Our annual list of the book business’s most influential gatekeepers
Who decides what books end up on your shelves?
Hint: You come in at the end. A whole slew of gatekeepers shapes what titles get published, promoted, sold, and ultimately, make their way to your home.
We wanted to shine a light on the process, and there’s no better time to take stock, with several big changes afoot in the industry. The U.S.’s largest book publisher, Penguin Random House, announced a deal to buy Simon and Schuster late in 2020, cementing the former’s status as a megapublisher. In the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and outcry over representation, several houses made high-profile hires and promotions to elevate Black editorial viewpoints.
We wanted to incorporate all of that and more into Book and Film Globe’s inaugural Publishing Power 30. There are some obvious inclusions–hello, Reese!–but it’s also unabashedly aspirational. Though we present the list alphabetically so as not to play favorites, we also wanted to highlight some of the newer voices in the industry who are already making changes and we believe have the potential to be key players.
Like any list, this one invites debate. Who are you happy to see here? Who’d we leave off? We invite you to join the conversation.
Reagan Arthur. The legendary Sonny Mehta handpicked Arthur as his successor. She took on the post of publisher and executive vice president of Knopf a little over a year ago, bringing with her experience honed from years at Little, Brown publishing best-sellers like David Sedaris, Michael Connelly and Catch & Kill scribe Ronan Farrow. Despite her lofty post, which also oversees the Pantheon and Schocken imprints, she still volunteers yearly at the Montclair Literary Festival in her New Jersey hometown.
Julie Barer. Barer’s client list reads like a Who’s Who of modern fiction, including Writers & Lovers’ Lily King, Circe’s Madeline Miller, Homeland Elegies’ Ayad Akhtar and Leave The World Behind’s Rumaan Alam. A former bookseller, she launched her own agency in 2004, now part of The Book Group. Among the accolades her clients have collected are the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle award, the Man Booker Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Prize.
Ann Binney. Binney is in her 14th year at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Stories and Ideas, currently as programming director. The festival is the largest literary gathering in the United States, attracting more than 150,000 people to the University of Southern California’s campus in non-pandemic times along with literary stars like Pulitzer nominee Laila Lalami and Gilead author Marilynne Robinson. The fest also bestows the L.A. Times Book Prizes in a dozen categories.
David Bowles, Myriam Gurba and Roberto Lovato. The authors and advocates co-founded #DignidadLiteraria in the wake of 2020’s American Dirt dust-up, meeting with top Macmillan executives to forge new strategies for Latinx inclusion. Their efforts led to changes in staffing at the publishing house, including the hiring of Latinx In Publishing board member Nadxieli Nieto as an editor-at-large. Nieto’s charge: to acquire more books by Latinx authors and writers of color in general.
Kimberly Burns, Whitney Peeling and Michael Taeckens. Burns spent years promoting the likes of Amy Bloom, Adam Gopnik and Zadie Smith at Knopf, Random House, Pantheon and the Penguin Press before co-founding Broadside: Expert Literary PR in 2015 with Peeling and Taeckens. A frequent event panelist, she’s publicized high-profile industry shindigs like the Kirkus Prizes and the New Yorker Festival. The trio has been behind some of the most celebrated books of the last few years, including bestsellers such as Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, Pulitzer finalist Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, and Natasha Trethewey’s memoir Memorial Drive, which graced multiple best-of-the-year lists in 2020 and is in development for a TV adaptation.
Dana Canedy. Canedy started her career as a journalist at the New York Times, logging two decades there before becoming the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. She infused the honors with fresh blood, presiding over panels that celebrated rapper Kendrick Lamar, created a special award honoring legendary Black journalist Ida B. Wells, and launching a new Audio Reporting category. Her move to senior vice president and publisher of Simon and Schuster made her the first Black person to lead a major publishing house.
