Macmillan’s Flatiron Books is expanding into the young adult arena with a new publishing program spearheaded by senior editor Sarah Dotts Barley. Named after the iconic 1902 Manhattan building that currently houses Macmillan’s offices, Flatiron was founded as a nonfiction publisher in 2013 by Bob Miller, founder of Hyperion Books and former group publisher of Workman Publishing.
The division’s inaugural title, published in September 2014, was Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know for Sure, a roundup of columns that the celebrity talk show host wrote for O magazine. In July 2014, Amy Einhorn, who previously ran her eponymous imprint at Penguin Random House, joined Flatiron as publisher and senior v-p, with the mission of developing a fiction program. The division has also added a cookbook line to its menu, helmed by Cookstr.com founder Will Schwalbe, and recently announced that Oprah will launch her own, still untitled, imprint at Flatiron.
Making a foray into YA publishing, Einhorn explained, was a logical extension of Flatiron’s editorial evolution. “As soon as we decided to add fiction to the Flatiron list, YA was always part of our plan,” she said. And, she added, hiring Barley to develop a young adult list was an easy decision: “A start-up attracts a certain kind of person, and Sarah is exactly that kind of person. She’s not satisfied with how things have been done, and is always looking for how we can do something better. She’s insanely knowledgeable about YA – and she works her books like nobody I’ve seen.”
The challenge of creating a fledging list was extremely attractive to Barley, who had been an editor at HarperCollins before moving to Flatiron in fall 2014. “Being part of something new appealed to me more than anything else,” she said. “How often does that kind of opportunity come up in book publishing? Flatiron hadn’t published any fiction yet when I joined the company. We were all building something from the ground up, and I really liked that YA fiction was an integral part of the larger fiction program from the get-go.”
Though she had edited books for middle graders and teens at HarperCollins, Barley acknowledged that she has “always had a soft spot for YA.” She outlined for PW her priorities for acquiring titles for the Flatiron list, whose launch offerings are penned by debut authors, but will include novels by established authors in the future. “What I want in a novel is a distinctive and compelling voice, a narrative with great storytelling at its core, and stories and characters that feel different and that I haven’t read before,” she said. “I tend to be most drawn to books that are a mix of literary and commercial, and books that have a strong emotional pull.”
A List Takes Shape
Barley noted that Flatiron’s two debut YA releases “definitely reflect all of those things.” Alison Umminger’s American Girls (June), a coming-of-age story set in Los Angeles, was the first manuscript she read – and acquired – after arriving at the house. “I knew within a few seconds that we had to have this book,” she recalled. “Alison’s novel is a classic coming-of-age story, but I’ve never before read a voice quite like her protagonist’s, and I loved that about it.” The editor added that the second launch title, Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl (May), the story of a trans girl keeping her past a secret in her new town, is “intensely personal and immediate, yet universal. Everyone knows what it feels like to feel different.”
Flatiron’s YA list expands in September with the publication of Caraval, the first book in Stephanie Garber’s fantasy series about two sisters – and what each will do to save the other. Novels due out in 2017 further reveal the diversity of Flatiron’s teen fiction: in the mix are a feminist reimagining of “Snow White” (Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust), a contemporary novel centering on a girl whose boyfriend abandons her at a Planned Parenthood clinic (Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin), a Swedish novel in translation about the power of music to bring wildly different people together (This Is What Wonderful Feels Like by Sara Lovestäm), and the story of a wallflower girl who is swept into the unreal world of a famous boy band (Songs About a Girl by Chris Russell).
Though Barley is obviously well aware of the burgeoning crossover market for teen fiction, her focus on acquiring titles for young adult readers is steadfast. “We want to publish books that can be read by anyone, but off the top of my head, I can’t name any YA books that crossed over to the adult market without working in teen first,” she observed. “So I naturally think of the YA market first.”
The editor said that Flatiron does not aim to meet an annual quota of YA titles, emphasizing, “We are only publishing the books we are passionate about, and the list will continue be very selective, so that each book gets the care it deserves. So we probably will publish no more than eight to 10 YA novels per year.”
Einhorn sounded a similar note when asked what percentage of Flatiron’s fiction titles will fall into the young adult category. “Honestly, we don’t really think of it that way,” she said. “When we find a book we love, we’ll buy it. If we do that, the list will build organically. Our goal is to publish the most exciting authors on a list that is highly curated, so that each book gets a lot of individual attention. It’s incredibly exciting to watch Sarah start this YA line, and to see that the buzz for her first few acquisitions just keeps building.”
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Flatiron Books, $17.99 May ISBN 978-1-250-07840-7
American Girls by Alison Umminger. Flatiron Books, $17.99 June ISBN 978-1-250-07500-0