Gillian Blake has been named editor-in-chief at Henry Holt, replacing Jill Lamar, who held the position for only six months. Ms. Lamar left her job heading Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Program to work at Holt, but since arriving made only one acquisition (according to Publisher’s Marketplace). In a statement, Stephen Rubin, publisher at Henry Holt, wrote that “after much thought and consideration, Jill and I mutually agreed that her fit as editor-in-chief here was not as natural as we had hoped.”
When the news broke earlier today, publishing insiders were quick to compare it to a similar (at least superficially) situation last year, when Susan Lehman left Twelve Books only a few months after being hired as publisher. Then, as now, the decision to make a major hire from outside the ranks of publishing’s Big Six was considered at first unorthodox and then an apparent mistake. Ms. Lehman also failed to make any acquisitions in her time, and was replaced by a veteran who already worked at the imprint, Cary Goldstein.
Henry Holt’s long list of talented departed editors suggests more to the story, however: George Hodgman, Vanessa Mobley, Helen Atsma, Jennifer Barth, Marjorie Braman, Webb Younce, Robin Dennis and Dedi Felman — all have departed from Holt in recent years. Given the turnover, it’s unsurprising that the announcement came in publishing’s August doldrums, when most of the industry is away from their desks.
“The true problem at the house is not the editorial staff, which has had some of the most talented editors in New York come and go in the last five years, but the decision makers and the people responsible for the actual publishing of the books, which has remained surprisingly consistent for more than a decade of underperformance,” said an experienced agent. “Every good agent in town knows this.”
Ms. Blake has worked at Henry Holt since 2009, when she left HarperCollins to assume the position of executive editor. In the letter announcing her hire, Mr. Rubin said Ms. Blake has “played a strategic part in the reinvention of the company both by her aggressive acquisitions, her superb editing skills and her engaging, can-do personality.” Ms. Blake edited the recent bestselling memoir from Rob Lowe, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, as well as books by Elizabeth Kolbert, and Bill O’Reilly — she has had success, in other words, in bridging Henry Holt’s mix of commercial and literary non-fiction.
“Gillian is talented and well-liked, and the right choice, which probably should have been made six months ago,” said the agent.