Middle-grade boys are the target audience for MAX, a paperback line that Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin Books will debut on April 18 with four titles. Encompassing a range of fiction genres, including realistic, action/adventure, and humor, MAX is modeled after Aladdin’s MIX line, which launched in 2007.
MIX, which is aimed at tween girls who have outgrown early chapter books but are not yet ready for YA, features contemporary stories incorporating such real-life themes as friendship, adjusting to a new school, first crushes, and sibling rivalry. The novels have found an eager readership: the list now comprises 50 novels that have a combined 1.8 million copies in print. Like MIX titles, MAX releases will have an easily recognizable cover design that features a striped vertical band along the books’ spine.
Aladdin editor Amy Cloud helms the MAX editorial team, which also includes editorial director Fiona Simpson, v-p and associate editorial director Liesa Abrams, executive editor Karen Nagel, and editor Alyson Heller. “Liesa and Fiona were involved in conceptualizing the idea behind the line before I came to Aladdin in 2013,” said Cloud. “All editors at Aladdin acquire for MAX, though, and we really are an integrated group. We bounce ideas off of one another constantly and very much work as a team, so it’s sometimes difficult to say where exactly one idea came from.”
Cloud emphasized that the MAX series casts quite a wide net editorially. “Our target readers are boys who have several hobbies or interests but aren’t completely devoted to one in particular,” she said. “We see our average MAX reader as the kid who never leaves home without his smartphone, who still gets an allowance, who’s always watching YouTube, and who still has his childhood stuffed animals—but hides them!”
Protagonists of various stripes star in the offerings on MAX’s inaugural list, which will consist of two originals and two reprints from the imprint’s hardcover backlist. The originals (which will have a small hardcover print run for the educational market) are Under Locker and Key by Allison K. Hymas, introducing a boy whose “retrieval specialist” business—returning stolen lunch money and confiscated cell phones—is hampered by a meddling schoolmate who’s an aspiring private investigator; and Mark Maciejewski’s I Am Fartacus, a jocks vs. nerds comedy in which an outcast and his band of like-minded misfits are determined to bring down the popular class president wannabe.
Rounding out the debut list are a reprint, The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, spotlighting the only remaining boy at a private school and his zany attempts to get himself expelled; and a reissue, 33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy, about a middle-grade math wiz coping with the end of his relationship with his best friend.
Though the editorial focus of MAX is on one-off rather than series publishing, Cloud noted that that isn’t a set-in-stone policy. “Our thinking is never say never when it comes to series,” she said. “We did talk initially about doing series, but realize that there are boys who aren’t fans of high fantasy and long page counts, and who like the idea of reading a fast-paced, standalone story rather than repeatedly returning to the same characters and worlds. Yet we do look for novels that have a big enough hook and enough potential that they could have sequels.” In fact, follow-ups to MAX’s two launch originals will appear on future lists, including Arts & Thefts, Hymas’s sequel to Locker & Key, due in January 2018.
Aladdin is ushering in MAX with a marketing campaign targeting consumers, the educational market, and the trade. Plans include advertising in Boys Life, online promotion through a social media campaign and a custom landing page, a two-pocket folder announcing the series to teachers and librarians, MAX-themed striped socks for trade giveaways, a 12-copy mixed floor display, and local author events.
Cloud explained that the MAX editorial team has set no specific goal for the line’s annual output, yet she estimates that the list will add one original and one or two reprints in each of Aladdin’s three publishing seasons. The next originals due out are The Wild Bunch by Jan Gangsei, in which three unlikely friends brave the wilderness in search of a mythical beast, scheduled for July; and Rob Vlock’s Sven Carter and the Trashmouth Effect, centering on a part-boy, part-robot who tries to stop himself from destroying the human race, set to pub in October.
“We are receiving many submissions, which is very gratifying, and we discuss each one as a team,” Cloud said. “We are going to be nimble and see what happens. We all find MAX a lot of fun to work on—it is definitely a line that means a great deal to all of us.”