Chapel Hill, N.C.-based publisher Algonquin, which made it big just five years ago with the runaway success of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, is launching a line of books for YA and middle-grade audiences. In a conversation with PW, Algonquin publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt called the line a "natural way for Algonquin to grow" while maintaining its short, carefully selected adult list of 20-25 new titles per year. "If we are to grow," she said, "it makes sense to keep our adult list as it is—small and mighty—and expand to a new audience."
Scharlatt said that she’d been dreaming of a YA line for “at least” a decade, but couldn’t go ahead with it until "the absolutely right person came along to do this with us." That person is Elise Howard, a 12-year veteran of HarperCollins, who has been named publisher of the new list. According to Scharlatt, her expertise and "sensibility" made her a natural fit at Algonquin. "Of all the opportunities that have appeared in my path over the years, this one instantly felt right," Howard said in an e-mail. "I’ve had a long, satisfying tenure at Harper, but the idea of a startup venture, a small list, and the chance to seriously acquire and edit again appealed to me very much."
Asked about author possibilities, Scharlatt said that "Elise will be starting from scratch," making a point to indicate that Howard won’t be expected to raid the stables of HarperTeen. As for Howard, she says she will be looking for work consistent with Algonquin’s list as it is: "Books for serious readers, you could say, though that doesn’t mean all books on serious topics, by any means." She also hopes to publish books "that might entice a casual reader to become a true reader—that’s probably the biggest reward in creating books for young readers."
Howard says that her list will include YA and middle-grade fiction, "perhaps initially leaning more toward YA, but that’s entirely dependent on what exciting manuscripts make their way to my desk." She adds that she’d also love to find a "great memoir." She will be starting at Algonquin in mid-November and will work out of the publisher’s New York office.
According to Scharlatt, the YA line will swing into action once Howard puts together a small list, "between four and six books." Though that per-year count should grow over time, Scharlatt said, "we’re not putting pressure on ourselves. We want the right books—that’s the way Algonquin has always operated."