Tag Archives: Richard Marek

Remembering Richard Marek

Longtime Old Mill resident Richard Marek died yesterday of esophageal cancer. His wife, Dalma Heyn, children Alexander Marek and Elizabeth Marek Litt, and 4 grandchildren were by his side.

Richard Marek and Dalma Heyn (Photo/Pam Barkentin)

During his half-century in book publishing he published the final works of James Baldwin; The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris; the first 9 books of fellow Westporter Robert Ludlum, and many other bestsellers.

Marek began his publishing career at Macmillan, refurbishing its backlist, but soon moved to acquiring original titles and to another house, World Publishing. There he edited Ludlum’s first thriller, The Scarlatti Inheritance, which sold to Dell paperbacks for the highest price ever paid at the time for a first novel.

He was quickly hired as editor-in-chief of the Dial Press by publisher Helen Meyer. “I turned down The Scarlatti Inheritance when I first read it in manuscript,” she said, “but wound up paying $155,000 for the paperback rights. I figured I’d better hire its editor, too.”

At Dial Marek, working with his lifelong colleague editor, Joyce Engelson (“The hottest Platonic relationship in publishing,” a friend called it), published 4 bestsellers in 1974. Among them was James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

His relationship with Baldwin began disastrously. On Marek’s first day at Dial, Meyer told him that Baldwin had signed an unauthorized contract with a different publisher. It was Marek’s job, she said, to make sure that no Baldwin book would be published by any house but Dial.

Baldwin was living at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France. Marek wrote him every day for months. He never replied.

Marek was sent to track down the author in person, first in Paris where Baldwin never showed, and then to the Negresco Hotel in Nice, where he did — flanked by a lawyer, an agent and a lover.

“This nigger ain’t never goin’ to pick another bale of cotton on Helen Meyer’s plantation,” he announced. A drag-out fight ensued, and the two men fled to the hotel restaurant.

There, oiled by several bottles of wine, they became friends. At the end of the night Baldwin handed Marek some words scribbled on a napkin, guaranteeing him free passage from New York City on the day the Revolution took over. Meyer got her author back, and Marek and Baldwin remained friends the rest of their lives.

Impatient with the stodgy ways of publishing, Marek took chances. On receiving the first novel brought in by Joyce Engelson about 4 doctors going through their residencies at a mythical hospital called, as was the book, The House of God.

Marek’s sales manager at Dial said it was so bad, he’d have to give it away.

“Terrific idea!” Marek said, and did the unthinkable. He printed 10,000 copies with their jackets stamped so they couldn’t be returned, and gave them away to booksellers. In exchange, they had to agree to display the book in their front windows.

The industry was aghast. Marek was accused of trying to bankrupt Dial. But the promotion cost far less than a full-page ad in The New York Times, and people began to rave about the book. It sold to paperback and, while Marek promised not to try such a stunt again, the book has now sold over 2.5 million copies.

Marek was a novelist himself. His 1987 Works of Genius concerns the psychological takeover of his literary agent by a great (and narcissistic) modern writer. Readers suspected the writer character was based on Ludlum, but Marek denied any such association.

Marek was born on June 14, 1933. He married Margot Ravage in 1956, and had 2 children, Elizabeth and Alexander. Four years after the death of his wife in 1987, Marek married author Dalma Heyn. They maintained joint offices in their Westport home. Together they wrote How to Fall in Love: A Novel, which was published last year.

“Love is more important than anything else in this world,” Marek said shortly before he died. “If you’re lucky enough to have it — and write about it — you will have a happy life.”

(Hat tip: Pam Barkentin)

Local Authors Find E-Publishing “A Godsend”

Westporter Richard Marek is no stranger to publishing.

He spent 40 years in the business, including a stint as president and publisher of E.P. Dutton. He discovered Robert Ludlum, edited 4 books by James Baldwin, and published people like Peter Straub and Richard Condon.

Richard Marek and Dalma Heyn. (Photo/Pam Barkentin Blackburn)

But when he and his wife, social commentator and author (The Erotic Silence of the American Wife) Dalma Heyn wrote their 1st book together, more than a dozen editors had strong suggestions.

All of them different.

Change the hero, one said.

Change the heroine, advised another.

Add more sex.

Take out some of the sex.

Exhausted, Richard and Dalma put A Godsend: A Love Story For Grownups in a drawer.

They thought there was a market for this tough-to-classify “love story for all of us who are no longer kids,” but the people who offer contracts and actually publish books were not so sure.

A year later, Richard and Dalma talked to David Wilk. The “head trickster” of Booktrix — a publishing consultancy firm — and son of noted Westporters Max and Barbara Wilk, David thought Godsend would be a good candidate for digital publishing.

David handled all the details. He got the book onto every popular e-reader: Kindles, Nooks, iPads.

Now Richard and Dalma are sitting back, waiting for the money to roll in.

Or not.

“I’ve published 3 books,” she says. “They all had advances. We’re not sure what will happen with this one.”

“No one knows how to make any money on ebooks,” he adds.

So why are they publishing this way?

“The industry is changing,” Richard notes. “After so many years in it, I’m fascinated to see how this works.”

“It’s a great book,” Dalma says. “It’s fun to see how this Wild West of publishing handles something like this.”

A Nook Simple Touch.

Without a standard publisher, e-book authors must handle all the marketing themselves.

“You have to be knowledgeable about the internet, and spend 17 hours a day at it,” she says. They’re not, and they aren’t.

But, according to Richard, the flip side of e-publishing is “your book never dies. When I was in business, books died after 3 months.”

With no shelf life — because there are no shelves — books can gain audiences slowly. Every Valentine’s Day, Dalma says, she and her husband will launch a new marketing campaign.

Of course, Richard and Dalma are doing a bit of old-fashioned marketing too: book talks. Tomorrow (Thursday, March 29, 7 p.m.) they’re at the Westport Barnes & Noble.

They’ll discuss their latest work. They’ll share insights on e-publishing.

They’ll also hold a drawing for a Nook Simple Touch.

So the winner can read A Godsend — and 2.5 million other books — without ever having to set foot in a bookstore again.