Madeline McIntosh, Don Weisberg, Nina von Moltke Open Authors Equity

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

To create ‘a fully author-centric model,’ a team of leaders from some of the States’ biggest publishers opens a new venture: Authors Equity.

Don Weisberg, Madeline McIntosh, center, and Nina von Moltke are the three co-founders of Authors Equity. Image: Authors Equity, Maria Spann

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Reshaping the Relationship Between Author and Publisher’
When Madeline McIntosh announced her departure from Penguin Random House USA as its CEO in January 2023, the question left loudly unanswered was what she’d do next. The answer arrives today (March 5) with the public revelation of a new venture called Authors Equity.

As one of a trio of founding partners, McIntosh has opened what she and her colleagues Don Weisberg and Nina von Moltke are calling “a new publishing company committed to reshaping the relationship between author and publisher.”

Weisberg, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, is the former CEO of Macmillan. Von Moltke is the former president of strategic development with Penguin Random House.

Some in the author corps may be tempted to see Authors Equity as what is often called a “hybrid publisher,” meaning that an author pays into the publishing operation for various publishing services. This, however, is an entity of a different kind. In the new company’s four “core principles,” the first, referred to as “aligned incentives,” reads “Our profit-share model rewards authors who want to bet on themselves. Profit participation is also an option for key members of the book team, so we’re in a position to win together.”

But a part of the investment behind Authors Equity comes from brand-name authors including James Clear (Atomic Habits, Penguin Random House); the self-improvement author and podcaster Tim Ferriss; and the Canadian author of Macmillan’s Sûreté du Québec Inspector Gamache, Louise Penny. There are others, “some of whom will remain anonymous,” according to the company’s media messaging. The size of these authors’ investments—like those of the co-founders—has not been specified.

From left are James Clear, Louise Penny, and Tim Ferriss

Clear, who is to publish forthcoming books with Authors Equity, is quoted, saying, “Authors Equity has taken the best elements of traditional publishing and combined them with a fresh approach that works perfectly for authors who want to succeed in today’s market.

“Authors get to create books on their own terms without having to let go of the excellence in editorial skill and mainstream distribution that’s a strength of traditional publishing. The publishing world has changed. We are no longer in the ‘change is coming’ stage. It’s here, and Authors Equity is creating it.”

Distribution for the new company, as well as “production support for some titles,” will be handled by Simon & Schuster, where McIntosh has been named an independent member of the board by CEO Jonathan Karp.

Author Equity’s first releases are to be announced in coming months, both in fiction and nonfiction.

Completing an Ensemble of Six

From left are Robin Desser, Carly Gorga, and Andrea Bachofen

In addition to McIntosh, Weisberg, and von Moltke, the company’s team—by any criterion a deeply experienced and proven group—includes:

  • Robin Desser as editorial advisor; she’s a former editor-in-chief of Random House and editorial director of Knopf
  • Carly Gorga as CMO, chief marketing director; she’s a former head of partnerships and brand marketing at Penguin Random House USA
  • Andrea Bachofen as COO, chief operating officer; most recently she has been an especially effective senior product manager for Amazon in social responsibility, and she was the original lead on the author services group at Random House

Beyond the central ensemble of three co-founders and three officers, Authors Equity’s announcement says, the team will look outside of its own personnel to assemble its book teams, “with the goal of maximizing creativity, collaboration, and reach.”

That element of book teams is based in the second of the start-up’s “core principles,” referred to as “bespoke teams” and referred to as “a wide network of creative talent—from within and outside publishing—that we can tap for projects based on an author’s unique goals, needs, and ambitions.”

Beyond those first two principles of “aligned incentives” and “bespoke teams,” the company’s “core principles” are:

  • “Flexibility and transparency,” referring to the distinct character of each project and how “by shaping the process and strategy alongside each author, and making decisions together, we’re able to act in the best interest of that book.”
  • “Long-term collaboration,” another concept that many authors may find nourishing, today’s announcement saying, “We’re deeply committed to trying for ‘yes’: to giving books room to breathe and supporting individuals and teams with the space they need to think big and think differently. We’re in it from day one, and for the long haul.”

Overall, as the company is describing it this morning, McIntosh, Weisberg, and von Moltke echo that fourth principle of long-term collaboration, writing that they “bring deep expertise in the book business and a broad network of relationships with authors, agents, booksellers, and other partners and platforms across physical and digital markets. Unencumbered by industry precedent, the founders are excited to apply their collective experience to a model that allows them to be more flexible, to test, and to simply say ‘yes’ more often.”

McIntosh says, “Publishing doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game. Authors, publishers, and readers alike benefit when there’s a variety of approaches in the market. Our approach won’t be right for everyone, but each author deserves a chance to find the right creative partnership and financial model that will give them the very best publishing experience.”

Developing Distinctions

In his coverage of the news this morning, Jeffrey Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal writes that Authors Equity anticipates eventually releasing some 25 titles annually, McIntosh telling him, “It’s more important to focus on the individual author than getting big”—something that will be music to many industry-weary writers’ ears.

“Our approach won’t be right for everyone, but each author deserves a chance to find the right creative partnership and financial model that will give them the very best publishing experience.”Madeline McIntosh, Authors Equity

In her article today, Elizabeth A. Harris at The New York Times writes, “Contrary to the usual practice, Authors Equity won’t offer authors money up front or guarantee them a payment—but it will give them ‘the lion’s share’ of any profit that is made, according to Ms. McIntosh.”

The three co-founders, like their associates in the six-person Authors Equity team, have held easily some of the most impactful and influential positions in the United States’ Big Five publishing sphere. And they’ve come through those experiences as particularly well respected leadership figures, admired and respected not only by their executive colleagues in the industry but also by many major authors with whom they’ve worked.

Obviously, they’ve also come through with a shared assessment that traditional publishing models aren’t always best for the industry’s indispensable authors—or, perhaps, for the industry itself.

That factor will be a driver in how Authors Equity fares, as it works to cultivate and develop each individual author’s nuances with a customized approach to publishing and to sharing that approach’s success with its creative players.

The exhilarating goal, as the company puts it today, is “to create a fully author-centric model—with core principles that put the author first—and offer financial incentives and a publishing process built around each author’s unique audience, vision, and needs.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing start-ups is here, more from us on the work of authors is here, and more on the United States market is here.

Also this week: Industry Discussions: France’s Publishers Look at Author Income

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.