01.01.70 | John Blake
Ask people to name a truly iconic publisher—and I think many would come up with the name of Peter Mayer.
His rise from runner at the New York Times, to two decades brilliantly creating the modern Penguin Group, to his fabulous career at Overlook Press in New York and Duckworth in London, is the stuff of legend. I was thrilled, honoured and (to be honest) slightly terrified, therefore, when he first bought US rights to our biography of Lady Gaga by Emily Herbert, then announced he was flying into London and would like to meet.
“He’s a genius, he speaks six languages, you won’t have a clue what he is talking about,” friends warned me. Thanks. Anyway, he shambled into Sheeky’s restaurant, looking a little like Keith Richards’ younger brother, then proceeded to charm and amaze me for a couple of hours.
Despite his own very considerable contribution to serious literature, Peter appeared fascinated by the success of our fast turnround books (he brought a copy of his edition of Lady Gaga with him, less than a month after buying rights, which is entirely unprecedented in the slow-motion world of US publishing). He talked about his success with a high-speed Susan Boyle book, of how he brought sudoku to the US, and of the new outlets and sales opportunities for selling books in the UK and the US.
While all of us who love books are saddened to see wonderful independent shops, and chains such as Borders, going under we have to deal with the new world order, or go out of business. And, though Peter has already chugged effortlessly past his 70th birthday, he is still exhilarated and excited by the challenges we now face.
Reflecting, afterwards, it came to me that book publishers, with a passion for what they do, seem to have discovered the secret of remaining forever young. In Fleet Street, where I worked in another lifetime, youth is everything. William Lewis, the editor of the Telegraph, is 39. Dominic Mohan, the latest editor of the Sun, is all of 40.
Meanwhile, in the world of literature, Ernest Hecht at Souvenir Press continues to publish wonderful, original titles (and to tell very funny stories) even though he has swung effortlessly past his 80th birthday. Naim Atallah, at Quartet, is 78 but still has the enthusiasm of a teenager. Even Ed Victor, that doyen of agents has, unbelievably, reached 70.
Despite all the new challenges, the magic of constantly dealing with wonderful new stories and ideas seems to be the best tonic in the world. Aren’t we lucky?