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Crown Publisher and Editor of Michelle Obama’s Memoir Is Leaving

Category: Art & Culture,Books

As part of a major shake-up at Penguin Random House, which recently merged two of its biggest publishing divisions — Crown Publishing Group and Random House — Molly Stern, Crown’s senior vice president and publisher, will be leaving the company.

Ms. Stern’s departure came on the heels of one of her greatest publishing successes: She was the editor for Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming,” which sold more than two million copies in just 15 days after its initial release, making it the best-selling book of 2018. In her acknowledgments, Mrs. Obama wrote that Ms. Stern’s “enthusiasm, energy, and passion instantly drew me to her. Molly kept me buoyed by her unwavering faith in my vision for this book.”

Ms. Stern is widely regarded within the publishing world for having an eye for both best-selling commercial fiction and award-winning literary fiction and nonfiction. Under her direction at Crown, the company published blockbusters like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” as well as acclaimed nonfiction by best-selling authors such as Susan Cain, Erik Larson and Matthew Desmond, who won the Pulitzer Prize for “Evicted.” Ms. Stern, who realized the book-selling power of social media very early, asked Sarah Jessica Parker to start an imprint at Hogarth, which is part of Crown.

Following the announced exit of Maya Mavjee, Crown’s president and publisher, who will leave the company at the end of the year, Ms. Stern is the most prominent executive to leave as a result of the reorganization.

David Drake, Crown’s executive vice president and deputy publisher, will replace Ms. Stern. Mr. Drake helped to oversee the global publication strategy for Ms. Obama’s “Becoming,” along with another Crown executive, Tina Constable.

Gillian Blake, the editor in chief at Henry Holt, will be joining Crown as the company’s senior vice president and editor in chief of Crown Trade. At Holt, Blake edited such titles as Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” and Tina Brown’s “The Vanity Fair Diaries,” as well as many of Bill O’Reilly’s books. She also tapped TV host and producer Andy Cohen to start his own imprint, Andy Cohen Books, at the company.

The changes at Crown reflect a broader cyclical shift in the publishing industry as bigger companies like Penguin Random House and Hachette try to streamline their overlapping imprints after major growth spurts and acquisitions.

Many of the country’s biggest publishing houses have added imprints and acquired smaller publishing companies in an effort to stay competitive by getting larger, which gives them more leverage in setting terms with big retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon. In 2014, News Corporation bought the romance publisher Harlequin for $415 million, and two years ago, Hachette Book Group struck a deal to acquire Perseus, an independent publishing house, acquiring imprints like Basic Books, Nation Books and PublicAffairs.

In 2013, Penguin and Random House merged into a sprawling company, by far the largest of “the big five” publishing houses, which also include Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, Hachette and HarperCollins. The company operates around 275 imprints worldwide, and its sales total around 4 billion annually.

Some companies are trying to streamline their operations by combining imprints and publishing lines, or sometimes eliminating imprints all together. Last month, Hachette Book Group announced that Hachette Books would move into the Perseus division, and that Hachette Books’ publisher, Mauro DiPreta, would be leaving the company.

When Penguin Random House announced the merger of Crown and Random House in October, many authors and agents wondered what would become of each division’s many imprints, which include Hogarth, Tim Duggan Books, Broadway Books, Ballantine Bantam Dell, Delacorte Press and Spiegel & Grau.

In a company memo, Madeline McIntosh, the chief executive of Penguin Random House U.S., assured employees that Crown and Random House “will retain their distinct editorial identities.”


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