Monday, Jan 26, 2009 Special Issue: HarperStudio

HarperStudio: Who Is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain HarperStudio: Burn This Book edited by Toni Morrison HarperStudio: Emeril at the Grill by Emeril Lagasse HarperStudio: What I Cannot Change by LeAnn Rimes and Darrell Brown HarperStudio: The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene

Editors' Note

A Tour of HarperStudio

Founded by Bob Miller last April as a division of HarperCollins, HarperStudio aims to remake how part of a major publishing house buys, sells, markets and promotes titles. For many months, the small, spunky staff has been busy signing an eclectic range of titles distinguished by their eminent marketability. They've also been busy crafting smart, inexpensive promotional campaigns, especially online. The aromas from this test kitchen are enticing and now that the first titles are about to reach the market--the first HarperStudio book hits April 21--we are presenting a special issue dedicated to HarperStudio, published with the division's support.


Books & Authors

HarperStudio Model: Some Things Borrowed, Some Things New

HarperStudio's business model is making as much news as its list. Among the key elements of that model:

  • The HarperCollins division wants to sell to as many accounts as possible on a nonreturnable basis.
  • It is offering authors lower advances than many New York houses in exchange for a higher-than-usual share of profits and is signing up titles with "constituencies" and built-in marketing and media opportunities.
  • HarperStudio aims to market and publicize titles and authors online as widely, creatively and effectively as possible.
  • The division wants to encourage buyers of its books also to buy the audio and e-book versions of the same book for just a few additional dollars.

Some pieces of the HarperStudio approach have been tried or are practiced by others. For example, more than one publisher has said, "I don't pay big advances either." Most publishers and distributors sell to nontraditional accounts on a nonreturnable basis, and a few, like Dover Publications, have always sold nonreturnable. And most publishers are exploring marketing online. But HarperStudio may be the first to enact a range of modern and nontraditional initiatives in a concerted way--and without having to change from older forms. And as the recession deepens, the new model, which was unveiled last spring (Shelf Awareness, April 4, 2008), looks ever more prescient as a way to publish smartly and profitably in tough times.

Turning to Nonreturnable

HarperStudio is offering accounts a choice between buying returnable under standard discounts and buying nonreturnable "with a pretty aggressive discount that we hope is an incentive to give it a try," HarperStudio president and publisher Bob Miller said. His case for nonreturnable terms: "40% average returns on new adult hardcovers is an untenable model for business. Publishers have to experiment giving up some margin in exchange for eliminating the practice in the belief that we all will make more in the end. If you give up the waste that comes with returnable books, there will be more of a pie to share."

So far, "quite a number" of accounts have taken the nonreturnable option, Miller said. The accounts that are most hesitant about buying nonreturnable are "at both ends of the spectrum," he continued. "The smallest ones can't handle the risk, and there are some mass merchandisers that aren't set up for nonreturnable." The only account to discuss the matter publicly is Borders, which stated last year that it has opted to buy HarperStudio books nonreturnable (Shelf Awareness, December 16, 2008).

The terms will be in effect on a calendar-year basis, so current choices made by accounts will be in effect through December. By then, Miller hopes that accounts "will see how efficient nonreturnable terms are both environmentally and financially." The company had hoped to sell only on a nonreturnable basis, but found some accounts couldn't or wouldn't do so, at least initially, "and we wanted them to carry our books."

Print Books, Audiobooks, E-Books: The More the Merrier

Some in the book industry have considered e-books--and audiobooks to a lesser extent--as a threat to the traditional printed book. But from HarperStudio's point of view, the variety of formats shouldn't be seen as competing but as having the potential to support one another and create a different experience for reading a text.

How would that work? Miller envisions a customer reading the traditional printed book at home, continuing with the e-book version while commuting on a train or subway or flying on a plane, then listening to the audio version in a car. To that end, Miller aims to set prices so that the audio and e-book versions of a book are inexpensive add-ons for those who purchase the traditional book. After purchasing the traditional book for, say, $19.95, the reader could buy the audio and e-book versions for an additional $2, he estimated. This pricing structure would introduce some readers to new formats as well as avoid frustrating the readers who are already inclined to purchase two or three formats of a title and don't want to "buy the same book three times." For the publisher, such low pricing is no stretch. "Most of the cost of a book for us is in the acquisition, editing and marketing a title, not in the format," Miller explained.

Because of the ease of digital downloading, this pricing system will work especially well for online purchases of HarperStudio books. In bricks-and-mortar stores, Miller imagines having codes available with the book allowing customers who pay $2 extra to download the audio and e-book later.

Acquisitions: No Big Bidding

Another key element of HarperStudio is its approach to buying books: it offers authors relatively low advances--the limit is $100,000--against a 50/50 sharing of profits. As a result, HarperStudio is "not participating in any of the big auctions," Miller said, sounding not at all unhappy. The division has signed up more than 40 books, all of which have been "very intentional one way or another," Miller continued. In some cases, "the author wants to work with a small group like us and likes our structure and likes our approach. Or they're people we've gone to with an idea. So they're either people we've chosen or who have chosen us."


