When Rob Weisbach announced last week that he was resigning as president of Weinstein Books, many in the publishing world said they wouldn’t be surprised if the imprint he created three years ago from the ashes of Miramax Books would be allowed to die as quietly as it lived.
Mr. Weisbach’s famously mercurial filmmaker boss, Harvey Weinstein, seemed to have lost interest in the book business after he and his brother left their home at the Disney Company, and it was widely known that Mr. Weisbach had been looking for a new job for months.
“There’s only so much Harvey to go around,” said one insider source, “and his attentions were focused on the core businesses of the Weinstein Company: film and television and home entertainment … which leaves very little Harvey for books. Ultimately, Rob was there with virtually nothing to do. And eventually even high-paying jobs where you have nothing to do become onerous.”
Another source with inside knowledge of the company also said that Mr. Weinstein was less attached to Weinstein Books than he was to his original foray into publishing. In the early aughts, he encouraged Miramax Books publisher Jonathan Burnham—now the head of the flagship imprint at HarperCollins—to go after big-ticket titles by people like Martin Amis, Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, Rudy Giuliani and Tim Russert. At Weinstein, the biggest names Mr. Weisbach was able to draw were Padma Lakshmi from Top Chef and British prime minister Gordon Brown.
“There’s always been this feeling inside that everyone’s waiting for Harvey to turn his attention back to the book imprint, recharge it, hire people, make it work, put money into it,” the source said. “But my guess is that wasn’t happening.”
Literary agents noticed, too. Three prominent agents said that Weinstein Books never became a premiere destination for submissions, and that they had seldom sent proposals to Mr. Weisbach. “I don’t think the agent community ever started to think of Weinstein Books as a buyer of book properties,” said Brian DeFiore, who was the editor in chief of Hyperion, Miramax’s sister publication at Disney, from 1992 to 1997, and who has since become an agent. “I think the agent community was still thinking of them as an outlet for the Weinstein film company. … It certainly didn’t seem as active as Miramax Books was.”
“I think people forget that it’s there,” another A-list agent said. “There’s a bit of a feeling that it’s a skeleton crew.”
All told, there was a perception that Mr. Weisbach, who enjoyed a reputation as a brilliant, if slightly showy, editor, was being wasted at Weinstein Books. When he ran his own imprint at William Morrow (it was shuttered when News Corp. acquired Morrow in 1999), Mr. Weisbach enjoyed great autonomy, and had what looked like carte blanche to spend exorbitant sums on banner names like Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Reiser, Ellen Degeneres and Brad Meltzer.
His was a style of publishing not unlike Jonathan Burnham’s at Miramax. Back then, Mr. Weinstein relished publishing big books, and often helped Mr. Burnham snare them.
Though he wouldn’t confirm it, it seems likely that when Mr. Weisbach agreed to take the job at Miramax, just before the Weinsteins split from Disney and started their own company, he thought he was signing up for a gig where he would get to spend big money and buy splashy, high-profile books just like Mr. Burnham did.
Instead, he found himself publishing children’s books and titles like Into Hot Air, a parody of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild written by Chris Elliot, the guy with the hives in There’s Something About Mary.
Why was Harvey Weinstein so devoted to Miramax Books but not to its new incarnation? Several publishing observers speculated that he realized he couldn’t afford to spend as frivolously (i.e., fund a lively book division) on his own as he had when the Disney Company was backing him up.
Mr. Weisbach, in a brief statement, denied that assessment and dismissed the notion that Mr. Weinstein had bailed on the imprint.
“This was a good moment, a moment of strength at the company, to pass the torch to my colleagues,” he wrote in an email. “We have superb books coming up in the next year and beyond—both critically and commercially exciting—and I expect the company to flourish in the hands of Harvey and this team, with many bestsellers and critical successes to come.”
Mr. Weisbach won’t say what he’s doing next, though a publicist from Weinstein Books said he has another publishing job lined up. At Weinstein Books, meanwhile, publisher Judy Hottensen has been named interim president. Mr. Weisbach’s last day is Friday.