In his first book (co-authored by journalist Dori Jones Yang), Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz admonished: “Don’t be threatened by people smarter than you.”

(Full disclosure: I represented the book as literary agent.)

Howard went on: “There’s a common mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make. They own the idea, and they have the passion to pursue it. But they can’t possibly possess all the skills needed to make the idea actually happen. Reluctant to delegate, they surround themselves with faithful aides. They’re afraid to bring in truly smart, successful individuals as high-level managers.

“But an intelligent executive team is vital for a company to prosper. Strong, creative people are a lot more stimulating to be around than yes-men. What can you learn from those who know less than you? They may massage your ego for a while and take orders easily, but they won’t help you grow.”

These words don’t all apply to what I’m doing with Verbitrage. I’m not shaping a management team, for example, in order to grow a giant company. But in their essence they speak to the main reason why I have chosen to put together an advisory board for Verbitrage.

Although in some sense I’m a sole proprietor, I don’t know everything, I can’t know everything, and I don’t have the time to accumulate all the personal experience I need to publish Primacy successfully on my own.

We authors tend to want to fly solo. We sit down at our desks every day and it’s just us and the page. We invent whole worlds, play god, conjure people out of the ether, and sometimes kill them. In this role, we’re often most comfortable in our own heads.

But publishing, for better or worse, means reaching out for connections in the material world. Also, if I’m going to have any time left for writing I’ll need some shortcuts on the ever-squigglier learning curve. I have gathered this team of advisors for what they know and what they can teach me. Some are publishing hands, in one way or another. Others are innovators. All of them are super-smart, and I’m grateful for every moment of their time. Let’s meet them:

Paul Bresnick

Paul established and runs an eponymous boutique literary agency. Prior to that he was Publisher at LiveReads, an enhanced e-book publisher. He has also worked as Fiction Editor at Penthouse magazine, Associate Editor at Simon & Schuster, Editor at Henry Holt, Senior Editor at Doubleday, and Executive Editor at William Morrow. At Penthouse, he published fiction by a distinguished group of writers including Philip Roth, James Baldwin, John Hawkes, James Purdy, T.C. Boyle, Don DeLillo, and others. At Simon & Schuster and Holt, he edited such major bestsellers as The Second Stage by Betty Friedan and Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White. At Doubleday, Paul originated and published Fatherhood by Bill Cosby, which became a publishing phenomenon, selling over three million copies in hardcover. His other bestsellers at Doubleday included Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess by James Spada, Separated at Birth? by the editors of Spy magazine, Drive by Larry Bird, and On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates. Some highlights at Morrow: Model by Michael Gross, Black Profiles in Courage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jackie After Jack by Christopher Andersen, King Con by Stephen J. Cannell, Hit Man by Lawrence Block, and Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund.  He now represents a wide range of authors, including John Leland, R.J. Smith, Ellis Weiner, Terry McDermott, Jack Pendarvis, Charles Rappleye, Steven Kotler, and yours truly, J.E. Fishman.

Verbitrage takeaway: a publishing veteran to advise on all aspects of book rights exploitation.

Whitney Cookman

As a New York publishing professional for over 30 years, Whitney has worked with an endlessly diverse group of authors, from John Grisham to Barack Obama. He has held creative officer positions at Bantam Books, Doubleday and Random House, Inc.  Leading creative teams for most of his career, Whitney has worked in the cover art and graphic design fields, as well as in the marketing and advertising & promotion areas.  A graduate of the State University of New York with a fine arts degree, he has also attended the Wharton School for leadership and organizational training and has lectured at the School of Visual Arts in New York.  A painter and printmaker (by nature if not by livelihood), Whitney has been represented by galleries in the Delaware river valley of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and has shown at the Trenton City Museum, where he was awarded Best in Show for printmaking.

Verbitrage takeaway: a consummate visual communicator.

Patrick LoBrutto

Pat has been an editor, author and anthologist for over 30 years. He has worked for Ace Books, Doubleday, M. Evans, Random House, Kensington, Stealth Press (an Internet publisher) and Bantam. He has held the position of Editor, Senior Editor and Editor-in-Chief, working with authors like Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Eric Van Lustbader, Walter Tevis (author of The Hustler and The Color of Money), the Louis L’Amour Estate, the Star Wars novelizations, Don Coldsmith, F. Paul Wilson, Joe R. Lansdale, the Dune novels, and Loren Estleman. He has received the World Fantasy Award for editing. Pat lectures at writer’s conferences and works as an Editorial Consultant and Master Class Instructor for authors, an Acquiring Editor for Tor/Forge and Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, and as a scout for the Trident Media Group. He is on the National Advisory Board of the Writer’s Hall of Fame of America and the Board of Advisors of Literate Nation Atlanta.

