Law and Pocock at BEA last month.
Last month, the Denmark-based media group Egmont celebrated its 130th birthday. Though it has a well-established name and presence in Europe, producing magazines, books and television shows in more than 30 countries, it's practically unknown in the U.S. The company is working to change that with the launch of Egmont USA, a children's book publisher that will be a division of British children's publisher, Egmont UK. Egmont USA will debut its first list in fall 2009.
The company's formation was first announced in late 2007, and Douglas Pocock, formerly group sales director at Egmont UK, was named executive v-p. Pocock believes that Egmont's reputation and values will serve the company well in the U.S. market. “One of the key values of the company is rummelig, which is a Scandinavian word for having big ideas and diversity in thought,” he said, adding that the company's emphasis on ethics and social responsibility set it apart. A percent of Egmont's profits each year go to the Egmont Foundation, which supports various social charities. “Our audience is children so we should have hugely ethical standards,” Pocock said.
Following Pocock's appointment, two editorial hirings were announced in short order: Elizabeth Law as v-p and publisher and Regina Griffin as executive editor. Law had most recently served as v-p and associate publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; prior to that, she had risen to the rank of associate publisher at Viking Children's Books. Griffin had previously worked at Holiday House as editor-in-chief, and before that was executive editor at Scholastic.
Egmont UK is comprised of two components: Egmont Publishing, which focuses on licensed titles (“They do Thomas the Tank Engine, Barbie and practically any big brand that there is,” Pocock said), and Egmont Press, which publishes original picture books and fiction. Egmont USA will be more closely aligned with the latter, though Law maintains that Egmont USA will not be a repository for British titles. “My mandate is to create a profitable, excellent American company,” she said. “My mandate is not to import Egmont's books. We have acquired eight books [for the debut list] and, of those, only one comes from Egmont.”
That said, both Law and Pocock assert that collaboration between the U.S. and U.K. divisions, as well as Egmont's strong European presence, will be key assets for the American division, which should have a staff of 8—10 employees by year's end. “We have the feel of an independent company and the corporate clout of a large group,” said Pocock, noting that having Random House as a distributor partner will help Egmont USA compete. “We can treat people individually, yet also make sure that when it comes to marketing and acquiring books we can play with the big boys.”
According to Law, Egmont USA is enjoying a strong early response from agents. “When we turn something down, people say, 'We have to find something for you, we really want to be on your debut list,'” she said. “At a very big [house] there's rightly so much attention paid to the very big bestselling series, and I think agents are eager to look for place where they know their books will be given priority.”
Calling the British publisher “extraordinarily inventive,” Sterling Lord senior agent George Nicholson has submitted manuscripts to Egmont USA and sees the new division as a great opportunity for agents and writers. “I think it was only a matter of time before they set foot in this country,” he said. “[Egmont] seems to be very conscious of the fact that they have to be perceived as an American company, and I have every reason to think they'll do that well,” he added. “The proof will be, as the philosophers say, in the pudding.”
Egmont USA is planning a debut list of around 15 titles, and has signed up several books for fall 2009 and beyond. The house has recently acquired three thrillers by Todd Strasser, the first of which—Wish You Were Dead—will appear on Egmont's first list. It will be joined by two books by Walter Dean Myers (a picture book collaboration with his son, Christopher, and a historical novel tentatively titled Three Hot Days in July); Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks (originally published by Egmont UK); Deadly Gardens, a middle-grade novel by Mary Amato; Chicago Tribune reporter Julia Keller's first novel, Back; Invisible by Allen Zadoff; and Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey.
Law will keep in close contact with her British counterpart, Cally Poplak, director of Egmont Press, sharing information about authors and seeking out books for both countries. “With Elizabeth and with Cally, we want to find projects that will work in both markets,” Pocock said, though he added that Egmont is not interested in forcing books into a market where they don't fit.
Though it will be a year before Egmont's venture will be put to the test in the U.S., Pocock believes that trans-Atlantic cooperation and resources make Egmont USA well-equipped to succeed. “You can't come out with an edict that says, 'You in the U.K. and you in the U.S.: you're going to work together and it's all going to be happy,' ” he said. “It's all about people and their fit with each other. We set out from the very start knowing that collaboration is what we want to do.”