I’ll Have The Non-Fiction, Please, with a Salad on the Side
Literary agents and editors have a long tradition of meeting over lunch to talk about work. I always found it to be a lovely perk of the industry to conduct business while dining at one or another of New York¹s fine dining establishments (on the company tab, of course). In this “Lit Lunch” segment of Pub Buzz, I'll take the occasional peek at who's lunching with whom and what they're chatting about.
Marnie Cochran, Executive Editor at Ballantine Books, lunched recently with literary agent Jay Mandel of William Morris Endeavor. They dined at Remi, which is in the same block as the William Morris building. Marnie, who spoke to me recently about her lunch, said she had lentil soup with chunks of grilled shrimp in it ("delish!") and a spinach salad. We¹re a little more vague on the details of what Jay ate, but Marnie says he also had a salad along with a pasta dish.
As for the lunchtime chitchat, it certainly included what Marnie charmingly calls "that traditional evergreen editor-agent dance," where they tell each other about their projects. They also talked about the "health" of Random House¹s Ballantine division. As Cochran explains: "When I met with him, three or four days prior Random House had just announced some changes." These changes had to do with "a realignment and growth of its nonfiction publishing," according to news released by the company. In this realignment, Jennifer Tung joined Ballantine Bantam Dell as VP, Editorial Director, nonfiction, reporting to Libby McGuire. Tung came from RedBook magazine, making the crossover to books.Cochran and her fellow executive editor Pamela Cannon now report to Tung.
Cochran says the change emphasizes Ballantine's commitment to non-fiction and that it is meant to indicate the strength of this publishing direction from a house that is these days often more well known for big-name commercial fiction from the likes of Lee Childs, Debbie Macomber and recently wooed authors Janet Evanovich and Jodi Picoult. Cochran explains that she was "not sure the larger agenting and publishing world really understood that we were having non-fiction successes as well and that we were dedicated to non-fiction the way we had been years ago." Mandel, she reported, seemed to see these changes as the investment in non-fiction it really is.
As far as things on the William Morris side of the equation, Mandel talked about the WME commitment to being a full-service media company, representing online, movie, radio and TV as well as books. As Cochran explains it: "that often attracts clients to them who are of a certain celebrity," and since that¹s what Ballantine is often seeking, "it's a good match."
As the lunch continued (mint tea for both, no dessert), Cochran shared with Mandel some of her recent literary successes. "In the last year just on my own list was Elizabeth Hasselbeck's "Deliciously G-Free" gluten-free cookbook, which hit the Times list, and from Bob Harper, the trainer from NBC's "The Biggest Loser," was "The Skinny Rules," which was New York Times number one for 7 weeks and stayed on the list most of spring and all summer." Cochran also acquired and edited Self magazine¹s Lucy Danziger¹s 'The Drop 10 Diet." All these successful books came "bang bang bang--right in that same food/eating/weight-loss wheel house" along with newer acquisitions such as a book by author Mark Lauren called "You Are Your Own Gym" and "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding," She also exclaims over great books acquired by colleague Pam Cannon including "huge cookbook successes by the Deen family and David Venable of QVC."
All in all, Cochran says: "I love my job and the people I work with ." She plans to continue to seek high-profile non-fiction from Mandel and others. Ballantine, she says, is "very good and hot-out-of the-gate big bold national" books. She's confident in her editorial choices, saying "I think we¹re having a really good year and non-fiction is part of that." Oh, and lunch was good, too. Check, please!