The Egmont USA authors PW contacted Wednesday uniformly responded with a mix of excitement and relief to the news they’d just received that Lerner Publishing Group will acquire Egmont’s list of almost 100 children’s, middle-grade, and YA titles. LPG, which primarily serves the school/library market but also has a flourishing trade program, will slot Egmont’s titles into four of its 13 imprints and divisions: Carolrhoda Books, Carolrhoda Lab, Darby Creek, and Millbrook Press.
Len Vlahos said he is grateful that his debut YA novel, The Scar Boys, a finalist for the ALA’s William C. Morris Award and just released in paper, will remain readily available stateside. The previous plan was that Egmont’s books would be added to Egmont UK’s lists and distributed in the U.S. by Penguin Random House through June 30, after which IPG/Trafalgar Square would take over U.S. distribution. Vlahos expressed a reluctance to say more before doing his due diligence. “I still need to learn more about what this means in terms of publishing schedule, etc., etc., so I shouldn’t say any more than that,” he wrote in an email. The sequel to The Scar Boys, called Scar Girl, previously scheduled by Egmont USA for release in August, will now be published by Carolrhoda Lab in spring 2016.
“It’s a key title that is a perfect fit for our Carolrhoda Lab list,” said Lindsay Matvick, LPG’s publicity and trade marketing manager. “We want to make sure we have enough time to put a solid sales and marketing program together for the book.”
Ilsa J. Bick was much more effusive when she spoke to PW by phone from her rural Wisconsin home. It is more than simply gratitude that her books will find a new home, and not folded into Egmont UK’s already huge list, she explained: for her, it’s also “like going home.” Bick’s YA novel Draw the Dark was one of the titles on Carolrhoda Lab’s inaugural list in 2010; three of her seven YA novels to date were published by Carolrhoda Lab. “All of my books are in the same place now,” she said. “This is perfect.” However, she doesn’t expect there to be much of a marketing push this winter for her eighth YA novel, The Dickens Mirror, a March release. It is a sequel to White Space, recently longlisted for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award. The Dickens Mirror is being published as Egmont USA powers down and before Lerner assumes responsibility for Egmont’s assets.
Although Carolrhoda’s highly respected editorial director, Andrew Karre, moved on in December to become executive editor at Dutton’s Children’s Books, Bick says that “a lot of the other people I’ve met are still there” and that some of them had contacted her and “welcomed me back.”
Bick emphasized that the extensive reach of the Minneapolis-based children’s publisher into both the trade and the school/library markets provides added value for Egmont’s authors. “Everyone wins with this one,” she declared. “I’m really happy about this.”
Former bookseller Anne Bustard, who in a previous life owned Toad Hall Children’s Books in Austin, Tex., told of experiencing “an enormous high” Wednesday after having experienced “a huge low” when Egmont announced that it was closing shop. Bustard, whose debut novel for middle-grade readers, Anywhere But Paradise (April), is one of Egmont’s final eight releases – nicknamed the “Last List” by Egmont’s authors – expressed her relief that there will be “more continuity now.” Bustard described Lerner as “a fantastic publishing house that reaches children and adults; it couldn’t be better.”
Out with the Old, In with the New
While the reactions of authors who weren’t so familiar with Lerner before Wednesday morning’s news were a little more restrained, they too expressed great satisfaction that the company was acquiring Egmont’s titles. Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies, who wrote the Quarantine trilogy of YA novels under the pen name Lex Thomas, disclosed that they heard the news on Twitter before Egmont contacted them, just as they’d initially heard the news of Egmont’s closing on social media.
“It’s weird as a writer to get heartbreaking news one day, and then [suddenly] you get wonderful news,” Hrabe said of the duo’s publisher for the past four years. “It’s hard to say goodbye to Egmont. They really nurtured us as authors. Nobody there told us we couldn’t do something we wanted to do. Everybody at Egmont was so good-natured and kind. Sometimes that isn’t the case, when creativity meets business.”
Hrabe and Voorhies admitted that they didn’t know much about Lerner, but they were “charmed” by Carolrhoda Lab’s tagline that it publishes “distinctive, provocative, boundary-pushing” YA fiction. “We may have ended up in that same kind of place [as Egmont],” Hrabe said, “That’s exciting.” Hrabe and Voorhies have almost completed a spinoff to their Quarantine trilogy, which they had originally intended to publish with Egmont. The two are also each working on solo projects, both YA novels.
Patrick Jennings was delighted to “have a publisher again” after “everything had been up in the air for a while.” Jennings’ middle-grade chapter book, Hissy Fitz, his 23rd book and his eighth with Egmont, was released on January 8, less than two weeks before Egmont USA announced on January 21 that it was closing down. While expressing his delight, as well as his hope that three future releases under contract with Egmont that were canceled in January might eventually be picked up by Lerner, Jennings was philosophical about the latest twists and turns in his career. Disclosing that he’d published with Scholastic “for a while” before there was “a big change at the top,” prompting him to follow his editor Regina Griffin, first to Holiday House and then to Egmont, Jennings said, “I’ve seen a lot of things shift in the past 20 years since I published my first book. I just try to keep my balance. It’s a somewhat volatile industry. In some ways, it’s steady, but there are shake-ups.”
It’s All in the Family for Lerner
Wednesday afternoon, Lerner Publishing Group head Adam Lerner noted that the company founded in 1959 by his father, Harry Lerner, is a “little out of the mainstream,” not just geographically, being headquartered on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, but also in terms of the way it does business.
“We’re a little bit guerilla in how we approach things,” he said. “We do things our own way; we’ve been very successful doing things differently.” Lerner’s entrepreneurial philosophy includes the company’s stance regarding both the books on LPG’s trade list and their authors. “There are no midlist books on our list; all of our books are frontlist,” Lerner stated. “Our list is small and highly selective, and we lavish a lot of attention upon our authors. We provide our authors with a lot of access.”
Joking that LPG can’t offer to name scholarships after all of its authors, as it did by endowing last year the Vaunda Michaux Nelson Scholarship for students of color in the M.F.A. program at St. Paul’s Hamline University, Lerner emphasized that the Nelson scholarship “is emblematic” of LPG’s loyalty to its authors. The acquisition of Egmont USA’s titles is, he pointed out, emblematic of LPG’s commitment to building up its trade program. In an interview in 2014 with PW, Lerner disclosed that trade sales account for 20% of the company’s net revenues.
Alix Reid, a Chicago-based children’s book editor who previously was an editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, is acting as interim editor-at-large overseeing LPG’s trade list as LPG searches for a permanent editorial director to replace Karre. “It takes time to find the right fit,” Lerner said. “We need to take our time and get it right, because we care so much for our trade program.”
An earlier version of this article reported that Ilsa J. Bick's novel, White Space, will be published in March. White Space was published in 2014; its sequel, The Dickens Mirror, is being released this spring.