Monday, July 19, 2010

The Cranky Critic, Gloria Loman: S&S Needs R&R After Karp Sets Up Firing Squad

Hey Booklanders -- There's a shit-storm brewing over at Simon & Schuster.

Approximately 50 measly days after John Karp replaced David Rosenthal as publisher of Simon & Schuster, the original imprint of the CBS-owned publishing house of the same name, Karp is already earning himself a bad rep, both in house and out.

Rumor has it that Karp, the previous head of Warner's Twelve imprint, was brought in to revitalize S&S after some stagnant profit margins. President and CEO of S&S, Carolyn Reidy told the New York Times of Karp back in June:

Jonathan Karp is one of the most versatile, talented and creative publishers working today [...] At every stage of his career he has shown a true gift for finding and making bestsellers of quality. Having competed against him to acquire books in which we were keenly interested, and then watching as he published them with great flair, I’m delighted that he will now bring his abundant editorial and publishing skills to the Simon & Schuster imprint.

While Karp certainly has a solid resume, his expertise doesn't quite fit S&S's hardcover trade titles and an extensive paperback list. As a result, this "changing of the guard," as the New York Observer calls it, took many by surprise and left them feeling wary and somewhat off-kilter.

And apparently for good reason!

According to Publishers Marketplace's announcement of the switch on June 3, Karp told the Associated Press, "I'm going to take a cue from one of Simon & Schuster's most successful authors, Hillary Clinton, and I'm going to go on a listening tour for a very long time and listen to what people at S & S think and we'll figure out the next step together."

He is also quoted as saying, "I'm definitely not coming the[re] to clean house. I'm coming there to build upon a foundation." On the fiction publishing program in particular, as raised above, "I hope that we will broaden the sweep and impact of the S&S fiction program."

But word on the street is that cleaning house is exactly what Karp is doing, breaking his word only one month in.

Early last week, Publishers Weekly announced the hiring of two new editors, Ben Loehnen and Jofie Ferrari-Adler, both of whom are well-versed in nonfiction, but not as fluent in trade fiction, S&S's most lucrative genre.

Then, just last Thursday, The Observer reported the firing of long-time S&S editor Amanda Murray, who worked with a number of bestselling authors including Mary Higgins Clark and Sandra Brown.

And people are pissed about Murray's dismissal. I hear she was a beloved presence at S&S, not to mention significant. While new acquisitions were not Murray's main focus, her plate was chock-full, making her an integral member of the editorial team. So, while Murray's absence won't change the acquisitions at S&S, she’ll be missed, and Karp will now need to hire a fiction expert to fill her very big figurative shoes. Word has it that someone has already been lassoed for the job.

But that's not all. More pink slips are expected to be handed out at S&S in the coming weeks, indicating that "cleaning house" was on Karp’s agenda from the get-go, despite his bullshit (pardonnez mon fran├žais) claim that he’d be "build[ing] upon the foundation."

Karp had also told the AP, "I think that a big publisher can be focused and passionate, especially if the editors have the latitude to do their best work and champion the authors they believe in. S&S has a culture of great editors."

"Great editors" who Karp is now firing.

It looks like bringing Karp in may not be working out exactly as planned—or as claimed. With employees who now struggle with trusting their publisher and a huge disconnect between what the imprint stood for and what it's now morphing into, perhaps the decision to set Rosenthal free may not have been a good one.

Maybe it would have been more productive to deal with the rumored issues of a disappearing marketing department, a somewhat strained publicity department, and overpaying for projects, rather than replacing a well-respected publisher who Reidy herself calls, "A truly original thinker [who] brought a wealth of creative and inspired ideas to the entire publishing process, and [who] has been a trusted and valued colleague who made many contributions to the overall success of our company."

No one knows how it will all shake out, but one thing's for certain: Karp hasn't started off at S&S on the right foot. And people are not happy about it.

I wonder what the Ethics Police would think about this one...


  1. It's sad that Ms. Murray is leaving. It sucks when anyone loses their job and she is great. I hope there are not TOO MANY more layoffs in the future.

    But S&S lost Marysue Rucci to Penguin earlier this year, and Denise Roy was let go in the massive layoffs at S&S a few years ago. So they've been shedding fiction editors before Karp even arrived. It's possible Carolyn Reidy brought Karp in specifically to help the imprint transition away from fiction after losing Rucci (who was the acquiring editor of Jeffery Deaver, Sandra Brown and a lot of the other big name S&S authors)?

    I'm not sure but I bet S&S is going to be a totally different imprint in a year or two.


  2. I also wonder, like Emily, if Karp was brought in to expand on the non-fiction side of things. It would make sense - if S&S is good at doing fiction they would need someone to boost their NF side. And in the end, NF is what makes the big bucks. But it doesn't make sense to shed your great fiction editors to make room for NF when those are the editors who are making you the most fiction money either.

    I can't help but wonder if Karp is on his own personal mission to thin out the publishing industry from the inside, since he's constantly being quoted talking about how there's too much being published on each list, etc etc. Not sure if that was just the hooey he was spouting to promote Twelve or if he really believes that and is trying to do that with S&S too. Who knows. I'd be pissed if I was at S&S adult too. Changes for the sake of change are really obnoxious, especially when it involves people losing their jobs.

  3. I think that a lot of places are seeing their agendas change as new people (shifting from other places) move in and take over. There is always this time of transition and difficult change- but (and you can call me cynical) there is tremendous opportunity to grow and learn from these changes.
    I think there is a general consensus that most houses tended to over-pay for projects they knew would never earn out. As someone who is working on the agents/writers side, I would hate to say - yes please give me less money- but I read so much bad stuff that is published and watch my really amazing story sit on my shelf because its "too well written" (WTF but you just paid What?! for that trite {Insert name of any celebrity book you desire}?!!)
    So I welcome the change- it will be interesting to see what happens but in the end things must change or they stagnate and die. And imo I'm ready for some great books! If he can marry this with a strong healthy team, then Onward! However, by spouting one thing and immediately doing another, this doesn't seem to be his modus operandi). But then again maybe he looks at it as ripping off a bandaid. Quick and almost painless. Perhaps by letting go of a few more senior staff (ie bigger salaries) he is making room for growth for us cooler hipper younger kids. nothing wrong with that right ;)

    Ok I'm going to sign off before I turn into a real Pollyanna :)