Reviving a publishing house on their own steam

Cindy Spiegel (left) and Julie Grau, who are reviving their publishing imprint Spiegel & Grau, in New York's Central Park. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Last year, after Penguin Random House shut down the literary imprint Spiegel & Grau, veteran editors Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau pondered what to do next.

Splitting up was never something they considered. The duo have worked together for the past 25 years, first as founding editors and publishers of Riverhead Books, where they helped launch the careers of writers like Khaled Hosseini, James McBride and Gary Shteyngart; and later, at their eponymous imprint, where they published pivotal works by Ta- Nehisi Coates, Barbara Demick and Yuval Noah Harari.

Other publishers were eager to recruit them. But they decided to revive Spiegel & Grau on their own.

Last week, the duo announced that they are back in business - this time, as an independent publishing house with a much broader definition of what publishing entails.

"We kind of looked at each other and thought, what would it look like if we started from the ground up?" Spiegel said. "What would it look like in a world where a book is no longer just a physical object?"

Spiegel & Grau will produce 15 to 20 books a year, as well as original audiobooks and podcasts. It will work on television and film adaptations, and has signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios to develop projects from its titles.

It is also working with podcasting company Lemonada Media on original audio content and has a forthcoming podcast, Believe Her, a narrative account of a domestic violence case that was reported by the journalist Justine van der Leun.

The firm's first book, Catherine Raven's memoir about her friendship with a wild fox in Montana, is due out in July next year.

Though books will be the focus, they plan to experiment with publishing across different mediums - perhaps releasing a project as a podcast first, then a book, or developing a book, audio and screen adaptation simultaneously.

"That was appealing to us, to have something that was boundary-free, so that we could pursue that entrepreneurial instinct without being hemmed in," Grau said.

In a literary landscape dominated by the biggest players, Spiegel and Grau are among a handful of editors who are rejecting the corporate publishing model and instead starting their own firms.

In October, Molly Stern, who was formerly the publisher of Crown but left after Penguin Random House merged the Crown and Random House publishing divisions, started her own publishing house. The company, Zando, is experimenting with new ways to market books directly to consumers, by teaming up with high-profile people, companies and brands.

Launching a company in 2020 is daring, even for veterans Spiegel and Grau. But in some ways, it is an opportune time to introduce a new publishing model.

While many creative industries have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, book sales are up. Print sales have risen nearly 8 per cent over last year, according to NPD BookScan. Revenues for digital books and downloaded audio are up by double digits.

Writers who have worked with the pair over the years are enthusiastic about the revival of Spiegel & Grau. Comedienne Chelsea Handler, whose 2019 book Life Will Be The Death Of Me was edited by Grau, said she hopes to work with Spiegel & Grau on a future project.

Handler said of the new company: "They really have their fingers on the pulse of when authors have something different to say."

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