Robert B. Wyatt's Story Till Now
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NYC Publisher Turned Bookstore Employee and Self-Published Author

By Jason Boog

Tonight former publishing executive Robert Wyatt concludes his stint as a bookstore employee, rediscovering the book business from the ground up at The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, New York.

Over his long career, Wyatt served as editorial director at Avon Books, EIC of the mass market division at Ballantine Books, editorial director Delacorte Books for Young Readers, and helmed the eponymous imprint A Wyatt Book at St. Martin's Press. Most recently he self-published two books under the name of his old imprint: "Jam & the Box" and "The Fluffys & the Box." Following his bookstore stint, he told GalleyCat he will "begin new commentary on the making of my books, as well as associated book publishing thoughts" on his blog.

Here's an excerpt from his blog about the experience: "A gentleman asked if we had a book on fishing for his son-in-law; Darrell found just the right book that could fit in a pocket or creel. It was about fishes of the Catskills and the entire book was waterproof. Later a customer asked what we had on gems. Back in the gems and mushroom section (don't ask; they are both products of nature) Barry found just the right over-size book, a perfect gift. The village idiot can find a novel if it is in stock, but it takes special skills, primarily found in smaller stores, to find a special edition in a special field."

(Galley Cat, Dec 24, 2009)


 

Former Publisher Takes to Writing, DIY Style
By Rachel Deahl

It's precisely because Robert Wyatt knows the in's and out's of corporate publishing that he's decided to go it alone with his latest venture in the business. Wyatt, who worked for a number of big houses during his lengthy tenure in publishing, retired in 1997, after overseeing an eponymous imprint at St. Martin's Press for five years.

Wyatt was briefly brought back into the business in 2002. That year he co-published, under the revived named of his SMP imprint A. Wyatt Book, the poetry title Taking Wing with his local Woodstock, NY, bookstore The Golden Notebook. Wyatt has since been spending his time writing ... and independent bookselling.

The former publisher has written two books, Jam & the Box and The Fluffys & the Box, which tell the same tragicomic tale, of a Hudson Valley bookseller who wakes up one day to find his wife has died in her sleep, from two different perspectives. (The latter, a novella, recounts the story from the point of view of the dead wife's cat.) Wyatt is self-publishing the books through Lightning Source—the loose "pub dates" for the titles are, respectively, December 31 and January 1, 2010—and is planning to hand sell the books at The Golden Notebook, where he's been working as a volunteer salesman.

Wyatt, who's been blogging about his bookselling and other experiences at www.wyattbook.com, is launching a more elaborate Web site in the near future, and is hoping to generate word of mouth about his books virally.

(Publishers Weekly, Dec 21, 2009)


 

From Shelf-Awareness (December 21, 2009)

Publishing veteran Robert B. Wyatt's distinguished career included work as an editorial director at Avon Books and Delacorte Books for Young Readers, editor-in-chief of the mass market division of Ballantine Books, as well as the establishment of his own imprint for St. Martin’s Press during the 1990s. Now he has revived A Wyatt Book Inc. to self-publish a pair of hiw own bookseller-themed works of fiction, Jam & the Box and The Fluffys & the Box, through Ingram's Lightning Source POD program.

Wyatt, who has also been volunteering recently at the Golden Notebook bookstore, Woodstock, N.Y., is chronicling his bookish adventures, past and present, on the Bob & the Boxes website.

Describing his new venture in third person, Wyatt wrote: "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 ... Wyatt is having fun working on a book from its first word: 'Jamison,' to its last—and best—word: 'happiness.'"

"I just want to have a good time making books one way or another," he told the Woodstock Times.


 

A Novel Approach: Woodstock Editor Finds His Own Niche Because Publishing Should Be Fun
By Andrea Barrist Stern (Woodstock Times: Dec 17, 2009)

In Woodstock, where your waiter and carpenter are as likely to have graduate degrees as not and everyone is an expert on something, this phenomenon has now been taken to a new extreme. Robert Wyatt, the former editorial director at Avon Books and Delacorte Books for Young Readers, the onetime editor-in-chief of the mass market division of Ballantine Books and, and a prominent enough member of the publishing industry to have had his own imprint at St. Martin's Press, is working as a bookseller at The Golden Notebook. Oh, and he's not even getting paid.

