William Loverd, Who Promoted Literary Giants, Dies at 78

William Loverd, a dapper, publicity-shy promoter of books who deftly chaperoned the works of dozens of writers, first-time authors as well as distinguished literary figures, onto best-seller lists, died on June 13 at his home in Frankford, N.J. He was 78.

The cause was mouth cancer, his brother Robert said.

Mr. Loverd was not an author, but his name could be found between the covers in the acknowledgments pages of books by Robert A. Caro, John Cheever, Julia Child, Michael Crichton, John le Carré, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, V. S. Naipaul, Anne Rice, Barbara Tuchman and John Updike, among others.

Authors and reviewers often saved the exuberant handwritten notes he wrote to them in his signature purple ink. Jessica Mitford, the aristocratic and irreverent nonfiction writer, characterized Mr. Loverd as “blissful.”

Mr. Loverd spent his entire career at Alfred A. Knopf. He joined in 1965 and retired in 2002 as vice president and director of publicity at Knopf and director of corporate affairs for the imprint’s parent company, Random House.

“Bill and Knopf were entirely synonymous,” a former colleague, Jane Friedman, said, referring to the company whose founder and namesake, the critic Clifton Fadiman once said, “made a profession out of a business and an art out of a profession.”

He frequently lunched with reviewers at the original Four Seasons on Park Avenue (he had a regular table in the Pool Room) and reveled in hosting parties for forthcoming books and their authors at the “21” Club, the Plaza, the Rainbow Room and the Russian Tea Room.

While many book publicists invest their time in arranging interviews for authors on talk shows and appearances in bookstores out of town, Mr. Loverd’s priorities were to captivate the critics and to celebrate a book’s publication with a splash.

“What appealed to him was the reviews of the words, the parties, the celebrations,” Ms. Friedman, who worked with Mr. Loverd at Knopf and was later the president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, said in a telephone interview. “And he had a lot to celebrate.”

Kathy Zuckerman, another former Knopf colleague, said in an email that Mr. Loverd “had the style, panache, great suits and wit of Cary Grant in ‘North by Northwest.’ ”

While Mr. Loverd was not an editor himself, he immersed himself in manuscripts and nurtured authors.

“When ‘The Power Broker’ was published in 1974,” Mr. Caro recalled, referring to his celebrated biography of New York’s transformative master builder, Robert Moses, “I was a first-time author who had never been interviewed. Bill shepherded me through the publication process in a manner so understated and gracious that I hardly realized I was being nursed along.”

Mr. Loverd was rarely quoted in the press; he is mentioned only three times in the archives of The New York Times.

“As the head of a department whose chief responsibility was to garner publicity for its books and authors, Bill was famous in book-publishing circles for avoiding the limelight for himself,” said Nicholas Latimer, Knopf’s vice president and senior director of publicity.

Among his most prominent appearances in print was a prepared statement in 1978 warning buyers of a cookbook to scratch out the recipe for silky caramel slices. Because water had been deleted from the list of printed ingredients during the editing process, he warned, the mixture could be prone to explosion.

William Thompson Loverd was born on Aug. 1, 1940, in Rutherford, N.J., to William N. Loverd, chief financial officer of an investment banking firm, and Helen (Knodel) Loverd, a homemaker.

After graduating from Rutherford High School, where he edited the yearbook, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Colgate University.

In addition to his brother Robert, he is survived by another brother, Richard.

“Bill always loved literature and books to such an extent that for many years my mother suspected that he had been secretly writing a book,” Robert Loverd said in an email. “He was not.”

Through the stage and film director Joshua Logan, whom the boys’ father had met in the Army, Bill was introduced to Bennett Cerf, a founder of Random House, who recommended that he meet with Alfred Knopf.

Mr. Loverd was red-green colorblind (which may account for the purple ink) and didn’t own an iPhone. But he was gifted with linguistic skills that could capture and express the world around him as vividly as any photograph.

“He had the spirit of an author, the ability to step back and appreciate the message, and the ability to understand what the reading public responded to,” Robert Loverd said. “Without that foundation, the love and respect of the written word, he probably would have been a lousy publicist. But he had that foundation and excelled as a publicist.

“Now the interesting question,” he added, “is how in the world Alfred Knopf sorted that out in his brief interview of Bill in 1965.”

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