Nearly a month of suspense at 10 East 53rd Street came to a close yesterday when HarperCollins house joker David Hirshey was informed that Sarah Silverman had chosen him over two of his colleagues to be the editor of her as-yet-untitled book of essays.
Settling on a home for Ms. Silverman’s book has been a long and drawn-out process that began in mid-November, when an intense auction overseen by Trident Media Group CEO Dan Strone ended with HarperCollins prevailing over several other houses with a stunning $2.5 million bid submitted jointly on behalf of Mr. Hirshey at the Harper imprint, Gillian Blake at Collins and Laurie Chittenden at William Morrow.
To be sure, winning the auction for Ms. Silverman’s book was a victory for HarperCollins, but the fact that all three of its major nonfiction imprints wanted to publish it meant that Mr. Hirshey, Ms. Blake and Ms. Chittenden would have to compete for it with each other in an unpleasant in-house ritual known as a “beauty contest."
Such situations—in which an author must decide which editor is best suited for his or her project based at best on a brief meeting and a few emails—come up regularly in publishing these days. This is partly because all four of the really big New York houses own a number of imprints with similar or indistinguishable publishing programs, and partly because reliably lucrative, celebrity-driven titles like Ms. Silverman’s move increasingly timid editors to compete with each other more ferociously than ever before.
At best, these beauty contests are awkward. At worst, they can breed resentment among friends, and stoke intramural rivalries between different units of the same company.
That’s not to say that that’s definitely what happened with the Sarah Silverman book, though it probably didn’t help that she and her agent kept the HarperCollins people waiting so long while she made up her mind.
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