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Book Publishers Busy Adding, Subtracting and Making Moves

August 05, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday

Last winter's savage freeze felt even colder in some New York publishing circles when major houses decided to cut back on their more serious but less profitable operations.

Houghton Mifflin Co. announced that it would fold its Ticknor & Fields imprint, and Harcourt Brace & Co. laid off a dozen editorial staffers in a sharp reduction of its adult trade division. While taking over rival publisher Macmillan Inc. in a $553-million deal, Simon & Schuster closed the newly acquired Atheneum imprint and said it would put out fewer books under the Macmillan name.

These corporate pullbacks, coupled with the earlier closings of quality units such as Summit Books, have prompted debates about whether serious books have been eclipsed by the kind of commercial sure shots written by Tom Clancy and John Grisham.

Those discussions likely will continue. Meanwhile, leading publishers are developing other outlets. These new subsidiaries may not share the literary pedigree of the ones closed down, but they are fresh attempts to market books in a competitive environment.

"People in publishing are going to be every bit as aggressive in acquiring books," said Leigh Haber, vice president and associate publisher of Scribners, "but they may be exercising the kind of wisdom and pragmatism that did not exist in the past."

Among the latest developments:

* The mighty Simon & Schuster next year plans to start a line of fiction in the larger, trade-paperback format. Although details have yet to be announced, titles in the new Scribner line (not to be confused with S&S' Scribners hardcovers) are expected to come from a variety of sources, including S&S and the Macmillan back list.

* Riverhead is a new line of nonfiction being developed at the Putnam Berkley Group Inc. by Susan J. Petersen, who became executive vice president in November after a long stretch at Random House.

* Putnam Berkley also is launching Boulevard, a new imprint of fiction and nonfiction, both in hardcover and paperback, based on popular entertainment and media personalities. The first of about 48 titles a year to bear the Boulevard imprint, beginning in June, will include Diane Duane's "The Venom Factor," a novel dealing with the Spiderman comic-strip character, and Kevin Anderson's "Young Jedi Knights," a story inspired by the "Star Wars" movies. Rap poet Dana Bryant's "Song of the Sirens" is also on the schedule.

* Harvest Books, a trade-paperback division of Harcourt Brace based in San Diego, is increasing its output (now about 60 books a year) and placing greater emphasis on Harvest originals. For example, Harvest's fall list includes John Loveday's "Halo," a poetic first novel of the Old West published to great acclaim in Britain two years ago, and another British import, Lloyd Jones' "Biografi," a rare travelogue of long-isolated Albania.

* Kodansha America, a branch of Japan's leading publisher, has released the first titles in its Kodansha Globe line of nonfiction trade paperbacks, which will number 24 a year. The early offerings include Ted Kerasote's "Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt" and George Condominas' "We Have Eaten the Forest," an account of a Montagnard village in Vietnam. Both had been published previously in hardcover outside Kodansha.

* The Ballantine Publishing Group is adding Moorings, newly established in Nashville, Tenn., to its array of imprints. Starting next year, Moorings plans to publish up to 30 titles annually for the expanding Christian and inspirational market.

* St. Martin's Press is preparing to establish a line of literary hardcovers and trade paperbacks under the Picador banner, a name long associated with quality publishing in Britain.

Most readers probably do not care which companies publish the books they plan to buy. Indeed, industry cynics snicker that the latest start-ups are little more than flag-waving gimmicks designed to enliven sales reps' pitches to their bookselling customers.

Meanwhile, plans at Penguin USA to launch a new division specializing in books about intellectual and social issues have not survived the death of Erwin A. Glikes in the spring. Glikes, former publisher of the Free Press, was joining Penguin to develop the imprint.

"Erwin wanted to create it for us and it doesn't exist without him," Peter Mayer, chief executive of the Penguin Group, said this week.

*

On the Racks: If the ground rumbles Aug. 17, it may be because an estimated 2 million copies of Tom Clancy's new yarn, "Debt of Honor" (Putnam), are scheduled to be laid down in stores. The novel, which received a rave in last week's Publishers Weekly, puts hero Jack Ryan in a war of wills set off by what the reviewer calls "a power-hungry Japanese financier."

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