Congratulations to this year's Star Watch honorees, some of the best and brightest young talent in the publishing business. Read on to learn more about them. We're also throwing a party on Sept. 15 to celebrate this year's finalists and honorees, and to name the superstar who will be awarded a trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
RosettaBooks, New York
“My team is phenomenal.... Together we find solutions, discuss literature, and, when we’re overloaded, read Zen poetry.”
Poetry aside, there is nothing Zen-like in Bennett’s workaday world. When she joined RosettaBooks in 2012, it published only backlist e-books. Now, with a print frontlist that she and her team built from scratch, it is a bona fide trade nonfiction publisher. “We’ve got an efficient and competitive program that I’m truly proud of,” she says. Upcoming on the list that she has forged is a book by the radio talk show host Delilah and a memoir by Dawit Habte, which she describes as the “harrowing story of a brilliant Eritrean refugee who now works for Bloomberg.”
When Bennett is not working with such high-profile experts as the legal eagle Alan Dershowitz and the Silicon Valley guru John Sculley, she gives her time to the Women’s National Book Association, for which she has recently taken on the role of president of the New York City chapter. She is particularly excited about a women-in-comics panel that she is organizing with Pen + Brush. Other un-Zen-like activities include serving on the advisory board of Rosetta and tweaking the draft of a book that she just completed.
Senior Production Associate, Reprints
Hachette Book Group, New York
“As chair of the AAP’s Young to Publishing committee, Brigid demonstrates great skills that guide and facilitate numerous events that bring together our young industry professionals.” —Tina Jordan, v-p, Association of American Publishers
Some may view the production department of a publishing house as a service department, but that’s not how Black sees it. “We actually make the books happen,” she says. Noting that production isn’t for everyone, because you can’t be afraid of numbers and you can’t let dates slip, Black says, “I’m the first person to see a sample book when it arrives at the office—how cool is that?” Also cool is that she’s in charge of the multiple—and ongoing—reprints for Hamilton: The Revolution, which is arguably as successful as the blockbuster Broadway show.
Because production is behind-the-scenes, Black has earned her reputation beyond HBG for her tireless work for AAP’s Young to Publishing Group, where she is an activist for diversity, “ensuring that these challenging topics are addressed,” the AAP’s Jordan says. Black’s manager at HBG, Judy Varon, says her commitment to Young to Publishing and her job “speaks volumes for her love of books and the written word.”
Associate Director of Publicity
Random House Publishing Group, New York
“Maria is a homegrown talent who goes above and beyond her responsibilities. She represents all that is great at Random House.” —Sally Marvin, senior v-p, director of publicity, Random House
Since she began as an assistant in the Random House publicity department in 2007, Braeckel has been promoted six times. The reason for such a rapid rise isn’t hard to discern. Marvin says that Braeckel has not only been loosely connected to major campaigns: she has shepherded authors and books to awards and bestseller lists.
Braeckel’s projects are a parade of hits. Among them are Adam Johnson’s National Book Award–winning short story collection, Fortune Smiles; Elizabeth Strout’s #1 bestseller, My Name is Lucy Barton; Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl; Charles Duhigg’s Smarter, Better; and Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel, Eligible. She considers her work with Dunham a career highlight, citing the collaborative nature of the project: “We worked alongside passionate bookstore colleagues, partnered with Planned Parenthood ... and organized writing roundtables with local nonprofits,” she says. Braeckel was particularly gratified by “creating an opportunity for an author to connect with a huge crowd on an authentic and personal level.”
Director of Writing Programs
Catapult, New York
“At Catapult, we believe in the power of empathy, of people telling their stories.”
The literary press Catapult offers classes to supplement its publishing revenue. Founder and COO R. Andy Hunter reports that after just one year, the model is working “only because Julie has established a program that will bring in $250,000 in revenue in 2016,” of which instructors receive 51%. The program held its first six-week workshop in May 2015, led by the Pen/Faulkner Award–winning author James Hannaham. Since then, 46 fiction and nonfiction workshops and 12 one-day master classes have been led by a roster of diverse writers, including National Book Award finalists Angela Flournoy and Mary Gaitskill.
Buntin is proud of the program’s alumni, who have gone on to sell memoirs, novels, short pieces, and be accepted into top-ranking M.F.A. programs, including the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Online classes were launched this summer, and, Buntin says, “I am absolutely thrilled to be able to bring our writing workshops to students all over the world.”