Bill Clegg. Clegg’s roller coaster of a career includes representing literary fiction superstars like Susan Choi, crack addiction, memoirist, and literary agent once more. He spent time at William Morris before opening his own agency in 2014, where his clients now include Emma Cline (Daddy) and Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation). This past year, he also published another book, the well-received novel The End of the Day.
James Daunt. CEO of Barnes & Noble. As head of the British bookseller Waterstone’s, he successfully took on Amazon in the UK and made the once-foundering chain profitable again. Now he’s trying the same tactics in the States, including ceding control of book placement as well as some purchasing to local stores. A passionate fan of curating display, he believes there’s room in the industry for a compromise between #BuyIndie local stores and the McBooksellers of Amazon.
Linda Duggins. Duggins, the senior director of publicity at Grand Central Publishing, presides over a division of Hachette that publishes mass-market blockbusters like David Baldacci, Sandra Brown and Harlan Coben and literary fiction like National Book Award finalist Pachinko, from Min Jin Lee. Duggins co-founded the Harlem Book Fair, serves on the board of the National Book Club Conference, and has long been an advocate of diverse hires in the industry.
Amy Einhorn. A 30-year veteran of publishing, Einhorn is not without her detractors – she shepherded Jeanne Cummins’ American Dirt as well as Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, both of which came under fire for their depictions of marginalized communities – but she greenlights books that people buy. (Both those books also topped bestseller lists for weeks.) She is currently president and publisher of Macmillan’s Henry Holt imprint, after years as co-publisher of Flatiron Books, where she oversaw successes like Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty and Nine Perfect Strangers.
Saraciea J. Fennell. In 2016, publicist and writer Fennell tackled the closing of the last bookstore in her home borough of the Bronx by launching The Bronx is Reading book festival. The inaugural event featured now-National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo and Daniel José Older among its lineup, and the fest has gone on to host luminaries like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, National Book Award winner Kacen Callender and Newbery medalist Jerry Craft. A companion literacy program targets underserved schools. Named to Bitch Media’s “50” list and Remezcla’s “30 Latinxs Who Made An Impact In Their Communities,” Fennell sits on the steering committee for Latinx in Publishing and is on the advisory board of People of Color in Publishing.
David Gernert. Gernert started his own agency in 1996, after leaving his post as editor-in-chief of Doubleday. The firm now represents more than 400 authors. Famous clients include legal-thriller machine John Grisham, and the New York Times bestsellers he’s sold aside from Grisham include Louise Penny’s latest, former First Man hopeful Chasten Buttigieg, and Téa Obreht’s Inland, which made multiple best-of-the-year lists from Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post and Esquire.
Leigh Haber. Oprah’s Book Club birthed a host of celeb-led efforts, but nearly 25 years after the then talk-show host first unveiled the idea and now in its third incarnation on Apple Plus TV with an app in development, it continues to have an outsize impact. Haber has overseen the book club since 2012 and now serves as its editorial director, culling through hundreds of titles to suggest potential picks to Oprah. She is also the books editor for O Magazine, after years in publishing at imprints like Ballantine, Scribner and Hyperion.
Allison Hill. The new CEO of the American Booksellers Association had barely taken office in March before COVID-related shutdowns presented her coalition of independent bookstores with the biggest threat to its financial health since Amazon. Enter a slew of viral efforts that culminated in the “October is the new December” marketing campaign, aimed at sidestepping supply-chain challenges and getting customers to shop early for the holidays. The group also snagged beloved elder Dan Rather as the celebrity face of its #IndiesFirst campaign in tandem with the publication of Rather’s What Unites Us.
Pennie Clark Ianniciello. While bibliophiles might love to stroll the aisles at their favorite bookstore or comb reviews in the New York Times, a large swath of buyers are snapping up titles already curated for them by, yes, the big-box stores. Costco is no exception. Ianniciello is a longtime book buyer for the warehouse chain who deems certain titles “Pennie’s Picks,” sometimes generating thousands of sales for a title from shoppers throwing new reads into their cart along with a mega-pack of paper towels.
