Saturday, August 20, 2011

Interview With Readux CEO Leigh Haber

Leigh Haber’s official title is CEO of Readux, the literary management company she founded.
She is also an adviser and curator-at-large for Blurb, the POD platform based in SF, and editor-at-large for Chronicle Books.  Additionally, she is involved in two publishing-related start-ups which will be announced this Fall.

She considers the start of her 30-year publishing career to have been a job she got while in college, in Washington, DC, at The Washington Post.  She was a copy aide for Book World, the book reviewing section for the paper.  She says: “It was an amazing job, in that I saw brilliant book critics at work, and by opening the boxes streaming in to the book room from publishers, began to understand that books were the product of a book publishing industry.  I hadn't thought about that before.”

What is your secret to success? I was a book publicist and then a publicity director before I became an editor.  To be successful at these, I think you have to have a vision, believe in that vision, have confidence in it, but also learn from mistakes without allowing them to cripple you.  As an editor, you have to try and figure out what it is that you specifically bring to a book and its author, something that makes it feel necessary that you must publish that book, that author.  There are a lot of books I admire and read for pleasure, that I don't feel I had to have published myself.  Of course there are also a lot of books I wish I had published!  But what I look for now is that book or book idea or author with whom I feel:  we are the perfect team.

How are you navigating through publishing's changes?  When I left my last corporate job at Rodale, because of a change in administration that left me feeling pushed out, it was painful.  I'd thought I'd found my niche, and suddenly it was gone.  My first impulse was to jump right back in to another corporate job, but I couldn't really think of a company I really wanted to work for.  Also, through my work with Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth, as well as through some introductions made for me through another author and friend, co-author of The Intellectual Devotional, David Kidder, I'd started to get to know people in the tech fields, thought leaders who were thinking about book publishing from entirely new points of view.  Among those were Eileen Gittins, CEO of Blurb, who suggested that I use the period to consult for her start-up, and to learn about the new technologies that would be shaping the future of book publishing.  

I also sought the advice of Peter Osnos, who urged something similar.  So rather than taking another book publishing staff job or becoming an agent, I decided to go out on my own for awhile, with Blurb as my first client.  It has been an exhilarating, enlightening, frightening, humbling, but ultimately a liberating ride so far, but I feel I have found the right path for me.  I have learned about print-on-demand and the joys of self-publishing; helped conceive of new book publishing business models and helped authors execute them; have learned about e and enhanced e technologies; have studied the internal processes of publishing from a more objective standpoint; and have gotten to know my own worth not via because I hold a corporate position but because I have earned the title "editor."

What do you love most about book publishing?  What I've come to realize is that what I like least is the "glamour" and clubbiness of it. What I love about it is the sense of discovery one feels in finding a great new project; that feeling you get when you feel it's all coming together; and the connection with the authors, which is what keeps me going.

What advice do you have for authors seeking to get published? I would say that it is not one size fits all, and it doesn't have to be anymore.  Some authors will get dream contracts from the house of their choosing.  But most will have to struggle to find an agent, to find a publisher, to sell copies, to get coverage.  Not every book deserves a publishing contract or an audience.  But if you have done your homework and truly believe that what you have is something special, do what you have to do to get your ideas out there, to build a platform and audience, and if it's meant to be, the publishing piece of it will come, whether via self-published e or print book, or a more traditional deal.  Anything is possible now.

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do? I would: empower and incentivize editors by giving them the power and authority to make their own acquisitions and be held accountable to their list's bottom line and have a piece of the back end; I would create a business that is more like a partnership with the authors, both in terms of profit share and the publishing process; I would wish for more independent, boutique publishing operations, companies that are not part of massive (and mostly non-American) corporations.

Embracing My OCD

I’m not quite sure when this habit started, but I am well aware that every time I get a cup of coffee I have to line up the lid with the little hole to rest exactly above the woman’s head in the Starbuck’s logo.  It may be a year or more that I’ve been doing this.  I realize I can’t stop.

Until the other day.

I went and got my tall skim mocha, light-on-the-whip, extra-hot, overpriced coffee at the Starbucks closest to my office (two other locations got beat by maybe a hundred yards each) and as I picked up my drink and readied myself to adjust the lid, as I had done hundreds of times before, I realized that the lid and logo were in perfect alignment. At first I was going to convince myself it was off by a sixteenth of an inch and tinker with it but then I realized that sometimes I don’t have to control everything.  I let it be.

Could this be a new approach to life, to let fate take its course and where I no longer feel obligated to mess with the cup I’m handed?  Isn’t it a relief to not have to check it, adjust it, and check it again?

That lasted all of one day.  This morning the lid wasn’t even close to being aligned.  I reflexively fixed it.  Yesterday’s rare reprieve was nice but I feel so much better with my coffee OCD.

I also wonder why, after maybe 400 cups of coffee, did I only get served one cup that was perfectly aligned while the other 399 came out off kilter.  Wouldn’t the odds be that the lid hole to logo would line up more often?  So much for random justice. Maybe I need my Starbucks bartenders to be a little more OCD and line my lid to the logo more often.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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