Pistils drawn

The publisher of the 1-800-FLOWERS CEO's memoir blames him for the book's failure.

Published April 12, 1999 9:23AM (EDT)

Things aren't too rosy these days for Jim McCann of 1-800-FLOWERS and Ballantine, the publisher that bought the CEO's autobiography for a $1 million advance. McCann's unfortunately titled "Stop and Sell the Roses: Lessons from Business and Life," shipped a modest 20,000 copies and wilted on the shelf. As a result, there's been some recent mudslinging.

An unnamed Ballantine employee complained to Publisher's Weekly that McCann had foisted both the unfortunate title and the "would-be-winsome" cover photo (of McCann brandishing a bouquet) onto his publisher. In the same article, a Barnes & Noble manager dismissed the memoir as an "ego book." That genre includes such classics as Donald Trump's "The Art of the Deal" and "Pour Your Heart into It" by Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, and it could be described as a self-aggrandizing autobiography by a powerful business figure, someone whose success guarantees the author an unusual amount of leverage in how the book is marketed.

McCann's spokesman, Ken Young, who participated in many of the decisions about "Flowers," seemed surprised by the tone of the PW article. "Ballantine accepted the book. They loved the book. We discussed anything and everything about the book." But when asked who came up with the title, Young became evasive: "I don't recall that," he said. According to PW, the publishing house preferred a more business-oriented (and pun-free) title, "The Accidental Entrepreneur," but in the end had to defer to the power of the flower: McCann, whom Young claims picked up the tab for the costs of visiting 19 of the 25 cities of his media tour, got to pick the title.

Asked to respond to the unnamed source's claims, Young advocated restraint: "Who do we go to? Some lady who's rumored to have said something?" Ballantine itself did not respond to repeated requests for comment. "The experience was a good one," maintains Young. "Would any publisher make a big commitment on something that wasn't going to work?" Spoken like someone in the flower business.

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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