In May 2004, Mark Smith and Wayne Davies, former colleagues at the Orion Publishing Group, founded Quercus Publishing, which they initially operated out of Smith’s London flat. By 2006, the house had moved to considerably larger digs and had accumulated a staff of 20, plus several bestsellers and numerous awards. Quercus marked two key milestones in 2008, when it launched a children’s list and started an imprint, MacLehose Press, to publish the English translation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Quercus recently made another significant leap, opening a three-person (soon to be four) New York City office to publish children’s and adult books for the North American market.
“There are some very strong parallels between the beginning of Quercus in the U.K. nine years ago and the start of our U.S. list,” said Richard Green, publishing director of both operations. “Quercus started with a small list of books, and some had early success, and the list quickly grew. My role in this new venture is to make sure that the U.S. operation has a share of the DNA of the U.K. list. We are an entrepreneurial, independent publisher with a passion for our books, and we focus closely on author care. All of us here have shared values and a vision for what we want to achieve: a steady, sustainable business with some terrific books.”
At the helm of Quercus’s New York office is associate publisher Nathaniel Marunas, who has been working on the start-up effort for the past year; before that, he most recently oversaw Sterling’s Silver Oak list, a joint venture between that house and Quercus. He said that the Quercus children’s list will initially release about 10 books a year, focusing on chapter books and older. “We expect that number will grow to 25 to 30 titles annually by 2016,” he explained, adding, “Of course that could change. We are setting our goals high.” Random House distributes the Quercus list in the U.S. and Canada.
Quercus had for some time been withholding North American rights to what Marunas calls “prime properties that we thought would do well in the U.S.” The publisher previously released all five titles on this fall children’s list in the U.K. Highlighting the inaugural U.S. list is Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes, a middle-grade novel about an orphaned brother and sister’s road trip from Canada to New York, which won Britain’s Booktrust Teenage Prize. “It’s about a sibling relationship that is wonderfully living and breathing – and flawed in every right way,” Marunas said. “It has a real chance of finding a home in the North American market.”
Other fall offerings are Frightfully Friendly Ghosties by Daren King, illustrated by David Roberts, which launches an early chapter-book trilogy; Eleanor Hawken’s Sammy Feral’s Diaries of Weird, illustrated by John Kelly, the debut book of a middle-grade supernatural adventure series; Guinea Pigs Online by Jennifer Gray and Amanda Swift, illustrated by Sarah Horne, the first in a chapter-book series starring tech-savvy rodents; and The Snowmelt River by Frank P. Ryan, which opens The Three Powers, a YA adventure fantasy series.
“It was very advantageous to have a fully formed list to select from,” said Marunas of shaping Quercus’s first children’s list. “We’ve had a running start. Down the road, we plan to incorporate authors from the U.S. and will be doing a lot of outreach to American agents looking to form those relationships. Starting this new operation has been an amazing education, even for someone who’s been in the business almost 25 years.”