Spiegel & Grau Open Their Checkbook

By Neal Comment

janelle-brown.jpgThe Publishers Marketplace deal wire was abuzz late yesterday with the news of the seven-figure, two-book pre-empt Spiegel & Grau co-chief Julie Grau committed to so she could acquire All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, the debut novel from Janelle Brown (right). But when I remembered that Grau’s partner, Cindy Spiegel, had authorized several million dollars for Sara Gruen‘s next two books, I began to wonder whether they’d made any other similarly large expenditures in their first year of operations at Doubleday, using the standard deal lunch definition of a “good deal” as at least $100,000.

A quick look through the archive turned up good deals or better for Ghostwalk, an alchemical thriller from Cambridge don Rebecca Stott; Buffalo Fever, an Alaskan travelogue from Steve Rinella; an untitled memoir from Christina Haag, one of JFK Jr.’s exes; Adam Langer‘s latest novel, Ellington Boulevard, and then a few months later his memoir, My Father’s Bonus March; and a memoir from Catherine Sanderson, the creator of the Petite Anglaise blog. One might also speculate that Suze Orman didn’t come cheap, and wonder at the unspecified results of the auction by which S&G acquired Orange is the New Black, a women-in-prison memoir by Piper Kerman.

So I guess my question is this: Is 8-10 six-or-seven-figure book deals in the space of a year—representing somewhere in the (very wide) vicinity of 40% of S&G’s reported acquisitions—par for the course with a new imprint at a major conglomerate? Is it a case of spending money to make money…and, if so, how effective is that strategy and how long can you work it? (I was going to use Hachette‘s Twelve imprint as a comparison point, but when it comes to PM they seem to keep the financial details under wraps…although they certainly do buy a lot on pre-empt.) I’m not passing judgment here, because I assume Spiegel and Grau were motivated to move uptown at least in part by the promised freedom to make such expenditures; I’m honestly curious, and looking forward to learning more about the subject. So tell me what you think while I’m waiting to hear back from S&G, and we’ll take it from there…