Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009: Andrews McMeel Dedicated Issue

Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC: It's not just titles, it's talent, recognized

Andrews McMeel: Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats  by Bradley Trevor Greive and Rachael Hale

Andrews McMeel: Keep Calm and Carry On

Andrews McMeel: Posh Puzzles

Editors' Note

Andrews McMeel Publishing

In this issue, with the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness takes an in-depth look at Andrews McMeel Publishing, whose titles span a range of categories, some rather surprising, and have impeccable style.


Andrews McMeel: Celebrating Peanuts by Charles Schulz


Andrews McMeel: Cartoons, Calendars and Much More

In its early years, Andrews McMeel's book division relied heavily on the parent company's well-known syndicated newspaper cartoons and columns while doing some original publishing. As the book division grew and expanded, it began to branch out into the areas like gift, narrative humor and popular culture. After joining the company as publisher in 2005, Kirsty Melville built on these strengths, and helped to identify and nurture the qualities that have shaped the company--such as its success in the selling of gift books and the creative latitude it gives its authors. Head of Ten Speed Press for a decade and earlier founding publisher of Simon & Schuster Australia, Melville helped refine the book side of the Kansas City, Mo., company. Other key parts of the picture are the value of storytelling and recognizing that, as Melville put it, "We're not funny, but we know what funny is."

Andrews McMeel Publishing's major areas of focus are comics and humor, cookbooks, keepsake and gift books, puzzles and games, general trade (particularly "quirky crafts," home and pet titles) and children's. "We've really focused the list into areas where we can be distinctive and have a track record and can bring to bear all our packaging and gift experience," Melville said.

Christine Schillig, v-p and editorial director of the book division and a veteran of Simon & Schuster, Harper and Putnam, expanded on this: "One of our strengths is that we focus on the things we do well. Editorially that makes it much easier to identify authors and subjects and projects that work for us. At the same time, we're also open to doing things that don't fit neatly into our categories." One example of something that didn't fit into Andrews McMeel's categories: Bikeman by Thomas F. Flynn, an epic poem about the CBS producer's experiences on September 11 in lower Manhattan that was published last fall. [Editor's note: Bikeman is an amazing book.]

An as-yet unwritten title could be about the parent company, which next year celebrates its 40th anniversary. Founded as the Universal Press Syndicate by the late Jim Andrews and John McMeel (whose relationship began when, as a student at Notre Dame, Jim Andrews rented a room from John McMeel's mother, herself a Notre Dame graduate), the company began by selling cartoons and columns to newspapers around the country. One of their first finds was a big one: Garry Trudeau, whose "Bull Tales" in the Yale Daily News was introduced to a wider audience in 1970 as Doonesbury.

Andrews McMeel Publishing continues to be independent and under family leadership, with Hugh Andrews, Jim's son, as CEO and president, John McMeel as chairman and Kathleen Andrews (Jim's wife) as vice chairman. James Andrews, Hugh's brother, is v-p of licensing. AMP produces the top-selling calendars in the nation, according to Bookscan, and includes such properties as Dilbert, the Office and Thomas Kinkade, among many others.

Andrews McMeel: My New Orleans by John Besh

Books & Authors

Cartoons: Cornerstone of the Business

The cartoon franchises have been "the cornerstone of the business," Melville said. Among highlights were the publication in 2003 of The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson, a $150, two-volume book that has sold more than 200,000 copies, and two years later of The Complete Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson, a $150, three-volume set that has sold nearly 300,000 copies. In fact, Andrews McMeel has done these and other comics titles so well that many cartoonists not syndicated by Universal Uclick (Universal Press and AMP's online component, Uclick, recently combined forces) have chosen Andrews McMeel to do their book collections. AMP just released, for example, Celebrating Peanuts: 60 Years, a $75 collection that marks the official 60th anniversary of the beginning of the iconic strip, after working with the Schulz family and the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. The company believes the book will strike a chord: "In these times of peril," Melville said, "nostalgia is an antidote to hard times."

Another example of a project with another entity is On the Money: The Economy in Cartoons, 1925-2009 by the New Yorker, with an introduction by Malcolm Gladwell, the second of a book-a-year, six-year deal between Andrews McMeel and the New Yorker. The first title was based on the Caption Contests that are featured in each issue of the magazine. Following the financial meltdown last year, a book of cartoons about the economy seemed an obvious choice. In fact, many of the cartoons are timeless--fashions and amounts are the only things that seem to change.

