Within hours of hearing that Jean Feiwel would be vacating her post as senior v-p of Scholastic's trade division, Holtzbrinck CEO John Sargent picked up the phone. For a few years he had been looking for the right executive to oversee a unified corporate strategy for publishing paperbacks culled from three of Holtzbrinck's children's lists, at FSG, Holt and Roaring Brook. Feiwel, whose reputation was built on children's paperback publishing, fit the bill. But after 22 years running the trade operation at Scholastic, she was looking for more than just paperback reprint duties.
Together the two hatched a mutually beneficial job description for Feiwel—senior v-p and publisher of a new children's unit at Holtzbrinck, with two parallel responsibilities: repackaging backlist and publishing frontlist. "We were not happy being underrepresented in the children's area," says Sargent. As for Feiwel, who would only say that her departure from Scholastic was "not my choice," the new lease is a welcome challenge. This spring, the reprint line—Square Fish—makes its debut, to be followed in fall '07 by the hardcover Feiwel & Friends imprint. Time will tell if both Sargent and Feiwel made the right call.
Track Record in Paper
Feiwel's longstanding reputation as a smart paperback publisher is based on her success in conceiving and acquiring many successful series—most notably Goosebumps, the Baby-sitters Club and Animorphs—books that sold many millions of copies for Scholastic. At Square Fish, primarily a paperback imprint culled from top backlist properties, Feiwel will start with The One and Only Shrek, a hardcover compendium featuring Shrek! along with five other classic William Steig titles. The spring list also features Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time quintet, which will be repackaged in mass market and digest sizes. A few years ago Holtzbrinck stopped renewing paperback licenses, in anticipation of starting an imprint like Square Fish. The L'Engle books (which FSG published in hardcover), along with Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, originally published by Holt, were a priority to reclaim.
Feiwel's plan for the L'Engle books, as for many of the Square Fish properties, is to make backlist feel new again. To that end, Elizabeth Fithian, who is in charge of marketing for both imprints, has designed a six-figure campaign, which will not only reach the traditional markets, but will include child-focused outlets like Yahoo! Kids and National Geographic Kids.
Square Fish's fall list will feature another omnibus compendium, You're a Good Dog, Carl, containing Alexandra Day's bestselling picture books. Five Natalie Babbitt novels, including Tuck Everlasting, will be reissued and repackaged, and Elizabeth Enright's novels will get a similar treatment in spring '08.
On the picture book side, the Square Fish spring list will contain paperback reprints of six award-winning titles, including The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Roaring Brook), Hondo & Fabian (Holt), and The Gardener (FSG). Two novels, Elsewhereby Gabrielle Zevin and The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff, round out the list.
The profits from Square Fish titles will go back to the original house, using the same payment formula that has worked well for Picador, the adult paperback list at Holtzbrinck that is also the reprint home for many FSG and Holt titles.
Experience Plus Instinct
At Scholastic, Feiwel was by no means a paperback-only publisher. She was on hand for the first six books featuring a certain boy wizard, and she also launched Scholastic Press, a hardcover list headed by Liz Szabla, who has joined Feiwel at Holtzbrinck as editor-in-chief. Feiwel & Friends will launch its first full list this fall, with Ellen Emerson White's teen novel Long May She Reign. At 700 pages, it's a lengthy tome for the genre, and Feiwel concedes "it's definitely a gamble."
But instincts are probably what Sargent bargained for when he brought on Feiwel, and so far so good. Feiwel & Friends has actually jumped into the fray already, reissuing Nancy Tillman's self-published picture book, On the Night You Were Born. The book got a 50,000-copy first printing, and landed on bestseller lists almost immediately—"it hit the right sentimental cord," says Feiwel, who has gone back to press for another 50,000.
Another of Feiwel's goals is to work more closely with Holtzbrinck's international imprints. TheBlack Book of Secrets, a novel from Macmillan U.K., will be on her debut list, as well as Poison Apples, a novel that Feiwel sold across the pond to Macmillan.
With her name on the spine of a book for the first time, Feiwel says, "I've got to look out for it—it's my responsibility." She may well find that her name means something. "Jean has an innate trust in the creative spirit," says Josalyn Moran, v-p of children's books at Barnes & Noble, "and she works to bring that out to the marketplace."