Pub's new chapter in book biz

Maverick publisher Michael Viner has launched a publishing house called Phoenix Books.

The firm is preparing a list of 100 audio and 20 print titles for release this year and next. The offerings include books by Gene Simmons and Larry King; “The Kid Keeps Talking,” a sequel to Robert Evans’ 1994 autobiography “The Kid Stays in the Picture”; an audio edition of Bill Maher’s next book, “New Rules,” plus an original audio title by Maher; and a novel titled “Is New York Burning?” by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre, modeled after their bestselling WWII dramatization, “Is Paris Burning?”

Collins, who died Monday at the age of 75, delivered the manuscript of his latest book to Viner last week.

Viner, who broke into the publishing world with a series of books about L.A. tabloid scandals, reorganized his publishing assets after losing a legal battle with mystery writer Otto Penzler. Ordered to pay Penzler $2.8 million, Viner filed for bankruptcy protection.

The spat with Penzler was one of several author disputes that plagued New Millenium in recent years. In 2002, physicist Stephen Hawking asked the FTC to block publication of a New Millenium Press book, “The Theory of Everything,” which appeared under Hawking’s name. The physicist said the book was merely repackaged old material and would “constitute a fraud on the public.”

A number of Phoenix titles began life under Viner’s previous publishing imprints, including audio titles “The 10th-Anniversary Edition of Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time,’ ” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture 10th-Anniversary Edition,” both of which are coming over the next 18 months.

At New Millenium, Viner published the memoir of disgraced New York Times writer Jayson Blair, “Burning Down My Master’s House.” The title sold fewer than 4,000 copies in hardcover, according to Bookscan.

Viner, who told Daily Variety he has a raised a seven-figure sum in seed money from private investors, said he’s made an offer to buy New Millenium in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Phoenix’s books will be “mostly West Coast-oriented,” Viner said. “We’ve been very lucky. We want to learn from our mistakes. A lot of our friends like Bill Maher have stayed with us.”

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