×

Strictly Business: ICM Partners’ Esther Newberg on Dealmaking in Publishing and Prince’s Upcoming Memoir

What do Bob Iger, Prince, and Tom Hanks all have in common? They all share the same high-powered publishing agent in ICM PartnersEsther Newberg.

Welcome to “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. In this week’s episode, Newberg offers a lively take on the state of the book biz, what it takes to get a book sold to a publisher, her recent experience of shopping memoirs for everyone from Prince to Iger, the changing nature of film and TV licensing deals, and the post-#MeToo advent of morality clauses in book deals. Always wonderfully outspoken, Newberg acknowledges the surprisingly low volume of sales (“it would shock you”) that it takes for a book to make the New York Times’ best-seller list these days.

Newberg offered a glimpse of the upcoming biography of Prince, a deal she orchestrated by bringing three editors to meet with the music legend at his Paisley Park compound in Minneapolis. The deal was struck just weeks before Prince died at age 57 in April 2016. “It’s never been done before,” Newberg said of the pitch process. “Editors don’t like to be in the same room making their pitches to the same potential clients. We had to do it because I knew he would not want to meet individually with editors.”

Newberg said Prince was committed to the book project and working with author Dan Piepenbring. Prince delivered about 50 handwritten manuscript pages before his death. Newberg said the long-awaited book is expected to be published just in time for the holiday season and may include reproductions of Prince’s longhand pages.

In the case of Iger, Newberg made one phone call, to Random House editor Andy Ward, to set up the deal for the CEO of Walt Disney Co.

“I didn’t want to parade Bob all over town,” Newberg said. “I thought it was not dignified for somebody who has achieved what he’s achieved.”

Over her many years of shopping authors and deals, Newberg has observed a big difference in dealmaking between the left and right coasts.

“It’s still, forgive the expression, a gentleman’s agreement business in New York. You don’t need a deal memo. Once you make the deal, you wait for the contract,” she said. “It’s not like that in Hollywood. Everyone’s afraid they won’t tell the truth or that various clauses will change. It takes way too long.”

For more, listen to the full interview with Newberg on “Strictly Business.”

“Strictly Business” debuts a new episode every Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. Upcoming guests include Michael Strahan and Constance Schwartz-Morini — business partners at management-production company SMAC Entertainment — Instagram’s global head of programs Charles Porch, and Marvel Entertainment’s senior VP and head of global partnerships, Mindy Hamilton.

More TV

  • Baldvin-Z

    Iceland’s Baldvin Z Crime Series “Black Sands” Added to All3Media Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden  All3Media is to handle international rights on Icelandic crime series “Black Sands” which, currently in development, is to be pitched at the Göteborg Festival’s TV Drama Vision confab on Thursday. “Black Sands” marks the first crime thriller to be created by Icelandic helmer Baldvin Z (“Trapped”) since the hit series “Case.” Commissioned by [...]

  • Justin Timberlake performs onstage during the

    Ad Time in Fox's Super Bowl Was Sold Out. Until it Wasn't

    Fox declared in November that it had sold all the advertising time available in its looming February 2 broadcast of Super Bowl LIV. But just this week, it found a little more. After holding nearly two months’ worth of discussions, Fox and the National Football League have devised a way to add commercial inventory to [...]

  • NBC Orders Drama Pilot 'Ordinary Joe'

    NBC Orders Drama Pilot 'Ordinary Joe' From 'House' Alums

    NBC has given out its fifth drama pilot order for the 2020-2021 season. The broadcaster has commissioned “Ordinary Joe.” It explores the three parallel lives of the show’s main character after he makes a pivotal choice at a crossroads in his life. The series asks the question of how different life might look if you [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho 'Parasite' Director

    Listen: Who Will Take Home the Oscars for Best Director and Picture?

    The Oscars are just two weeks away, so it’s time to start making final predictions about who is going to win. On this week’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, I invited the magazine’s deputy awards and features editor (and my “Pick of the Week” co-host) Jenelle Riley onto the show [...]

  • Dazzler, Tigra, Hit-Monkey, and M.O.D.O.K.

    'Howard the Duck,' 'Tigra & Dazzler' Animated Marvel Shows Not Moving Forward at Hulu

    Marvel Television’s remaining slate continues to dwindle. Variety has confirmed that the animated shows “Howard the Duck” and “Tigra & Dazzler” — two of four animated Marvel projects set up at Hulu — are no longer in the works at the streamer. The other two shows, “M.O.D.O.K” and “Hit Monkey,” are currently still on track [...]

  • Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi movie

    After 'Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi Delay, Is the Force Still Strong With Disney Plus?

    The issues on Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi series are either a minor stumble or a portent of trouble ahead, depending on who you ask. It was reported on Thursday that series writer Hossein Amini was no longer attached to the project as Disney wished to overhaul the scripts. The move led to pre-production in London [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content