Like the New Yorker itself, Andrews McMeel is making an effort to establish direct ties with its fans, particularly with the many online communities that have grown up around the company's cartoonists. Melville noted, "There is an immediate connection between the comic artists and reader" in newspapers. As newspapers fade, "we're looking for other ways to connect readers to the storytelling inherent in the best comics."


Andrews McMeel: Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates

A Full Menu of Cookbooks

Cookbooks, a new category at Andrews McMeel Publishing, are particularly close to Melville's heart. "I think of them as titles that tell stories and can be gifts," she said. "They can sell in many different places in different ways." She noted that while cooking information is easily found--there are plenty of recipes online--cookbooks have broader ingredients unavailable elsewhere. "You can tell great stories through cookbooks," Melville said. "People have a very deep emotional connection to food and a sense of place, and they have an emotional response to these books. In this digital world, what you can hold and feel and experience is what works."

AMP's cookbook titles range from regional to kids to serious baking, and represent "an opportunity to do thoughtful publishing in a way that's consistent with the rest of the business," Melville said. The company published eight cookbooks last year, and 20 will be out by the end of this year.

One of Andrews McMeel's main cookbook dishes this season is My New Orleans: The Cookbook by chef John Besh, published last month. It's an October Gourmet Cookbook Club pick, a lavish title that contains portraits and essays on the author's favorite parts of New Orleans and recipes handed down for generations. "It's the kind of book I love," Melville said. "There's a sense of place about New Orleans, about food, about the man, about history." She noted the "emotional connection" many Americans feel with New Orleans.

My New Orleans, which was "a labor of love" for Besh, is an example of what Melville called "a defining characteristic" of Andrews McMeel Publishing: "We give our creators the creative freedom to create the books they want. Sometimes the salespeople get annoyed that we finesse so much, but in an era when too many books are being published, we have to make sure they're good." (In fact, the company does talk about "creators," not authors.)

Another item on the cookbook menu is Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates, published in September and a New York Times bestseller. The book got its start online, at Yates's blog, CakeWrecks.com, which focuses on all kinds of cake disasters. Yates has a "devoted following online," noted Kathy Hilliard, publicity director, so she sent e-vites to her followers, which has led to overflow crowds on the Cake Wrecks tour (Shelf Awareness, October 20, 2009).

Amy Worley, v-p of marketing, said that the goal of marketing and publicity efforts for Cake Wrecks is "to stay within the audience for the book but find all the different groups that would be interested and make it as broad as possible." This has entailed reaching out to "mommy" and food blogs, several "geeky dad" and "geeky guy" blogs and various pop culture blogs. The humor in the book broadens its appeal beyond that of many cookbooks, she noted.

Another major fall title is My Nepenthe by Romney Steele, published this month. The book is set in the "exotic bohemian world" of Big Sur, Calif., where the author's grandmother bought a cabin from Orson Welles and created the Nepenthe restaurant. "It's a story of place and family and time, with food woven in," Melville commented. "The setting is gorgeous."

Other cookbooks include such solid backlist titles as Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros, "a keepsake cookbook" published last spring, and The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet, who has "a great voice and sense of humor." Mushet's book, a Gourmet Cookbook Club selection and winner of an IACP Cookbook Award (and a James Beard nominee), was one of a series done with retailer Sur le Table, considered "a trusted authority."

Besides the IACP and Gourmet Cookbook Club, the company's cookbooks have been recognized by food bloggers, who are "a tremendous source of feedback," Melville said. Hilliard called foodies "a very passionate and involved group of people." In general, she noted, online "there are so many more places and people to talk to, and so both the authors and we have an opportunity to have a broader and closer relationship with readers."

The company is also doing more book videos for readers and fans to share with each other and post on websites or their Facebook pages. It has also introduced the websites andrewsmcmeel.com and cookbooks.andrewsmcmeel.com. The company provides places where authors can blog without creating a separate site. Worley described these blogs as "a way for people to get to know an author and what they're doing and thinking without the author having to take the time, effort and cost to create a blog, and not keep it up after the book is done."


