Daniel Nayeri is on the move. On December 18 he will join Workman as director of children’s publishing, and he is busy wrapping up projects at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where he has been digital editorial director since 2012. Nayeri took some time away from boxing up his office to speak with PW about his vision for his new role, and shared some thoughts on the current state of children’s publishing.
“I think I can be very helpful in taking the Workman list into certain areas,” Nayeri said. “That was always a big part of my interviews, discussing ways that I might do that and still be complementary to what Raquel [Jaramillo, his predecessor in the position] has done. I’d like to build a corner of the list in complement to Raquel; that’s why she’s coming back [as editor-at-large, beginning next February]. It’s like we’re playing two different positions on a football team and that’s very exciting to me.”
Nayeri is particularly intrigued by the opportunity to create “book and object” projects, something that Workman has done successfully over the years. “They have a classic title, The Kids’ Book of Chess, which comes packaged with a chess set, that’s been on the backlist forever,” said Nayeri. “Books with toys that are more substantive, like board games, are something I plan to explore quite a lot. Games have largely eluded publishing to this point. I design board games on the weekend and I know there is a large community of people who are interested in table-top games and who like to print and play board games.”
As a company known for bringing cleverly designed titles to market, Workman has what Nayeri calls a “ground-up approach. There is no standard picture book – there are different specs for specific projects,” he said. He points to such Workman hits as Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd, Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder, and Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg as representative of the path he hopes to continue. “As I’ve described it before,” Nayeri said, “I want to make really meaningful art objects for great and terrible children.”
Though he has been largely focused on the digital side of publishing of late, Nayeri’s experience as a bookseller, an editor, and an author in his own right – Another Faust and two others in the Another series written with his sister Dina, and Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow, all published by Candlewick – has provided him with a broad industry view. He is encouraged by an emerging inclusive attitude about how print and digital will coexist. “In terms of publishers, print and digital are starting to diverge, and are moving into a complementary space,” he said. “If you hold storytelling as the core value, each medium brings different elements to the table.” An example of what he considers this “next step in presenting great storytelling” is a book app he has been working on with author-illustrator David Wiesner. “He has one of the few minds that could conceive of what a picture book 2.0 would even look like,” Nayeri said. He is sad to be leaving the project – scheduled for fall 2014 – behind, but “I’ll be the loudest one jumping up and down when it comes out,” he adds.
Another work-in-progress that Nayeri is sad to relinquish in his move is a print graphic novel called Wild Boys by Blake Henry, scheduled for spring 2015. “It’s Hatchet meets The Dangerous Book for Boys with nonfiction interstitials about survival skills,” he said. And among other highlights of his recent tenure at HMH, Nayeri names the just-released illustrated version of The Princess Bride (print and digital) by William Goldman.
Nayeri’s view of the industry’s future is decidedly optimistic, though he acknowledges there are still challenges to increasing digital’s reach, namely the sometimes overlooked digital divide. “One of the limitations right now is that everyone thinks that teens are so tech forward – and they are – but many of them do not own tablets,” he said. Those limitations will disappear in several years when the prices of tablets come down, he believes. “It sounds funny to say this about apps, but I don’t want to make luxury products. It’s wonderful to create beautiful things for the iPad, but when only a small percentage of kids have one, I don’t want to cut out so many readers. I don’t want to forget that some kids only have access to a computer in their school or public library.”
On the whole, however, Nayeri sees the path ahead as bright. “The real evolution in the conversation about digital vs. print,” he said, “is that people are beginning to understand that with new technology we have more ways to tell stories, not fewer ways to distribute them.”