Handling High-Profile Book Deals: Q&A with Kate Jackson, Senior Vice President, Associate Publisher and Editor-In-Chief, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Celebrity book deals appear to be more popular and sought after than ever by publishers. At the end of July, a bidding war broke out between publishers over Keith Richards’ autobiography, with Little, Brown and Company gaining the rights. Around the same time, it was announced that Martha Stewart had signed a 10-book deal with her longtime publisher, Clarkson Potter. The Viking Press was awarded the rights to the biography of the late comedian Chris Farley, which will be written by his brother, Tom Farley, Jr.
Within days of Karl Rove resigning from his position as presidential advisor, reports surfaced of his plans for writing a book, sending publishers back to the bidding tables.
HarperCollins Publishers recently announced that first lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush will be writing a children’s book to be published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Kate Jackson, senior vice president, associate publisher and editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Children’s Books, negotiated the deal for world rights from Washington D.C. attorney Robert B. Barnett. She had also previously worked with Jenna Bush on her book titled “Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope.”
Book Business Extra spoke with Jackson for insight on signing high-profile celebrity authors.
EXTRA: What are some of the high-profile author book deals you have worked on during your career?
KATE JACKSON: In addition to Jenna Bush’s forthcoming title “Ana’s Story,” I have also worked directly and with our editors on such high-profile and celebrity authors as: Lemony Snicket, Julie Andrews, Emeril Lagasse, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Judge Judy Sheindlin, Alex Rodriguez, Mary Engelbreit, John Grogan and the late Shel Silverstein.
EXTRA: What would you say are some of the challenges when dealing with a high-profile author?
JACKSON: Celebrity authors often have challenging schedules with many other obligations in addition to their books, so getting concentrated time to work with them on editing can be complicated. There are also expectations for celebrity titles that tend to be different than for other authors, and this needs to be strategically managed.
EXTRA: How did the opportunity occur to sign first lady Laura Bush, and Jenna Bush to write a children’s book?
JACKSON: We have developed a strong relationship with Jenna Bush during the development of her forthcoming title “Ana’s Story,” and so we were delighted when she and Mrs. Bush came to us with the idea for their picture book.
EXTRA: What tips or advice do you have for book publishing executives who aren’t used to working with high-profile authors?
JACKSON: Understand that they have complex schedules and that you will have to be patient and creative while working on the book. But, it is also important to remember that celebrity will only drive a book so far. At the core you need a well-written, well-edited, well-marketed project in order to be as successful as possible.
EXTRA: What challenges arise when there is a bidding war between publishers for high-profile talent?
JACKSON: As with any competitive project, the important thing is to pay what the project is worth to the company and not to get caught up in the thrill of the chase. It needs to be lucrative and sensible for the publisher, and every project has a level of expense that needs to be kept in mind.
EXTRA: What are some of the advantages on the marketing/advertising side of signing someone as prominent as Laura and Jenna Bush to a book deal?
JACKSON: The fact that there will be keen media interest in Mrs. Bush and Jenna Bush will have a dramatic impact on the public’s awareness of their book, which of course is a terrific advantage. There are so many great books published and often the biggest obstacle is simply getting readers to be aware of them.