Buntin’s first book as an editor at the press, the graphic novel Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil, comes out this fall, and her own novel, Marlena, will be published by Holt in spring 2017.
Cinco Punto Press, El Paso, Tex.
“The sweet thing about being an indie publisher is having a small list that gives us the freedom to care deeply about each book.”
When Byrd joined the family business in 2004, he tackled the independent publisher’s biggest weakness: its business management—such unglamorous tasks as royalties, contracts, and accounts payable. So, it’s no wonder that his “secret pleasure” is unpacking boxes at book shows. “Sitting at my desk, I sometimes lose track of the collaborative work of creating books,” he says. “Unpacking those boxes and pitching the books to curious readers reconnects me.”
Byrd’s business skills came in handy during the Great Recession. At that time, Cinco Punto’s list was dominated by illustrated children’s books and was hit hard by the dramatic cuts to school and institutional budgets. Byrd broadened the house’s list to include young adult and adult literature.
The expanded list can be seen in Cinco Punto’s upcoming titles, which include How to be Crippled and Naked, an anthology of short fiction by writers with disabilities; Rani Patel in Full Effect, Sonia Patel’s debut YA novel about a Gujarati Indian girl; and a new series of bilingual board books from Cynthia Weill.
Atria Books, New York
“I love being in the trenches with writers as they do the hard and holy work of storytelling.”
Cantin sped from editorial assistant to senior editor, where she impressed colleagues by quickly establishing a relationship with one of the list’s most prolific and important authors: Jennifer Weiner. “If not for Sarah’s immense professionalism and deep personal commitment, this story might have ended differently and led to a loss for the imprint,” a coworker says.
Cantin credits the people she took the reins from, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Durand, with giving her “wonderful support and mentorship.” Now, having left the nest, she describes her own style: “I can be a hands-off editor when that’s an author’s preference, but at heart I’m a mama bear—a protective, empathetic cheer captain.” Or, as a coworker says: “Like the best editors, she sweats the small stuff. And the big stuff.”
Upcoming projects that Cantin is cheering on are Weiner’s nonfiction debut, Hungry Heart, a personal essay collection; and Elliot Wake’s Bad Boy, a novel by and about a trans man. And Cantin says: “Look out for Bed-Stuy Is Burning,” a debut by Brian Platzer that centers on a day in Brooklyn when riots erupt over issues of race and gentrification.
Three Rooms Press, New York
“I want to transform literature from something that intimidates far too many people into something that is as necessary as a smartphone in the modern world.”
Three years ago—after two decades of working in theater as a director, playwright, and actor—Carlaftes, an author himself, joined Three Rooms as codirector. In that short span, he has transformed the press, whose motto is “cut-the-edge creative,” from a publisher of emerging New York poets into a global, inventive publisher of literary fiction, translations, memoir, and creative nonfiction.
Carlaftes’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, with titles receiving such awards and recognition as the 2013 Arab American Book Award for poetry for Hala Alyan’s Atrium. Tales from the Eternal Café, a collection of stories by Janet Hamill, was one of PW’s best books of 2014, and Weird Girl and What’s His Name, an LGBTQ YA novel, was a 2015 finalist for both the Indiefab and Kirkus Reviews book of the year.
Carlaftes’s colleagues also cite his “uncanny ability” to commit major writers to taking a chance with the small press. For the forthcoming This Way to the End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse, he personally convinced its editor, SF grand master Robert Silverberg, to come out of retirement.
Jaya Aninda Chatterjee
Associate Editor, World History, Geopolitics & International Relations
Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
“My job enables me to identify, reach out to, and encourage scholars, journalists, and policy analysts alike, to work closely with them to develop their ideas into book projects. It is a joy and a privilege to be so closely engaged with people and ideas.”
After receiving her master of arts in English and comparative literature from Columbia University in 2009, Chatterjee joined Yale as an editorial assistant. When she began acquiring books for the press, she was impressed with the caliber of books that were published in the international relations category but felt that there was room for more South Asian voices. Since then, she has steadily built those offerings to include the Far Eastern Economic Review contributor Bertil Lintner’s Great Game East, about the rivalry between China and India, and Salil Tripathi’s The Colonel Who Would Not Repent, a Mumbai Press Club Redink Award winner that tells the story of Bangladesh from its independence in 1947 to the present. This fall will see North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society by Jieun Baek. “I am thrilled to be working with Jieun as she becomes one of the leading voices on North Korea,” Chatterjee says, “unveiling what life inside this seemingly impenetrable country looks like.”
