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    Are celebrity publishing imprints the new celebrity vodka?

    Janet Manley

    April 12, 2023, 11:03am

    Oprah has one. Questlove has one. Fearne Cotton and Sarah Jessica Parker each have one. Lena Dunham had one. And now Gillian Flynn is getting in on the imprint action.

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    Gillian Flynn Books will be a new imprint at Zando, and serve the world “off-kilter” fiction, allowing Flynn to “champion” books that might not otherwise make it through the gauntlet of contemporary publishing, she told Today.

    The bestselling author joins a swath of celebrities and personalities who have entered the “curation” game at publishing houses, and some, like Dave Eggers, GP, and Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett, who have launched their own publishing arms (McSweeney’s; Goop; Crooked Media). Often, these are a great vehicle for championing other celebrities.

    Like many celebrity hobbies, imprints don’t always endure. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny, at Penguin Random House, was launched in 2016 and seemed to have flatlined by 2018. Likewise, Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book seems to have put out sparse offerings (among which, the lovely Somebody’s Daughter), certainly not eclipsing the power (or “Oprahification“) of Oprah’s Bookclub.

    While Emma Watson’s book club is “dormant,” Reese Witherspoon and Emma Roberts have each kept up their book rec projects, with Witherspoon using her book club as an opportunity to scout adaptation material for her production company. But each imprint, each curated list, each celebrity vodka launched off the Real Housewives tentpole, each vertical salad tower, each branded bottle of “lo-cal tequila” raises the question: How much influence can we imbibe? (More pointedly, who is drinking Colin Jost’s tequila?)

    Beyonce’s Ivy Park collaboration with Adidas came to an end in March as it was revealed the clothing line fell short of sales projections by $200 million in 2022. Either the Hive’s spending power had waned or we had reached saturation point for celebrity influence, some worried.

    From a publisher’s standpoint, it’s easy to see why a celebrity collaboration would be feel like a hail Mary as they grapple with ways to harness the power of viral BookTokking. Buying into the “aesthetic of bookishness” allows something intangible to become consumable, explained Terry Nygugen in a Dirt dispatch:

    The book is a venerated symbol of one’s cultural tastes. It is tangible and static, an uneditable time capsule of ideas and thoughts that exists in stark contrast to our algorithmic feeds. A book is reading material and accessory: Celebrities and influencers are keen to talk about the books they read, or hint at their bookishness in paparazzi shots.

    Once an author has a brand, they have theoretical power to drive the taste of their followers not through an algorithmic “if you liked X, you might like Y,” but in a direct “you liked me and I liked these” formulation. After a rapid breakout, poet Kate Baer recently launched a separate Instagram feed (linked to Bookshop) to curate the literature she consumes—an Amazon storefront for intellectuals. This makes sense: Some actors process reams of texts in the course of their work, and have a sensibility for what is good, Biblioracle John Warner argued on Twitter, in a plea for Chris Pine to get his own imprint (I’d check it out).

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    Human laundrypile Johnny Depp announced an imprint, Infinitum Nihil, with HarperCollins in 2012 that ultimatey netted nihil books, proving that the game is tougher than it looks. And also that sometimes it’s nice to take a huge paycheck and not have to do anything about actually delivering.

    Flynn is an author, so that sets her apart from other big-name imprints, and it will be interesting to see what she can gin up as a publisher.

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