For this month’s Alumni in the Spotlight, Jessica Napp (2000) interviews her fellow alumna and colleague, Robb Pearlman (1994).
Robb Pearlman is the Associate Publisher of Universe Books, Calendars, and Licensing at Rizzoli New York, and is the editor of pop culture titles including The Joker: An Illustrated History of the Clown Prince of Crime, Zombies on Film, The Princess Bride: A Celebration, and Stuck on Star Trek. He is the author of Fun with Kirk and Spock (Cider Mill Press, 2014), 101 Ways to Kill a Zombie (Universe, 2013), Nerd Haiku (Lyons Press, 2012), Spoiler Alert!: Bruce Willis Is Dead and 399 More Endings from Movies, TV, Books, and Life (Lyons Press, 2010), The Q Guide to Sex and the City (Alyson, 2008), and the upcoming Game of Thrones: In Memoriam and Game of Thrones: The Starks (both Running Press, 2015), and 101 Ways to Use a Unicorn (Universe, 2015); two books for children: Leaf Dance (Little Simon, 2001), Passover is Here! (Little Simon, 2005), and the upcoming Groundhog’s Day Off (Bloomsbury, 2015); as well as two storybook engagement calendars: Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (Universe, 2011) and Disney’s Winnie the Pooh (Universe, 2011). Robb has had successful events and signings around the country including San Diego ComicCon, New York ComicCon and BookCon, the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, and book and comic book retailers in Los Angeles, New York, and New Jersey. He has performed at the Nerdnite Nerdtacular, and has had essays featured on the Los Angeles and Las Vegas CBS websites, HuffingtonPost.com, and StarTrek.com.
Jessica Napp is currently Associate Director of Publicity at Rizzoli New York, an integral part of its parent company, the Italian communications giant RCS Media Group. Rizzoli New York is a leader in the fields of art & architecture, interior design, photography, haute couture, gastronomy, performing arts, and gay & alternative lifestyles. She is also the VP of Communications for the Women’s National Book Associaton (WNBA) NYC Chapter and the PR and Marketing rep to Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, NY. To read a complete interview with Jessica, click here.
In a galaxy far, far away, two Pace MS Publishing alums happened to meet on the job and for the last seven years they have been working together in harmony!
When I started working at Rizzoli in 2007 it was a surreal experience. On the one hand, I knew a handful of people from previous jobs, so in some ways, those early transitional days were super easy because at least 5 people knew my name. On the other, I was the stereotypical new kid, needing to learn a whole new crop of names and faces. And in that mix was Robb! I had heard of Robb before, but somehow we had yet to meet. I worked with his partner at Abrams, we had both worked at S&S, but in different divisions, and now, here we stood in the halls of Rizzoli, circling and bantering, and realizing we had one more connection (other than good taste in people) – The MS in Publishing program at Pace!
Our working relationship over the years has evolved into a friendship like no other, so I am proud to have had the opportunity to interview Robb for this blog. Now, mind you, if you can’t keep up with Robb, don’t read the post. Synapses will be firing on all levels and not laughing is not an option.
Jessica: Hi Robb, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been 20 years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since then?
Robb: Hi Jessica, it’s my pleasure, and thanks so much for reminding me how old I am. I can’t believe it’s been that long! After graduating from Pace, I worked in the subsidiary rights departments for Disney/Hyperion and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. I decided to transition to the editorial side of things, and moved to Rizzoli as a senior editor. I’m now the Associate Publisher of Universe Books, Calendars, and Licensing. I acquire and edit pop culture, entertainment, and children’s books such as Zombies on Film, The Princess Bride: A Celebration, The Bow Tie Book, Miroslav Sasek’s This is The World, and The Joker: An Illustrated History of the Crown Prince of Crime; I direct our calendar program, which publishes calendars based on television and movie properties like Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Family Guy, Downton Abbey, Clueless, and Dirty Dancing, institutions like MoMA, The National Gallery of Art, Amnesty International, The Library of Congress, and artists including Masha D’yans, Lotta Jansdotter, Rob Ryan, and Vermeer. I’m very lucky that my geeky personal interests serve me well in my professional life!
Jessica: Please tell me a bit about how your educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.