Verbitrage takeaway: best-in-class editorial talent and connections.

Jeffrey Morris

A graduate of Princeton University, Jeff worked for two years in systems consulting at Arthur Andersen before attending Harvard Business School.  After HBS, he joined a friend’s family’s start-up software development and audiovisual production company as Marketing Director.   In 1989 he and his wife, Janet, founded Insight Media, a producer and world-wide distributor of video programs for higher and secondary education.  The company, based in New York, distributes 14,000 titles covering topics in the social sciences, arts, humanities, health care, and vocational training.  While continuing with a strong direct mail marketing program, Insight Media is in the process of transitioning from hard copy distribution to digital delivery.

Verbitrage takeaway: an expert on marketing media products using direct mail techniques.

Mary Ann Naples

Mary Ann is Vice-President of Development for OpenSky, a social shopping platform that connects products endorsed by authors, experts, and media personalities with their audiences.  These products include books and related merchandise. Mary Ann was co-founder of The Creative Culture, Inc., a boutique literary agency known for its emphasis on lifestyle books and strong, branded nonfiction. She and her agency represented many bestselling authors, including Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Danica McKellar, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Lauren Conrad.  Prior to becoming an agent, Mary Ann worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster, Hyperion, and Doubleday.

Verbitrage takeaway: an innovator finding new ways to leverage author goodwill.

Christopher Saridakis

Chris stands near the pinnacle of e-commerce and Internet marketing. He has been Director of New Products and Business Development for Enterprise Solutions at Reuters America, Senior Vice President of Tech Solutions at Internet advertising company DoubleClick (now owned by Google), founder of Internet advertising company PointRoll (now owned by Gannett), and Chief Digital Officer of Gannett, the newspaper publisher. He is currently CEO of the Interactive Marketing Services division of GSI commerce, an e-commerce company and marketer, which is slated to be purchased by eBay later this year.

Verbitrage takeaway: Information Age marketing disruptor par excellence.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to draw upon these people’s insights and talents as I build Verbitrage and bring Primacy to market. Their willingness to share advice and lend their names to the enterprise also validate my assertion that Verbitrage is poised to innovate.

When I rise in the morning and prepare to push my work up that steep and treacherous hill, it helps a lot to know that people of this caliber have my back.

Last Week: Publishing Primacy — Folio 5: Six Distinctions Between Verbitrage and Self-Publishing

Next week: Publishing Primacy — Folio 7: Seven Pitfalls of Micropublishing

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J.E. Fishman, a former Big Six book editor and former literary agent, is author of the thriller Primacy, which Publishers Weekly called "appealing" and Kirkus called "good, boisterous fun." His mystery novel, Cadaver Blues, was serialized in 2010 on TNB and you can still find it here if you dig deep enough. It's now available in ebook and paperback. His financial thriller, The Dark Pool, was published this year, and his new series of police thrillers, Bomb Squad NYC, will be published in February 2014. He blogs here and at the Huffington Post. Please visit and follow him at his very fancy and expensive official author website.

12 responses to “Publishing Primacy — Folio 6: People Smarter Than Me

  1. Wow. You sure have a team of heavy hitters behind your back. I am sure Primary will be hitting every bookstore and e-mails in the world. I wish I have your team building skill. Will continue to read your helpful articles!

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      I wish you were right about hitting every email in the world, but I fear it will still be a slog. There’s no magic sauce. But I am indeed lucky to have advice from these people.

  2. Wow, this sounds like the X-Men of Book Publishing! I guess that makes you the Professor X of the lit world. Looking forward to following the adventures of Verbitrage!

  3. Jessica Blau says:

    Great post, J.E. And I love Mr. Starbucks advice.

    Also, wonderful to meet you in person the other night!

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Yes, wish we had more opportunity to talk. The music was good but distracting. I look forward to reading your book soon.

  4. Art Edwards says:

    Could you loan me a few of those folks?

    Viva, Verbitrage!


  5. Paul Clayton says:

    Wow! Sounds like you’re covereing all the bases, Joel. I can’t wait for this thing to take off. BTW, I just noticed you lived in Chadds Ford. When I was in HS we had a friend out there. He used to take us for rides in his daddy’s GTO on those roller coaster roads. I can still feel the butterflies. Beautiful horse country. Best!

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