Robert B. Wyatt's Story Till Now
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A Wyatt Book, Inc. is back; its return posed some of the basic questions once taught in journalism schools:

What? See the first clause in the above sentence.
Who? Robert B. Wyatt
Where? New York City and Woodstock, NY
When? December 31, 2009 and January 1, 2010
Why? The answers lie in the paragraphs below.
How? Print-on-demand via Ingram’s Lightning Source production and distribution facilities

When Robert B.Wyatt left the first incarnation of A Wyatt Book Inc at St. Martin’s Press in New York City on Halloween, 1997, he had no particular intention of employing his imprint elsewhere again. It had served him well at St. Martin’s, and he had little interest in dealing again with the Hearsts, Random Houses, and Holtzbrincks with whom he had worked over several decades.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, the abundant pleasures of the book business were leaking away. It was no longer fun to engage in the primary elements of bookmaking: writing, acquisition, editing, format presentation, manufacture, distribution, exploitation, and most important: reading. For many people, making books was only a job, no longer a life.

For a period, Wyatt wandered in that landscape until he revived the imprint again in 2002 with the celebrated Woodstock, NY, bookstore, The Golden Notebook. The thrill was back with publication of Janice King’s poetry collection, TAKING WING as A Wyatt Book for Golden Notebook Press. The endeavor reminded him that the pleasures of poetry nearly always override the truth that poetry publication is a rotten business model; the participants probably agree they’d do it again in a flash.

A couple of years later Wyatt was given ample opportunity to consider the state of his profession; a close encounter with a moving truck left him lying in the street in front of his apartment building near Manhattan’s Union Square. A summer in hospital and rehab facilities with a couple of surgical interventions gave him plenty of time to think about book publishing. He discovered that with a pencil, paper, a telephone, and a computer, one could still do book work. It was not necessary to take lunch or drinks at old New York City publishing hangouts, such as the Italian Pavilion, later transformed into a publishing hangout as Michael’s. Hospital food, however, was quite different from the 55th Street fare.

Wyatt’s telephone and computer communications took him back to Australia, which he often visited and where he had many publishing friends. An early call brought him back in contact with Adelaide’s Anne Bartlett, who had written a novel about knitting and the miracles of recovery from tragedy. It was agreed that he would help her editorially and find for her an agent or publisher. Through Wyatt, agent Joy Harris sold the novel for a significant sum, first to a publisher in the United States and later to one in Australia. Similar arrangements were made for other authors. Publication of a first novel, PASSAROLA RISING, by Melbourne’s Azhar Abidi was next. This was followed by another novel, THE STORY OF A WIDOW, by Abidi’s fellow Pakistani, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, a Toronto resident, celebrated for his recent translations from the Urdu. Further internet communications brought to Wyatt’s attention a young Mumbai critic and novelist, Chandrahas Choudhury, whose ARZEE THE DWARF was recently published in India. The last three authors’ publications were made in association with Wyatt’s longtime agent pal and a noted translator, Thomas Colchie.

This most recent incarnation of publishing interests seemed a logical extension of the dreams he had harbored in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, where he grew up and read and read and read. The reading continued in Tulsa, where he worked his way through the University of Tulsa as football contest judge, copyboy, obit writer, and weather reporter for The Tulsa Daily World and wrote a column “Arts Not so Fine”,for the TU campus newspaper. For the former, he wrote reviews of hardcover books and for the latter he covered new paperbacks. During his senior year at TU, he decided he wanted to go where books were made, New York City, and wrote many letters to book publishers, innocently asking how he might find employment in the industry. There were many responses, but the most important came from the late John Tebbel, an historian of book publishing, who at the time was involved in the New York University Graduate Institute of Book Publishing to which Wyatt applied. The Institute folded that spring, but Tebbel encouraged him to come to New York, anyway, and promised to get him “some kind of job” involving books. He made true his promise and Wyatt obtained a job as a clerk at the flagship store of the Doubleday Book Shop chain at 724 Fifth Avenue, where Prada now is located. Scribners and Brentanos and other Doubleday shops were located down the avenue and spread among them were book publishers: Viking, Bobbs-Merrill, Doubleday, Dell—book Heaven.

Later Wyatt was quoted, saying that you couldn’t do a good job as a book publisher unless you had sold books. His observations on his early days appeared in an article (American Bookseller, October 1993, reprinted in MY FIRST YEAR IN BOOK PUBLISHING; Walker, 1994; included in this website).

He worked in the shop, rising to the position of manager of the paperback department. This was at a time when many bookstores would not stock “mass paperbacks.” Scribners deigned to carry their own drab trade paperback line, but certainly not the likes of the stuff Wyatt peddled up north—the best along with the worst: Ian Fleming, Iris Murdoch, Mickey Spillane, Gerald and Lawrence Durrell, Robert Heinlein, Kathleen Windsor, Mary McCarthy, John Hawkes, Alastair McLean, Max Frisch, Peg Bracken, Herman Hesse, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Vladimir Nabokov.

