Michelle Obama's editor for bestselling 'Becoming' launches publishing firm

Dorany Pineda
·3 min read
Molly Stern, editor of Michelle Obama's "Becoming," is launching the independent publishing company Zando.
Molly Stern, editor of Michelle Obama's "Becoming," is launching the independent publishing company Zando. (Marc Goldberg)

The editor and publisher of one of the bestselling books of the decade is launching her own publishing firm.

Molly Stern, the former senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishing Group, which released Michelle Obama's memoir "Becoming," announced Thursday that she is starting Zando.

The new publishing company will adopt an unconventional marketing and publicity model: Stern and her team will collaborate with influencers and other prominent brands and institutions to publish books under their own imprints and market them to their fans.

The new publishing venture is supported by Sister, an independent studio formed in 2019 by Elisabeth Murdoch, media executive and daughter of media mogul Rupert Murdoch; Stacey Snider, film industry executive and former chief executive of 20th Century Fox; and Jane Featherstone, a television producer.

Murdoch and Snider will sit on Zando's board of directors alongside Matt Lieber, co-founder of the podcasting company Gimlet, and David Benioff, screenwriter and producer of "Game of Thrones." Stern will lead the company as chief executive.

The seed for Zando came from the frustrations Stern had witnessed in her 25 years in publishing.

"In many ways, [starting Zando] had to do with some of my obsessions with the challenges in the business, the way the business was being transformed, and I feel like some of the problems weren't being addressed or solved," Stern said in a phone interview Thursday. "I think it's very hard for large companies to change their thinking, and so I felt... that being outside of that ecosystem was the best opportunity to address a couple of things."

Among them is how authors are discovered, she said.

"The investment proposal was all about making a case for how influence can be both harnessed and deployed to create discoverability, to create awareness, to create sales, to empower people who care about books, and to create opportunity for authors who deserve an audience," Stern said.

Zando is Stern's first publishing project since leaving Crown two years ago after Penguin Random House consolidated its publishing lines Random House and Crown. Her departure came less than a month after she released "Becoming," which went on to sell more than 10 million copies in less than six months.

The memoir also sparked a Netflix documentary about Obama's accompanying book tour, and won the former first lady a Grammy for spoken-word album for the audio edition.

Under Stern's leadership, Crown published some of the company's biggest sellers, including Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One." Matthew Desmond's "Evicted," Geraldine Brooks' "March" and Tom Reiss' "The Black Count," all Crown publications, went on to win Pulitzer Prizes, and Han Kang's "The Vegetarian" was a Man Booker International Prize winner in 2016.

While at Crown, Stern also helped "Sex and the City" actress Sarah Jessica Parker launch her own imprint.

"The book that we had the chance to publish together showed me how influence can drive sales," Stern said of her collaboration with Parker, a friend and fellow book lover. "And that was, to me, a business proposition."

Zando's first books will publish in fall 2021. Stern is in advanced negotiations with several partners who will be announced individually, she said. The company is named after her sons, Zachary and Oscar.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.