According to a colleague, Baek will be just as thrilled to work with Chatterjee, who has won—as an underbidder—at competitive auctions because “the authors felt that she understands their books so well and that she would be the consummate dedicated editor.”
Nicole De Jackmo
Director of Publicity & Marketing
Quirk Books, Philadelphia
“Quirk has reignited my passion for publishing. We’re a small but mighty crew; our jobs are much larger than our titles.”
With experience in both big and small houses at Simon & Schuster and Running Press, De Jackmo is particularly passionate about the opportunity that Quirk affords her to work with colleagues in the U.K. and Canada, as well as in the United States. “Each country has a different sensibility,” she says, “so finding ways to bring attention to Quirk books domestically and abroad involves creative problem-solving and teamwork.”
Quirk’s president, Brett Cohen, says De Jackmo excels at creative problem-solving and meets head-on the challenge of promoting “strikingly unconventional projects.” He credits her with increasing engagement and presence at trade and consumer shows, boosting traffic on Quirk’s website, and “pushing 11 of our books onto the New York Times bestseller list—in a list that includes just 25 new titles per year.”
Since joining Quirk five years ago, De Jackmo has been leading the marketing effort for the wildly successful Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its sequels. The movie, based on the books, releases at the end of September, and De Jackmo is excited to launch the tie-in titles and see how her longtime project will be interpreted by Hollywood.
Editorial Director, Race Point Publishing
Quarto Publishing Group, New York
“In 30 years of bookselling, I’ve only worked with a few people who have had the instincts, imagination, and creativity of Jeannine Dillon.” —colleague
Few can pinpoint their best day on the job, but Dillon can. It was the day she received her first thank-you letter from a cancer treatment center in Louisiana. The staff told her that patients and their families were more relaxed during chemo sessions when they were coloring in Color Me Calm, the first book in the press’s Color Me series. “That was by far my best day in publishing,” she says.
For Color Me Calm, published at the early stage of the adult coloring book craze, Dillon insisted on authenticity. She consulted art therapists to determine if there were shapes and colors that could actually make a person feel calm. Each image in the book was crafted both by the artist, Angela Porter, and art therapist Lacy Mucklow. The tens of thousands of copies sold in the series support Dillon’s belief that “the selling point for many is about finding tranquility.”
Literary Agent, Co-owner
The Lisa Ekus Group, Hatfield, Mass.
“My ethics and loyalty to our clients are of the utmost importance to me, as are the relationships I have with editors.”
In the seven years since Ekus joined this 34-year-old boutique culinary agency, she has doubled the author list, brokering more than 80 book deals.
“Sally Ekus is a woman with her hands and her heart in the work she does,” says a colleague. The work part of the equation has given birth to such books as Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling by Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn, and The Nourished Kitchen by Jennifer McGruther. Ekus is looking forward to finding a good home for a book she just signed with Matthew Prescott, the senior food policy director of the Humane Society of the United States.
The heart part is seen in Ekus’s approach to her clients, to whom she brings a passion “to know them as whole beings,” she says, as well as her attitude in the office, where “she nurtures both the team’s and individual strengths to achieve a warm, productive, and efficient workplace,” says a colleague.
Sasquatch Books, Seattle
“Hannah on the prowl turns up consistently appealing authors, trends, and book ideas.”—Gary Luke, president & publisher, Sasquatch
Barely a month after she joined Sasquatch, Elnan’s prowl led her to the online and retail entrepreneur Moorea Seal. Undaunted by a lack of response to her initial pitch for The 52 Lists Project book, Elnan went straight to the source, visiting Seal at her store and practically signing her on the spot to a two-book deal. The book has sold more than 100,000 copies since its modest first printing of 8,000 in 2015, and gave Sasquatch a 20% boost in revenue—making for its best year in a decade.
While Elnan is proud of the project’s commercial success, she is equally pleased to hear from users of the journal that it has been a catalyst for them to achieve their dreams. And her dream as well: “I love working with authors over years and multiple books while seeing their careers blossom,” Elnan says. Now, the two-book deal has become a three-book deal, with 52 Lists for Happiness due out in September and a third title set for 2017.