Marketing Online, Off the Cuff, On a Dime

Many publishers have noted what Miller called "two trends: how incredibly expensive it is to use print ads for books and how much less effective they have become." Author appearances on radio and TV still drive sales, he continued, but "clearly the Internet is where the hope lies because it is a more efficient and less expensive way to reach large audiences."

HarperStudio's online marketing and publicity focus starts with the acquisition of titles: "We try to find books that will benefit from online tools and books that have media or online or online community ties," Miller said. Authors are enlisted in the effort immediately: when they sign contracts, authors are given a flip camera and encouraged to do a video story of the making of their books for online use.

HarperStudio is encouraging authors to communicate about their books online in other ways well before publication. "We need to extend the window of the drumroll for a book to farther before publication and then longer afterwards," Miller said. "We're getting authors to begin blogging soon after their books are acquired. We're teaching them how to Twitter. We're encouraging them to do any social networking," including, and "Viral marketing can lead to links to millions," Miller added. "We're using every tool."

Just last Friday the company had a breakfast for some 20 of its authors--who attended in person or via phone--at which HarperStudio staff detailed how the authors can publicize and market themselves better online.

What's good for the writing goose is good for the publishing gander. Started last August, HarperStudio has its own blog called the 26th Story: Publishing on the Edge that is aimed mainly to the industry and the media. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people look at the site each week. The division also has a presence elsewhere online: it has its own highly active facebook profile and is especially enthusiastic about Twitter.

Several postings about HarperStudio authors and books have already created some of the viral interest that Miller wants for the division's books. Film critic Leonard Maltin, who is coming out with The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen for HarperStudio, posted an item at the end of last year about the "five best movies you didn't see in 2008," which "got tons of pickup," Miller said.

Emeril Lagasse, whose Emeril at the Grill is the first of a 10-book series he is doing with HarperStudio, "had some fun with the flip camera." The video received a lot of traffic.

One of the most popular postings was by Greg Graffin, whose book for HarperStudio is Anarchy Evolution, a manifesto on religion and society. Graffin, lead singer of the punk band Bad Religion, is also a professor of life sciences at UCLA. A flip camera interview with him got thousands of hits and then spread through the Internet among fans.

The 26th Story also includes introductions to the five main staff members, who besides Miller include senior v-p and associate publisher Debbie Stier, senior editor Julia Cheiffitz, associate director of marketing Sarah Burningham and administrative assistant Katie Salisbury. Enjoy their bios!

On its blog and website, HarperStudio offers eKits for titles that include everything from the kind of information familiar in publisher catalogues to hyperlinks to sites related to the book, author or subject, excerpts, recipes, songs, videos and more. The material can be easily downloaded.

HarperStudio also has set up its own website, which launches officially today.

"There's no magic bullet, but by trying all tools before, during and after publication, we hope to find more efficient and effective marketing," Miller commented. "It's early days for us, but already we're starting to see an effect."


HarperStudio's Objets d'Art

HarperStudio's books are an "eclectic list mostly of media-oriented, personality-driven nonfiction," Miller said. "It's a wide variety of nonfiction--and one fable." Given the size of HarperStudio and the way it aims to publish, the model works "very well for nonfiction and is not set up well for breaking out a new novel," he said.

The initial titles:

Who Is Mark Twain? is a collection of 24 previously unpublished pieces by the titan of American literature that will appear on April 21, the 99th anniversary of the author's death. The book is especially appropriate as HarperStudio's debut title for several reasons. From 1895 until his death, Twain was published by Harper Brothers, the main precursor of HarperCollins. In addition, Twain founded a publishing company that published Ulysses Grant's memoirs on a royalty-sharing basis--and helped make a fortune for the former president and general as well as for Twain. And one publishing-related piece in Who Is Mark Twain? discusses his method of testing material: he read aloud to a group of acquaintances, and if one particular man in the group fell asleep during the reading, Twain set the material aside.

The 24 pieces were chosen by Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project. See his Twainlike answers to several questions below.

Although Twain can't Twitter, HarperStudio is already working several online angles. For example, six of the pieces were not completed, so the division plans to hold a contest online called "I Am the Next Mark Twain" for people to finish the works. The company is also connecting with the "endless number" of Twain websites and blogs, Miller said. "They are places for us to go to let fans know this book is coming."

The book already has made a high-profile debut. One piece, "The Privilege of the Grave," appeared in the New Yorker's winter fiction issue.

The three other initial HarperStudio titles are:

Emeril at the Grill by Emeril Lagasse, the first in a 10-book series, which will be released on May 5, in time for Father's Day. Emeril's company was bought by Martha Stewart's company as HarperStudio was becoming involved with the gregarious chef. Not surprisingly, Emeril at the Grill should receive all kinds of publicity through Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, on Martha Stewart's TV show, through his shows on the Food Network, the Fine Living Network and Planet Green, as well as on mainstream shows. Of course, Lagasse has a popular website, and related foodie websites will be cooking up interest in the book.

