Jed Donahue Discusses the Rebirth of Conservative Publishing in New York

November 15, 2003
Written by

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview With Jed Donahue
Editor of Crown Forum (Random House), Political Imprint

By Doris Booth

November 2003

Part II of II on Conservative Political Publishing

The New York publishing industry–cleaving mostly to the political left for decades–is at last striving to create a more balanced literary landscape. Two major publishers, Crown (Random House) and Penguin Putnam each recently launched new conservative socioeconomic and political lines, reflecting (or perhaps cashing in on) the changing mood of the country under a Republican President, a GOP majority in the House, Senate, and among U.S.governors. A third house, HarperCollins, in October 2003 assigned Perfectbound editor Sean Abbott as senior editor for HarperCollins General Books which will focus on works by conservative authors. This is the second of a two-part series on how the first two top publishers see their missions and why they decided to emphasize the conservative perspective.

In Part II we talk with Jed Donahue, editor of Crown Forum at Random House. Donahue, bright, efficacious, and 30-something, was hired in June 2003 to head the new Crown Forum imprint.

Read Part I.

"Crown recognized a vast community of readers–half the American population, really–that was being underserved by the publishing industry. –Donahue

AUTHORLINK TO CROWN'S DONAHUE: How did the Crown Forum line come into being?

DONAHUE: Fundamentally, Crown recognized a vast community of readers–half the American population, really–that was being underserved by the publishing industry. Crown Forum was formally launched this past spring, but the preparation actually began a couple of years earlier. The imprint is an expansion on the Forum line of conservative nonfiction previously published by Prima Lifestyles, which became part of Crown in 2001. Then in 2002 Crown published Ann Coulter's Slander, which talks about the liberal slant in countless American institutions, including book publishing. Ann knew from experience: here she was, a bestselling author, and publishers wouldn't touch Slander before Crown signed it. And that book became a number one New York Times bestseller for many weeks. So these things opened Crown's eyes, not only to the considerable market opportunity but also to the fact that we should be publishing for the whole country. And the market has been responding: Our first three books have been New York Times bestsellers, including our debut title, Ann Coulter's Treason, which was published in June 2003 and now has over 500,000 copies in print.

AUTHORLINK: How did you become editor of the line at such a young age?

DONAHUE: It was important for Crown to have someone with experience in conservative publishing. I had spent six years as an editor for Regnery Publishing in Washington, D.C., where I worked on, among other books, Coulter's High Crimes and Misdemeanors, released just prior to the impeachment case against former President Bill Clinton.

AUTHORLINK: Must an author be a well-known politician or celebrity to be published by Crown Forum?

DONAHUE: Not necessarily. Forum isn't a celebrity imprint. We select projects on a case by case basis. The element that unites all books we publish is a strong union between the author and the concept. We don't just seek big names. An author can be a working journalist, for example, or someone with a unique perspective on a particular topic or with an important story that hasn't been heard before.

AUTHORLINK: Does Crown Forum publish only politically conservative books?

DONAHUE: We do specialize in books serving conservative readers and addressing subjects from a conservative perspective. But our books do not focus only on political issues. Often our books are news-driven or even news-driving, but our list is wide-ranging. We publish books on current affairs, works of history, memoirs, and works of social/cultural commentary, among others. For example, in September we published FDR's Folly, historian Jim Powell's look at how the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression and made it much worse. Powell is editor of Laissez Faire Books and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Another book released this past summer is Tales from the Left Coast by James Hirsen of NewsMax, another New York Times bestseller. This looks at the leftism that dominates Hollywood. In late October we published what I consider to be a very important book, Ken Timmerman's Preachers of Hate, which shows how the anti-Semitism that is so widespread in the Muslim world is at the core of why so many Muslims hate America. Timmerman is an investigative reporter who wrote Shakedown, a bestselling biography of Jesse Jackson.

And we've got a number of big books coming up. For example, we have former Labor Secretary nominee Linda Chavez's Betrayal, an exposé of how the labor unions have corrupted the political process. We also have Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media by Brent Bozell, the founder and president of the Media Research Center. U.S. News & World Report senior writer Michael Barone is working on a fascinating book called Hard America, Soft America. We've also got the memoir of journalist and CNN commentator Bob Novak and the next book from defense and national security reporter Bill Gertz, who has written two major bestsellers. We've signed a number of other books, too. Our list is a rich mix of opinion and genre. The books are not necessarily about what happens on Capitol Hill. The perspective is much broader.

"It is more important for us to publish successfully than to publish in quantity."–Donahue

AUTHORLINK: How many titles will Crown Forum produce annually?

DONAHUE: Approximately 12 to 15 titles. Iit is more important for us to publish successfully than to publish in quantity. We stand behind every title and push it relentlessly to ensure that it reaches the widest readership possible. The conservative marketplace has traditionally been ignored by publishers. We, however, are specifically targeting that market. We feel this segment is hungry for books that appeal to their views. While we do not ignore the mainstream media, our dedicated publicity and marketing people know there are other ways to reach our audience beyond The Today Show, and we are very effective at reaching out to alternative media. It is no coincidence that the first three books we published at Crown Forum have hit the New York Times bestseller list.

AUTHORLINK: How did you become an editor?

DONAHUE: I was raised in Connecticut and went to Georgetown University, where as an American Studies major I studied a lot of history and government and was fascinated by current affairs and the American culture. I worked for three years for George F. Will (the Washington Post columnist, TV personality, and author). When I helped Will with one of his books, I became fascinated with the publishing process and began talking with editors at the major New York houses. Shortly thereafter I went to work at Regnery Publishing, which is known for publishing books that challenge the status quo. Then I joined Crown Forum this past summer.

"People who read our books have an opportunity to hear voices and opinions that may have never had a platform."–Donahue

AUTHORLINK: And how do you feel about building the line at Crown Forum?

DONAHUE: It's everything I hoped it would be. People who read our books have an opportunity to hear voices and opinions that may have never had a platform. To me, that is very important. The fact that Crown Forum is a commercial success says we're doing something right.

–Doris Booth

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This post was written by Doris Booth