It’s been 10 years since David Borgenicht founded Quirk Books, and three years since the Philadelphia publisher released its massive hit, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a title that has not only sold more than 1.5 million copies (combined print and digital) but launched the mashup book category. The success of PPZ provided Quirk with a boost to the confidence of its publishing team as well as its finances. “We realized that we can make big things happen when we get all the elements right,” said Borgenicht about the impact of PPZ on Quirk’s collective publishing psyche.
The success also had a more practical effect—a huge increase in the number of fiction submissions. “We recognized an opportunity to build a different kind of fiction list—small but commercial, with an emphasis on original and innovative entertainment,” explained Jason Rekulak, associate publisher and creative director. One of the first projects born from that approach was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children—2011’s YA fantasy and vintage photography hybrid that has been a bestseller for more than a year.
The publisher’s overarching strategy of releasing “strikingly unconventional books” is still the goal 10 years after Quirk opened its doors, but the new ways that strategy is manifesting itself are expanding. These new ways include moving into children’s books (Borgenicht said, “We’ve always kind of published books for adult children, so why not publish for actual children?”); the first installment in Quirk’s middle-grade Lovecraft Middle School series, Professor Gargoyle, came out in September, with the next two titles already slated for 2013. Borgenicht also used the resources provided by PPZ to make Quirk more adept at marketing and social media, and to start building a fan base to which Quirk would have direct access. To take advantage of that outreach, Quirk has turned its Web site, QuirkBooks.com, into a content platform to accommodate upcoming book-derived content, including apps and other original digital products.
“I’ve always said that we are an entertainment company, not just a publishing company, and it’s time to make that statement fully real,” said Borgenicht. “We’ve got such a great track record in publishing, and have already licensed a bunch of our books to Hollywood—it’s time to start producing some, and try a few crossover media endeavors.” Over its 10 years, Quirk’s unique outlook has helped its titles find success in such nontraditional stores as Urban Outfitters and Williams-Sonoma, and its strong history of publishing offbeat titles has forged a more varied customer base than other publishers with similarly sized catalogues. As publicity manager Nicole De Jackmo put it, the Quirk customer is “the Comic-Con attendee, the Etsy crafter, the Facebook Mom, and more.”
It’s Quirk’s eye for entertaining and unconventional titles—what makes a Quirk book a Quirk book—that have made its first decade so successful. Borgenicht founded Quirk after he wrote The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook and the ensuing series of books, calendars, board games, and television shows made him realize that there was a growing marketplace for irreverent titles. That outlook—a shrewd eye for against-the-grain books—continues at Quirk. Said Rekulak: “Frankly, I don’t see a lot of innovation when I’m browsing the new fiction shelves at our neighborhood bookstores. Yesterday everyone was knocking off The Da Vinci Code, today it’s Fifty Shades of Grey, tomorrow it’ll be something else. I’m interested in finding the something else, not the tired retreads of exhausted genres.”