Lindy Hess, Who Trained Many for Publishing Industry, Dies at 63

Photo of Lindy Hess by Lillian Kemp
New York Times
July 17, 2013
Katie Hafner

Lindy Hess, who as director of the Columbia Publishing Course transformed an antiquated training program into an influential part of the publishing world, died on Saturday at her home in Cambridge, Mass. She was 63.

The cause was lung cancer, said her sister, Elizabeth Hess.

For more than two decades, Ms. Hess helped shape the publishing industry by training a good percentage of its new recruits in an intensive six-week summer course and by acting as an industry matchmaker.

“Lindy was the greatest employment agent the publishing industry has ever seen,” said the literary agent Ed Victor. “She would get jobs for a staggering number of her students.”

Notable graduates of the course include Jordan Pavlin, vice president and executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf; Molly Stern, the senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishers and Broadway Books; and David Granger, editor in chief of Esquire magazine.

The course was established in 1947 at Radcliffe College in Cambridge (and originally called the Radcliffe Publishing Course) as a summer program in which recent college graduates were taught the basics of book and magazine editing, design, production and publicity.

By the time Ms. Hess took over the course, however, the consensus was that it had lost touch with the industry and its major players. Ms. Hess, who had worked her way up in publishing, was well connected. She arrived with a prodigious Rolodex under her arm and set about inviting many industry leaders to Cambridge to lecture to the students.

Among the speakers were the industry veterans and former New Yorker editors Robert Gottlieb and Tina Brown, and William Shinker, the president and publisher of Gotham Books.

“We all schlepped up there for her,” Mr. Victor said.

Her biggest innovation was to turn the program into a kind of boot camp. Students put together mock publishing houses, acquiring books, making deals with agents and then editing, designing and marketing the books.

The course moved to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2001 and changed its name.

Ms. Hess sometimes persuaded publishing executives not just to lecture but also to teach for a week.

“I can say no to anybody,” said Nan Graham, the publisher of Scribner. “But I couldn’t say no to Lindy.”

Linda Ann Hess was born on April 1, 1950, in Manhattan, where she attended the Spence School. She graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., with a bachelor’s degree in English, in 1972.

Alfred A. Knopf hired her the same year to work as secretary to Mr. Victor and Judith Jones, the cookbook editor. She rose through the publishing ranks and became editorial director of Dolphin books, a division of Doubleday, in 1978.

In a business with its share of rivalries and tensions, sometimes hiding beneath clenched-teeth cordiality, Ms. Hess seldom made enemies. And with her multiple contacts in the industry, she made it her mission to find the right job for each student.

“She had a sixth sense about which student would fit well with which person in publishing,” Mr. Shinker said.

In addition to her sister, Ms. Hess is survived by her husband, Dr. William S. Appleton; a son, Samuel Appleton; a daughter, Eliza Hannah Appleton; and a brother, Mortimer Henry Hess III.

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2013