Ad executives and area book publishers reeled in from their multi-martini lunches and scouted Wyatt’s turf for trends. A privately printed paperback, THE DRINKING MAN’S DIET ran out of stock on nearly every business day. It sold for a buck and fit nicely into any gray flannel suit pocket. Even Phyllis Schlafly’s screeds were given shelf space. There was no such thing as political correctness in the back area of the big shop, where Wyatt ran things.

One of the customers was Peter Mayer, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Avon Books, which under the Hearst Corporation was slowly evolving from a pulpy past into a more literary business. Wyatt innocently attempted to sell Mayer a new book, a survey of new writing, and to his embarrassment discovered that the editor-in-chief had edited and published the book. Later, shame turned to triumph when Mayer offered Wyatt an editorial position at Avon.

Wyatt’s Avon years in the eighties have been regarded by publishing historians as among the most fruitful in original American publishing, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that Avon had no traditional means of hardcover exploitation and issued most of its books in mass market formats.

This explosion in original paperback publishing was no doubt prompted by Mayer’s re-publication of Henry Roth’s CALL IT SLEEP, a lost classic of the thirties, which was issued with the devotion given only to hardcover publications of the time. It led to the launching of many literary and commercial works in paperback formats. Equally important was the dramatic revival of romantic fiction, nurtured by Nancy Coffey with the assistance of Avon’s brilliant art director, Barbara Bertoli. The two created a publishing format early on with the novels of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers that has become a standard for the most successful fiction of recent decades.

Everyday at Avon was an adventure.

There was other work to be done. During this period, Wyatt was the founding editor of one of America's first juvenile mass market paperback lines, Camelot Books. It was his work on this line that prompted Dell Publishing Company to hire him in 1969 for its juvenile division. For Yearling he reprinted some of the most important juvenile fiction of the late 1960s. In his hardcover work, he introduced the sports novels of R.R. Knudsen and young adult titles by Norma and Harry Mazer. Many of the titles remain as important backlist titles at Dell/Delacorte.

After a two-year stint at Dell, Wyatt returned to Avon where he began original paperback publishing in earnest. This productive period saw the rise of serious, commercial work in mass market and the newly popular trade paperback formats.

He was the first or one of the early editors of such American writers as Russell Banks, William Kotzwinkle, Robert R. McCammon, Gregory Mcdonald, Marianne Wiggins, David Plante, Michael McDowell, Linda Barnes, and Tom Disch. From England came works by Angela Carter, Sylvia Townsend Warner, David Mairowitz, Maureen Duffy, and the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

For a period, employing the Bard imprint, he was America's pre-eminent trade publisher of plays in individual volumes and collections. They included the works of Christopher Durang, Israel Horovitz, Albert Innaurato, Ronald Ribman, and David Henry Hwang, as well as ground-breaking volumes of plays by American women, a Black anthology, and William Hoffman's gay play collection. A mass market imprint had never been employed for a line of contemporary theater works before or since.

For the first time in paperback history, gay related titles were gathered as a theme for promotion. There were few books about homosexuality in print in any format at the time. These titles, published as part of the general Avon list, ranged from the avowedly commercial works of Gordon Merrick to the comic fiction and poetry of Paul Monette. Several of the books issued as original paperbacks then are now considered classic works of homosexual literature.

Although Wyatt issued a large number of translated works from Europe, he is best known for his work from Spanish and Portuguese South America. He is generally regarded as an important figure of "El Boom," the explosion of interest in South American literature in the early eighties. It was this aspect of his work for the Bard imprint that attracted the judges for the Carey-Thomas Award. This list included the original publication of translations of works by Reinaldo Arenas, Ivan Ângelo, Márcio Souza, Rachel de Queiroz, Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Jorge Ibargűengoitia, Roberto Athayde, and Jorge Amado.

Times changed. Paperbacks became the primary reading format and sold quickly by the millions, making possible the payment of large amounts for publication rights. And sometimes the amounts were too large. As editorial director, Wyatt had sponsored the publication of such runaway bestsellers as THE THORNBIRDS and YOUR ERRONEOUS ZONES, but other dearly purchased books did not return their investment. In the midst of such turmoil, someone had to go; Wyatt was chosen.

His shock was cushioned by calls from the folks at Random House Inc. Random’s chairman, Robert Bernstein, said to him: “I’m going to tell you what Bennett Cerf said to me when I was out on the road for Simon & Schuster: ‘You’re coming to Random House whether you want to or not.’” After a drive around the perimeter of the United States, Wyatt went to work at Random House.

With Wyatt’s move to Random House, as editor-at-large for the corporation and subsequently as editor-in-chief of Ballantine's mass market operation, he was nominally responsible for the mass market editorial operation, but also contributed titles, later to be reprinted as Ballantine paperbacks, to the sister companies of Random House Inc. He also set up the controversial Available Press.

