Working from a cozy office in her sprawling Central Park West home, Marta Hallett has established Glitterati Incorporated as one of the leading boutique illustrated book publishers in the country, providing a sophisticated mix of stylish titles, which enjoy a vibrant life outside the crumbling book industry.
Smartly, she has partnered with the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, April Cornell, and the International Center of Photography on high-quality titles dedicated to elevating the discourse in art, culture, fashion, design, travel, food, and lifestyle. With over 30 years experience, Miss Hallett has built Glitterati’s reputation as a publisher of modern beauty and iconography, spotlighting work from Coco Chanel, Josie Natori, Villa d’Este, Ralph Pucci, and the kitchen of Mrs. Charles Darwin, among many others.
I first met Miss Hallett some ten years ago, when she was the publisher of Rizzoli. For someone in her position, I found Marta remarkably accessible, engaging, and welcoming. Her warmth is part of her charm, and though I was essentially a nobody, a glorified secretary assigned to filing duties, Marta was always gracious and patient with any query or concern.
A few years later, both Marta and I were part of the ranks of former Rizzoli employees. In 2002, Marta called to see if my new employer, powerHouse Books, would be interested in distributing her newest incarnation, Glitterati Incorporated. After years at the helm of houses including HarperCollins, Smithmark Publishers, with an imprint at Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, Miss Hallett had decided to leave the confines of the corporate lifestyle for the uncharted waters of independent publishing.
Earlier this year, I reconnected with Miss Hallett once again when I decided to leave powerHouse Books to join her in the creation of my own company, Miss Rosen. It is in this capacity that I can work one-on-one with colleagues, whose vision and dedication provide me with the knowledge and inspiration to go it alone. That Marta is now one of my clients, and that I continue to share in her future, is a gift I greatly cherish.
I love the story you told about graduating college and turning down your father’s offer to finance a one-year trip to Europe so that you could move to New York City and work in an office! Tell me more about the kind of woman you were at 18. I really don’t think an apparatus like Kindle can replace the genre of illustrated books, which present themselves as objects and have an intrinsic value because of production.
Marta Hallett: I just knew I could not wait to be on my own and totally independent; I was dying to work, explore the world, have my own money (rather than be on the dole of my parents), and I could not wait to start my life for real. In some ways, I’m the same now. I’ve always loved change and reinventing myself.
I really don’t think an apparatus like Kindle can replace the genre of illustrated books, which present themselves as objects and have an intrinsic value because of production.
How did you first get started in book publishing and who influenced and mentored you?
Once I arrived in New York, my first job wasworking for a very smart and innovative company that had decided there needed to be a talent collective for all the chefs of the world, who at that point were virtually unknown and independent of each other, in a company called the Good Cooking School, organized by James Beard, Milton Glaser (New York magazine’s “Underground Gourmet”), and an entrepreneur named Burton Wolf, who is now a food travel expert.
I was hired as Burton Wolf’s assistant, and when the editor of The Cook’s Catalog (a book they were producing for Avon Books and Harper & Row) left the company, I was promoted to managing editor. It was an incredible opportunity for me to learn how to make an illustrated book. When the project was completed, Nach Waxman, the Harper in-house editor for the book, asked me what interesting project I would be doing next I replied, “Looking for an interesting job!” He told me he was sure there was a place for me at Harper. I interviewed and was hired as a special trade editor on a huge field guide project they had been producing for years, but which needed a dedicated editor… And it went on from there.
I was in the right place at the right time. In 1975 no one in editorial knew anything about making illustrated books with color art. But I did from my experience at managing The Cook’s Catalog. I knew something that was to be quite rare for years to come.
You spent over thirty years in the corporate sector before striking out on your own. What is the most liberating aspect of being your own boss?
Actually I spent 15 years in the middle of my career with corporations, working in my own book producing business in the heyday of the advent of lifestyle books. I had two very successful companies before I moved to HarperCollins in 1996. I love everything about being my own boss except the exigencies of cash flow!
I know you just returned from a trip to Villa D’Este, with whom you have worked on several projects. How did you come to work with them, and what made you return to this magical hotel?
When I was at HarperCollins I was introduced to the legendary Jean Salvadore, the PR “goddess” of Villa D’Este for the past 42 years, by the very wonderful Larry Ashmead. Jean was hoping to publish a book on the history and style of the Villa D’Este, and Larry thought I might be interested. Jean and I are now like family. We’re now working together on Jean’s memoir, beginning with her life as a youngster in war-torn Europe, and going on to her being the first publicist in all of Italy as the TWA publicist in Rome for Howard Hughes, and finally, as the doyenne of Villa d’Este, where she presides to this day.
