Posts Tagged ‘Random House’

By Hannah Bennett

Last Tuesday, some fellow classmates and I were invited to attend a Book Industry Guild of New York event entitled “What Inspires You?  Mediation on Jacket Design.”  The Book Industry Guild of New York is “a member-operated professional organization composed of professionals from every aspect of the book publishing and book manufacturing industries.”  As students and non-members, we felt a little timid as we entered the halls of Random House and took our seats for the panel, but we were instantly welcomed by the friendly people that we met on the way.

The evening consisted of three speakers, all prominent Art Directors and Jacket Designers, who came prepared with entertaining slideshows about what inspires them creatively.  The first speaker of the night was Krista Vossen, the Associate Art Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.  She began by describing her path to graphic design, and then described her current work at Simon & Schuster, which involves overcoming the inherent challenges of working with middle-grade books and trying to make age-appropriate jackets that appeal to both genders.  Her description of YA jacket trends was hilarious, especially when she described how she used the “big dress trend” but “downgraded to a poofy skirt” for Poison Princess.  In the end, her inspiration was in large part the city of New York, where she said, “inspiration hits you in the face.”  However, she also emphasized the importance of clearing one’s head for true creative inspiration.

Next up was Greg Kulick, the Associate Art Director for Blue Rider Books (Penguin Group, USA).  Like Vossen, Kulick began his discussion of inspiration by taking a look at his earliest influences.  For Kulick, his early artistic influences were tied to skateboard culture and punk music. The intense graphic style of the skateboard artwork certainly had an influence on the jacket designs Kulick eventually created.  Kulick also discussed his transition to a management role and how that affected his creativity.  What inspires Kulick now?  “Giving work to other people,” was his tongue-in-cheek answer.  However, the ability to delegate has opened up Kulick to work on new projects, such as getting to produce photo shoots.  In a roundabout way, delegating truly has been a source of inspiration.

The last speaker of the night was the ever-vibrant Chip Kidd, who has garnered a certain celebrity status among jacket designers for both his inspired designs and his exuberant personality.  Kidd, who recently did a TED Talk in which he talked about some of his most famous designs, is the Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf.  He looked at the subject of inspiration in several ways, discussing both his challenges, such as the crisis of redesigning a book last minute, and his successes, like the beautiful cover design of IQ84 by Haruki Murakami.  But after 25 years at Knopf, Kidd maintained that what inspires him is the text.  Another life-long inspiration for Kidd has been comics and graphic novels – as he said, he is a “professional Batman fan.”  In what was definitely the most entertaining part of the evening, Kidd discussed what it was like to write an original Batman graphic novel, entitled Batman: Death by Design.  Kidd showed pages of the graphic novel and narrated a scene from it, doing all the voices of the characters, including the Joker and the female roles.  Despite his great success as a jacket designer, it’s possible that Kidd missed his true calling of becoming a performer and comedian.

The entire evening was, for lack of a better word, inspiring.  So perhaps I should take a shot at answering the question of the evening:  ‘what inspires you?’  Well, creative people who work with books and are passionate about their jobs inspire me, as a student of publishing.  An organization that seeks to educate people about the book industry, and in doing so allows students to attend one of their excellent events, is certainly an inspiration.  And also, I’m going to have to agree with Chip Kidd and say Batman.


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One book (written from the heart) – Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

One wisecracking author (English accent preferable) – Helen Simonson

One devoted agent – Julie Barer

One team of experts at Random House – Editorial, Susan Kamil; Marketing, Avideh Bashirrad; Publicity, Karen Fink; Paperbacks, Jane von Mehren

Mix well and serve to bookstores and book clubs via hardcover, e-book and paperback. Then, enjoy the results — a first novel that is now available in 20 countries and translated into 18 languages, which has spent 36 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and has sold almost 400,000 copies in paper in less than a year.

“The Making of a Bestseller: From Acquisition to Market,” described a palatable success to about 70 audience members on November 9th at a panel event of the Women’s National Book Association – New York Chapter. Moderated by Jane Kinney-Denning and Manuela Soares, Pace University Publishing Program professors, the event took place at Wix Lounge .

Author Simonson described writing Major Pettigrew as leaving the “10% hairy margins” of literature and approaching “something authentic to me and what I wanted.” Her vision was an English village, a cottage, a retired man and the Pakistani woman who lived down the block.

Julie Barer saw Simonson’s initial chapter of Major Pettigrew for the first time in 2006 but the book wasn’t finished. “Once a year,” Barer said, “I’d send a note saying, ‘Wondering how that book is coming along.’” When Barer finally read the manuscript in December 2008, “I sat in my big white chair by the window and I didn’t move until the end.” At the time, the economy was slowing down and the book business looked dim. But after reading Simonson’s book, Barer said, “For the first time in weeks, I felt happy.”

Senior Vice-President and Editor-in-Chief of Random House, Susan Kamil read the manuscript and bought it immediately – even donning her coat and leaving her office to interrupt her boss’ lunch across the street to get a swift go-ahead for acquisition. “Your gut and your experience are what you have to go on when you have to act quickly,” she said. The editing process was brief, but during this time Simonson comically recalled for the audience that she had misinterpreted Kamil’s handwritten notes saying “love this,” thinking they said, “lose this.” Simonson took out some of her “best jokes.” Later, she had to reinsert them.

Avideh Bashirrad, Vice President, Director of Marketing at Random House, said that a focus on book clubs helped Major Pettigrew. It also sold quickly in e-book, boosted, in some part, by Oprah’s endorsement of the Kindle around the same time.

When Karen Fink, Assistant Director of Publicity at the Random House Publishing group found herself daydreaming about whether “the Major and Mrs. Ali” would take a cruise together, she realized just how much she loved the characters. Her marketing team put together a plan: “I (heart) the Major.”  The love theme resonated with the media, including the New York Times, where critic Janet Maslin reviewed the book “like a love letter,” Fink said.

“Really crucial in paperbacks is timing,” added Jane von Mehren, Senior Vice President, Publisher, Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. She pushed to have the book on sale in November to get the holiday buyers and lists, and studied the competition.

When Simonson got on the road to promote the book – an 8-city tour, then a 17-city tour – Fink said the author needed no media training. Simonson said, “I’m a stay-at-home mom with two kids and I don’t get out much. So give me a mike and I can go all night.”

The whole team’s enthusiasm for the book and the process showed. The WNBA-NYC audience was thoroughly satiated. A delicious evening.

This post is from guest blogger and WNBA-NYC member, Fatima Shaik. Fatima is the author of four books of fiction for adults and children set in her native New Orleans. She is currently researching her first non-fiction book about the members of a hidden Afro-Creole society in the 19th century. She teaches writing at Saint Peter’s College.

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