Jonathan Karp. Currently chief executive of Simon & Schuster after the death of respected matriarch Carolyn Reidy, Karp presides over a house that has had its share of high-profile – and often controversial – political authors. S&S published John Bolton’s mea culpa The Room Where It Happens, and Mary Trump’s tell-all about her uncle, aka former President Trump. Notably, it recently cancelled electoral-vote challenger Sen. Josh Hawley’s contract for The Tyranny Against Big Tech, originally set for June publication. Before his promotion in May, Karp shepherded publication of blockbusters like Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born to Run and David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Frederick Douglass. He also brought Canedy to S&S after more than a year’s worth of courting.
Lois Kim. The Texas Book Festival started as a project of then-Texas First Lady Laura Bush, cycling through a few iterations before Lois Kim took over as executive director in 2013. Seven years on, she’s presided over a festival that has grown in stature and attendance, drawing 50,000 people and literary luminaries like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Sandra Cisneros and Cheryl Strayed. What’s more, the festival has also put books in the hands of more than 100,000 students through its Reading Rock Stars program that matches authors with Title 1 schools, creating the next generation of readers.
Erin Kodicek. Love it or hate it, Amazon is the biggest bookseller out there. And if you’ve ever wondered who’s behind its ‘best of’ lists that win promotion on its landing pages, meet Kodicek and her team of fellow Amazon Book Review editors, many of whom logged years in major publishing houses before joining the online retailer. A former librarian and Barnes & Noble bookseller, Kodicek has been at Amazon for more than a decade, choosing standouts in literary fiction and narrative non-fiction, interviewing authors and appearing on Amazon’s podcast as well as others. While there are compilations based solely on sales, the best-of lists are compiled the old-fashioned way, she likes to say: “We argue.”
Ebony LaDelle. On Feb. 3, Penguin Random House announced LaDelle would be taking on the newly created role of marketing director for brand publishing, leading the long-term marketing for its Obama-related publications, among others. The move came after her well-received time at HarperCollins and Epic Reads, where she supported such YA luminaries as “The Hate U Give”’s Angie Thomas and National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo. Before that, she repped the likes of Shonda Rimes and “Devil Wears Prada” writer Lauren Weisberger at Simon & Schuster. LaDelle also hosted the “Why Not YA” interview series in concert with Belletrist, the book club co-led by actress Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss and featured last year in Vogue.
Ellen Levine. Levine had her own literary agency for years before merging with Robert Gottlieb’s venerable Trident Media Group in 2002, where she is now an executive vice president. Her long list includes award-winners like Marlon James (Black Leopard, Red Wolf), new stars like Luster’s Raven Leilani, and modern masters such as Marilynne Robinson (Gilead, Housekeeping).
Lisa Lucas. As the executive director of the National Book Foundation, Lucas revolutionized and diversified the group’s namesake awards as well as its programs. She secured a $900,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for public programming and launching the Book Rich Environments program, which has provided 1.4 million books to families in public housing. We’re excited to see what Lucas will do as vice president and publisher of the Pantheon and Schocken imprints at Penguin Random House.
Madeline McIntosh. As U.S. chief executive of Penguin Random House, McIntosh presides over the biggest of the Big Five, which published eight of the 20 best-selling print books last year and had 216 New York Times bestsellers in 2020, including Barack Obama’s memoir. McIntosh’s data-driven changes to the business side, like amplifying online sales directly from the PRH website and bypassing booksellers, helped the company weather COVID-related supply-chain challenges. Absorbing Simon & Schuster into the empire will only increase her outsize impact on the industry, a reality duly noted by those who oppose the merger.