Pace gave me a working knowledge of all of the different departments and functions that make up a publishing company. As if my inability to do simple arithmetic wasn’t enough, I knew, thanks to my accounting class, that I would be completely ill suited to working in finance. Anywhere. In any capacity whatsoever. My first publishing job was in the subsidiary rights department, and I know I would never have known what a subsidiary right was without the class I took at Pace. It’s funny, so many people—even those working in publishing—don’t understand what the department does, but subsidiary rights are a huge moneymaking revenue stream for any company. Working in that department also gave me access to every other department, both inside the company and in my licensees. I was able to work with the editorial, sales, and marketing teams at the home and school book clubs and fairs, large print and audio publishers, and scouts and producers at studios and production companies. While at Simon & Schuster, I was the brand manager for Raggedy Ann, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys, and I was able to reach back to my legal and financial classes at Pace when negotiating licensing contracts. Pace gave me the multi-faceted groundwork upon which I could build my career (and my calculator gave me the ability to calculate royalty percentages.)
Jessica: Have you always been interested publishing? Where did that passion come from?
Robb: I have. Even when I was young, maybe six or seven, I was interested in the idea of publishing- how books came to be in the library or bookstore, how the words got on the pages, the pages into the book, the books onto the shelves. I could spend hours in the bookstore or library, just surrounding myself with piles of books and thumbing through them all. One of the first books I tried to take out of the library was, coincidentally, a Hardy Boys book. I was tripped up by the word “motorcycle,” so my mom and the librarian steered me toward the more age-appropriate early readers. I was very fortunate to have parents who valued reading and education, so I was never without easy access to a book. Plus, as an only child, it was a great way for me to entertain myself on rainy days or, thanks to my debilitating allergies and hatred of playgrounds, a delightful summer’s day. I wrote my first book in fourth or fifth grade—it was called “Herbie” and was about a blueberry or a Smurf knockoff of some sort. I wrote and illustrated it, and, with my aunt’s help, bound it into a hardcover book. I still have it on my bookshelf next to my other books. Unlike some of today’s bestsellers, the binding has held even after all this time! One of the best gifts I ever received was an electric typewriter. It weighed about a million pounds and had a tendency to overheat and melt the ribbon. The vibrating keys would often make my fingers numb, but it was entre into the world of writing something for myself.
Jessica: What do you think are the essential skills current students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?
Robb: Given that publishing a book is a collaborative endeavor, one of the most important skills is to listen and appreciate what other people have to say. Now that’s not to say that other people are right all the time—they’re not—but no department or person works alone, and without cooperation and open discussion nothing’s going to happen. And if something does happen, it’s not going to work as well as you think it would. I think it’s invaluable to understand, at least minimally, what other departments do, and the reasons they do them. With the exception of sociopaths, your colleagues are going to want each and every book to succeed. I think Pace’s ability to provide insight into all aspects of the publishing process is an invaluable tool to understanding other perspectives on the process. In order to thrive, you have to be able to adapt to the changes in the industry and the world. Holding on to the past, and resenting the present state of affairs, whether it’s ebooks or lack of retailers or trends in reading, is self-defeating. Things are changing every day, and if you don’t allow yourself to continue to learn, try new things, and new ways of doing things, you’re going to dig yourself into such a rut the young whippersnappers tweeting and posting and blogging are going to leave you behind and you’ll be archived along with the fax machines and word processors.
Jessica: In addition to your day job as Associate Publisher, you are also an author. Tell us about the books you have written and what it is like to be on both sides of the industry.
Robb: I’ve written 10 books so far, with (hopefully) three or four more on the way in 2015 and 2016. I write pop culture books, like Fun with Kirk and Spock Kirk-Spock, which mashes up the classic Dick and Jane books and the crew of the Enterprise, 101 Ways to Kill a Zombie, 101 Uses for a Unicorn, Nerd Haiku, and Spoiler Alert, in which I give away the endings to books, movies, television shows, and life. Editing and writing are two different skills, and it’s fun for me to use both parts of my brain. It’s a great privilege to be able to be on both sides of the publishing equation, and I don’t take it lightly. I know what editors go through every day, so I try to make the process as smooth for them as possible. I make sure my editor understands that I know what the process is, how important deadlines are, and that I know what they’re going through. I do my best not to get too “authory” on them- meaning I’ll try to keep my demands to appear on Good Morning America and at the top of the New York Times bestseller list to a minimum. You think I’m kidding, but these are things authors have said to me. That and “I’m sure Oprah would give a blurb for this if you would just ask her.” I think I’ve done pretty well on that front—to my count I’ve only had one unpleasant discussion (and my editor and I were on the same side of that discussion), but you’d have to ask my editors about that.
Thanks, Robb! I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. Can we go to ComicCon already?