Lisa Sharkey on “Book Publishing with Celebrity Authors”

Working with celebrities to get their books published may seem daunting, but Lisa Sharkey—the Senior Vice President and the Director of Creative Development at HarperCollins Publishers—is an expert. On April 26th, Sharkey talked about the joys and challenges of working with well-known public figures on their projects in her lecture, “Book Publishing with Celebrity Authors.” This was Sharkey’s second talk as the 2016-2017 David Pecker Visiting Professor, following-up the presentation on transferable skills she gave in the fall.

With years of experience working with both intentional celebrities (actors, athletes, reality stars, etc.) and unintentional celebrities (people who became famous as a result of news story in which they are a major personality), Sharkey’s familiar with how different it is publishing and promoting a celebrity’s book versus working with a traditional writer. Through personal anecdotes and behind-the-scene details on books she’s published throughout her career, Sharkey illustrated the experience of working with people who aren’t necessarily writers themselves to publish a successful book that might even reach the New York Times bestseller list.

For the first part of her presentation, Sharkey outlined the top joys of working with celebrities. Despite most of the celebrities she works with not being professional writers for their day-jobs, Sharkey says that these books are still important to them “to their legacies.” They value the opportunity to publish their stories without having them filtered through the press for their families and friends—and, of course, for the fans. Fans of celebrities also make a huge difference in how big the book signings and sales will be and what sort of appearances they can do.

Fans “crave the first-person stories of celebrity lives” and are interested in keeping celebrity books “on their nightstand,” enough so that books by celebrities are consistently reliable holiday gift sellers, such as Alec Baldwin’s memoir Nevertheless and Gabby Douglas’s autobiography Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith. Sharkey also reveals that celebrities are used to being in the spotlight and are sociable, always camera-ready, and “rule” social media, which are all important elements for the successful marketing of books. Any area of weakness they have, Sharkey said, are also easy to deal with since celebrities generally “know what they don’t know” and are open to accepting that they need help in an arena beyond what they’re famous for.

The challenges working with celebrities are also something different than working with traditional authors. Entourages, the amplified fear of failure, and unrealistic expectations all add to the list of struggles Sharkey has dealt with when working with celebrity authors. There’s also the issue of how in-demand they are; getting celebrities to do book promotions when they’re already so busy and marketplace collisions with them when they are trying to advertise other products, are stand-out instances of how their fame can make them difficult to work with. Also, not every celebrity author has the skill to write their own books despite their desire to. Sharkey says that ghostwriters are often necessary to always have ready to assist the celebrity authors.

The pros and cons aside, working with celebrities is always memorable for Sharkey. She has met Charles, the Prince of Wales, at the Clarence House while working with him on his book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, and sharing tea with royalty in a once in a lifetime moment. She discussed the intensity of working with Jenna Miscavige Hill on her book exposing scientology, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, and recalled a time where the two asked their driver to ditch a suspicious car following them that Hill thought might be associated with Scientology. Rock star front man of Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, shared with her how emotionally moved he was over the success of his autobiography, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, which was a chance to share, for the first time, his challenges growing up and making it through life from his point-of-view.

Lisa Sharkey with her intern and current Pace student, Jennifer Thompson

Sharkey had already shared her interesting career with us in the fall lecture, so it was fascinating to listen to her talk about the work she does getting celebrities to open up and to be honest about their lives and work in their books. As with her previous talk, Sharkey had no trouble keeping everyone invested in her talk through insightful anecdotes and straightforward, honest details about a part of the publishing industry that can feel secret and elusive to publishing students.

We appreciate and thank Sharkey for giving another well-informed and valuable talk, and for concluding her David Pecker Distinguished Visiting Professor lectures on such a memorable note.

Transferable Skills: Using What You Know to Develop Your Career

by Breana Swinehart and Kevin Mercado

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-12-46-24-pmLisa Sharkey, the Senior Vice President and Director of Creative Development at HarperCollins Publishers, shared her unconventional path to becoming a book publishing professional with her presentation, “Transferable Skills: Making the Change from TV to Publishing,” which she posted on Facebook Live here. Sharkey is the 2016-2017 David Pecker Visiting Professor, and this was the first of the two talks she’ll be giving at Pace University.