Assistant Director of Publicity
Atria Books, New York
“There is no ceiling that can contain this dynamo publicist.”—colleague
Describing Fredman as equally adept at pitching authors to traditional media and at organizing a Snapchat rollout, a supervisor says, “Ariele brings to her job everything that a publicist should.” In 2014, Fredman played a key role in the launch of Keywords Press, the imprint dedicated to publishing stars of the digital world, including Shane Dawson and Connor Franta.
Dawson recently followed up his 2015 hit, I Hate Myselfie, with It Gets Worse, a second essay collection that has topped bestseller lists. Fredman reports that “a nice chunk” of his continued sales come from the events that she has planned. “Seeing thousands of fans marching through a store to buy a paperback is a hugely satisfying experience.”
Fredman has made her mark with traditional authors as well. She was the force behind the publicity surrounding Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. Getting to tour this year with Backman was one of those “is this my job?” moments, she says.
Owner & Founder
Avid Bookshop, Athens, Ga.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life.”
In 2007, Geddis decided that she really wanted to open a bookstore so she did extensive her research and learned that Athens was an ideal location. All signs pointed to a likely success, but by then it was 2008 and the economy had collapsed. “The number of hurdles was insane, almost comical,” Geddis says.
But Geddis had been talking, blogging, and tweeting about the bookstore for some time. Folks in the book industry and in Athens wanted a bookstore. So, with the help of a very creative banker, people supporting the store, and community lender loans modeled on the strategy employed by Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore, Geddis opened Avid in 2011 with three part-time staff members. Now, there are two full-time staffers and six part-time, and for several years, Avid has been named the favorite local business by a local weekly newspaper.
National Geographic Kids Books, Washington, D.C.
“I am most impressed with Hale’s ability to approach every book with a long-term strategic vision.”—Erica Green, v-p, editorial director, National Geographic Kids
The year 2016 has been good to Hale—she was promoted to senior editor and got married—and she has been good for National Geographic Kids. Hale is the editor of How to Speak Cat, now in its fourth printing for which Hale “not only found a terrific author but also identified an expert, a prominent veterinarian who acted as a spokeswoman for the book on NPR and elsewhere,” noted Green.
With Temple Run, a finalist for the Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice awards, Hale created the first book for the press to be based on a popular mobile gaming app exploring archeology, ancient history and geography. “It’s always nice when a book sells well, but when combined with awards—wow it just makes you feel good,” Hale says.
Assistant Director of Marketing
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston
“I love connecting readers to the right book wherever and however possible.”
It was meant to be. Right out of college, Harlow was hired by Carla Gray at Houghton Mifflin. Two years later, she was in New York, where she worked for Harcourt until 2008, when she moved to Uganda for a couple of years. Upon Harlow’s return to Boston, Gray jumped at the opportunity to bring her back to what was now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “Hannah has always brought a creative spark to everything,” Gray says, including managing “the three-year onslaught of Tolkien movie tie-in madness to providing masterful marketing campaigns for Randall Munroe’s What If? and Thing Explainer.”
Harlow eagerly accepts the challenge of a “constantly changing marketplace,” she says. In the mid-2000s bloggers were all the rage, so she created a blog task force. Then book trailers and social media were the new thing. Now she is masterminding a way to use Instagram Stories to match books to readers.
Rachel Hecht Children’s Scouting, New York
“Rachel Hecht has made a reputation for herself as a thought leader with impeccable taste, helping publishing clients from around the world identify new trends and great talent.” —John Baker, former colleague
After earning her chops at Mary Anne Thompson Associates and, earlier, Foundry Literary & Media, Hecht fused her passions for children’s literature and foreign rights to establish the first children’s-and YA-focused scouting agency in the U.S., which launched in June. A fervent advocate for children’s literature, her mission, she says, is “to ensure that great books are able to reach young readers across the world.”
Faced with the onslaught of the fall frenzy in publishing, Hecht is undaunted, saying, “I always look forward to the rush of submissions and the opportunity to identify emerging trends and connect new voices with enthusiastic foreign publishers.” But what really “electrifies” her is encountering an outstanding new voice that “makes me jump up and want to share it with readers everywhere,” she says.
Dial Books for Young Readers, New York
“My ambition is to honor our readers by taking particular care to create books that are not only beautiful in and of themselves, but that also have a deep respect for the traditions of good typography and book making.”
Colleagues say Henry’s design helped propel the Ordinary People Change the World series, by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos, onto bestseller lists. Design department head Lauri Hornik says his covers have “a terrifically hard-to-achieve mix of exuberance and restraint.”
