Sometimes, the ironies of the publishing business are just too obvious to ignore

Filed in Uncategorized by on May 7, 2007 0 Comments

Consider this: a couple of years ago, Tina Brown, the blond, British, iconic media figure known for paying high fees to writers for colorful, opinionated magazine articles received, from Doubleday, a reported $2 million advance to write a colorful, opinionated book about the late Princess Diana, a blond, British icon who, many (including Brown) contend was created by the media, which naturally included Brown herself. At the time, some said it was a brilliant match up: While there had been and would be many, many other books about the doomed Princess of Wales, there seemed nobody better for the job than Brown. I think some wags at the time even dubbed the project Blond on Blond.


Cut to: summer 2007. The Diana Chronicles is set to be released in June accompanied by an excerpt in none other than Vanity Fair, the magazine that Brown edited from 1984 to 1992. (It will also be excerpted in the British press.) One of the strong and recurring themes in the book is – duh – the media and how it worked with and against Diana throughout her life. In fact, much of the “new material” in the book – and some of the most interesting – includes mini-profiles of the Di-centric journos (the Daily Mail’s Richard Kay, for example, and Diana’s hand-picked Boswell, Andrew Morton) and their relationships with the Princess and with each other. Tina Brown herself is a character in the book, having supped with as well as written critically about her subject. Oh, and speaking of media, Doubleday is trying hard to control the media coverage of this book; the house – and surely Brown herself – is too smart to risk a backlash by formally embargoing The Diana Chronicles, although they are asking critics to hold reviews until pub date; on the other hand, no one knows better than Brown – whose magazines routinely bought first serial excerpts and demanded that no other outlets be allowed pre pub access – how useful semi-embargoes, and their inevitable leaks, can be. (As I write, there have been two major stories about the book, one in the Daily Mail (ck) and one in the Wall Street Journal.) I guess it would be silly to expect anything less from the author who, for a decade there, was pretty much the poster child for the word “buzz”.


Still, as we all know by now, buzz does not necessarily a bestseller make. (Viz. The New York Times 4/23 piece on Mommy Books) According to the Wall Street Journal, Diana books, as a group, are “trending downwards;” according to Nielsen BookScan (which does not track sales in Wal-Mart, a likely source for Dianaiana) , one of the most recent, Paul Burrell’s The Way We Were – a book that was so embargoed it was pitched “blind” to booksellers — has sold a modest 25,000 since its September publication. Still, there are at least a half dozen new Di-tles coming this summer, not so coincidentally timed to the 10th anniversary of the Princess’s death. Will Tina Brown’s special perspective, and lively style, make hers a break out? 


At the London Book Fair the other week, I put this question to a group of veteran British book editors. They suggested that if Brown and Doubleday managed to attract both the die-hard Diana-phile AND the high end Vanity Fair-type reader who would not normally buy something so downmarket as, say, a butler’s tell-all, the book will, indeed succeed.


Who knows? It might even be – as Brown herself became famous for saying, – “v. hot.”


Sara Nelson is Editor in Chief of Publishers Weekly: The International Voice for Book Publishing and Bookselling. You can read all of Sara’s weekly Gather columns at And for more of Sara’s columns click here.




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