Sharkey defined transferable skills as “skills you pick up early in life and work to improve [that] will be useful to you as you climb the career ladder—or even if, like me, you jump off of one ladder and onto another.” Her talk focused on the transferable skills she utilized from different points in her career and life and how others can develop and harness these for their own careers.

p27aRevealing personal anecdotes and advice accrued through years of professional working experience, Sharkey explained how she went from being a major player in TV news and handling TV production and development for programs such as ABC’s “Good Morning, America” to becoming a SVP and Director for a major book publisher.

From being a teen that was looking for a way out of a rough social crowd by seeking early-admission into college, Sharkey sought to make every struggle into a lesson learned to help pivot her to success later. Some of the main transferable skills she shared—such as “thinking outside the box… the ability to start fresh… listening to your customers”—are lessons that most people who have work experience should already be familiar with to some capacity.

Sharkey’s later lessons offer more insight for people looking for professional and personal growth. “Concise writing… knowing how to take a step backwards in order to get ahead… writing in someone else’s voice… knowing how to ask for a career shift or change to make it work for your life” were some of the key transferable skills she mentioned.

imgresAdditional skills she told the audience to make applicable in their lives ranged from lighthearted “have a sense of humor” tips to managing up/down/across. She also encouraged us to “plu[g] into the zeitgeist” by keeping connected to those around us while still managing to stand out.

In Sharkey’s position at HarperCollins she oversees the acquisitions of over 40 New York Times Bestsellers, including Tim Tebow’s Through My Eyes, Van Halen front man Sammy Hagar’s Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, and books by celebrities such as Lauren Conrad, Pat Benatar, and Toni Braxton.

Sharkey leads Book Studio 16, which seeks to connect authors in relaxed, personal, and accessible platforms.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-12-40-24-pmSharkey used her charisma, sincerity, and candidness to engage the audience and share creative ways to approach the workplace and how to interpret and manage life lessons learned through negative experiences and new opportunities.

We are honored to have Sharkey as one of the well-respected David Pecker Distinguished Visiting Professors. We thank her for sharing her valuable insights and knowledge!

Spring 2014 David Pecker Lecture – The Power of PW with Cevin Bryerman

On Thursday, May 1, 2014, students, faculty, and friends of the MS in Publishing program were invited to the Spring 2014 David Pecker lecture. Cevin Bryerman, Publisher and Vice President of Publishers Weeklyand the 2013-2014 David J. Pecker Distinguished Professor, presented his lecture, “The Power of PW.” Professor Raskin, the Chair of the MS in Publishing program, gave Mr. Bryerman a warm welcome and thanked him for his support of the program. Mr. Bryerman has been in the magazine business, working at the helm of both trade and consumer magazines, and in strategic planning, business development, and partnerships for more than 25 years.

It was amazing, indeed, to see the power that Publishers Weekly possesses in the publishing industry. Mr. Bryerman laid out the details of how PW has affected publishing throughout its 150-year-long publication. Publishers Weekly, like other print magazines, has had to spread its property into the digital realm where it has also been successful. The magazine produces many types of publications that suit the needs of both the everyday consumer and the industry buyers. PW releases 9,000 book reviews each year, making it a very important tool. 

Even though magazines may be declining in their print forms, they are still thriving, like Publishers Weekly, in other forms. In each of those forms, whether through print, online, the app, or on a smart phone, PW reaches over one million people. Those one million set of eyes are important when it comes to which books are chosen for review. Every year, tens of thousands of books come in with the hopes of receiving a PW review.

unnamed-2Bryan Kinney, the Marketing Manager at PW, and Carl Pritzkat, PW’s Vice President of Business Development and President of Booklife.com, also gave some great insight to where Publishers Weekly is going in terms of the online world. It was great to learn that the magazine is always on the cutting edge of what is new in technology and social media. In order to attract attention in today’s fast paced world, and to keep that attention, it is necessary to have team members like them who can guide our favorite print publications onto digital platforms as well.

Where will Publishers Weekly take the publishing industry in the next ten, twenty, or even 150 years? It is exciting to imagine what the future will hold.

Thank you to Cevin Bryerman, for your knowledge and insight as this year’s David J. Pecker Distinguished Professor. The David J. Pecker Distinguished Professorship, which enables Pace to recruit and invite publishing leaders to teach and lecture within the MS in Publishing Program, allows Pace Publishing students to learn from the most successful, innovative, and influential people in the publishing world; deepens the connection between students and the industry; exposes students to the latest insights, innovations, and trends in the business; enhances the program’s already-glowing reputation, and allows it to compete both locally and nationally.

Publishers Weekly offers a special subscription rate for students. Subscribe today!