After retiring from "publishing proper" a little over a decade ago, Wyatt has been working as a self-described "meddler" between writers, agents and publishers, shepherding projects to the point where they are ready to be sold. But, after a 47-year interval, he says he has returned to bookselling several days a week during the holiday season because his early years in the publishing business, as a bookseller at the Doubleday Book Store in Manhattan from 1962 to 1964, were among the happiest in his life.

"I'm a novelty act," says Wyatt, 69, of his new day job that is, well, hardly his day job. He had considered volunteering at The Golden Notebook for some time but concedes, "Now, I have an excuse."

Wyatt has been selling other people's books in one way or another since graduating from the University of Tulsa in 1962 but now the veteran book editor has written his own self-published novel, Jam & the Box. A companion novella, The Fluffys & the Box, retells the story of the novel from the point of view of two of its characters, a pair of cats, known simply as "The Fluffys."



A Wyatt Book

On a recent bleak winter day, Wyatt stood out in the store in a bright red sweater and a tie, which he considers "somehow appropriate for a recidivist bookseller." He acknowledged he was likely the only Woodstock resident wearing a tie in town that day.

Earlier, during an interview at his home, there was no mistaking his passions. The walls of his spacious home are lined with bookshelves that hold some 20,000 volumes as well as 2,000 films in various formats. (He has another 1,000 or so books at his New York City apartment.)

"No, I haven't seen them all and I haven't read them all because it's a library," he says of the collection, whose fiction is precisely organized in alphabetical order and whose non-fiction is grouped by category. (Mountains of books that refuse to be categorized are stacked in the attic.) In one of the few spaces without bookshelves, wooden letters affixed to the wall spell out a quote from the French poet and critic St←phane Mallarm←, "The world exists to end in a book."

"I just want to have a good time making books one way or another," says Wyatt, who published his novel and novella under the imprint he started at St. Martin's Press in the early 1990s: A Wyatt Book. His novel and novella are in good company. More than 50 books have been published under his imprint, some of which have had multiple foreign sales and were sold as films. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, his last book for A Wyatt Book at St. Martin's Press, has become one of the most commercially successful books in publishing history since its issue in 1997. Two and a half million copies of the North American paperback are in print. In 2002, he published former Golden Notebook bookseller and poet Janice King's poetry collection, Taking Wing, as A Wyatt Book for Golden Notebook Press.

Wyatt left St. Martin's in 1997, when the major publishing houses were becoming parts of large conglomerates. 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," he recalls. "For many people, making books was only a job, no longer a life."

Wyatt grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, where residents in the state's northeast corner pronounce their city of 13,000 as "Mee-amuh." The son of a school teacher and a sign painter, he developed a work ethic early. During college, he wrote for the Tulsa Daily World, where his beats included obits and the weather and he "prayed for a significant death or tornado" so he could get a front-page byline.

In his senior year of college, Wyatt knew decided he wanted to go where books were made: New York City. He innocently wrote to numerous publishers, asking how he might get started in the industry. The late John Tebbel, a historian of book publishing who was, at the time, involved in the New York University Graduate Institute of Book Publishing, responded, encouraging him to come east. The institute folded but the indefatigable Wyatt arrived by Greyhound bus, moving into the decrepit and long-gone Hotel Broadway Central and landing a job as a clerk at the flagship store of the Doubleday Book chain on Fifth Avenue in the heart of the publishing and advertising industries. He rose to become head of the store's paperback department.

In that era of three-martini business lunches, a good portion of the advertising and publishing industries' executives found their way into the store to check on trends as well as find books. One customer was Peter Mayer, the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Avon Books, which, according to Wyatt, was evolving from a pulpy operation into a more literary business. Wyatt attempted to sell Mayer a new book, a survey of new writing, only to learn that Mayer had edited and published the book. Mayer soon offered Wyatt an editorial position at Avon and his career was launched, although Wyatt maintains, "The only two places I ever learned anything were at the newspaper and Doubleday. So I guess that means I've learned nothing since 1964."

