Exclusive Interview: Jane Friedman, President and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, Offers Insights On Motivation, Mentors and More
Jane Friedman, president and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers has been a driving force behind the creation of multi-media pronged author tours, Publishing Plus and more. Friedman has a 39-year career in publishing and is considered a mentor by many in the industry. Book Business Extra spoke with her in this exclusive interview. She shares insights behind her career accomplishments, motivation and advice to others.
EXTRA: You are credited with creating the author tour in 1970 as a publicist who took cook and author Julia Child around to different store locations promoting her book. Can you explain the experience for our readers?
FRIEDMAN: I actually am credited with inventing the author tour, and it’s not exactly true. Before I created this with Julia Childs, there had been … a woman named Jacqueline Susann, who wrote a book named “The Valley of the Dolls,” and she put her books into the trunk of her car and traveled the country meeting people and selling books.
So that was sort of the first tour.
What I did with Julia, I was very young, and I recognized that Julia was a celebrity. She was actually a multimedia celebrity, we just didn’t call people that at the time. … But she … had a television series, she wrote books, newspaper articles and columns, and she was always called on to be the kind of radio talking head for the food business, for the cookbook business and the French food industry. So what I said was, “We have this opportunity of taking this women city-to-city,” and in those days department stores had big book departments. So I thought the best thing we could do was go into a major city that had a major public television station where her show aired, and get their support and get the support of the executives of the department store.
… We would offer Julia for free as a demonstrator and then we would get the newspapers in town to do features on her, and we would get local television and radio coverage because so many people would come out to see her. … And we sold almost 1,000 books that [first morning of the author tour]. … So that was the birth of the multi-pronged multimedia tour.
EXTRA: You started Publishing Plus, which is the theory that everything you do at HarperCollins has to be publishing plus more, to incorporate multimedia platforms, technologies and opportunities. You held a brainstorming session with 20 of the leaders of HarperCollins from around the world. What came out of that session and how you are using it today?
FRIEDMAN: We came up with four buckets for potential growth. Each one of them has been enacted, and Publishing Plus has become part of the core fabric of Harper. This year alone we had a Library Plus program, [and] a Backlist Plus program that the children’s division did last year with five of their major brands.
But the four buckets that came out of the big Publishing Plus enclave was a Branding Bucket, and we immediately used Harper Perennial as the global example. Another one was called Publishing Services, which basically was reaching out into the community and creating books that weren’t necessarily books that had been thought of before. For example, we [published] a book [in conjunction] with the Rockets [sold] at Radio City Music Hall. We [published] a book [sold] at Sax Fifth Avenue, a children’s book called “Cashmere,” which was about a goat and cashmere, and it worked very much with Sax Fifth Avenue’s cashmere promotion. So it’s very creative thinking outside the box.
Another bucket was Collins. When Rupert Murdock bought William Collins in about 1989, his intention was to have Collins be a reference brand and Harper would remain the trade brand. I thought that Collins had not really been developed in America, and so the notion was to brand Collins in America, which we have done very well and it’s very much a global brand. ... And the fourth bucket was a big bucket called B-to-C, and that was direct to consumer and that is where all of our digital work has now fallen. So Publishing Plus is something we think about all the time, its just part of our DNA.
EXTRA: What publishing mentors have you had in your career, and what did you learn from them?
FRIEDMAN: My two greatest mentors were two men: one Robert Gottlieb, who was the editor in chief of Knopf Publishers, and that’s where I grew up. He taught me things like: have ideas, good or bad, have ideas; and make sure you pay attention to everything that goes on. If you are getting coffee for your boss, that’s OK because maybe you’ll hear something at that coffee machine that you can then internalize and make work for you. Open the mail, answer the phone, do all of the things that will get you very familiar with the company that you are working for. Ask questions. He taught me a lot about confidence, and I will be forever indebted. … We used to have sales conferences where people presented the actual titles, and he told me he wanted me to present the list with him. But he wouldn’t tell me what books I was presenting until I got on the dais. It was nervous making, but the fact is it stopped me from ever being afraid again. He said to me, “You know how to talk, talk!”
The other person was a man named Anthony Schulte, who was Bob’s counterpart. He sort of ran the publishing and business side of Knopf, and he also taught me, how to say no. Because you do have to say no as you increase your position within a company. Not everybody’s going to love you; you do have to make decisions. They both loved literature and they both loved books. Between those two men I really sort of learned lots of life and business lessons.
EXTRA: What has motivated you throughout your career and what continues to motivate you today?
FRIEDMAN: What motivates me is almost exactly what motivated me almost 40 years ago when I entered the business, which is to publish the best books. To acquire the best books (the best talent) and then to see those books through their publication process and then bring those books to the public in the best marketing way possible.
I wake up in the morning and the first thing I want to see is what book is reviewed in many papers. The next thing I want to see is a report on where our authors are appearing in the media, and of course I am aware of where the books are actually displayed on site. For me it’s really the publishing of good books, of lasting books that keeps me motivated.
EXTRA: What advice do you have for other female publishing executives?
FRIEDMAN: The advice that I give to women is the same advice that I give to men, which is because today I think there is much more equality. You just have to be the best at what you do, and you have to be very focused and very driven and ambitious.
I think that women today, in publishing in particular, are no longer relegated to one area of publishing. It used to be that women were in the rights area and in publicity, and now of course women are all over—they are editors … they are in business, they are in finance. So I think that the advice is [to] be focused, be driven and be the best that you can be.
Editor’s note: For more information on Jane Friedman and HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, read the cover story, “The View From the Top,” in the May issue of Book Business magazine mailing next week. In this issue, HarperCollins’ top executives let you ‘Browse Inside’ the company’s success and digital evolution. The story offers a look at one of the largest book publishers worldwide and a pioneer on the digital frontier.