The selection of Mo Yan as the 2012 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature surprised most Americans in and out of publishing, but one man who would not have been caught off guard is the late Dick Seaver, the cofounder of Arcade Publishing, which published five of the author’s novels. While Seaver, who died in 2009, was a strong supporter of all the international authors he brought to America, he was a particular champion of Yan, said his widow, Jeannette. “He was under Yan’s spell. [Yan] has such an imagination,” she told PW.
According to Jeannette, her husband often told sales reps that Yan would one day be a Nobel winner. Seaver was so convinced Yan would win the Nobel he included a Nobel bonus in three of the book deals he signed, said Tony Lyons, founder of Skyhorse Publishing, who bought Arcade in a bankruptcy auction in July 2010. “I’ve never seen that,” Lyons said of the Nobel clause, adding that he paid the $5,000 bonus last week. Seaver sees the selection of Yan as validation of the mission she and her husband embarked on when they started Arcade in 1989—to bring great writers to American readers. Despite financial struggles over the years and difficulty in getting recognition for foreign authors in the U.S, “We never wavered,” Jeanette said. The Nobel selection, she added, “shows we weren’t wrong after all!”
Yan’s win also proved a validation for Lyons and his decision not only to acquire the Arcade assets but also for a publishing strategy he borrowed from his father, Nick: to build a publisher with a diverse list and a deep backlist. The addition of Arcade’s 500 titles helped boost Skyhorse’s backlist—which now stands at about 3,000 titles—while also giving Skyhorse a strong presence in literary publishing to complement its lists in categories that range from sports to memoir. The broad list “gives us the luxury to publish books we feel are important and will have a long-term impact,” Lyons said. “If some [Arcade] titles don’t make money right away, it is not a crushing blow. We can still pay the bills.”
He explained that, as part of Skyhorse, Arcade has a different business model than its other imprints, one that can let authors build over time. Lyons is hoping, however, that with the Nobel win Yan will see a spike in sales. Skyhorse went back to press for 10,000 copies for each of its five Yan titles: The Republic of Wine; Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh; Big Breasts and Wide Hips; The Garlic Ballads; and Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out. In a quirk of timing, Arcade had recently reprinted and recatalogued The Garlic Ballads and Life and Death, but Lyons acknowledged that wasn’t done in anticipation of Yan winning the Nobel. Initial orders since the Nobel win have been good, as has demand for Yan’s e-books. Making all of Arcade’s titles available as e-books was one of the steps Lyons took after acquiring Arcade. All Arcade titles are now available in some format, and in the next few months Lyons said all the titles will be available in multiple formats. His strategy has been to roll out the Arcade line in a “balanced” way, not putting all its strongest authors on the first few lists or putting all of one author’s titles on the same list. “We want buyers to keep looking at the Arcade list,” he explained.
As part of Skyhorse, Jeannette Seaver and Cal Barksdale, former executive editor of Arcade who left during the bankruptcy but joined Skyhorse full-time this May, have been acquiring new titles. The spring-summer 2013 Arcade list will have 51 titles, including 16 new books, and Seaver said she expects the Nobel win will remind agents and authors of the type of books Arcade publishes. And as part of Skyhorse, Arcade has done well financially, Lyons said. In the first 12 months after Arcade relaunched in spring 2011, sales topped $1.5 million, and Lyons expects the imprint to grow 25% to 30% annually.
Seaver said she is happy that Arcade found a home in a place like Skyhorse that appreciates the value of a good backlist. After so many years of backing talented authors with mostly modest sales, the Nobel win, she said, “makes me feel a little bit like Cinderella.” She added that she is sure her late husband “would have been jumping up and down” when the news of Yan’s selection was announced.