Bradley Trevor Greive: Breaking the Mold

During the past decade, some 10 million copies of The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive (see his Book Brahmin, below) have sold globally, and a 10th-anniversary edition is in the works. Incidentally, Andrews McMeel has a long history with Greive: it published the Australian writer first. In a major departure, Greive has written Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats, which "has his signature voice and is very witty" and includes "Rachael Hale's great photography," Melville said. "Bradley is trying to break the mold again with an essay in words and photos that the reader connects with emotionally. No one can have a passive reaction." The book comes out this month; the author is spending a month in the U.S. promoting it.


Innovative Gift Books

In the gift area, the titles are "innovative and distinctive in packaging and presentation," Melville said, which has influenced other categories. The company has done "a lot of mini books, but slowed down on them," Melville said, because consumers are less interested and accounts don't have the real estate.

The company continues to do well with gift books geared to social occasions such graduation, Christmas, Mother's Day and Father's Day. AMP has tended "to find a voice or author and build on their body of work," as it did with Edward Monkton and Becky Kelly.

New gift titles include The Fun Book for Christmas: New Ways to Have Fun for the Holidays, Do Good: 201 Ways to Lend a Hand, The Two of Us: Why I'm Nuts About You, Reasons to Be Happy, Pure Cute and Love.


Puzzles: Pocket Posh and More

Andrews McMeel's range of puzzle books include Pocket Posh, the elegant puzzle book series with 20 titles that has more than a million copies in print after a year on the market. Because the largest group of people who do puzzles online are women between 35 and 50 years old, these puzzle books are designed to have gift qualities and appeal to women--"sort of like an accessory or purse," with sophistication and style, Melville said. She took several of the initial titles to Frankfurt and BEA, where all were stolen off the stand, an informal indication of their high potential.

Other puzzles include the USA Today series and the Green Book series, which features recycled paper and biodegradable soy ink. Kathy Hilliard noted that doing publicity for puzzle books is an unusual publicity challenge: rather than trying to set up author interviews and events, since these don't really have authors, she aims to garner attention, particularly in places such as lifestyle and shelter magazines.


Accord: 'Always Brainstorming'

Accord is the small independent publisher in Denver, Colo., bought by Andrews McMeel in 2005, that publishes novelty children's books and craft calendars. "I've been very impressed by the small team of highly creative people who are always brainstorming and pushing the envelope," said Linda Jones, who was brought on as senior v-p of Accord last month. "This group is focused on quality, education and entertainment and they bring innovation to everything they do." Andrews McMeel has kept the company in Denver, which it believes has helped Accord keep its edge.

Accord's original hot title, Ten Little Dinosaurs by Pattie Schnetzler, illustrated by Jim Harris, has spawned similar titles like Ten Little Puppies. Last year's Bee & Me by Elle J. McGuinness, illustrated by Heather Brown, featured Anti-Motion, a new paper engineering technology, and has sold more than 200,000 copies. Accord's new titles for this year are 'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Jon Goodell, and Lights Out, Night's Out by William Boniface, illustrated by Milena Kirkova.


Book Brahmin: Bradley Trevor Greive


Bradley Trevor Greive, author of the Blue Day Book, has a new book coming from Andrews McMeel that may prove controversial: Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats. Greive is quick to stress that he is simply "prodog, not anticat. The purpose of this book is not to criticize cats or their owners, but to champion the many exceptional virtues unique to dogs."

On your nightstand now:

The Pope's Rhinoceros by Laurence Norfolk is sitting on my nightstand; however, this is kind of meaningless as I'm not actually sleeping in my own bed. I'm currently on the road promoting my own book, so I brought a "petting zoo library" with me, containing smaller volumes and short stories I can pick up and put down as time permits. I'm currently enjoying a deliciously dark sliver of French fiction entitled Happy Days by Laurent Graff, and am dipping in and out of The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, The Art of Writing, and Everything Else in the World Since 1953.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved Winnie the Pooh so much I wanted to move to the Hundred Acre Wood.... which is probably why I now live in a remote coastal forest in Tasmania.

