Zibby Owens: The New York woman upending the publishing scene

The book-fluencer's children’s book is a telling look into her psyche and what has driven her so far in life. 

 BOOK-FLUENCER Zibby Owens. (photo credit: Kyle Owen)
BOOK-FLUENCER Zibby Owens.
(photo credit: Kyle Owen)

“Being a princess isn’t always easy… Everybody expects me to be perfect,” begins Princess Charming, a new children’s picture book by Zibby Owens, publishing’s newest powerhouse.

In the last few years, Owens has become a sensation, upending the book world: she’s a must-visit podcaster (“Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books”), book-fluencer (giving recommendations for Katie Couric, Good Morning America, Good Day LA and other shows and publications) and now head of a new publishing company (Zibby Books).

Not to mention, in addition to Princess Charming, she is the author of Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Literature (just published on July 1), which chronicles her lifetime love of literature, the loss of her best friend on 9/11, falling in love with her tennis instructor after splitting from her husband, the father of their four children, and growing up under billionaire Stephen Schwartzman (#37 on Forbes 2022 list, at $34.8 billion). 

Though her memoir – already #1 on Amazon and lauded by people like Arianna Huffington (“A candid and charming memoir about the ups and downs of midlife through the lens of reading and books”) – does tell the story of her life and how she started on the road to becoming a force in the literary world, her children’s book may be a more telling look into her psyche and what has driven her so far in life. 

Everyone expects Princess Charming to be perfect, but “most days I don’t feel perfect at all,” Princess Charming muses. “I try my best, but I just can’t seem to find my thing. And believe me, I tried.”

 PODCAST QUEEN: The view down Park Avenue. (credit: Leslie Cross/Unsplash) PODCAST QUEEN: The view down Park Avenue. (credit: Leslie Cross/Unsplash)

While Princess Charming tries cartwheels and cooking and dance, in real life, Owens tried her hand at many things in school (Yale University and Harvard Business School) and in life: psychology, advertising, branding, Internet start-ups – always reading, always writing...

Writing journals to get through her excruciating shyness (which she was mitigating as early as junior high by drinking), and writing a novel about the loss of her best friend Stacey, which didn’t sell because publishers weren’t yet interested in 9/11 stories. 

Owens in some ways was like Princess Charming, who finally discovers her “thing.” After helping a movie star find her lost earring, the princess realizes what her thing is. “Maybe it’s that I never give up. I just keep trying.”

That’s what Owens did. She kept at her dream of being a writer, and after one of her 2017 parenting essays “A Mother’s Right to Sanity: Starting the Movement to Just Be a Mom and Not a Family Management Exec,” went viral, Kyle suggested she collect her parenting essays in a book. 

“Ugh,” she said. “Moms don’t have time to read books!” And the title of her essay collection was born. Except it wouldn’t be a book. An author friend suggested a podcast of the same name. 

To date, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” has hosted over 1,200 authors, including celebs, athletes and politicians, like Natalie Portman, Andre Agassi, Hillary Clinton and First Lady Jill Biden, and bestselling authors like Nicholas Sparks and Kristin Hannah. It has 7.7 million downloads. 

“For all the podcasts there are, only a few actually move product,” a senior books publicist told New York Magazine in a 2019 profile of Owens. “Zibby can move product.” The profile also called her “NYC’s Most Powerful Book-fluencer.” 

“THE PARK Avenue Podcast Queen,” as one Upper East Side local paper recently called her, has come to terms with her family’s wealth, she writes in her memoir. “The cat appears to be out of the bag now, despite my different last name. I’m insanely proud of my dad and his accomplishments,” she writes. 

Schwartzman, the son of a Jewish dry-goods store owner, started his first lawn mowing business at 14 and got his start at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers before founding the Blackstone Group in 1985. His philanthropy includes donating $100m. toward the expansion of the New York Public Library in 2008, and $10m. to the National Library of Israel in 2018. A former Trump adviser, Schwartzman is one of the highest-paid Wall Street execs.

“If I’ve learned nothing else from reading and talking with authors, it’s the corrosive power of secret-keeping, something that propels many works of fiction and memoir. I don’t want to hide it anymore, but I would never flaunt it. That’s just not who I am,” she writes.

Who Owens is, according to her memoir, is someone down-to-earth, who wants to give back. “I don’t spend money on superficial things like expensive clothes or on my appearance, except for highlights to hide the gray (non-negotiable). 

