Howard Kamin­sky, pub­lisher with a best-seller sense, dies

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

Howard Kamin­sky, who honed his in­stincts for pub­lish­ing com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful books at scrappy Warner Books and par­layed that sense into high-level po­si­tions at Ran­dom House and Hearst, died Aug. 26 in New York. Kamin­sky, whose au­thors in­cluded Richard M. Nixon and Don­ald Trump, was 77.

His daugh­ter Jes­sica Kamin­sky said the cause was a heart at­tack.

Brash and witty, Kamin­sky de­vel­oped his rep­u­ta­tion at Warner with best sellers like Never-Say-Diet (1980), by Richard Sim­mons; Me­ga­trends (1982), by John Nais­bitt; se­quels to The Happy Hooker, by the for­mer madam Xaviera Hol­lan­der; pot­boiler fic­tion by An­drew Gree­ley, a Ro­man Catholic priest; the pa­per­back edi­tion of Ju­dith Krantz’s Scru­ples; and nov­els by Nel­son DeMille.

But his best-known deal was cer­tainly the one that Warner made with a re­cently dis­graced for­mer pres­i­dent: Barely six weeks af­ter Nixon re­signed in 1974, Kamin­sky signed him to an es­ti­mated $2.5 mil­lion deal to write his mem­oirs.

Warner sub­se­quently sold the hard­cover rights to Gros­set & Dun­lap, which pub- lished RN: The Mem­oirs of Richard Nixon in 1978.

Lau­rence Kir­sh­baum, who worked at Warner in the 1970s and 80s, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view that Kamin­sky had been an en­tre­pre­neur­ial, risk-tak­ing ex­ec­u­tive as the com­pany grew quickly from a mass-market pub­lisher of genre pa­per­backs to one that also com­peted heav­ily to sign ma­jor hard­cov­ers.

“Phys­i­cally, Howard was a lit­tle guy,” said Kir­sh­baum, a long­time pub­lish­ing ex­ec­u­tive who is now an agent. “And he loved be­ing an icon­o­clast who didn’t care about cor­po­rate pol­i­tics.”

He re­called Kamin­sky danc­ing with the ebul­lient Sim­mons in the pub­lisher’s of­fice, “frol­ick­ing” with Nor­man Mailer in a pool at a sales con­fer­ence and schmooz­ing with Nixon at a book party.

Kamin­sky was lured to Ran­dom House in 1984 and named pub­lisher and chief ex­ec­u­tive of its trade depart­ment — a sig­nif­i­cantly larger but more se­date realm than the one he was run­ning at Warner. Ran­dom House had hard­cover im­prints like Al­fred A. Knopf and Pan­theon Books and pub­lished Ballantine pa­per­backs.

“We have had many com­mer­cial best sellers, of course, but this adds an­other firstrate edi­to­rial mind,” Robert Bern­stein, Ran­dom House’s chair­man, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, said at the time of Kamin­sky’s hir­ing.

One of the books Ran­dom House pub­lished dur­ing Kamin­sky’s ten­ure was The Art of the Deal (1987), Trump’s ac­count (ghost­writ­ten by Tony Schwartz) of his rise as a real es­tate de­vel­oper. In pur­suit of the com­pany’s deal with Trump, ac­cord­ing to The New Yorker, Kamin­sky pro­duced a mock-up cover with large gold block let­ter­ing, which pleased Trump but prompted him to make one sug­ges­tion: “Please make my name much big­ger.”

Kamin­sky came to be un­happy about hav­ing pub­lished Trump’s book, his daugh­ter said. And when its se­quel, Surviving at the Top, was pub­lished three years later, he told The Wash­ing­ton Post: “A lot of the yup­pies that bought the first book were look­ing at Trump as, per­ish the thought, an icon. Now they prob­a­bly don’t have jobs or can’t af­ford to buy the book.”

Kamin­sky’s time at Ran­dom House was not long. He was ousted af­ter three years by Bern­stein, who cited man­age­ment dif­fer­ences. On the day of his dis­missal, Kamin­sky boasted that his depart­ment “will have the big­gest year in its his­tory.”

Kamin­sky would later say that he and Bern­stein had kept dis­agree­ing on strat­egy. He told Busi­ness Week that the sit­u­a­tion be­tween them had be­come like a “com­post heap: If it gen­er­ates enough heat, it’ll catch fire.”

But he re­cov­ered quickly. Two months later he was hired by the Hearst’s trade book group, which in­cluded Wil­liam Mor­row and Avon Books. But by 1994 the unit had hit a down­turn, and some of its top writ­ers, like David Hal­ber­stam and Ken Fol­lett, had left. Kamin­sky re­signed to take care of his wife, Su­san Kamin­sky, who had been found to have non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma.

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