Interview with Judith Curr
When Simon & Schuster asked Judith Curr to set up a new imprint within the company, no one could have foreseen the meteoric success that the upstart Atria Books would enjoy almost immediately after launching in 2002. Now home to authors including Vince Flynn, Isabel Allende, and Kevin Hart, Atria has established itself as one of the most powerful names in publishing—and much of the imprint’s success is due to the attention and care that President and Publisher Judith Curr gives to the publishing process.
The Strand sat down with Curr to find out what drives Atria’s constant innovation and what’s on deck for the future.
GK: How did you get started in the world of publishing?
Curr: I started in cosmetics for Christian Dior when I was in Australia, and I eventually decided that I had run out of things to say about lipstick. I was a big reader, so I got a job as a publishing promotions manager for Bantam Books.
Strand: What inspired you to start Atria Books?
Curr: I worked in publishing in Australia for 17 years, and then I was asked to come over and work for Ballantine as an editor-in-chief. That’s how I came into the United States. I eventually became the publisher for Ballantine Books, and then I came to work at Simon & Schuster as the president of Pocket Books. Then there was a reorganization inside the company, and they asked me to set up a new imprint, and that’s how I came about starting Atria.
Strand: What type of writers is Atria interested in publishing?
Curr: When we started, I decided that I wanted four “pillars” of authors. We would have one that represented women’s fiction, which was Jennifer Weiner; one that represented general women’s fiction, which was Jodi Picoult; we picked her up on her third novel, My Sister’s Keeper. We had Vince Flynn, who’s a thriller writer, and then Zane, an African-American writer. For us, those authors served as the four pillars of the marketplace, and we began all of their careers in one way or another. In short, we’re looking for a clear voice, someone who really wants a career as a writer, someone whom we feel we can help and develop.
Strand: What’s some advice that you’d give to writers?
Curr: The very first author I worked with when I went from cosmetics to publishing was Joseph Heller. He had said that his blessing and curse was that he wrote his most successful book first; it gave him the opportunity to have a writer’s career, but it also set a measure that everything he did after was always compared to his first work. I always mention that when I’m working with authors; many think they want that big commercial success instantly, but it’s not necessarily always the best thing.
Strand: What are some standout moments for you in the history of Atria Books?
Curr: All the milestones: Our five-year anniversary, our ten-year anniversary—all that in and of itself is a testament to the collective of Atria, but I think the most notable success for us was The Secret. When we published that book it was, and still is, an international phenomenon, which gave us a very good standing to be able to build on our success. How you deal with success is really crucial to your continuation.
Strand: Where do you see the future of Atria Books?
Curr: I would love to be able to publish the novel as it’s going to be in ten years’ time. Right now, we’re working with this really wonderful crop of authors just embarking on their careers, and it’s really interesting to see what topics they’re writing about. They’ve built up a literary basis for themselves, and I’m very excited to see what they’re going to be doing in the next three or four years, and also what form the novel takes in the next ten years because it’s going to be quite different.
Strand: How do you think the novel will be different?
Curr: I think it’s going to be more of a mixture of the ways that you tell a story. For example, how you tell a story in your own social life. You may call or text someone, and you tell stories in pictures and texts and different forms of communication. How will that impact a novel in a more seamless way? No one’s really done anything like that yet. We’ve had a Twitter novel, and really experimental things, but what does that really mean for the way a novel and stories get told? Our goal is to be successful enough to be able to give people opportunities to develop those voices without having to be instantly commercially successful, at least in the way that everybody thinks of commercial success.
Strand: Any new books you’d recommend to our readers?
Curr: Yes, Joseph Kanon’s Defectors. If you want to understand what’s happening now between Washington and Russia, it begins in the Cold War, and those relationships seem to have always been there in some shape or form, and he explores that in his novel, set in 1949. It’s a wonderfully executed, beautiful book, and if you want to get any sense of what’s going on, it gives you a great background.