After stints as an editor at HarperCollins, TokyoPop, and Little, Brown, Erin Stein had earned her stripes – and the vaunted title of publisher – when she was hired last December by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group to start a new imprint. One of the first orders of business: choose a name.
“I thought it would be so much fun to name an imprint, but it turned out it was really hard,” said Stein, who said she did not consider naming it for herself. “This is a significant new enterprise for the company and I didn’t want it to feel like a pet project. It’s bigger than me.” But after exhausting the thesaurus and the dictionary in search of a word that wasn’t already taken, one that didn’t sound too young, too old, too sci-fi, too romantic, and that would “make the statement” Stein was after, she decided to call her imprint Imprint.
That’s not a typo.
“Outside the publishing world nobody knows that ‘imprint’ has a special connotation inside publishing,” Stein said. “Kids certainly don’t. My entire family didn’t. And it says what I wanted to say about making a mark, and creating books that leave an impression.”
Imprint’s “initial list is a mix of blockbuster authors, debut new voices, and multimedia talent, reflecting Imprint’s wide-ranging approach to storytelling,” said Jon Yaged, president and publisher of MCPG. Going forward, Imprint will issue a roughly equal combination of picture books, middle grade, and young adult, with the focus on branded publishing, new content creation, and original, commercial fiction.
“Macmillan has great lists and great imprints but they didn’t have anyone exclusively devoted to doing commercial, branded publishing,” Stein said. “This is going to be a new way for Macmillan to approach the market.”
Stein had been at Little, Brown since 2009, specializing in publishing brands such as Arthur, Matt Christopher, and Tintin, and creating movie tie-ins for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. She acquired and edited many licensed publishing programs, including Monster High, The Muppets, and Transformers. “In the licensing world, I’m definitely looking to partner with a company at the beginning of a brand,” she said. “It’s so exciting to be involved in seeing series like Monster High and Ever After High (both Little, Brown) take off, although those kind of hits don’t come along that often.”
Stein says Imprint’s very first release, Babies Ruin Everything (spring 2016) written and illustrated by the husband-and-wife team of Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, exemplifies one of the things she’s most interested in: finding ideas through unconventional routes. Swanson and Behr run their own small press, called Idiots’ Books, out of the home they share with their three children on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They had published Babies Ruin Everything as an adult title, available to customers as part of a quarterly subscription program. Stein saw a way to make the story of an older sibling’s resentment of a tiny newcomer relevant to kids, too.
“It was done as a satire originally, with crayon scribbling all over the cover. I loved the idea, and thought, ‘We could actually turn this into a picture book,’ ” Stein recalled. Even better, she said, “They are really a dynamic duo, so creative, and they have a ton of ideas.”
Stein has also signed up Kami Garcia (co-author of the bestselling Beautiful Creatures series), whom she worked with at Little, Brown. Garcia’s first title for Imprint will be a departure from her paranormal fantasies. The Lovely Reckless (fall 2016) is a contemporary YA romance about the daughter of an undercover detective who falls for the car thief her father is trying to nab.
When Stein told Garcia she was moving to Macmillan, Garcia didn’t hesitate to join her. “She’s always been more than an editor to me. I call her when I’m struggling with the title, or a plot line, or when I’m having a bad writing day and am sure I have ruined the book, or when I can’t figure out the end,” Garcia said. “And although she is interested primarily in the words on the page, she thinks about every aspect of the book, which is why it is so exciting that now she’s going to be publisher.”
Stein has also signed up several other YA titles, a chapter book series, and she expects that licensing projects will roll in later this year. “Things are cooking,” she said. She’s also actively working to develop projects in-house. All this with only one full-time employee – an assistant – at the moment. She expects the staff to grow gradually.
“Well, at first, she just had one author, too, and that was kind of neat, it being just Erin and me. But then she went and signed up other writers,” Garcia joked. As to the imprint’s redundant name, count Garcia as a fan. “It really spoke to me as a writer because I want my books to last. I want them to still be around 50 or 100 years from now. So I totally got it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Babies Ruin Everything co-creator Robbi Behr.