In January, the New School in New York City hosted “An Evening of Stories Driven by the Heart,” an event billed as a celebration of “the newly relaunched Dial Press,” and that title might have turned some heads among aficionados of publishing history. The book business, for all its longevity, is a fickle one, with new presses and imprints launching, folding, or being acquired regularly—and Dial is certainly a venerable example of survival among the fickle. Under editorial director Whitney Frick, the press is entering a new stage of life nearly a century after it was founded.
In truth, Dial was relaunched more than a quarter-century ago. In 1985, a year before Doubleday (which owned Dial at the time) was acquired by Bertelsmann, the press was dissolved. Eight years later, it was given new life—at the behest of Dell’s publisher, Carole Baron—by the woman who would run it for the next 24 years: Susan Kamil.
Under Kamil, who rose to become publisher of Random House and who died last year, Dial became a hotbed for fiction and memoir that Frick described as literary in its execution and broad in its appeal, boasting book club–style themes and, typically, garnering positive reviews. Its list included Allegra Goodman, Sophie Kinsella, Elizabeth McCracken, and Hannah Tinti. When Kamil took over Random House, her process of acquiring for Dial became very personal: she would simply decide whether her authors belonged at Little Random or Dial, and they would be listed accordingly. But when Kamil tapped Frick as her successor in 2017, Frick knew she would have to keep up Dial’s tradition while bringing a vision of her own to the imprint. She also knew the size of the shoes she was expected to fill.
“I got to know Susan very early in my publishing days, because my first boss was Susan Moldow, then the publisher of Scribner, and they were very close friends,” Frick said. “When I answered the phone, Susan and I would chitchat, and she took me under her wing and we stayed in touch.”
By fall 2017, Frick was ready to leave her position as executive editor at Flatiron Books. So she met with Kamil—then executive v-p and publisher of Random House, Dial Press, Hogarth, One World, and Spiegel & Grau—to pick her brain and get her advice on the job offers Frick had lined up. “I don’t actually want to know about the offers,” Frick recalled Kamil saying. “I have another idea I want to throw into the ring: I have the Dial Press, and I think in order to really grow it, it needs someone else besides me.”
It was “a total dream, this offer,” Frick said, “and I felt like I wasn’t ready for it, but she thought I might be. And if Susan thought it...”
In January 2018, Frick took over as editorial director at Dial, reporting directly to Kamil, and she was charged with developing an ethos for the imprint beyond Kamil’s own personal preferences. That ethos, Frick said, became the imprint’s new tagline: books driven by the heart. “The books I love to read most and feel most passionate about publishing are stories that evoke an emotional response in the reader,” Frick said. “I don’t look for fiction that plays with form or convention. I want something that makes me feel something. I also want to work to shape and magnify and promote the voices of women and marginalized genders. And so that’s what we set out to do.”
Among Frick’s first acquisitions were activist and Together Rising founder and president Glennon Doyle’s Untamed (which, this week, is on the top of PW’s nonfiction list), poet Olivia Gatwood’s Life of the Party, novelist Ann Napolitano’s Dear Edward, Comedy Central v-p of talent and development Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, and Maya Shanbhag Lang’s memoir What We Carry—the authors of which all read at January’s New School event.
At first Frick was flying solo, but she has since added two senior editors, Annie Chagnot and Katy Nishimoto, and two associate editors, Rose Fox and Clio Seraphim. In addition to its editorial team, the press has the integrated creative, sales, marketing, and publicity support of the larger Random House infrastructure to rely on for the nuts and bolts of the publishing process. This season, the imprint is publishing five books, with a goal of 15–20 books per year “as the editors start adding more books to the list, and the authors who are on our list start delivering,” Frick explained.
To her bosses, the press is already delivering. “The true measure of what Whitney and her team are doing at Dial right now, for me, is that I have a very clear sense of what a Dial book is and how it will be published,” said Andy Ward, publisher of Little Random. “That comes from passion and clarity and a real sense of editorial mission, and I think it will only get stronger and deeper with time.”
Random House executive v-p and president and publisher Gina Centrello concurred, calling Frick “a dedicated and enthusiastic advocate for her writers” with “an uncanny ability to find stories that deeply resonate with readers,” adding that Frick “has brought her incredible energy to bear on the relaunch of the Dial Press list.”
Frick’s authors, too, clearly adore her. Napolitano said she didn’t choose Dial Press to publish her novel Dear Edward, a recent bestseller, because of its fame: “I chose the imprint because of Whitney Frick’s love for books that have big, beating hearts.”
Doyle called Frick her “constant champion, advocate, and ambassador” through the publication of three books over three different publishing houses, adding, “At the helm of the Dial Press, Whit will be the force and heart bringing brilliant, boundary-breaking writers to the world—and I am honored to be on this adventure with her.”
Frick’s work is as driven by the heart as her books, and as important as sales and keeping authors and publishers happy all are, she has a personal mission of her own. “Every day,” she said, “I wake up and think, ‘I just really want to make Susan proud.’ ”