When the publishing industry wants to reward an editor's ability to bring in the bestseller bacon -- or sweeten the pot on a job offer -- the solution is often a new imprint, ideally one with their name on it. Just last week, former Simon & Schuster (CBS) publisher David Rosenthal was hired by Penguin (PSO) to launch his own imprint, which will start publishing between 24 and 36 titles as of fall 2011. That move perplexed many in the industry, because the company is already chock full of eponymous imprints, from Amy Einhorn (who published the million-copy bestseller The Help) to Pamela Dorman to Marian Wood.
But Monday night, Grand Central, part of the Hachette Book Group (LGDDY), raised the bar for head-scratching behavior by awarding Chelsea Handler, host of the comedy show Chelsea Lately on E! Entertainment, her very own imprint. According to Deadline.com, the imprint, called Borderline Amazing/A Chelsea Handler Book, will launch in May 2011 with Handler's newest book, Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me, followed by two other books -- one ostensibly written by her dog, Chunk, and another still to be determined. The eventual idea, however, is for Handler "to hatch books from some of the talent that appears on her show."
Handler's deal differs dramatically from the traditional way imprints are awarded. Editors toil for years within a business, rising up through the ranks until their contributions to a company's overall profit margin are substantial enough that failing to give them that icon of respect could mean losing them to another publishing house. Handler, obviously, hasn't done anything like that. Rather, her growing celebrity has come about as she's moved from stand-up comic to television personality to a more entrepreneurial type with three bestselling books to her credit. With each book, she's changed publishers, starting with Bloomsbury, going to S&S imprint Gallery Books and, with her last book, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, landing at Grand Central.
That makes her new imprint something more along the lines of the editor-at-large deals recently struck by Random House with brand-name magazine editors Ruth Reichl (formerly of Glamour) and Jon Meacham (formerly of Newsweek.) Their editorial duties perfectly dovetailed with the news that their next books were under contract through handsome deals made with -- you guessed it -- Random House. In other words, these deals are less about broadening editorial sensibilities and more about securing surefire brands and figuring out how to exploit them.
If Grand Central is thinking that Handler's imprint is a long-term investment, they'd be well advised to look at what's happened with another celebrity imprint that launched with a big splash a few years ago. That would be G Unit Books, rapper 50 Cent's publishing venture, which released a handful of novels with an urban feel through Simon & Schuster between 2007 and early 2009 -- and nothing at all since then. (S&S spokesperson Adam Rothberg clarified by e-mail that G-Unit was not defunct, but confirmed "it had been while since anything had been published" by that particular imprint.) The object lesson for publishing is that hitching one's wagon to a celebrity will always benefit the celebrity more than the publisher -- and that the deal required may be a Faustian bargain.
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