Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Bad is It?

In one way last week was great. It started off with two days in DC, including a lovely evening on Monday having drinks by a roaring fire at The Tabard Inn with Rachel from National Geographic. And all week long I spent time with clients whose company I enjoy very much, and generally speaking, everyone was in the mood to talk. The bad part of course was that most of the discussions were pretty grim.

At The National Gallery in Washington, it was a nice surprise to hear that everything seems pretty much status quo. The show Robert Frank's The Americans has been a big success and is highly recommended. My friends at Meridian International also seemed to be doing OK, as far as I could tell still basking in the glow of an earlier exhibition for which we produced the catalogue, The Jazz Ambassadors.

But by Tuesday the weather and the news started to turn bad. I woke up to DC's first snowstorm of the year, had my breakfast, and trundled off to National Geographic with my suitcase and bag full of books skidding behind me in the snow. Now, I have always thought it would be impossible for anything to put a serious dent into the perennial optimism of this group of people. But the grim economic news seemed to be rubbing off on everyone. And worse! Book projects I was counting on now seem to be going to China! I have to say I felt a little desperate as I tried my best to badger upcoming projects out of Phil, Chris, and anyone else who would lend a sympathetic ear.

It was a very snowy train ride to New York, and the next day I gave up the suit and heels, and tromped around the city in my heavy boots, ski sweater, and parka. Lunch with Eric, editor-in-chief at Harry N. Abrams; Eric talked about the bad news in the industry -- including the fact that the publisher of PW has just been let go, which I could not believe. He seemed relatively cool as he spoke about all his concerns -- but maybe that is also because Abrams has just launched the big hit series Diary of a Whimpy Kid, which has allowed everyone a momentary breather. We discussed Art Basel Miami, which Eric attended too. It sounds as if he had a much more intellectually and culturally high-brow experience than I did, and once again I regretted that I am not just a little bit smarter and more well informed when speaking with Eric. Aside from books, we chat about blogging, podcasts, and Facebook -- all of which interest us both. Later in the afternoon, I marched through two feet of slush down to Abbeville Press. Susan, Louise, and David had great patience with me as I ran through my schpeel - and in fact they may be interested in one of the book projects I was trying to sell rights for as well as in Mondadori's new stock image service PhotoserviceElecta. Susan kindly mentioned she had read my blog -- and later I noticed that Abbeville has a very cool blog of their own, The Abbeville Manual of Style.

By Thursday I had had enough of the cold. But unfortunately, there was still more cold to come. However, I felt slightly better knowing it was also cold at home in Florida. In fact, it was so cold that one of our "neighbors" decided to climb down the palm tree, where he and his relatives usually hang out, and sun himself by the pool. (Photo courtesy of my husband's iPhone).

At Harper Collins, Marta and Liz were both pleased about the success of Kat Von D's High Voltage Tattoo, which had just made the New York Times bestseller list. On the other hand, Marta said she was not sure anyone was even going into bookstores these days. It is clear that many of the sorts of projects I have tried to pitch to Collins in the past are not going to fly at the moment. Subsequent meetings with Simon and Schuster and Stewart, Tabori and Chang also re-inforced this idea of overall uncertainty: that is, there is a feeling that no one really seems to be buying many books right now, and it is not certain IF and WHEN people are going to get back to buying books in the future, and what sort of books they will be interested in.

On my last day I passed by the '21' Club on my way to another meeting. When I got my first job in publishing 25 years ago, my grandparents took me here for a celebratory lunch. My grandfather ate here all the time with clients, and he knew the owners, who had left Europe during the War, as he and my grandmother had. I got a special tour of the hidden wine cellar that allowed patrons to stay lubricated during Prohibition. And I think there may have been some famous people -- possibly even from publishing -- eating there that day. But I don't remember. I was not sure if this restaurant was still around, and I am glad to see that it is...

Favorites - (fourth post) from Spain!

My good friend Maria Eugenia who represents Mondadori in Spain reminded me that she also has some lovely titles to boast about this year.

Medievo (The Middle Ages) and Renacimiento (The Rennaissance) are two of her favorites. Both of these big, sumptuous artbooks are published by Random House Mondadori through their imprint Electa Espana.

I think that about wraps up my informal, international survey of big, beautiful books for 2008. The question is now, what will we be working on in 2009? Let's hope we have some equally exciting projects to look forward to!