His best New York City adventures were at the bookstore. For instance, there was the time a Dell salesman gave him his very own copy of the Delta edition of Cat's Cradle because "all the people at Dell thought that Kurt Vonnegut was really going to break out."



Successes and, so what

At Ballantine, Wyatt received the Literary Market Place Award for establishing the controversial Available Press, a division that employed unusual editorial, design, printing and distribution schemes for nearly 100 titles, making serious paperbacks available on a modest budget that sometimes included using a staff member's hand or footprint as the cover design to cut costs.

People rarely said "no" to him during that apogee in publishing, he recalls. Taken with the film The Red Shoes, he convinced the screenwriters to write the story as a novel for Avon Books. It didn't sell but Wyatt bought the rights from Avon and reissued it under his imprint at St. Martin's, where it didn't sell either. "I think it did get a review in a dance journal," he reminisces.

"If you publish a book today and it doesn't sell, you can't do the author's next book...even if it is a masterpiece...It was a wonderful time [in publishing] even though it was lunacy."

Clearly, he had his successes. As editorial director at Avon, for instance, he sponsored the publication of such runaway bestsellers as The Thornbirds and Your Erroneous Zones. For the first time in paperback history, gay-related titles were gathered as a theme for promotion, under his direction at Avon. Several of the books issued as original paperbacks then are now considered classic works of homosexual literature.

When the publishing industry "stopped being fun," Wyatt stopped working for the large companies and began taking on his own projects. Much of his work today involves the foreign market, particularly in Australia.

"Things change; they always do," he says. For Wyatt, it's still the stories that continue to intrigue him. He envisions the novel transforming in the years ahead. "The novel skipped a beat for several centuries since The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman caused a literary scandal in 1760. After that, we started getting things by Jane Austen and books became kind of ordinary," he says. "With the Internet, I think we will have an integration of sound and movement via something like the electronic reader, the TV screen and the computer."

Self-publishing and print-on-demand are already allowing for innovations but the jury is still out on some, according to Wyatt. "With print-on-demand, you can change the text from book to book, correcting errors or adding to it," he says. "This means the whole notion of a canon of literature will be difficult to study if it is changing all the time."

Today, self-publishing is opening "new little cottage industries," one change Wyatt views as positive. He advises individuals interested in entering the publishing industry today to learn computer and graphic skills. "Print-on-demand is booming; there is no question about it," he believes.

Wyatt's own novel, Jam & the Box, and the companion novella, were manufactured and distributed by Ingram Book Company, a large distributor whose print-on-demand division printed the two paperbacks. The book is available at The Golden Notebook and also through BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com and WyattBook.com. Ingram takes charge of the shipping for him.

"I had a friend in New York who ordered my book from Amazon.com on a Sunday and got it the following Tuesday," says Wyatt. "I hadn't even gotten my own shipment [from Ingram] yet."

Wyatt considers his books a good read, not necessarily literary masterpieces. "If I thought it was literary, I would not have finished it; I would have kept rewriting it," he says of the novel. "I see hurried parts but I also wanted to keep the book to some modest means." (Jam & the Box retails for $13; The Fluffys & the Box sells for $10.) He says he might have spent more time polishing the novel but "the cats took over" and he found himself writing the follow-up novella from their perspective.

"Let's face it," he says. "It's gimmicky." Wyatt does not know of another author ever having used the same technique. He hopes the books will "build slowly."

For writers in today's ever-changing and tight literary marketplace, Wyatt cautions, "Think how you are going to sell your book as you write it." He began Jam & the Box as a book about a group of men interested in Macintosh Computers because there were already numerous novels about women, such as The Joy Luck Club (Penguin Books, 1989) and The Jane Austen Book Club (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004).

Ostensibly, Wyatt's novel is about "books, cats and Macs but you soon realize you are reading a mystery novel," he says. "The nice thing about the cats is they know what's going on."

Most important, Bob Wyatt is having fun. "I have connections, I know the machinery, I know what has worked and what hasn't worked," he says of his projects today. "I'm really not a good example for people. It doesn't mean I can do well; I just know enough to have a good time."

 

 

Bob & the Boxes The Fluffys & the Box Robert Wyatt's Story NOW