Earlier this year, Henry created a community project called Books Beyond Borders that has gathered more than 1,000 children’s books and donated them to local institutions and a school in Meru, Kenya, which received 170 books. Seeing photos of the children holding books made Henry realize that “the books we make create the possibility of a life marked by a love of learning.” He adds, “That not only creates opportunities for the reader but a richer, more beautiful world for us all.”
Roaring Brook Press/First Second Books, New York
“In a time when publishing has become more about the bottom line and less about the artist, Connie looks for the correlation and produces high-grossing classics in the making.” —Ali McDonald, the Rights Factory
A first-generation Chinese American, Hsu was “raised to pursue professions, not passions,” she says. Nevertheless, after earning a master’s in journalism, she dreamed about working at the New Yorker but wound up at spin-off of TV Guide that folded. It was a stint subbing at daycare that led her into children’s publishing.
Hsu developed a hunger for learning how to edit any project, from picture books to novels. She finds the former “to be the most challenging format,” she says, “causing me to sit with a 350-word text for hours, trying to unlock the secret between a good book and a great one.” She certainly found a great one with Dan Santat’s 2015 Caldecott Medal winner, The Adventures of a Beekly: The Unimaginary Friend.
Verso Books, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Bringing radical books to media is the most exciting thing for me.”
As a publicist for the English-language radical press, Hussain needs gritty determination. Verso’s books range from “left of liberal to communist,” Hussain says. Thus, a big part of her job is to get books that espouse unpopular political ideas in front of the largest readership possible.
Hussain cites Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter as a movement-related book that garnered much attention. She organized an event for it at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which she considers a career highlight.
Another book that requires creative publicity is Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move (Oct.). Author Reece Jones argues that borders should be eliminated, “an idea,” Hussain says, “that is impossible for some people to imagine.” She has planned an event with the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design.
Writers House, New York
“Lean in, you say? Brianne has been leaning in her whole life, and her impressive sales speak for themselves.” —former intern
We call her Brianne ‘the Shark’ Johnson,” says a former intern who is now one of Johnson’s clients, citing the agent’s tenacity and deep knowledge of editors’ personal tastes. Another client, Gary Pedler, lauds Johnson’s “spot-on ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ ” feedback and perseverance in finding a home for his book. After a year and several rounds of edits and feedback, she’s not giving up on him.
Johnson takes great pride in representing books that “normalize unique family structures, characters, and diversity.” She recently sold rights to Introducing Teddy, which features a transgender teddy bear. The author, Jessica Walton, developed the book after her father transitioned from male to female and she needed a resource to explain this to her three-year-old son. Johnson calls the book “a glorious example of how not to be a jerk when someone tells you something personal and sensitive about themselves.”
Little A and ‘Day One,’ Seattle
“In 2013, Carmen Johnson accomplished the unthinkable: she launched Day One, a weekly literary journal that deserves a place alongside n+1 and the Paris Review.” —David Blum, publisher & editor-in-chief, Little A
We have one simple mission,” Johnson says of Day One: “Publish the very best of emerging talent and radically expand their readership.” Launched just shy of three years ago, the digital-only journal has published works from more than 80 emerging writers. Several, including Lauren Acampora, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, Doretta Lau, and Caroline Zancan, have gone on to publish their first books. Others have won awards and residencies, including the Pushcart Prize and the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.
There’s more. Johnson—who says, “I love starting new things and finding ways to grow a writer’s audience”—is also one of the founding editors of Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A. Notables on that list include Ben Greenman, Harold Schechter, and A.L. Kennedy whose upcoming novel, Serious Sweet, has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, which thrills Johnson. “Sometimes I can’t believe that my job is simply to find good writers and publish them,” she says.
Scholastic, New York
“I have a reputation for my over-the-top enthusiasm. I gush to sales. I gush to marketing and publicity. I have, on occasion, called my mother to read her lines from a manuscript that’s breaking my heart.”
Mallory is a fantastic contradiction,” says Rachel Griffiths, to whom she reports. She says Kass’s literary instincts—including an obsession with Wharton and Waugh—honed at Oxford, where she earned a master’s degree in English literature, are matched with “an equally voracious appetite for pop culture.” When Kass joined Scholastic as an editorial assistant, she made her mark early on as “a major creative force behind the smash worldwide hit, the 39 Clues series,” Griffiths says.
