A New Publishing Imprint at Macmillan, From Two Hitmakers

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Over the last three-plus decades, the publishing industry veterans Jamie Raab and Deb Futter have each delivered a string of splash hits, ranging from commercial blockbusters by novelists like Nicholas Sparks, Nelson DeMille and Scott Turow, to zeitgeisty nonfiction books by Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Al Franken and Amy Sedaris.

So many in the publishing world were stunned last December by the news that Ms. Raab and Ms. Futter were both leaving Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette. Ms. Raab, 63, who was Grand Central’s president and publisher, had spent more than 30 years with the company, around 18 years as the imprint’s publisher. Ms. Futter, 58, was the vice president and editor in chief of Grand Central and the publisher of the imprint Twelve Books.

When they left, neither had another position lined up, and some wondered if they might be abandoning the industry altogether.

It turns out they were simply taking a break. Now the two are reuniting and founding a new publishing division, Celadon Books, at Macmillan, a global publishing company.

“I like the business too much,” said Ms. Raab, who will be Celadon’s president and publisher. “I still have a lot to give.”

At Celadon, Ms. Raab and Ms. Futter, who will be the division’s senior vice president and co-publisher, plan to publish a relatively small list of 20 to 25 titles a year, which will include fiction and nonfiction. (At Grand Central, Ms. Raab oversaw the publication of around 250 titles a year, she said.) Ms. Raab says she plans to steer clear of certain nonfiction genres, particularly self-help and celebrity books, “unless that celebrity has something to say and it’s not just another way to extend their brand.” She’s especially eager to find idea-driven narratives and nonfiction books, and works about politics.

Ms. Futter said she wants to publish novels that straddle the line between commercial and literary, and cited Noah Hawley’s thriller “Before the Fall” as an example.

Their reunion, like their overlapping departures, is something of a happy coincidence (their contracts expired at the same time, they said). Both women said they had grown weary of the bureaucratic headaches that come with managing a large publishing operation, and wanted to focus more on acquiring and editing books.

The creation of Celadon comes at a moment of growth for Macmillan, one of the top five trade publishing companies in the United States, which includes divisions such as Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Henry Holt & Company; and St. Martin’s Press. In recent years, the company has been expanding its publishing programs, particularly in science fiction and fantasy and young adult, and has started a handful of new imprints, among them MCD/FSG, an experimental imprint at FSG; Wednesday Books, a crossover Y.A. imprint at St. Martin’s, and All Points Books, Adam Bellow’s new political imprint at St. Martin’s.

Starting a new publishing division from scratch could prove challenging, particularly at a time of stagnation within the industry. Print sales have stabilized, but the book market is hardly booming. Unit sales for print books rose 3 percent in the first half of 2017 compared with the previous year, according to NPD BookScan. But adult fiction sales barely budged, growing less than 1 percent, while children’s fiction grew by 5 percent.

Celadon’s fairly broad territory of adult fiction and nonfiction, which overlaps with other imprints at the company, and its small list might make it difficult to distinguish itself and produce a breakout hit.

“I’m really aware that starting a new division is risky,” Ms. Raab said.

The upside of the risk, Ms. Raab said, is being able to make her mark on something new.

Ms. Raab and Ms. Futter will join Macmillan in September.

“I’ve worked for 35 years in this business,” Ms. Futter said. “I hope this is my last gig.”