Who becomes a legend most? When we're talking publishing people, it usually means someone with great taste, unusual foresight and, perhaps, a little bit of luck. But good timing helps, too.

Throughout his career, Larry Kirshbaum has been known to zing some snappy one-liners with timing worthy of a master comedian. So it seems just another masterstroke that Kirshbaum has decided to leave Time Warner, effective now. Others might have stayed longer, especially since the TWBG has been riding high, and has just pulled off an improbable feat: topping, in 2005, its best year ever (2004).

But Kirshbaum is more than a one- or two-year wonder, and in recognition of his decisions, past and present—he has just set up his own literary agency, LJK Literary Management, on West 40th St. in New York—PW names him its first Publishing Person of the Year.

Together Forever

The success of TWBG in 2004—05 has been built by a management team that, for the most part, has been together for more than a decade. "Stability has been a big factor in our success," Kirshbaum says, pointing to such longtime TWBGers as Maureen Egen, Jamie Raab, Chris Barba and Michael Pietsch. Keeping the team together is a credit to Kirshbaum's management style. "He's the most effective motivator I've ever been around," says Raab, who worked with Kirshbaum for almost 20 years. "He has a galvanizing presence, and made most days exciting and fun."

The size of TWBG—big enough to compete for top talent, but small enough to respond rapidly to events—also has been key in keeping the TWBG leadership intact, Kirshbaum believes. "We have a very cohesive atmosphere," Kirshbaum says. Unlike some of its bigger competitors, TWBG's imprints are dedicated to specific market segments and don't compete with each other, keeping internal rivalries to a minimum. But the company has enough resources to fully exploit an emerging market, such as Warner Faith, which has tapped into the increasing interest in spirituality. The flexibility of the TWBG structure has also enabled an imprint like Bulfinch, which was having trouble publishing at the high end of the illustrated book market, to develop Springboard, a new imprint aimed at baby boomers.

The stability of the staff has in turn enabled TWBG to keep many of its bestselling authors -as well. Nelson DeMille, Nicholas Sparks, David Baldacci and James Patterson have called TWBG home for virtually their entire writing careers. And, in many cases, the most recent books by these established novelists are selling in better numbers than ever, something not all brand-name authors can boast in today's marketplace. "Keeping franchises fresh is a big part if what we do," Kirshbaum says.

At the same time, TWBG has been able to find and launch new talent—witness the recent successes of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Robert Hicks's The Widow of the South and of course, Jon Stewart's America (The Book).

The company's success at delivering a steady stream of bestsellers is a tribute to both TWBG's sales and marketing teams and editorial staff. While Kirshbaum says TWBG has maintained a "healthy balance" between sales and editorial, both sides have always been willing to work together to make a book work. The company's enthusiasm for selling comes from the top, with the former salesman Kirshbaum often leading the charge. "When he became passionate about a book, it was contagious," Raab notes.

Moving On

Kirshbaum's sense of the marketplace has long been evident to his competitors. "Larry's benefited from knowing what happens to books when they leave New York," says Jack Romanos, Simon & Schuster CEO, who has known Kirshbaum for more than 30 years. "He's always had enormous respect for customers, and that paid him back in spades when he became CEO." Those customers provided a sounding board for Kirshbaum, Romanos says, alerting him to what was happening and not happening in the market. "Some of Larry's surprise hits were probably not surprises to him," Romanos adds.

One area where Kirshbaum's sense of timing and the market betrayed him was in e-publishing, where he oversaw the creation, and breakup, of iPublish.com. But with all the new advances in digital publishing and retailing, it may be that iPublish was a bit ahead of its time. "We learned a lot from iPublish," Kirshbaum says. The most important lesson? "Digital content takes on a life of its own," he says, with his usual schmoozy aplomb. "It's a separate process from print."

While Kirshbaum thinks the old publishing business models are beginning to break down, he believes the printed book will remain the bedrock of the publishing business for a long time. "Physical books are reassuring to a lot of people, and you don't need a password to start reading," he says.

Kirshbaum's plan now is to play to his strengths. "Budgets, planning meetings, dealing with human resources were not parts of the business I loved," says the guy who nevertheless negotiated them successfully for decades. "The one-on-one with authors is always what I liked best."