So, Publisher’s Lunch announced today that Lena Dunham and her partner Jenni Konner are launching a new imprint at Random House named after Lenny, Dunham and Konner’s popular newsletter. I have mixed feelings.
Everything I’ve heard and read about Lena Dunham suggests that she’s a thoughtful, intelligent young woman with a lot of opinions and a love of literature. Her business partner, I’m sure, is equally gifted. That said, does the publishing business need another celebrity imprint? And, to what end? What do celebrity imprints bring to the table other than the star power of the celebrity they are affiliated with? And, is that star power a transitive property as far as book buyers are concerned?
Recently, in fact, a number of celebrity imprints have been announced—Gwyneth Paltrow, Chelsea Handler, Oprah Winfrey, Derek Jeter, and Johnny Depp (which, huh?) now have deals with big five publishers and a mandate to buy books that sell. Well, good luck with that.
I like to think that publishing books that enrich the culture, entertain a sizable audience, and have staying power in the collective imagination is a specialized craft. Much in the same way that a lot of people who know nothing about the arduous process of writing a book think they can write a bestseller, it seems to me that many underestimate the equally arduous process of identifying, curating, developing, massaging, producing and promoting a work of literature. Obviously, I get that it’s a dog eat dog world out there and that publishers need every little edge they can get in order to get their product the attention it deserves, but I worry that resources that are going into supporting the celebritization of book publishing would be better used in bolstering regular, centuries-old publishing models—with editors/publishers who don’t have a Hollywood pedigree but know a good idea/manuscript when they see one and know how to shepherd it through the publishing process into the hands of readers who care about the prose and ideas and not the celebrity behind the imprint.
Or, am I being an old fuddy duddy? Do I need to accept the fact that there might be a Kardashian imprint down the road? What do you all think about celebrities who dip their toes in publishing waters?