WHEN Little, Brown & Co. threw a party for its new publisher on
a stormy spring evening, no amount of rain and cold wind could
dampen the high spirits of the 300 guests.
Editors and agents had come to celebrate Sarah Crichton's
appointment as the first woman - and first outsider - to serve as
publisher of the 159-year-old firm. Publishing circles were abuzz
about the appointment.
A similar buzz accompanied Rupert Murdoch's designation of
another newcomer to book publishing as president and chief
executive officer of HarperCollins. Anthea Disney, who assumed her
post this month, is the second female CEO of a major book
publishing company, following Phyllis Graham, who for a decade has
reigned as CEO at the Putnam Berkley Group, Inc.
"The fact that you have women being put in these positions in
publishing is a healthy sign that the industry is interested in
being dynamic and shaking itself up a little bit," Ms. Crichton
That need for dynamism comes as publishers face new challenges,
including competition from electronic publishing and the need to
reach readers who may be more comfortable with computers than print.
Publishing has always been more open to women than many other
fields, although women have traditionally worked their way up from
within. Yet Crichton and Ms. Disney defend their zigzag career
paths. Disney, a former producer for Fox TV's "A Current Affair"
and editor of TV Guide, began as a reporter and then became an
editor. "All my skills are in the editorial world," she says. As
for her outsider status, she adds, "There really is a value in
Crichton, a former editor at Seventeen magazine and most
recently assistant managing editor at Newsweek, explains that she
"grew up in publishing." She is the daughter of novelist Robert
Crichton and the granddaughter of the writer Kyle Crichton. Her
mother and sisters are writers, as is her husband, Guy Martin.
Crichton believes magazine publishing offers valuable lessons
for the book industry. "At Newsweek ... there was instant
feedback," she says. "Magazines really teach you to be respectful
of your readers, and to understand what their interests are...."
In book publishing, by contrast, "there's more of a distance.
There probably shouldn't be. You're asking book buyers to take a
great leap of faith - to believe in you and ... hand over $25,
which is a lot of money."
Crichton says that too often, she has "seen that trust toyed