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Re-publishing Michael Gold's Jews Without Money


Humble beginnings at Avon Books
Peter Mayer Publisher
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I was the education editor and a short time after that – because nobody wanted to work for Avon Books it was so tiny and looked like it was going out of business and it just had this one book that sold like crazy which I bought, and they made me the editor-in-chief of Avon Books. Well, it was a concours, it was a competition of zero, nobody else wanted this job, and I don't think anybody believed that Avon Books would be around a year later, but I took it. I remember asking, Alan Barnard, who had left before then, he said, Peter, I've got to leave and he took a job at Bantam Books. And I said, Alan, why are you leaving? You're a great editor-in-chief. And he said, listen, I've got two children and this company is headed nowhere and I've got to get out for my family.

So his job was open and I went out to where he lived, which curiously was very close to where my parents lived, and I said, Alan, you're gone, but I hope we're still friends and can you advise me should I take this job that they've offered me? Your old job! And we were on the Grand Central Parkway on a bit of greensward and with cars whizzing by us as I asked him this fateful decision about my career and he said, I would take it, nobody has ever heard of you, Peter, if you fail or if the company goes bust nobody will have heard of you either. You can start again, there's nothing to lose, and maybe you'll make a success of it, probably not, but take it – nobody's ever heard of you! And, indeed, nobody had ever heard of me and I took the job.

And I was mentioning yesterday if one is a success it is never one's own success at least not in publishing. I was very fortunate. I hired some wonderful young people to work with me, young people who probably couldn't have gotten the same jobs in larger companies. They were too inexperienced, but they were willing to take a chance and work for me or work with me at Avon Books. And they were they were people like Paula Diamond, who came from Farrar Straus and Bob Wyatt, who came from Doubleday Bookstore on 57th Street and a man named George Ernsberger, who worked at the bookstore on the Upper West Side, as I recall and Judith Weber, who was a publicist at Bantam. I don't think any of them were much more than 30 and we were a great bunch – and Nancy Coffey I should have mentioned who I've forgotten where she came from maybe Coward McCann and there were others, Barbara Bertoli and so on, and we were a great team.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Avon Books, Alan Barnard

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015