Bob Miller: HarperStudio Was a Failure

Thanks to Joe Clark, here is a recent secret speech by Bob Miller (secret = it took place in Canada), who jumped ship on the innovative, profit-sharing imprint HarperStudio just as it was beginning and surprised everyone by going off to head Workman Publishing, fine publishers of Brain Quest Write & Erase Set: Alphabet and The Big Breakfast Diet. This resulted in HarperCollins shuttering the imprint.

You can look at the short existence of HarperStudio as a success or a failure; Bob regards it as a failure, clearly, despite three Times bestsellers out of 16 books published, and a low cost spent on all of these books (and also no money wasted on advertising because advertising doesn’t sell books, which, obviously). So one would imagine they spent outright between $3 and $5 million on books.

[Disclosure: I don’t know him but I am not a fan of Bob Miller these days in light of his sudden departure; HarperStudio bought books from friends of mine and from me as well (all books that will still be published, as of now).]

Miller also claims that “small advances” (that’s $100K and lower, and if you’re a fiction writer, you’re currently thinking “I’d kill someone for a $40K advance!) made the house unattractive to “track record” authors.

This misses the point; a house like that is supposed to make writers, and can afford to gamble on books, not just buy the cache of authors outright as is done in the wrecked publishing star system. Bob totally misunderstands what he was doing, and how and why he was doing it, it sounds like? “It was hard to convince authors,” he says in this speech, about the advance limit. “The authors we were able to get were authors who did not need the money to write the book over time and were doing something over time that did not require as big an investment.” (He points to their MARK TWAIN BOOK as an example. Mark Twain didn’t need the advance because HE IS STILL DEAD.)

But for the living ones? “The level of author that might have been interested” in profit-sharing was already making too much money elsewhere, is what Bob weirdly concludes from the experience. Then maybe you shouldn’t have spent all your time sniffing around after “the sure thing” rockstar author? It sure is a weird view of running an imprint when everyone you want to publish is already too rich and well-known to work with you.