So many of your books are about travel. What are your favorite getaway destinations?
I return to Paris over and over again. I also love Tunisia and Morocco. But the trip that changed my life was going on safari in Kenya around 1980. That trip was wondrous—like traveling to another planet. So much has changed in the industry over the years. What strikes you as the best and worst of these changes? I guess the most prominent disappointment is the declining lack of interest in high quality content and the profusion of books that lack power and profundity. The best change is the Internet. Publishers can now glean all sorts of information to help them better address their readers, as well as create definitive texts and databases. I love the ability we now have to use a wide array of research to pinpoint every small factoid that we want to know.
What are your thoughts on the emergence of the e-book/Kindle, and how do you see it having an impact on the Glitterati product?
I love the Kindle because I think it’s brilliant, and I cannot believe that everyone will not want to own one once the price becomes more affordable. For travel, what could be better than to gang up all those books most of us carry around, not wanting to leave them behind in hotels when we finish them, and to have the gratification of reading all the time we’re away?
On the other hand, I think it’s important to realize that the Kindle is to books what the microwave is to an oven. It’s an incredible extension and appliance, but as a replacement, it’s impossible. I really don’t think an apparatus like Kindle can replace the genre of illustrated books, which present themselves as objects and have an intrinsic value because of production.
How have you seen your work change as a result of the industry’s instability? What is your secret for staying ahead of the curve?
Being a small company allows us to try to stay ahead of the curve. Whether we actually achieve this the majority of the time is debatable! We want to use the internet as a tool for addressing customers’ needs, transmitting information more effectively, and keeping our partners, authors, and clients informed and interested.
Who do you most admire in book publishing?
Lawrence P. Ashmead, who is a god among editors, publishers and anyone in the industry. He is not only brilliant, but he is a generous, kind, and truly a unique person.
What would surprise book lovers to know about the industry?
That most illustrated books do not sell in stores. Many sell through special sales venues that we set up in conjunction with the launch of the book, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s, or the New York Botanical Garden. In addition, the Internet has become a huge resource for selling illustrated books, because people can read a review and quickly click through to a purchase, rather than having to go to a bookstore and hope that they actually stock it! Customers expect immediacy these days, and the Internet and special events centered around books serve their needs better than bookstores often do.
What should everyone who wants to publish a book know?
They will not become rich as an author, but there is deep gratification in expressing oneself perfectly in print and on paper.
If you could do a book project with any person living or dead, who would it be and why? Every time a new project comes along I think that is the one that I cannot live without!
What kinds of artists, writers, projects interest you personally?
I really am interested in people who expand their minds constantly through exploring new ideas. And I like to work with authors who, through their explorations, bring something exciting and mind-expanding to my world. Being an editor is the perfect dilettante’s endeavor. You need to know a little bit about a lot of things. I love that aspect of the business.
What have been some of your favorite projects and why?
My Peanuts publishing program was probably the most monumental thing I did because it gave me the opportunity to develop and reinvent one of the great geniuses of our time: Charles Schulz. And he was truly a genius. He cared about nothing at all except making his art. He was incredible.
I loved working with Fleur Cowles. I think she was also a genius in her way, although she was a difficult personality who was totally self-absorbed, but endlessly fascinating.
I love working with Douglas Kirkland, whose Coco Chanel book we published last year. Here is a person who could have been resting on his laurels for the past 20 years, but is still out there roughing it on movie sets, taking pictures and educating young talent about the wonders of photography. He doesn’t stop. He is an inspiration.
I could name hundreds more. One of the wonders of being a publisher, especially when it is one’s own company, is that you can make the decision to work only with people you like and admire. That’s an incredible thing. It allows me to spend time with some of the most intelligent, wonderful people in the universe, and every one of them has some sort of impact (usually positive!) on the world in which we live.
What is the greatest accomplishment in your career?
I can’t say. Someone else would have to decide. But one of my greatest moments was having my books (The Spice Girls in Your Pocket series) hit the New York Times Bestseller list. It was beyond exciting! But is that really an accomplishment? I guess in some ways it is because it was the kind of outside public validation for which every publisher/editor yearns. Was it as meaningful as some of the incredible art books that I feel privileged to have published, which would not have seen the light of day without me? Probably not!
“I really don’t think an apparatus like Kindle can replace the genre of illustrated books, which present themselves as objects and have an intrinsic value because of production.”