L.L. McKinney. Author McKinney (A Blade So Black trilogy, Nubia: Real One) is among the staunchest advocates for inclusion in publishing right now. She launched the #PublishingPaidMe Twitter hashtag with fellow author Tochi Onyebuchi that revealed glaring disparities in the advances paid to white and Black authors. Named to Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans list in 2020, she combined her energies with Saraciea J. Fennell for three weeks to create and host the inaugural Juneteenth Book Festival, featuring 30 Black authors and publishing professionals.
New York Times Bestseller List Data Analysts. Who’s behind the weekly New York Times bestseller list? No, it’s not the folks at the Book Review, which publishes lists each Sunday. There’s an entirely separate team of data analysts whose identity is kept under wraps, the Times explains. “The team who compiles our list works anonymously,” a Times spokesman says. (No exceptions? “I’m afraid not.”)
Regardless, they have an outsize influence on whether a book will get prominent placement in a store or make its way into consideration for reviews. The list is based on an algorithm that crunches sales reported confidentially by a wide range of vendors across the United States. The cloak of secrecy, which includes internal codes for each title to prevent leaks, has left it open to charges that the list is more curated than compiled. The Times insists that’s just a myth: “Unlike the staff members of the Book Review, from who we work independently, we aren’t making value judgments,” notes an (anonymous!) explanation posted on the Times’ website. “We go off the sales data.”
Celeste Ng. The “Little Fires Everywhere” author encouraged the young-adult and children’s-literature focused We Need Diverse Books to expand its advocacy efforts into adult publishing. When leaders’ workloads presented a hurdle, Ng personally paid for internship grants for new industry professionals of color, helping build a pipeline for staffing beyond the latest new hires. “I’ve been wanting to find a way to give back for a long time,” Ng said of her funding, which will continue through 2025.
Quressa Robinson. Robinson was an editor for five years before joining the Nelson Literary Agency, where she took on clients that have since risen to prominence in the young-adult world, such as Roseanne Brown (the New York Times-bestselling A Song of Wraiths and Ruin; a multiple-book deal with Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents imprint) and Brittney Morris, whose debut Slay sold in a six-figure auction. Robinson was named to Publisher’s Weekly Star Watch last fall and served on the We Need Diverse Books’ Walter Grant committee for two years. Its grants support unpublished writers and illustrators: Angie Thomas used hers to buy the computer on which she finished The Hate U Give.
Tracy Sherrod. Since 2013, Sherrod has been the editorial director of Amistad Press, HarperCollins’ venerable decades-old imprint that shares diverse voices. An active speaker at conferences and frequent guest on literary and publishing podcasts, she’s been working for decades to balance the publication of books that share difficult histories and those that reflect joy and hope, as well as amplifying authors of color.
Krishan Trotman. Trotman leads a new imprint at Hachette called Legacy Lit, aimed at books with a social-justice theme and written by authors of color. The first titles will debut in 2022, but the publishing house notes it will focus on narrative non-fiction, memoir and investigative works, with some limited fiction. Trotman pitched the imprint this summer after 15 years in the business, acquiring and editing books like Stephanie Land’s Maid and Malcolm Nance’s The Plot to Destroy Democracy.
Amanda “Binky” Urban. Urban may be the only agent on the list who’s a household name. Her client list is long and varied: Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis, Michael Pollan, Haruki Murakami (though not her husband, writer Ken Auletta). So too is her background, which stretches from early stints in advertising and gubernatorial political campaigns to her longtime perch at ICM Literary. Among her latest deals is Remains of the Day author and Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, Klara and the Sun, expected in March.
Reese Witherspoon. Reese’s Book Club has only formally existed for three years, but its impact has made the actor and producer the heir apparent to Oprah for her ability to raise an author’s profile as well as sales. Case in point: The initial print run for Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was 27,500. After its anointing as a book club member, it added more than 1.5 million print units in the next year. With Reese’s Hello Sunshine production company taking the helm in 2017 and able to elevate books on multiple platforms, Witherspoon has emerged as one of the leading celebrity literary tastemakers. She expanded the club in 2020 to include young-adult picks.