“I’ve chosen to allocate my resources to giving back, supporting others, donating to meaningful charities, building businesses, and creating beautiful, warm, open, inviting homes filled with colorful photographs, cozy fabrics, and livable spaces. Then I fling open the front door so everyone else can enjoy them, too, greeting my guests with a hug and warm smile.” She believes it’s her “duty” to share what she has in every way. 

Authors say that Owens’ contribution goes way beyond host and book-fluencer. 

“Zibby is an inspiration – not just because of all that she does in the book world and for authors, but because she’s authentic, generous, and incredibly supportive,” says Lisa (Frydman) Barr, a former editor at The Jerusalem Post and a New York Times bestselling author of Woman on Fire, who met Owens years ago when the podcast started and was a contributor to one of her anthologies. 

“When my latest book became a New York Times bestseller – a first for me – I got a call at 11:30 pm… it was Zibby, crying tears of joy and telling me how proud she was. That’s the kind of woman she is – the real deal,” Barr says.

Prolific author (The Byline Bible) and writing mentor Susan Shapiro says she is inspired to see how powerful Owens has become in the book world. “I’m her biggest fan. She’s extremely generous,” she says, noting that Owens, a former student, helped Shapiro’s debut memoir Five Men Who Broke My Heart recently get optioned for a film. “I love that Zibby Books is empowering so many women and elevating diverse voices,” Shapiro says.

“I love that Zibby Books is empowering so many women and elevating diverse voices.”

Susan Shapiro

Stuck at home during the pandemic with no more live book events, social media platforms like TikTok and podcasts like “Moms’ Don’t Have Time to Read Books” became essential. Owens estimates that these days she takes maybe one in 50 books, usually fiction or memoir. (In 2020, she featured this author’s book, The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment Without Losing Your Mind.) 

How does she decide what to feature on her podcast or book roundups? 

“I get so many types of books,” she says. “The topic has to interest me or the author has to interest me. It has to grab my attention in some way, or someone I respect recommends the book, or the cover or the plot grabs me, or something that I personally respond to.” 

For example, one author is coming out with a book that takes place in the Westbeth artists’ community, which interests her because she lived there. “Who wouldn’t’ve known that?” She also tries to have a diverse range of voices, religions, cultures and locales. “It’s not a formula,” she adds.

MAYBE THE fact that it’s not a formula has helped her and other book start-ups upend what Fast Company called “the latest effort to shake up a sleepy, old-fashioned industry,” pointing to Zibby Books and other companies tapping into book communities. 

“After talking to so many authors, it was clear the authors themselves weren’t getting the user experience they deserved,” Owens tells the Magazine. She used to think to herself, “Who is going to mix things up?” Then she realized, “Wait, I could do this!” But, like her podcast, she did research and thought long and hard about how to achieve it. Zibby Books will publish 12 books annually and has already acquired 18 memoirs and novels.

“I’ve actually achieved my hope,” Owens says: “The authors from Zibby Books feel really special, and feel connected to each other. This wonderful community feels amazing,” she says, noting that whether or not the books “sell a bazillion copies,” she’ll do everything in her power to get their books to succeed by trying new things. “In my mind, I’ve at least made it clear my priority is helping authors.”

For someone who hosts a podcast, a new website, and compiled a couple of anthologies called Moms Don’t Have Time to... (all housed under Zibby Owens Media, including her podcast company, Zcast, which features six podcasts and more to come soon) and who has to read all the books to sustain it all – Owens certainly seems to be able to have time to do it all.

How does this mom of four have time to get it all done?

“I’m so not,” she denies. “I hope I am not misleading people: I’m very open, I’m struggling to find time – these things are hard for me, I’m trying to make it into my job. I use reading for my sanity check; I need books to regulate my mood and they help me so much. I’m not doing it all perfectly. I try hard every day,” she says, noting that she has a 14-person team. 

“I think I have failed in so many ways. I live life like each day can be my last: I’m constantly fighting against time, doing a little dance with it. I can’t do everything every day. I often disappoint myself; it inspires me to do better the next day.”

The success of the podcast is crazy to her. Her new publishing company is “wonderful,” but she says the wildest thing is to be an author herself. “I’ve really longed to be an author my entire life. Since I was a little girl I wanted to write a book or have a book published. It was not an easy or straightforward way to do so, it was not a linear path,” she says. 

“It’s wonderful to have this memoir. I wanted it to happen early, but it didn’t: similar to a third child, you can’t control everything. I’m just glad it’s all happened.” 