Year’s End Surprise: Spiegel & Grau, a Once-and-Future Publisher

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From Publishing Perspectives:

With the clock ticking down on a year that’s seemed interminable at many points, many in the United States’ publishing industry have been cheered by today’s news (December 18) that Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau are back as Spiegel & Grau.

In social channels, you can feel the smiles as the news gets around among a quarter-century’s fans of their work.

Grau and Spiegel’s work in the past has included:

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Orange Is the New Black by Piper  Kerman
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • 21 Questions for the 21st Century by  Yuval Noah Harari
  • Women and Money by Suze Orman
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

When this reporter—then at CNN—first spoke with Grau in her office, she was talking about editing Kurt Cobain’s Journals, which would be published in November 2003, less than a year before Cobain’s suicide. At that point, the duo was at Penguin Group’s Riverhead Books (founded by Susan Petersen Kennedy) and there were enough photos of Suze Orman around to make visitors leave deeply concerned about their finances.

Two years after our interview, it was announced that Grau and Spiegel were moving to Doubleday because, as Spiegel told The New York Times’ Edward Wyatt in 2005, “We love running Riverhead, but we know how to run Riverhead. It was time for us to see if we can start something like this on our own.” That “something like this” would become Penguin Random House’s imprint Spiegel & Grau—which was closed by PRH in 2019.

And now, Grau and Spiegel are “starting something like this on our own”—again—in reviving Spiegel & Grau as an independent press founded on their 25 years of experience working together.

The new company, according to its media messaging, will “keep our list,” says Grau, “to no more  than 20 books a year. We’ll be able to devote meaningful editorial attention and care to each title, and, with our team of experts, provide writers with coordinated support and integrated opportunities from the very beginning of the publishing process.”

That great sighing sound you just heard is from authors reading about a house designed to cap its own output for maximum focus and support. And in her astute coverage today at The New York Times, Alexandra Alter writes: “The resurrection of Spiegel & Grau comes at a moment of growing consolidation and homogenization in the publishing industry.

“After a wave of mergers in the last decade, the biggest houses are increasingly dependent on blockbuster titles and often plow more of their marketing and publicity budgets into books and authors with built-in audiences. Some in the industry worry that there are dwindling opportunities for new writers and that debut and midlist authors may get passed over.”

Noting that the move by PRH to acquire Simon & Schuster is doing nothing to quell such concerns about consolidation, Alter adds, “In a literary landscape dominated by the biggest players, Spiegel and Grau are among a handful of well-known editors who are rejecting the corporate publishing model and instead starting their own companies.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG instinctively cheers on underdogs in almost every field (his undergraduate education was at an institution whose football team likely had a higher average IQ than many of its competitors, but was substantially slower and smaller than those same competitors with predictable results).

Unless Ms. Spiegel and Ms. Grau are going to substantially change the business model that has characterized New York publishing for their entire business careers, he has doubts that their new venture will be highly successful.

In PG’s oft-repeated opinion, the fundamental problem with the traditional publishing model is that, regardless of whether it operates with a corporate or personal touch, it has been overtaken and made obsolete by the Amazon model and indie authors who run their own show.

1 thought on “Year’s End Surprise: Spiegel & Grau, a Once-and-Future Publisher”

  1. I suspect that Spiegel and Grau will actually be somewhat successful, mostly because, based on the list of titles they’ve worked on, they specialize in books that people want other people to know that they own, something easier to do in hardcopy than ebook format.

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