Come spring 2009, there will be a new player in the world of YA fiction: WestSide Books will publish its first list starting next February. At WestSide’s helm is publisher Evelyn Fazio, a 28-year industry veteran and author, whose resume includes previous positions with publishers (editorial director at Marshall Cavendish; v-p and publisher at M.E. Sharpe, as well as prior work at Random House and Prentice Hall), distributor Baker & Taylor, and as a literary agent. “That all comes in handy now,” says Fazio. “I know how to negotiate contracts having rewritten them everywhere else I’ve worked. I’ve come full circle.”

WestSide is based out of Lodi, N.J., sharing the premises with Marco Book Company, a prebinding company established in 1961, which purchases paperbacks from publishers and rebinds them into hardcover editions sold largely to school classrooms under the name Everbind. “Eighty percent of our sales are based on maybe 500 titles,” says Stewart Penn, president and owner of both Marco and WestSide, who notes that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird sells the most copies in classrooms nationwide. Though Penn owns both companies, WestSide is a distinct entity from Marco, incorporated separately. WestSide shares the prebinder’s sales force and infrastructure, and WestSide’s jacketed hardcover novels will be bound on-site with the same process used for Everbind products.

Fazio says selecting WestSide Books as the company’s name was among the first things she did when she came on board in November 2006. “We wanted something that sounded substantial, permanent, grounded,” she says, noting that they “wanted to indicate that we’re near New York.” She adds that the company’s v-p of marketing, Chuck Davis, quips that they are located on the “very far west side.”

Three of the seven novels that make up
WestSide Books’ debut list next spring.

Two factors helped bring about the idea to create original YA fiction. First was the success of the Everbind Anthologies line, which pairs original texts with thematically related content. (The anthology of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible contains 22 additional readings, from poems by Anne Bradstreet and Biblical passages to articles about Puritanism and witch hunts.) Second, Penn says, was concern that e-books and e-readers could replace Everbind hardcovers in future classrooms. “We don’t own the books we buy from the publishers, and as a result we could be out of business,” Penn notes. “I thought, Let’s try this. The YA market seems to be heating up. If we do get some positive feedback, I will own the content of those books.”

WestSide’s debut list will consist of seven titles, and Fazio expects to publish upwards of 12 books per year going forward. The list is a mix of debut YA authors and those with a few titles under their belts--all are realistic stories about teens with issues ranging from difficult family situations to mental disorders. “We are trying to serve a niche,” Fazio says. “We’re not doing chick lit, we’re not doing fantasy. These are serious books. They’re fun to read and funny but they’re about real things.” She says that about 20 books are currently under contract, with additional titles pending, and that she has been pleased with a strong response from agents and authors.

Two titles use sports to tackle social issues like drinking and peer pressure (J.E. MacLeod’s Waiting to Score and Stepping Up by Mark Fink, debuts for both authors); and Seattle Blues by Michael Wenberg (Elizabeth’s Song) follows an aspiring musician’s coming of age in the late 1960s. In One Wish by Leigh Brescia, the teenage protagonist struggles with body image issues; the heroine of Ana Gonzalez’s Running for My Life most contend with a schizophrenic mother; and in an as-yet-untitled novel by Lee McKenzie, a teen trades a tempestuous life in Las Vegas with her mother for a more stable existence with her grandmother.

WestSide will utilize Everbind’s national sales force to sell direct to schools. “The beauty of this, the synergy here,” says Fazio, “is that we already have the sales people going into the schools. That’s where we’re going to have a tremendous advantage.” Chuck Davis, v-p of marketing, says the company is still considering whether or not to work with a major distributor or handle trade distribution themselves, noting the company already has warehousing and fulfillment systems in place. “These are all trade books,” he adds. “The school market just gives us the ability to make sure schools know about them.” PR and marketing firm Raab Associates will handle publicity for WestSide.

Fazio edits each of the titles herself and says she would prefer to publish a small number of books that are in line with the company’s vision. “I love the YA market,” she says. “The writing is really good--it has to be or kids won’t stick with it.”