Many in the industry expressed surprise when Elise Howard left her longtime position at HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2011 to start a young readers line at Algonquin Books, a small press based in North Carolina known for its literary list. Now that Howard’s launch list is set at last, she spoke with PW about her plans and her vision for the new venture.

With an eye toward what Howard, editor and publisher of Algonquin Young Readers, calls “character- and voice-driven stories,” the imprint is releasing its first list in fall 2013. The roster includes two YA and three middle-grade books; the spring 2014 list will be similar in size, she says, with a goal of 15 books per season, beginning in the third year.

If the initial interest in the imprint is anything to go by, Howard—who is based at Algonquin’s N.Y.C. outpost, in the offices of parent company Workman—should have plenty of manuscripts to choose from. “We received a phenomenal number of submissions,” she says. “People are excited about an independent publisher launching a children’s line.”

Sharing the excitement is Algonquin publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt, who has been with Algonquin for 24 years. “For probably half that time,” Scharlatt says of her tenure there, “I’ve been thinking about starting a division for young readers.” But the company’s annual output of 20 works of adult literary fiction and nonfiction “seemed like the right number for us. I never thought we should double our list or suddenly start doing sci-fi or another genre.” Launching a younger line “always seemed the most logical way to grow,” she continues. “But it wasn’t until Elise became a possibility that it really made sense.”

Algonquin is doing what Howard calls “a soft launch” for the imprint at ALA’s midwinter meeting later this month, where the publisher will distribute galleys. Then, at BEA, Algonquin Young Readers will do a booth takeover on Children’s Day.

The first book goes on sale August 13: a middle-grade fantasy by Amy Herrick called The Time Fetch, about a boy who accidentally causes a rip in the space-time continuum. Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine follows on August 20; aimed at readers ages 16 and up, it’s the story of Sahar, an Iranian teen in love with another girl. September brings the YA novel Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seaman, about teens in hospice care, and The Show Must Go On!, the first in the Three-Ring Rascals series for newly independent readers, by sisters Kate and M. Sarah Klise. Rounding out the fall list is Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea, a middle-grade offering from Orange Prize winner Valerie Martin (Property) and Lisa Martin, her niece.

Howard has assembled writers with an array of experience: Farizan is making her debut; Herrick, Seaman, and Valerie Martin have previously written novels for adults; Lisa Martin is an educator and poet; and the Klise sisters are longtime children’s book collaborators. Howard published the Klises while at Avon Books for Young Readers, and it was Kate Klise who led Howard to a book on her spring 2014 list, Outsider Artists by James Klise, their youngest brother.

Also due out in spring is Leaving China, an illustrated memoir by James McMullan, about his childhood in pre–World War II Asia. As well as being an acclaimed illustrator of theatrical posters, McMullan is also a picture-book artist (I Stink!; Hey, Pipsqueak!); but the inclusion of his book on Algonquin’s list does not, says Howard, signal an impending shift to picture books. “We are a Workman company; they have their own illustrated program,” she explains.

Getting the Word Out

Howard has enlisted what she calls a “merry band of booksellers”—indie bookstore staffers who will be the imprint’s earliest readers. The new division will be rallying in-house support, too, with a prepublication book club for Workman employees and sales reps (as well as booksellers), who may participate remotely or in person at Workman’s New York office. The first session, with the Klise sisters, was January 15; the authors appeared on a split screen from their respective homes. Appearances with the rest of the launch-list authors are scheduled every few weeks through April 2.

According to the imprint’s marketing director, Eileen Lawrence, the book club is an example of collaboration not just with Algonquin's adult group, but with the greater Workman family. “The book club idea was born when Thea James [digital sales and promotions manager, Workman], Rebecca Schmidt [national accounts sales assistant, Workman], and Emily Parliman [assistant editor, Algonquin Young Readers], were brainstorming ways to promote the new imprint,” she says. “It’s truly been a group effort to bring it to fruition.”

“We’re following the tradition of Algonquin—targeting real readers,” Lawrence continues. “Algonquin Young Readers’ tag line is ‘a well-read life begins here.’ We thought it was a nice complement to Algonquin Books’ tag, which is ‘books for a well-read life.’ ”