Sugar’s Secrets: Real-Life Socialite-Fiction Editor Tells All

The hype is on to make Sugar Rautbord, one of Chicago’s most overexposed socialites, into the next Judith Krantz or Danielle Steel. That may be a tall order in the fickle world of women’s commercial fiction, but Diane Reverand, publisher and editor in chief of New York-based Villard Books (a division of publishing giant Random House) and a fan of Rautbord’s, is betting it could happen. “Sugar is incredibly lively and a savvy person when it comes to marketing herself,” says Reverand. “I really think she has a lot of qualities that can help sell a book.”

The book in question is Rautbord’s Sweet Revenge, scheduled for publication by Villard in early June. As the jacket copy states, it promises to take us inside the tantalizing world of a “real-life” socialite, replete with “glamorous parties, steamy affairs, high-stakes business deals, and secret intrigues.” Rautbord’s first novel, Giris in High Places, coauthored with Liz Nichols and published by New American Library, made best-seller lists and caught the attention of Reverand, who met up with Rautbord on New York’s social circuit. “We hit it off,” says Reverand. So much so, in fact, that Rautbord got out of a contract at New American Library to work with Reverand on Sweet Revenge.

The Villard editor admits she did a lot of work on the manuscript. “Sugar was good at [determining] themes, capturing places, meals, settings, that sort of thing,” says Reverand. She helped Rautbord on plotting, pacing, and making the book’s characters sympathetic.

The manuscript alone may be enough to transform Rautbord into an author millions of women clamor to read, but Reverand recognizes the power of marketing as well. “The reason Sugar is so appealing as a novelist,” says Reverand, “is that she automatically gets media coverage.” The May issue of Chicago magazine has hit newsstands with Marcia Froelke Coburn’s look at the luxury-ladeny Iife of “Sugar! Baby!” as the headline puts it. Yet to come are appearances on the Oprah Winfrey and Joan Rivers talk shows, a piece in Vanity Fair, and ads in People. And the book jacket features a quote from celebrity writer Dominick Dunne, says Reverand.

Rautbord and her book also stand to get mileage out of a perfume tie-in. The fragrance division of Givaudan-Roure has developed a new perfume called Sweet Revenge that will debut at the same time as the book, and the book will be sold with Sweet Revenge-scented bookmarks. Book buyers can order a complimentary perfume sample from an 800 number. “We thought it would be fun,” explains Reverand, who also thinks the perfume connection may prompt some business-page stories.

Villard has ordered an initial printing of 50,000 copies of Sweet Revenge, peanuts compared to the first printing of a new Krantz or Steel, which is usually more like 250,000. Both novelists have new books out this summer that are sure to provide stiff competition for Rautbord. But if Sweet Revenge takes off, Reverand hopes to publish more commercial fiction. “I want to publish books that people want to read.” Rest assured, so does Rautbord, who earlier this week feted her friend Ivana Trump at Jaxx in the Hyatt Regency Suites, celebrating the release of Trump’s new novel. Just another night in the life of a real-life socialite.

Absolut Necessity: Joffrey Mixes Ballet and Vodka

Michel Roux is the unlikely force behind the Joffrey Ballet’s new dance Moon of the Falling Leaves by choreographer Peter Pucci, a piece with Native American themes. Roux, head of the company that distributes Absolut vodka in the U.S., handed the Joffrey approximately $250,000 to underwrite three new dances and one revival this season. All of the new pieces will be in the Joffrey’s repertoire during its engagement from April 29 through May 3 at the Auditorium Theatre. The Absolut money couldn’t have been more welcome, as the Joffrey still is trying to work itself out of a financial quagmire that developed in the wake of the discovery several years ago that it hadn’t paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll withholding taxes. In return for the funding, Roux made certain requests, among them an Absolut sponsorship credit and a dance with a Native American component. “Michel has a special interest in Native American matters,” says Pat Philips of the New York-based firm of Stratta/Philips Productions, which brought Roux and the Joffrey together. Mohican musician Brent Michael Davids composed the score for the new work.

Will M. Butterfly Save Wisdom Bridge?

The jury is still out on the fate of the financially troubled Wisdom Bridge Theatre. But it may not be out much longer. Board chairman John Conlon said the administrative-staff payroll remains suspended, as it has been since early January. “We don’t want to run up any financial obligations until we can meet them,” explains Conlon. Wisdom Bridge’s most recent offering, an import from Detroit called The Richest Dead Man Alive!, was a critical flop that left the company “no better and no worse off ” The determining straw may wind up being M. Butterfly, opening April 30. Says Conlon, “We think M. Butterfly will make a difference that will encourage us to plan for a season next year.” A touring production of the Tony Award-winning work played briefly last year to good houses at the Chicago Theatre. But whether that appeal will transfer to Wisdom Bridge, which could not be expected to replicate the exotic and lavishly expensive touring production, remains to be seen.

Aspects of Merchandising

Whether you’re turned on or put to sleep by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love, opening this week at the Civic Theatre, you can take it home and bring it to bed with you thanks to the tireless merchandising of the Live Entertainment Corporation of Canada. In addition to the usual T-shirts, posters, and sheet music for sale in the lobby, Live Entertainment will also be offering pillowcases bearing the show’s arty logo. They’ll cost $20 a pair.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Linda Rosier.