Blackstone Publishing, an imprint of independent audiobook publisher Blackstone Audio, is extending its presence in the children’s book landscape. Founded in 1987, the Ashland, Ore., company branched out into print publishing in 2015 and broke into the YA market two years later with the release of Loved, launching The House of Night Other World series by bestselling authors P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast.
Now, Blackstone has two disparate milestones on the horizon, beginning with the November 1 publication of its first-ever middle-grade novel, Exposing Ezra by Amy E. Feldman; and the posthumous, summer 2023 release of Face the Night by YA sci-fi and fantasy novelist Lani Forbes, who died last February at the age of 35 after a nine-month battle with neuroendocrine cancer.
Ushering in a New Chapter
The publisher signaled its commitment to the young reader marketplace in March 2021, when Daniel Ehrenhaft joined Blackstone as senior acquisitions editor, responsible for acquiring projects spanning middle-grade, YA, and adult.
A nearly three-decade publishing veteran whose credits include author, packager, and editor, Ehrenhaft launched Sourcebooks Fire in 2009 and Soho Teen in 2011. While at the latter house, Ehrenhaft had published a YA novel, H.E.A.R. by Feldman’s sister, Robin Epstein. “As I was leaving the company, Robin asked me to look at a children’s novel, Ezra Exposed, that her sister Amy had written,” the editor said. “And I agreed to read the manuscript.”
Ehrenhaft was drawn in by Feldman’s story of a middle-grade boy who learns the pitfalls of revealing too much on social media when he posts an inappropriate photo on Instagram. “I immediately loved everything about the novel,” Ehrenhaft said. “It’s not only a fun, awesome read, but it is also a practical tool, teaching readers about the legal ramifications and other consequences of texting something offensive. It is written without a shred of didacticism or condescension, from the point of view of a 10-year-old whose voice is so authentic.”
The editor recalled that he wanted “to help Amy in any way I could to get Ezra Exposed published,” an opportunity he had when, in his words, “I landed at Blackstone and was ready to roll with the novel.” And so, in a felicitous sequence of firsts, Feldman’s debut novel became the inaugural book Ehrenhaft acquired for Blackstone, as well as the publisher’s inaugural middle-grade release.
Inspiration from the Heart
On several levels, Feldman wrote of what she knows when crafting Ezra Exposed. A practicing attorney who received both a JD and a Master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania, she is a children’s rights advocate and syndicated legal radio commentator.
The mother of three, now ages 25, 23, and 18, Feldman has made frequent visits to schools over the years to inform educators and parents about legislation surrounding use of social media and the consequences of breaking those laws.
With her novel, Feldman hopes to extend that message directly to young readers. “This is really intended to be a first building block in a conversation that will teach a lesson, in a non-threatening and age-appropriate way, about knowing the rules of social media and the importance of observing them, and protecting yourself online,” she noted.
Shaping a Varied MG List
Ehrenhaft emphasized that Blackstone’s middle-grade offerings, in keeping with its YA list, will be eclectic. Following Ezra Exposed in April 2023 is I Am DJ Michelle: How a Nine-Year-Old DJ Became a Global Phenomenon, an autobiography by Michelle Rasul, written with Rabiah York Lumbard. Due out in print and audiobook, this story follows the life of a wunderkind from Dubai, who catapulted to international celebrity status for her skill as a DJ.
And the world of Japanese folklore is the setting for The Secret War, the first in the middle-grade Shadow Wars fantasy-adventure duology. The books are written by popular YA paranormal author Sherrilyn Kenyon (whose books have 70 million copies in print worldwide) in her first collaboration with her son, Madaug Hishinuma, and his wife, Hinako Hishinuma.
“Blackstone is a great place to publish unique, diverse voices, and I am excited about how we are entering the middle-grade space,” Ehrenhaft said. “We are proceeding selectively and cautiously and are putting the full weight of our resources behind these books. I look forward to publishing additional titles for this audience down the road.”
Anthony Goff, president of Blackstone Publishing, also welcomed the company’s foray into middle-grade. “Blackstone is in the business of storytelling, so it is only natural that we start publishing for some of the youngest readers,” he said. “This is the continued evolution of Blackstone as a publisher, from an audio-only publisher to where we are today, publishing some of the biggest names in the industry. Our expansion of middle grade and young adult titles is a part of that, as we continue to publish books for every type of reader, and now readers of all ages.”
A Look at YA Ahead, and a Fond Farewell
As Blackstone moves into middle grade, its young adult program continues full-tilt.
Books scheduled for release in the early months of 2023 include Blood Circus, a debut novel by Camila Victoire (Jan.), a tale combining fantasy, magical realism, and suspense—inspired by the traveling circus that was the author’s home for four years; The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Henry Herz (Apr.), an anthology of short stories that imagine dark events in the life of Marie Curie as a teenager; and Hurt You by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a novel inspired by the social realism of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (May).
And summer 2023 will bring the bittersweet publication of Lani Forbes’s final novel, Face the Night, which she completed while terminally ill, a poignant experience she chronicled last November in a piece for PW.
The author’s agent, Samantha Wekstein of Thompson Literary Agency, offered this remembrance: “Lani Forbes was a dream client and a formidable author. She paired sublime ideas with exquisite execution, both of which are on full display in Face the Night. Her final novel is all the more impressive because she wrote most of it on her phone between chemo sessions, all while caring for her newborn son and her two other children. Lani understood the importance of persevering to tell her story. She led by example, teaching me and countless others how to face the things we’re afraid of head-on, a lesson her protagonist, Cat, also learns. It was a joy to collaborate with Lani, and her goodness and bravery shine through on every page.”
Ehrenhaft noted that he looks forward to continuing to publish diverse voices and a range of genres at Blackstone, whose editorial protocol of separating acquisition and development tasks he praised. “I like that I am responsible for acquiring the books, and we have a team of freelancers with expertise in various genres, one of whom works hands-on with each author on the actual line editing, focusing on a single project at a time,” he explained. “This is a great boon for authors, and frees me up to be their cheerleader. Having sat on both sides of the desk as editor and as author, I know how important that is.”