an expansion in the early '90s that included the acquisition of Collins picture books, Access Travel and the establishment of a Harper West operation, a realignment in the mid-1990s focused HSF back on its core business. For the past five years, the division has released a total of 75 titles annually, scaled back from a one-time high of nearly 300. "Now we are getting much greater results out of every title we publish," Hanselman said. Friedman added, "Now we can do new things."
One new direction appears to be spiritual fiction, much in the vein of the bestselling The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Friendship Cake by Lynne Hinton. Cathy Hemming, president and publisher of HarperCollins General Books Group, in which HSF is one of four divisions, told PW, "We are doing it modestly and will continue to be cautious and selective." HSF expects to release up to four spiritual fiction titles a season, beginning this month with Philip Gully's sequel to Home to Harmony called Just Shy of Harmony.
A focused mission, a strong staff with specialized expertise, great authors and a healthy backlist were all cited by Friedman as HSF strengths. "We don't try to do all things for all people," she said, noting that HSF accounts for about 10% of annual sales in the general trade book group and "considerably more of the profits."
Like most publishers of spiritual books, HSF saw an increase in sales after September 11; however, the company reports that the upward trajectory in this market had been a pattern for several years before the attacks. For more than three years, Hemming said, HSF had seen significant growth in both frontlist and backlist sales. "I think we all know that this is a religious country and that there is a strong sense of spirituality in America," said Hemming. "And Harper San Francisco has managed to keep apace and serve that market very well."