Your top five authors:

Philip Roth, Douglas Adams, George McDonald Fraser, Woody Allen and Gerald Durrell feature in my private pantheon of comic gods who know how to make my brain convulse like an epileptic jellyfish. Davids, Eggers and Sedaris do it for me as well.

Book you've faked reading:

I have actually genuinely enjoyed every volume of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (aka In Search of Lost Time; aka A la Recherche du Temps Perdu), but on several occasions I have pretended to have read it in the original French. In fact, I often pretend to be able to speak French, which I don't, and that's not all. One time, in Tokyo, I pretended I could speak fluent Japanese. Boy, that was a loooong two weeks.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I was dazzled by the poetic athleticism of Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, but mostly I shill for Genius by James Gleick. A wonderful book about a truly extraordinary mind. Genius actually motivated me to visit all the universities where Professor Richard Feynman studied or taught during his brief but brilliant life. Yes, it's true, I am a total geek-groupie.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Pretty much every volume in the Faber & Faber poetry series, plus Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, even though I had nowhere to put it. I must confess, Dian Hansen's Big Book of Breasts also turned my head, but I knew that if I owned such a book I would have to conceal the cover with sackcloth lest my closet Lutheran self-loathing consume me from the inside out, so I passed.

Book that changed your life:

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. The first book to make me laugh out aloud. And frankly, the book that inspired both my entire career and a lifetime of wild adventure. I also blame Durrell for my five emergency treatments for rabid bat and monkey bites.

Favorite line from a book:

I loved the breakfast scene from Moby-Dick where huge, heroic, muscle-bound harpooners gather quietly to eat in shy silence: "A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!"

Favorite line from your own book:

"But not all cat lovers are pudgy, masochistic loners who lack the energy and self-respect to have a dog. Some are simply evil."

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Alexandria Quartet. You never forget your first unreliable narrator.

Best literary facial hair:

The best bookish beardy types would have to be Edward Lear, Herman Melville and Edward Gorey. Magnificent moustache status awarded to William Faulkner and Gertrude Stein.

Book you would use to kill a spider or a snake:

For spiders you'd have to employ William Golding's Lord of the Flies and enjoy the irony. But for snakes, muggers, malevolent giant squid and so on, Ted Hughes: Collected Poems would be my first choice. It has plenty of heft, which is vital for cracking skulls but, more importantly, if the tragic deaths of Sylvia Plath, Assia and Shura Wevvil and Nicholas Hughes have taught us anything, it is that Ted Hughes's words are dangerous weapons.

Best book to read when drunk:

The only responsible choice would be a book that highlights road safety, and the most entertaining example I know of is Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems.

Author you'd least like to see naked:

Ewwww--this is something that has concerned me whenever champagne-soaked literary festival dinners spiral out of control. It would have to be a tie between Gore Vidal and Salman Rushdie. Especially if they were together on a water slide or frolicking in a fountain. Gross!

Authors you would most like to see fight it out in the ring:

Norman Mailer versus Anne Frank. Norman loves to talk about his pugilistic prowess, but I never believed he could back this up. Anne Frank, on the other hand, had true inner strength and was very light on her feet. Anne Frank to win by TKO in the sixth.

Book that surprised you the most:

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (originally titled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships). The plethora of sweet children's tales about Lilliput had simply not prepared me for how wonderfully witty and wicked the original satire was.

Favorite literary character:

I keep hoping Edward Gorey's "doubtful guest" will bumble into my home. Robert Jordan, Hemingway's typically understated guerrilla hero from For Whom the Bell Tolls always came to mind during my paratrooper years, and lives on in the tangy aftertaste of goat cheese to this very day. And, unfortunately for all concerned, it is impossible for me to read Harold Bloom without hearing the voice of the fatuous and salacious Baron de Charlus, from Marcel Proust's exquisitely detailed French epic.

Book no one should put off reading:

Moby-Dick. It truly is a masterpiece. A wondrous voyage in itself.

Book no one should ever read:

Ulysses by James Joyce. Yes, it contains rapturous passages of delirious dream music. But mostly it is liquid gibberish garnished with a little piece of poop.

Famous author you are often mistaken for or compared to:

My unrelenting celebration of human frailty is obviously Proustian, but from the back I look exactly like Goethe wearing an moth-eaten woollen cap. Everybody says so.


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