What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
There are so many urgent issues to discuss in this country at the moment: social justice, women’s rights, issues of race and gender discrimination—I hope that brave and bold thinkers and writers will lead the way.
Our bestselling books at the moment are books that address issues of race and social justice: Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.
After the election, I was thrilled to see a paperback original we published in 2015 begin to gain traction: Srdja Popovic’s Blueprint for Revolution. As a student in Belgrade, Srdja and his friends formed the movement that overthrew Slobodan Milošević, and his brilliant and funny book was originally subtitled How to Overthrow Dictators—which at the time I thought was something no American would be able to relate to.
And to counterbalance the serious conversations, escapist fiction will no doubt continue to sell strongly—we have high hopes for Janelle Brown’s forthcoming thriller, Watch Me Disappear, which is being published in July with strong support from our very enthusiastic sales force.
I think there’s also a growing market for books that help us navigate the hard times: spiritual books (this year we published the Indian guru Sadhguru’s New York Times bestseller, Inner Engineering),books of wisdom, and prescriptive books that can help us feel a little saner.
Poetry seems to be finding a bigger audience than ever before—in the fall, we’re publishing an anthology of poetry called How Lovely the Ruins, which came about when we noticed that people had begun sharing poems on social media in response to political events—as a way to cope with anxiety! Our editors Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda curated the collection, drawing from what moved us most on our friends’ social media feeds and putting a call out to our Random House colleagues and friends.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’d love to discover an accessible, beautifully written book that addresses the times we are living in in a galvanizing way, that can lend perspective, give hope, tell a story—I’d love to find a powerful woman’s voice that can resonate across divides.
Or a great novel that lends perspective in a timeless yet relevant way. We recently published just such a brilliant first novel that is both timeless and timely—Sana Krasikov’s The Patriots, a three-generational novel set both in Russia and the U.S., which Yann Martel called “a Dr. Zhivago for our times.” Sana began writing the novel eight years ago, when a Cold War novel didn’t seem at all relevant, while the parallels now between Roosevelt and Stalin in the 1940s and between Trump and Putin today are uncanny.
It just goes to show that great novelists and artists are true visionaries, and when their works manage to intersect with the right moment in history, books can have such a powerful impact.
The very morning of the day, now so many years ago, that I received the submission for Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, I had read in the New York Times that the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan—at the time, Afghanistan was hardly mentioned in the news. By the time the book was published, a year or so later, we were at war with Afghanistan—and the book felt suddenly urgent and necessary too: it was the perfect way to a deeper understanding of its culture and people.
But Khaled had begun writing the book long before it reached my desk—just another example of the mystery of publishing: as an editor or publisher, you can recognize how powerful a book is, how beautifully it’s written, and how much it moves you, but there are so many factors we have no control over that ultimately have a large part in determining the fate of a book.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Well, the beauty of this business is that you never know when a book will transcend its genre and make its subject feel totally relevant. But for the moment, I’ll just say novels that include talking dogs—believe me, there are more than you might think!
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I love publishing books that feel relevant to the moment we’re living in—it allows me to participate in public life while doing the most private of activities: reading. And I feel so fortunate to work on a small list with a brilliant team that focuses on each book and benefits from the muscle and teamwork of a large corporation.
I suppose what’s really unique is my more than 20-year partnership with Julie Grau. I am so lucky to have a true publishing partner—we can finish each other’s sentences, and yet we can also surprise ourselves and each other with new ways of thinking about books and new topics of interest.
What I love most about this business is that we’re constantly exposed to new ideas and stories that help us continue to grow and change. In the past few years, we’ve been publishing spiritual books that have taken us on some wild adventures, from Tennessee to Coimbatore.
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the best things about being an editor and publisher is that you get to follow your passions. My son went to the same high school as the son of Justin Davidson, the architecture critic at New York Magazine. For the school fundraiser, Justin would offer a walking tour of New York—a different neighborhood each year. When my son graduated, I thought that there would be no more walking tours in my future—until I realized that Justin could write a book of walking tours of New York for me!
His Magnetic City: A Walking Companion to New York (which Kirkus gave a starred review to, I’m proud to say!) was recently published, and now everyone can share Justin’s insights and his knowledge of New York’s past, present, and future, just as I did.
Though the publishing landscape changes continually and we are constantly looking for new ways to engage and reach readers and always looking for the new big thing, the one thing that never changes in this job is the joy of discovery. That’s what keeps all of us going: the hope that we will come upon a new voice that gives new meaning to the moment, that helps us transcend our sense of the limitations of the self, that at once enlarges and deepens our understanding of our place and purpose in the world.
Of course, we all read for entertainment too, but even then I think we’re always looking for some sense of recognition, some spark of connection that can help us navigate our lives. In my experience, books are the medium best suited for that kind of solitary-yet-connected experience. And when that connection happens—there’s nothing quite like it!
It’s always good to remind oneself in hard times that books really do have the power to shift conversations, create meaning, and even effect change!
Cindy Spiegel is publisher of Spiegel & Grau, which sheco-founded with Julie Grau as an imprint of Random House with the mission of bringing to readers new voices and stories that help shape the cultural conversation. Books published by S&G include Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land and Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black. Before starting Spiegel & Grau, she was a founding editor and then co-publisher of Riverhead Books, where she acquired and edited James McBride’s The Color of Water. She has also launched the publishing careers of writers including Sana Krasikov, Philipp Meyer, Gary Shteyngart, Kathleen Norris, and Chang-rae Lee and has edited books by Yann Martel, Harold Bloom, Sara Gruen, Anne Lamott, and Dan Pink, among many others. She serves on the board of directors of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive and is on the advisory board of Columbia Global Reports, a nonprofit publishing imprint of Columbia University.