Friday, December 07, 2007

Who runs HM&B

Going back to that Article, one of the more amusing assumptions by Julie Bindel was that HM&B is something of a male preserve. Yes, you have these little self deluded female authors but it is the males who decide.
Ummm which ones?
Although back in the 1960s and 1970s, M&B was mainly run by the Boon brothers. This has changed. The Boon family sold out many years ago to the corporate entity --Torstar.
Shall we look at some of the people who make the current editorial decisions at HM&B? It would have taken very little time for an competent journalist to do this.
All the editorial assistants and acquiring editors at HM&B are currently women. There was once a male editor but that was a long time ago and he is now a hugely successful agent. I think the NY office now is going for more equal opportunity and has hired its token male but there are no male acquiring editors at the Richmond office.
My current editor started working for HM&B within the last few years. She has a Phd from Oxford. She decided that publishing was preferable to academia. My former editor needs to finish her dissertation . Her speciality is 19th century women's literature. Her Phd again will be from Oxford... My senior editor has worked in publishing since the 1970s. She has held a variety of editorial positions within HM&B. And I would say that being an editor in any large publishing house is a huge achievement. it is not a part time job.
The executive editor of the Presents/Modern line is a woman. As it is not my line, I have only spoken to her casually at the HM&B authors' toast. However, she is impressive. Again she has chosen publishing as a career. She is not working for pin money. She is working because it is her career and she is highly successful at year in and year out discovering best selling authors and managing the most successful line in Harlequin Enterprises. In short you do not become an executive editor in one of the world's largest publishing houses by being a pushover. You get it on merit, because you have demonstrated that you can deliver.
The current Editorial Director of HM&B is a woman. She is also one of the most powerful people in publishing, in both the UK and the world in general. Ultimately she is the person who decides which author will be bought for the lines that the UK editorial team hold over all responsibility for. Spend some time in her company, and you will realise that she knows a fantastic amount about publishing. Not just women's fiction but publishing in general. She is the ED for very sound business reasons and is there on merit.
If any young woman wants to go into publishing or indeed to know what it is like to succeed in this business, they could do far worse than to take the ED of HM&B as a role model.
Basically these are the women who decide. It would be a brave man who told them what to do. They make their decisions not on some ideal but on hard headed business facts. they are in the business of selling books.
Ultimately it is the vast majority of consumers who decide which books are bought and how the direction of the business is shaped.
And about those titles, TPTB recently did an experiment and gave a few less hooky titles to books. They had to apologise to the authors in questions, because despite garnering excellent reviews, the books tanked. In the world of category publishing, hooks rule. Hooks actually rule on other areas of publishing.It is just that people do not seem to joke about murder mystery titles as much.
So before pointing to huge male conspiracies, it would be helpful if journalists etc actually did their homework.


Kate Hardy said...

Well put, Michelle.

One point I'd like to make. A lot of the journalists who snark the most at M&B (particularly those who don't do their research properly) are under the impression that writing an easy-to-read book is also easy and will net them much cash for little work. My guess is that several of them have tried and failed miserably:
a) because there's a difference between easy reading and easy writing (easy writing is an uninformed opinion piece)
b) because they didn't bother researching, they have no idea what's selling and what readers want

... and my guess is that there are rejection slips involved, and said snarky people can only make themselves feel good about it by sniping at the publisher who didn't meet their preconceived ideas.

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