Navigation

Follow Authorlink:

All about publishing a book, getting help to convert a PDF to eBook, and keeping up with publishing industry news

William Claiborne Hancock’s Pegasus Books Brings Fresh Vision to Publishing

| Format: Written | Contributor:

 

An exclusive Authorlink interview with William Claiborne Hancock

Founder of Pegasus Books

By Doris Booth

October 2005

 

. . .the value and mystique
of good literature are not dead.

William Claiborne Hancock made perhaps the boldest move of his life in September 2005. He left his job of seven years as senior managing editor and an acquiring editor for the $30 million Avalon Publishing Group to launch his own publishing company, Pegasus Books. That such a young, energetic man would wade fearlessly into the chaos of today’s book publishing arena proves that the value and mystique of good literature are not dead; rather, they have passed to a new generation.

We fittingly met Claiborne Hancock in the famous Algonquin Hotel cabaret—once frequented by literary luminaries such as Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner—to talk about the launch of Pegasus Books. Tall, slender, and boyishly charming, Hancock possesses the same unshakable literary vision and enthusiasm of the late Bennett Cerf, the legendary publisher who founded Random House in 1927 and published the greats of his day—from James Joyce to Truman Capote, Irwin Shaw, and James Michener.

Why should Hancock, a thirty-something entrepreneur, enter an already crowded field at a time when even venerable publishing giants are struggling with the bottom line? Perhaps because he believes the “bottom line” has more to do with delivering a truly good book, than with creating market hype for a mediocre one.

". . .he believes the “bottom line”
has more to do with delivering
a truly good book, than with
creating market hype
for a mediocre one."

—Hancock

“For a writer to succeed with the craft they must connect with the audience,” he told Authorlink, shifting his long legs on the low velvet chair not made for men. The kind of author Hancock has successfully attracted to Pegasus Books may indeed connect with a wide audience. THE MERCY SEAT by British author Martyn Waites, will be Pegasus’s debut title, due in April 2006. Waites is one of the brightest stars in British crime writing. The new book, set in Newcastle near London, will have a cover blurb praising Waites’s previous work from New York Times bestselling thriller writer John Connolly—not a bad way for a small new publisher to make an early splash on the bookselling scene.

“I believe there’s enough room in the market for a publishing house with vision and dedication to the authors,” Hancock said. His mission is to make a stand as a successful independent trade publisher in New York.

 

“I believe there’s enough room
in the market
for a publishing house with vision
and dedication to the authors.”

—Hancock

In early September, Hancock opened a small office on Wall Street in New York, and will launch his first titles for Pegasus Books in spring 2006. His plan was to publish 12 books the first year, 8 in the first spring list, but he has already spotted 20 titles he wants to bring to bookshelves. His main focus will be on crime, mystery, history, biography, pop culture, and serious nonfiction. “I don’t want Pegasus to be pigeon-holed into this category or that,” he cautioned. “I will publish what catches my eye, which means I have to fall for a book on the first page. The language has to attract me.” One unlikely example is the soon-to-be-published chick lit novel, READER, I MARRIED HIM, by Michelle Roberts, originally released by Little Brown in England. This will be the first American edition.

“Were you attracted by Roberts’s writing style or her big name?” we bluntly asked.

“Certainly it is easier to publish established authors, or those who are on the rise. However, I would be open to publishing a debut novel—most definitely.”

“. . .I would be open to publishing
a debut novel—most definitely.”

—Hancock

Cerf himself might have said a similar thing. “We just said we were going to publish a few books on the side at random,” the publishing icon once said. Hence the name Random House.

Hancock chose the company name, Pegasus, because of his love of Greek mythology. “My father read the story of Perseus and Pegasus to me as a child and these bedtime stories sparked my love of reading,” he said.

For all his emphasis upon literary quality, however, Claiborne Hancock has an unmistakably shrewd sense of business. He wrote a prospectus which detailed the net profits of several of his acquisitions at Avalon and presented it to Wachovia Securities, the non-bank affiliate of Wachovia Corporation, one of the largest financial institutions in America. Pegasus Books won the substantial financial backing it needed.

Hancock helped Avalon grow from a small house to one of the leading independent publishers in the United States. There and at its Carroll & Graf imprint, he worked with a number of literary greats, including Otto Penzler, the prestigious New York mystery editor, and he is now publishing one of Penzler’s anthologies at Pegasus.

Claiborne is a native of Richmond, Virginia. After college, he took the famous Radcliff publishing course and later went to work in New York , first for Applause Books, a dramatic arts publication, and then for Avalon. He has written and published his own short works in various literary magazines.

He may just figure out the secret
to “connecting with the reader.”

Many publishing professionals, including agents, booksellers, and authors alike, want Hancock’s dream to come true and are willing to do all they can to help him succeed. Bennett Cerf came into publishing at a time when readers needed his special brand of literary vision. Claiborne Hancock, it seems, has a much-needed vision for modern literature too. He may just figure out the secret to “connecting with the reader.” If he does, the publishing bean counters had better watch out.

He may just figure out the secret to “connecting with the reader.”

Doris Booth