Will Bourdain Break Through as a Brand-Name Imprint?

Jennifer Paull

Staff Writer

Jennifer Paull walks quickly.

Giving a celebrity a book imprint might sound like the equivalent of bestowing a horse-drawn carriage. (Imagine the maintenance.) But this fall, HarperCollins announced a new publishing imprint helmed by media star Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain will release three to five books a year, published by Ecco, with the all-together-now moniker “Ecco: An Anthony Bourdain Book.” No release dates have yet been set, but my mind is already eggbeater-ing over the possibilities. What kinds of titles will they acquire and will Bourdain’s name actually drive sales?

In many ways, the pairing makes sense. Bourdain and Dan Halpern, Ecco’s president and publisher, go way back. Bourdain’s first bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, was one of Ecco’s early titles after the press was bought by HarperCollins.

Both Bourdain and Halpern describe years of “over the table” conversations about exciting chefs and authors. Halpern credits Bourdain with pushing him to publish cookbooks by Fergus Henderson and Ferran Adrià.

Somehow I imagine these talks happening over a roast suckling pig and many tumblers of wine – greasy chins and happy grins.

Hopefully they’ll keep this two-hander up. But even if Bourdain gets nearly free rein with his selection, there’s cause for optimism. He’s a voracious but choosy reader. In interviews over the years, he’s raved about Michel de Montaigne and Ludwig Bemelmans, along with the authors you expect him to love (here’s looking at you, Hunter S. Thompson).

In the press release, Bourdain indicates that his imprint could include fiction and non-fiction, new authors and old, ebooks and print. He adds, “We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists.”

And while he relishes the fact that “I’m doing this because… I can,” he kicks against the idea of a vanity project. As he told “this is NOT some cynical bullshit list we’re talking about.

So I’m hopeful about the authors Bourdain might introduce or champion. Ecco and HarperCollins may benefit from celebrity-driven sales, but I think Bourdain will focus on excellent and unusual writing.

On the other hand, my skeptical side wonders: How will Bourdain carve out time from his new TV show, media appearances, and other projects to find, cultivate, and publicize his authors? Who will actually edit the books? How much skin does Bourdain have in the game?

There’s been a little rash of celeb imprints in the past year. This month, HarperCollins touted another new imprint, for mystery writer Dennis Lehane. Deepak Chopra and Chelsea Handler each landed namesake imprints, at Crown and Hachette respectively. Next year is shaping up to be a proving ground, when we’ll see if publishers can actually cash in on such name brands.

Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe has been pretty vocal about all the great authors he enjoys – perhaps he’s subtly gunning for an imprint of his own. If another celebrity was going to grab the imprint spotlight, who would you nominate?

Did I hear you say Cher?