Stephen Rubin, a book-business fortune-teller who helped make John Grisham and Dan Brown famous authors and who published Michael Wolff’s 2018 chronicle of the Trump White House, “Fire and Fury,” died Friday in Manhattan. Went. He was 81 years old.
His nephew David Rotter said the cause of his death in hospital was complications from sepsis that arose after a recent infection.
Mr. Rubin was a patron of classical music who employed a driver. Yet he was a working-class Bronx kid who valued literary prestige less than the bottom line.
“When I read something that I know is absolutely amazing, I see dollar signs,” he told The New York Times for a 2018 profile.
In the same article, Simon & Schuster chairman and chief executive Jonathan Karp called Mr. Rubin “the quintessential hitmaker.”
“He is to the book business,” Mr. Carp said, “what Clive Davis is to the music industry.”
Mr. Rubin was a 43-year-old freelance journalist and unemployed magazine editor when he took his first job in publishing at Bantam Books.
He had to ask his boss what the use of the word “royalty” meant in the industry, but he also showed initiative. For the first original novel purchased by Sally Beauman, “Destiny”, she paid $1,015,000, the highest advance ever given to an unknown author. The novel became a bestseller.
Nine months after his appointment, Mr. Rubin became editor-in-chief of Bantam. Just a few years later, in 1990, they acquired Doubleday, which, like Bantam, was owned by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. He continued to make million-dollar bets on unpublished books.
“Trying to publish big-ticket best sellers is the riskiest game you can play,” Mr. Rubin writes in his article. History, “Words and Music: Confessions of an Optimist,” published by Rowman & Littlefield in January. “But that’s been my modus operandi.”
When he arrived at Doubleday, the imprint was about to publish “The Firm,” the second book by John Grisham, a little-known novel-writing attorney and former Mississippi state legislator. When “The Firm” debuted, Mr. Rubin invested heavily in advertising for both the book and Mr. Grisham himself. Doubleday issued a hardcover edition of Mr. Grisham’s previously unpublished novel, “A Time to Kill,” and that also became a best seller.
The two men worked together for about 20 years, during which period Mr. Grisham wrote a popular new book more or less every year.
“He was involved in every aspect of every book, from the story to the title to the marketing,” Mr. Grisham said in a phone interview. “Even at the end of my career, when I’d sold so many books you wouldn’t have thought I’d have anyone to listen to, Steve didn’t criticize me harshly – and he was often right.”
In the early 2000s, Mr. Rubin—now running Doubleday Broadway, a reorganized firm under the corporate umbrella of Random House—evaluated the work of another uncredited novelist, Dan Brown. Mr. Brown had already written three novels, but he had all poorly sold, Mr. Rubin read one of his new proposals and spent $400,000 on a two-book deal.
In 2003, Mr. Rubin published Mr. Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” a mystical tale of centuries-old cults and occult Christian mythology that became one of the most popular books of the modern era. It sold over 80 million copies, was translated into several languages (including Uyghur), and provoked the Vatican to appoint a cardinal to refute it. called “Embarrassing and unfounded errors” and inspired a film that grossed approximately $760 million worldwide.
New York magazine said, “The momentum at New York’s most important publishing house is not coming from the charismatic Sonny Mehta (old news) or the free-spending Ann Godoff (transferred to Penguin). wrote in 2006. “Instead, much of Random House’s power now rests with Rubin, the expansionist publisher of the Doubleday Broadway imprint.”
Mr. Rubin used the money he earned from “The Da Vinci Code” to expand the imprint while his competitors shrunk. “Lock up your editors,” one industry insider told The New Yorker.
But by October 2008, Doubleday’s fortunes had changed. Imprint laid off 10 percent of its employees, and soon after Merged With Knopf, Mr. Mehta, Knopf’s publisher, was empowered over Mr. Rubin, whose new position, publisher at large, gave him a grand title but little real power.
New York magazine developed a new adjective For Mr. Rubin: “The Icarus of big-advanced publishing.”
In 2009, he became president and publisher of Henry Holt, a smaller firm without Doubleday’s lineage. He immediately made a particularly big bet, paying Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly and co-writer Martin Dugard nearly $6 million to write “Killing Lincoln,” about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. is a work of history. An exciting one.
It sold millions of copies and spawned a series of popular (if factually challenged) murder books by Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Dugard, which brought Holt “unheard of amounts of money,” Mr. Rubin later said. told Publishers Weekly. The company began paying Mr. O’Reilly eight-figure advances.
In 2018, at the age of 76, Mr. Rubin was once again ready to achieve great things. In less than two months after Holt published it, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” sold more than 900,000 copies, not including e-book sales and audio downloads. This led to President Donald J. Helped to cause a rift between Trump and his adviser Steve Bannon, which never fully healed; Inspired an early sketch on “Saturday Night Live”; and was even read aloud By Hillary Clinton at the Grammy Awards.
Mr. Wolfe said his plans changed rapidly while working on the book, but Mr. Rubin remained loyal to the project throughout.
“He’s the kind of guy you really want when you’re writing a book and you’re full of skeptics,” Mr. Wolfe told The Times in 2018.
Stephen Edward Rubin was born on November 10, 1941, in the Bronx, where he grew up. Both of his parents were the children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father, Irving, ran a buckle-manufacturing plant in Brooklyn with his brother. Steve’s mother Evelyn (Halpern) Rubin was a housewife.
Mr. Rubin received a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University.
In the 1970s, Mr. Rubin wrote frequently about classical music for The Times. He also founded and ran his own news syndicate of freelance writers, Writers’ Block, and was briefly an editor at Vanity Fair in the early 1980s.
Other notable books published by Mr. Rubin were two 2003 novels, Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and Lauren Weisberger’s “The Devil Wears Prada” (which was adapted for a film released in 2006. was also adapted) ).
Mr. Rubin faced a dilemma in 2017 when one of his star moneymakers, Mr. O’Reilly, became the subject of a New York Times investigation that revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Mr. O’Reilly lost his job at Fox News and his representation by two talent agencies, but Holt remained committed to him. “The corporate stance is that it is not our job to evaluate our writers,” Mr. Rubin told The Times in 2018.
Yet Mr. O’Reilly’s sales fell sharply. “People had to give up their bonuses,” Mr. Rubin told Publishers Weekly this year. In 2020, he left Holt and became a consulting publisher for Simon & Schuster.
In addition to his work in publishing, Mr. Rubin created the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, which has trained classical music critics and provided funding to newspapers to publish music writing.
Mr. Rubin’s gossipy memoir named best sellers that he thought no one had actually read (Thomas Piketty’s “Capital,” Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and, he wrote, Thomas Pynchon. Complete work of); His biggest failures were listed (including books by Billy Crystal, Mia Farrow, and Anita Hill); and a series of episodes of corporate infighting.
In 1966, Mr. Rubin met Cynthia Robbins, a manager and publicist whose focus was on opera. They started dating, later married and lived together until she dead in 2010. (No immediate family members survived.)
Mr. Rubin’s reaction to the success of “Fire and Fury” was mostly typical. He expressed delight at The Times selling “a billion copies”. But in his memoir, he expressed a new mournful tone about the place of books in mass culture.
“In an age when social media and cable television dominate the conversation,” he wrote, “it is thrilling that a single book can dispel all stagnant situations and have a profound impact on an entire nation.”