The notion behind Available Press was one that had prevailed throughout Wyatt's career: to produce attractive serious reading at affordable prices. To achieve this goal he sought printers who could give him better rates for down, or "available" time. Jackets with no more than two or three colors and pickup art were used. One jacket included a sales person's footprint, another paw/claw prints of staff pets. No funds were needed for Available Press stationary because Wyatt made his own by impressing rubber stamps of the logo on the regular Ballantine issue. A Southern printer, however, did take heart and sent the Available Press a carton of Available mailing materials of his own making. The format and distribution changed over the years, but the prices were always kept below the competition of trade paperbacks and sometimes were less expensive than mass market books.

In the seven years of its existence, the Available Press issued seventy-five titles in an astonishing array of first fiction, poetry, plays, illustrated novels, rap prose, picture books, and serious non-fiction. A few of the names to appear on original paperbacks editions included Pat Barker, Janwillem van de Wetering, William Bernhardt, Patric Kuh, Michael Upchurch, Rosario Ferré, Derek Raymond, Henry Van Dyke, William Heyen, Jonathan Strong, Fanny Howe, Phillipe Labro, William Heyen, David Handler, David Suter, Sabrina Murray, and Jesse Green.

His work with South American writing continued with translations of works by Ernesto Sábato, Moacyr Scliar, Elvira Orphée, and Oswaldo França, Júnior.

Newsday declared, "Available Press has turned into one of those logos that can be relied upon as a source of innovative entertainment."

In addition to his small-press-within-a-large-house and mass market obligations, Wyatt also edited and acquired many hardcover and regular trade paperbacks for the larger corporation. Some of these included Paul Rudnick, Richard North Patterson, Armando Valladares, Peter Ackroyd, and Mark Childress for Knopf; Bryce Courtenay for Random House; Rafael Yglesias, Moacyr Scliar, and Richard Tarnas for Crown; Jon Hassler, Ernesto Sábato, Sarah Smith, Steve Szilagi, Gail Godwin, Katherine Neville, William Kinsella, and Charles Palliser for Ballantine hardcover; and Anne Rice and Michele Slung for original Ballantine trade paperback editions.

In May 1991 Wyatt walked out on Ballantine and Random House, disputing the corporation's "mass marketing" of its entire line, as well as its "ghettoizing" of writers, publishing by racial imprint.

During the next year Wyatt contemplated how he might work profitably and happily in the changing book industry. Old friends, the agents, Nat Sobel and Judith Weber, suggested he set up his own imprint in view of his many years of experience in the industry. Wyatt’s proposal was widely rejected until Thomas McCormack, as much an individualist as Wyatt, approached him and invited him to come to St. Martin’s Press. In May, l992, he signed with St. Martin's to form the new imprint, A Wyatt Book for St. Martin's Press.

Wyatt hedged his bets at St. Martin's with significant subsidiary income; the total of these foreign, club, audio, and reprint deals nearly equaled his expenditures on advances--an unusual way of operating in publishing houses, where books are purchased for increasingly larger amounts of money with fewer guarantees of income apart from trade sales. The four years of the imprint were much aided by this backup—masterminded by the St. Martin’s subsidiary rights team--because the book industry was becoming less predictable and unprofitable.

TULLY, the first Wyatt book and first novel by Paullina Simons, was an immediate success. It was sold to nine foreign countries, the Book-of-the-Month Club, Quality Paperback Book Club and audio, and was taken for the St. Martin's mass paperback line. Simons's novels are now international bestsellers.

THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant, the last Wyatt Book for St. Martin's, was published in November 1997. It is one of the most commercially successful books in publishing history. Published in nearly twenty languages, it graced English language bestseller lists for several years. Two and a half million copies of the North American paperback are in print.

More than fifty Wyatt books were issued in the four years between publications of TULLY and THE RED TENT. Some titles have had as many as fourteen foreign sales. Seven were sold to the films. A large number were book club, large type, and audio selections. Many titles received starred early trade reviews, indicating books of merit and particular interest to the trade; glowing critical response, and significant off-book page coverage.

It is forty-seven years since Robert B. Wyatt got off the bus at the Port Authority Terminal and moved into the decrepit and long-gone Hotel Broadway Central the weekend of the inauguration of the first building at Lincoln Center.

Lincoln Center is rebuilding its site; Bob Wyatt is doing so also.

In the midst of book publishing a decade or so ago, he would have frowned upon anyone who published his own work and would have been surprised that he would do so himself. That was a different time for book publication. Now, book publishing is inching its way toward being the joyous enterprise it once was: there are new ways of doing it.

In 2009 Wyatt wrote a novel and a novella for publication under the imprint of A Wyatt Book, Inc. JAM & THE BOX is a novel about a Catskill village bookseller and THE FLUFFYS & THE BOX is a companion novella, telling the same story from the point of view of two cats. Jam’s book was published on the last day of 2009 and the Fluffys’s on the first day of 2010—out with the old, in with the new. Printing and distribution is by Ingram Book Company’s Lightning Source.

Since then, he was named the Grand Prize Winner of the "Share the Love" short story contest of New York City's legendary Strand Book Store.

It can be read at http://www.strandbooks.com/share-the-love-2011

He currently is working on a novel about movies, entitled HER LAST DANCE for 2011 publication.

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