HarperStudio: Enigma, Enterprise or Endgame?

Last week we reported that HarperStudio supremo Bob Miller was departing the innovative HarperCollins imprint to move to Workman Publishing as Group Publisher. It sparked a great deal of debate as well as anxiety as to the future of the imprint both on the HarperStudio site and wider spheres. So much so, associate publisher Debbie Stier decided to shift some of the debate to a Formspring.me page to try and address questions coming from authors, readers and interested parties. The debate has continued to flow over the past few days touching on the future of the imprint as well as general publishing topics.

Is Harper Studio still accepting proposals &/or MSS through 2010, or is everything on hold? –Christopher Davis (kitdavis@earthlink.net)
Feel free to submit to Julia Cheiffetz, but it’s probably safe to assume that we won’t make any decisions until after we make a plan for going forward.
Do you think consumer brand awareness has helped you sell *considerably* more books? Do you think your brand has made an impact in the general public consciousness or only in the publishing world?
No, not *considerably* more books — but I can see that if we had more time to put in more effort, we could get to the *considerably* level. And I think the brand has made an impact (or impression may be a better word?) in the small world of publishing, authors, and maybe even the blogging community. Not sure “public consciousness” is a realistic goal. There is a way longer conversation to be had about these questions. Question back to you: What do YOU think?

HarperStudio and Bob Miller certainly put the ‘I’ in innovation when it came to a presenting a new imprint from a large publisher. Quirky, idealistic, and surprising independent of the mother ship, HarperStudio offered a cap on author advances ($100,000), kicked the return of mint books into touch straight away (how that madcap idea was ever presented on a silver platter to retailers, I’ll never understand), and most significantly, offering authors a 50/50 share on royalties. But where HarperStudio really scored the home run was the collective ability of their staffers to engage with readers as well as authors. In short, the personalities and creative energy which overflowed from HarperStudio were given their heads as well as their hearts and allowed to run the gauntlet for a new wave of modern publishing under the rusting framework of a dogged and tired old bridge to the new world.

I speak of HarperStudio as if we were seeing the tragic demise of a promising sporting hero, cut down in their prime, never to truly fulfill the promise so many hoped and expected.
Incoming boss, Michael Morrison, currently still working for General Books and Canada, arrives in May. From following the questions posed to associate publisher Debbie Stier and senior editor Julia Cheiffetz over the past few days, the gathering anxiety of contracted authors as well as submitted authors is that Morrison will arrive with a cheap wooden coffin under one arm and tightly grasping a hammer and bag of nails in the other hand. His task, honourable duty and instructions of the HarperCollins board members ringing like a mournful Sunday march loud in his ears:

‘Jez, Mickey, I dunno what we were thinkin’ in 2008 bringin’ in that Miller headfuck from Hyperion, I just don’t know. All that Greek and Titan stuff must have went to his head. I mean, 50/50 royalty share—that’s not a royalty—that’s a fucking lottery! And no book returns? Jez, how are we to shift 100k units of some celebrity shit if we don’t take back 50k and wipe our fuckin’ asses with every page of it. Doesn’t Miller realise the escalatin’ cost of toilet paper right now!

Mikey baby, do your sweet Uncle Johnny a favour, bury that Studio shit. Honour the current contracts like you honour you mudda. But no more Crackpot Studio, understand? Now go and turn out the lights over there. I gotta take Steve Jobs on line 2”

What would be welcomed by all is if Morrison set aside any pre-notions, and more importantly, the coffin and nails, and just for one more year, let HarperStudio and its staffers have their hearts and their heads. He just might be surprised what a potential jewel his predecessor has bequeathed him.
And what is in store for workman publishing? Hang on and get ready for the ride of your lives!

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