Book Smart: Publisher of ‘The Help’ and Her Eye for Bestsellers

Like the books she publishes, Ms. Einhorn’s career has spanned both the commercial and the literary. After graduating from Stanford, she  moved to New York in 1990 to start her first job in the industry, as Elisabeth Dyssegaard’s assistant at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Remembering it today, Ms. Einhorn does not have a particularly nostalgic view of her publishing past: on the day of her interview, she was dismayed to find there was no toilet paper in the office bathroom. Roger Straus, not in the habit of learning assistants’ names, would tug Ms. Einhorn’s ponytail to get her attention. To supplement her salary of $13,000 a year, she cleaned apartments on weekends, including that of FSG’s subsidiary rights director Judy Klein.

“If you needed a new pencil you’d have to go down to the supply room and there was this little woman Rose who was like four feet tall and you’d say you needed a new pencil,” Ms. Einhorn remembered. “She’d say, ‘Come show me your pencil.’ You’d show her and she’d say, ‘You still have two inches left. You can’t get a new one.’”

But Ms. Einhorn, who had majored in creative writing, still found some glamor in the industry. Jonathan Franzen was “the tall guy on the softball team,” Rick Moody was an associate editor and Jonathan Galassi was just publishing Michael Cunningham.

“You had a bunch of trust fund kids and then you had these other people who just sort of drank the Kool-Aid and worked at FSG,” she said.

After FSG, Ms. Einhorn ascended to positions at Villard and then Poseidon, the imprint Simon & Schuster had started for Ann Patty, the editor who had discovered V.C. Andrews.

“She was very bright and had just the most lovely manners,” said Ms. Patty, who now has her own business as an editorial consultant and book doctor. “She was bubbly without being obnoxious, she was energetic and she was clearly very bright without being snobby.” Ms. Einhorn also had what Ms. Patty called a “roll up your sleeves and do what you need to do” quality.

Poseidon’s list was a mix of commercial and literary titles, including books by writers like Siri Hustvedt, Mary Gaitskill and Steven Millhauser. Typing up Ms. Patty’s editorial notes, which the publisher recorded on a Dictaphone to save her assistants the task of deciphering her handwriting, proved to be Ms. Einhorn’s first education in editing. Then came her first lesson in corporate fickleness.

“I came home from vacation and my dad was in the hospital with complications from open heart surgery and Ann left me a message saying ‘I’m not going to be at work because I was fired, call me,’” said Ms. Einhorn.

In 1993, Simon & Schuster shuttered Poseidon.

“Everyone was fired except for me,” said Ms. Einhorn. “Not because I was great, but because they forgot I existed, literally.”

A spare wheel in the midst of a company-wide hiring freeze, she survived to transfer to another S&S imprint, Pocket Books. There, under the tutelage of Claire Zion, her indoctrination into the commercial side of the business began in earnest.

“The first time I was in Claire’s office, she explained to me the difference between a romance novel and a shopping-and-fucking novel…and then she started talking about Regency romances,” Ms. Einhorn said. While she had worked on commercial books before, her reading preferences still tended towards the literary—both Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp and Ms. Einhorn’s husband, Matthew Futterman, recalled that when they first met Ms. Einhorn, she was, as Mr. Karp put it, “under the spell of Norman Rush’s Mating.”

“It was really good to go to Pocket but it was really weird because it was crazy commercial and I just didn’t know anything about it,” Ms. Einhorn said.

She quickly adapted. Her first ever acquisition was the autobiography of QVC infomercial host Kathy Levine. The project was Ms. Einhorn’s idea. The book, It’s Better to Laugh… Life, Good Luck, Bad Hair Days and QVC, sold 150,000 copies. She was soon promoted to editorial director of another S&S imprint, Washington Square Press.

In 1997, Ms. Einhorn, still just 29, moved to then-Warner Books to assume the position of executive editor of its trade paperback program. She soon began acquiring hardcover titles—and bestsellers—including Amy Sedaris’s I Like You, Robert Hicks’s The Widow of the South, Lolly Winston’s Good Grief and Susan Jane Gilman’s Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress—and rose to the position of hardcover editor-in-chief at Grand Central Publishing (the company changed names after Warner Books was acquired by the Hachette Livre in 2006). But in 2007, when Putnam president Ivan Held approached her about the possibility of starting an imprint, Ms. Einhorn was ready to go.

“I’d been there ten years, I love the people there, I still have many friends and I learned a lot but this was just a great opportunity to do something new and to have something where I could be more in control and have my hand in every aspect on the process in the way I couldn’t overseeing such a huge list,” she said.

 

Comments

  1. Amy Alkon says:

    This is publishing as dreamed of by authors.

  2. Jjohnson0399 says:

    Amy is one of the best in the business.