What It Takes

What It Takes

Endless Possibilities

By Callie Oettinger | Published: September 9, 2011

Whenever I tell someone about Bob Danzig, they’re inspired to learn that someone who lived in five foster homes by the time he was eleven achieved so much—and then they’re shocked to learn that he was with the same company for 40+ years.

I met Bob in 1997, just as he was heading into his 1998 retirement from the The Hearst Corporation. Bob started as an office-boy, just out of high school, at the Hearst-owned Albany Times Union. Twenty years later he became the publisher of the paper, and then moved to New York City as CEO of The Hearst Newspaper Group and vice president of The Hearst Corporation.

Following last week’s “The Right Team” post, David Y.B. Kaufmann commented about the “good editors” and wrote that “the publishers are like the owner of the team. The good owners put in place good managers…”

If you ask Bob about his years with Hearst—especially those early years, he’ll tell you about the mistakes he made and the people who continued to stay in his corner because they believed in him. They knew he had potential.

And when he shares successes, he talks about those who helped make the successes possible. He values those around him and—though he’s never said this to me—I think it’s because he was valued. The social worker moving him from his fourth to his fifth foster home told him “You are worthwhile.” It wasn’t something he’d heard before. But she continued saying it, making him believe it.

And when he believed it, others around him did, too—including the publisher of the Albany Times Union, Gene Robb. Gene was on the board of the university Bob attended at night. Without Bob knowing, he requested Bob’s grades be sent to him at the end of each semester. And with the final semester, told Bob that he’d like him to follow in his footsteps as the next publisher—and then set him on a road to doing just that.

Bob was on a team that recognized talent and was willing to nurture it—for decades.

Jeremy’s post-“The Right Team” comment asked about authors “jumping ship” and knowing when “it is good enough.”

I took this one to my husband, a life-long Miami Dolphins fan.

“Why’d Marino stay with the Dolphins for so long? I asked. “He’s cited as being one of the all-time greats, yet no ring. . . Why didn’t he go to a different team?”

His answer: “Loyalty—and things were different before all the free agents.”

That holds true for more than football—and it’s an issue for both sides.

In publishing I’ve run into editors who look down on the marketing team with a bit of intellectual snobbery. And I’ve met the editors who are open to everyone—open minded, void of egos.

There are the authors who blame the publishers because their books aren’t doing well. And there are the authors who take the time to get to know the business and then do what has to be done to push their books out.

There are the publishers who blame the authors when a book tanks. And there are publishers who work hand in hand with authors.

There are publishers, editors, marketing teams and authors who say no to almost everything and there are those that respond on the opposite end, with a yes, willing to try something new, loyal, in each others’ corners.

There are authors and publishers who are loyal to each other—and those that don’t know the definition of loyalty.

There’s a lot of complaining about publishing, but there are good teams out there.

But what happens when you are on a good team and it can only go up so many levels—you’re living in a retro six-story building, and the luxury hi-rise with the penthouse suite is calling, saying it wants you to move in?

There’s a scene in the movie Ray, when Ray Charles tells his current label that he’s switching to a bigger one. I don’t know if this is how it really went down, but in the movie, one of the smaller label’s suits gets mad and the other wishes Ray well, saying he’s proud of him.

I get the first suit’s disappointment and admire the second.

Ultimately there’s a bottom line that we have to hit.

But if we could figure out a way to collaborate—pool talents of the indies and larger houses, we could hit some new heights. Instead of everyone busting ass to create their version of the wheel, we’d all travel a greater distance, if one house handled the wheel, another the carriage, another the driver. . . .

Ray’s first team knew him and knew his strengths. History shows the next team did good by him, but I wonder what would have happened if the first had continued, with help from the second. Both had something to offer.

Most recent example of this? End Malaria, the new Domino Project book. Sixty authors came together, waving their fees, to create a book with $20 of each sold going to help end Malaria. They pooled their talents for an outside project.

This is on the author level, but imagine it on the publisher level and beyond.

Endless possibilities.

Posted in What It Takes

6 Responses to “Endless Possibilities”

  1. September 9, 2011 at 5:49 am

    Thanks for this Callie! How great that would be–sort of like an MMA fighter sticking with the camp that got him to the show, then as a team they bring in the best jiu jitsu coach they can find, then a Muay Thai champion, etc.

    A few days ago there was a great example of the publishing collaboration you mentioned, when Scholastic joined forces with Ruckus Media to form the Scholastic Ruckus imprint:

    … a joint venture that will publish a wide range of children’s and teen content across all platforms, from interactive content and transmedia projects to e-books, enhanced e-books and print.

    To me, this shows that Scholastic knows what they don’t know, and they’re trying to find and team up with the right folks who do. This seems to benefit everybody–Scholastic still has the wheel and carriage, Ruckus straps a jet engine on the back, and the authors and illustrators get their art shipped in various formats.

    And thanks for addressing my questions about jumping ship and knowing what’s good enough. Loyalty is key, on all sides, and you nailed it with “void of egos.” I might need to find a good Muay Thai guy for that one.

  2. Paul C
    September 9, 2011 at 6:28 am

    I was about to comment on the importance of teamwork and loyalty. But I clicked the link that Jeff posted on Harlan Ellison and burst out laughing at his rant and “I don’t take a piss without getting paid!” All of us do have the Jekyll and Hyde. We want to be part of the team. We also want someone to throw us the damn ball. I suspect Harlan Ellison isn’t one of the sixty authors on the Domino Project.

    You guys are on a roll.

    • waveney k
      September 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      Harlan’s rant is just tip of the iceberg. He is gifted with the ability to go on and on, I believe to infinity, while having a crowd in a hilarious uproar. I loved attending his talks at Stony Brook Univ. ICON – yearly events in NY. Like you I enjoyed his, “If I take a piss I want to get paid.” I hope you read his short stories, “Dreams with Sharp Teeth.”

  3. Kate
    September 9, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Had to laugh at the image of thos eauthors waving their (waived) fees. :)

  4. September 9, 2011 at 6:41 am

    First, of course, thanks for the mention. The kind of cooperative ventures you discuss, while possible and eminently desirable, to require a paradigm shift. The authors who participated in the Domino Project “End Malaria” book were not only in a position to waive their fees, they understood it’s not always about the fee (money/profit). There’s a rant on Youtube by a well-known author that takes the opposite approach, that as an author he wouldn’t – well, it’s crude, but payment for all services rendered was the idea.
    We might call this the cooperative vs. corporative approach. I know it’s not that simple or dichotomized. But professionals often waive their fees – lawyers, doctors, even plumbers, will answer questions without charge. Of course, as Steven said in an earlier post, there is the “no” factor. Cooperation assumes reciprocity, or a relationship. (There’s an early SF story based on this premise. I can’t remember the name or the author, darn it.)
    The loyalty you discuss, Callie, is as you mention a two-way street. But the reason it works is because the penthouse is not the priority – for either side. Of course everyone wants the “next big thing” – the twilight of the words – but collaboration is the flip side of compromise: everyone walks away with less, but everyone walks away with something – and everyone walks away satisfied. Or maybe nobody walks away at all.
    And aren’t conversations like this one, with multiple participants, a cooperative venture? Who knows where such “loyalty investments” may lead?

  5. khalid Fadlallah
    September 11, 2011 at 6:11 am

    I find the concept of endless possibilities is quiet deep & rich and anyone can think of helpful solutions