Emeril at the Grill is the first title by Lagasse that is appearing in paperback, which makes this book more accessible to his hungry fans. It's also his first book concoction in four years.


What I Cannot Change by LeAnn Rimes and Darrel Brown appears April 14 and includes a CD with an exclusive version of the eponymous hit song. The book is a "counterpart" to the song Rimes wrote with Brown that came out of "a time of frustration when she wanted to accept what she couldn't change," Miller commented. The song was released in October and touched many people, who wrote to the singer about tragedies in their lives. Those testimonies appear on the song's website, and some are included in the book. What I Cannot Change also includes Rimes's discussion of why she wrote the song.


Burn This Book: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word edited by Toni Morrison, which includes contributions by Nobel winner Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pahnuk, David Grossman and others, appears May 12. HarperStudio is publishing the book with PEN American Center and is working with PEN to promote the book on websites related to censorship issues. In connection with the book, readers and others can sign an online petition against censorship. HarperStudio expects that Burn This Book will ignite strong review attention and interest from the literary community.


Among other titles appearing later this year:

The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent, in which the author of The 48 Laws of Power and the rap star discuss "how to live successfully by living fearlessly."

Get Cooking by Mollie Katzen, the first of a series of three books geared to beginners by the bestselling cookbook author, whose creations include The Moosewood Cookbook.

Strange Things Happen
by Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police, who will write about life before, after and with the band.

Green Porno by Isabella Rossellini, based on the short films the actress has made about the sex lives of insects.

I Am Neurotic and So Are You by Lianna Kong, a book of humor and therapy based on a website Kong created in which people confess to neuroses.

The Book of the Shepherd by Joann Davis, an author and former publisher, is a fable that already has received a blurb from Paulo Coelho.

Double Take: A Memoir by Kevin Connolly is by a young man born without legs who traveled the world with his camera--and found out along the way what it means to be human.

Passing on the Gift: The 12 Cornerstones of Heifer International by Mike Matchett, which collects stories based on the 12 principles of Heifer International, a nonprofit organization that aims to help end world hunger and poverty and has been endorsed by Oprah, Jimmy Carter and others.

Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin Kutscher, M.D., and Marcella Moran, M.A., is by a world-renowned pediatric neurologist and an educational consultant who specializes in organization.

Quick & Easy with Emeril
by Emeril Lagasse offers in trade paperback 140 recipes for get-it-on-the-table dinners, healthy-and-quick breakfasts, super-fast snacks, lunches and more.


Robert Hirst: 'Colbert Is Clearly the Offspring of Mark Twain'

Robert Hirst is the general editor of the Mark Twain Project at the University of California at Berkeley and picked the 24 pieces in Who Is Mark Twain? from Twain's voluminous archives. Here he answers several questions about Twain and the book, HarperStudio's first title, which appears on April 21.

The blogger Ben Sutherland said Mark Twain's spirit 'lives as a garden gnome in Stephen Colbert's pants.' What do you make of that?

Doesn't Sutherland have that backwards? Colbert is clearly the offspring of Mark Twain, not the other way around. Besides, when Mark Twain used "deadpan," he knew enough not to shout it at the top of his lungs. Huck says, for instance, "I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place, is taking considerable many resks, though I ain't had no experience . . . and yet here's a case where I'm blest if it don't look to me like the truth is better, and actuly safer, than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it's so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it."

You have to take that in slowly to appreciate the point. No one is shouting.

What would Twain have said about Barack Obama?

It's above my pay grade to try to figure out what Mark Twain would have said; I have enough difficulty figuring out exactly what he did say. But I suppose it's fair to guess that whatever he might have thought of Obama, the question of his "race" would not have entered in. He told a correspondent in 1909: "To my mind one color is just as respectable as another; there is nothing important, nothing essential, about a complexion. I mean, to me. But with the Deity it is different. He doesn't think much of white people, He prefers the colored. Andrea del Sarto's pink-&-lily Madonnas revolt Him, my child. That is, they would, but He never looks at them."

How was Twain ahead of his time?

Certainly in the matter of race he was, beyond any question, ahead of his time. "I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being--that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."

But if you mean in his literary work, I think it's fair to say that he experimented more or less constantly with literary forms that went beyond the conventions of his day. That is surely the case with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but it's also true with several of the pieces forthcoming in Who Is Mark Twain?--stories like "The Undertaker's Tale" and "The Snow-Shovelers." He was the kind of writer who tried hard never to look back on what he had done. He never revised books after they were published--only before. Once they were in print, he was eager to move on to the next challenge.

Why hasn't this work been published before?

Mark Twain wrote and published an enormous number of words, and at his death he left unpublished an equally large body of material, including literary manuscripts like those in Who Is Mark Twain? and thousands of letters, notebooks, his autobiography and so forth. Even though the Mark Twain Project has been editing and publishing these materials since 1967, we are far from done, and these 24 pieces just haven't yet reached the top of our schedule. So we're grateful to HarperStudio for giving us the chance to publish them now.

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