“Publishing+,” Meet “Author+”

By Kathryn Comment

inc.jpgDoes the business plan make the writer? Today’s NYT profile of Janet Evanovich suggests it can.

According to the Times, “Ms. Evanovich plots her first week of promotion to include book signings at big stores that report their sales to publications that publish best-seller lists.” Similar eye-on-the-prize manueverings may help explain why Evanovich — with sales “well short of the levels reached by the likes of Nora Roberts, [James] Patterson and John Grisham” — has been able to achieve something Patterson and other household name authors have not: annual No. 1 bestsellers.

HarperCollins may lay claim to the phrase “Publishing+,” but Evanovich’s strategy might best be described as something like “Author+,” turning its author not so much into a household name as a brand name:

When fans, impatient for her next novel, began asking her to recommend other writers like her, Ms. Evanovich hired one instead. Thus began a separate line of paperback romance-thrillers with Charlotte Hughes as co-author and St. Martin’s as publisher.

… Ms. Evanovich acknowledges that her strategy is little different than it might be for selling toothpaste. “When you’re trying to expand your business, it’s about real estate in the stores,” she said in an interview at her hilltop home in rural western New Hampshire, and more products in more categories mean more shelf space.

But while her relentless self-promotion has attracted more fans, it has also created some tensions. Michael Morrison, the president of HarperMorrow, the HarperCollins division that published “Metro Girl,” said the interplay of multiple publishers and product lines is not ideal. “I’m a believer that a publisher and an author should have one primary relationship,” he said … “It’s much easier to work with an author and orchestrate a publishing career if you have all of the books under one house,” he said.

Given Harper’s Publishing+ strategy, Morrison’s discomfort should come as no surprise. In February, HC topper Jane Friedman told the Times that she “envisions a day when a reader in a bookstore will reach for a HarperCollins novel the way some parents of young children now reach for a Disney film in a video store– a result of faith in the producer rather than the specific content.” By establishing herself as a brand name, Evanovich could only be subtracting from HC’s “+” enthusiasm.