Today, Steve Rubin — the torturously ousted former head of Doubleday — announced he’ll be president and publisher of the much smaller Henry Holt. It’s the latest move in a publishing game that, post-recession, is looking more like dominoes than musical chairs. Rubin was the Icarus of big-advance publishing, the man who fattened up Doubleday with the spoils of Dan Brown’s success, only to see the bloated Random House division downsized and subsumed last December under Knopf and its laconic godfather, Sonny Mehta.
Rubin twisted in Random House limbo for nine months as a “publisher-at-large” before stepping down last month. Now he moves to a more modest imprint that has itself been a victim of rumors and instability ever since publisher John Sterling was kicked upstairs to Holt owners Macmillan. (Sterling has since become the Sonny Mehta of Macmillan’s merged children’s group, which ate up subsidiary Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s strong and singular juvenile list the same month Rubin lost Doubleday.) Rubin’s stated dedication to “developing a tight, powerful, focused list,” one perched somewhere between literary FSG and commercial St. Martin’s Press, sounds totally reasonable — and totally uncharacteristic. But it’s exactly what most publishers are espousing as the zeitgeist: “Focused” is the new mantra in books, right alongside “be grateful you have a job.”