Since then, Kass has gone on to acquire and edit Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic, which was a New York Times bestseller and Editors’ Choice mention, received three starred reviews, and was named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. “Working with Lloyd has expanded my heart three sizes,” Kass says.
To the industry, she’s Mallory Kass, but to legions of fans she is Kass Morgan, the author of her own bestseller, The 100, which, with the two other novels in the series, is the inspiration for the CW television show of the same name.
Media Engagement Manager
Globe Pequot, Guilford, Conn.
“Sharon knows in her bones that publishing is a relationship-driven business. She can pick up the phone and make needle-moving things happen.” —Margaret Milnes, marketing director, Globe Pequot
In less than three years with Globe Pequot, Kunz has become a “respected and highly valued voice at the table,” says Milnes, who cites her ability to quickly pivot between the details of the everyday and the bigger picture. Kunz was the force behind the media tour for Maajid Nawaz’s Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism, which included author appearances on Fresh Air and Anderson Cooper 360. “It was gratifying,” Kunz says, “because the more people who hear his story, the better off all of us will be.”
On the immediate horizon is the launch of a new children’s imprint, Muddy Boots, which includes a partnership with the National Wildlife Federation to publish books starring the group’s mascot, Ranger Rick.
Crooked Lane Books, New York
“Authors and readers share things that we are often unwilling or unable to share with those closest to us or even with ourselves. Books make this happen. Publishing makes it happen on the largest scale.”
In fall 2015, after seven years at Minotaur, St. Martin’s crime fiction imprint, Martz was ready to explore his entrepreneurial side and launched the crime fiction press Crooked Lane. A year later, he has published 35 titles, with plans to triple the list and launch a new imprint in 2017.
This fall, Martz is jazzed about the bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub’s traditional mystery Something Buried, Something Blue; Body on the Bayou, the second title in Ellen Byron’s Southern cozy series; and a K-9 cop mystery by Margaret Mizushima, Stalking Ground. Dana Kaye, who handles the press’s publicity, says it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in Martz’s excitement and zeal. Martz agrees that his fervor helps drive the press, but adds, “that, and I start the coffee in the morning.”
Random House Children’s Books, New York
“I never got in trouble for anything other than sneaking books under my school desk. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was my bible–I wanted that girl’s hair!”
Before she joined Random House Children’s Books a few months ago, Middleton was at Abrams, where associate publisher Jody Mosley praised her leadership skills and her ability “to make sure that the design of the books elevates the words and supports the book’s message.”
A highlight at Abrams was working with Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell, who she says are phenomenal individually but are an impressive “dynamic duo” when they work together. In her new post, she is thrilled to be working with Dave Eggers on his just published contribution to the Save the Story series, The Story of Captain Nemo, illustrated by Fabian Negrin.
Middleton is looking forward to collaborating with illustrator R. Kikuo Johnson ahead of the fall 2017 release of The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore, about a boy growing up in Harlem who wants his imaginary world to be real.
Director of Programming & Development
Sarabande Books, Louisville, Ky.
“What sets Kristen Miller apart is her successful efforts to bring literature and craft into communities where literature never had a chance to be prioritized.” —Danika Isdahl, publishing assistant, Sarabande
Sarabande’s mission is to publish works in genres that are underrepresented, such as poetry, short fiction, and essays. Miller was the lead editor for the highly praised story collection You Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine and for Shawn Wen’s debut collection of prose poetry, Twenty Minutes of Silence Followed by Applause. But the accomplishment that Miller, and her colleagues, believe sets her apart is the establishment of the Sarabande Writing Labs, a series of workshops for underserved communities in Louisville, now in its third year.
“There’s nothing that I am more proud of than the work being accomplished through Sarabande Writing Labs that extends a platform to the city’s most vulnerable and traditionally silenced individuals,” Miller says.
Blue Rider & Plume, New York
“Kate has an uncanny ability to identify trends, to separate pretenders from contenders, to understand what makes a book wonderfully entertaining, as well as aesthetically memorable.” —David Rosenthal, publisher, Blue Rider
When Napolitano entered publishing, she had two goals. The first was “to find authors with whom I could identify: young, eager, savvy cultural commentators who weren’t afraid to shake things up.” Her other goal was to “prove to everyone that millennials do indeed buy books.” She proved her point. Many of the titles that she has acquired—such as Farazmand’s Poorly Drawn Lines, Mamrie Hart’s You Deserve a Drink, Reza and George Watsky’s How to Ruin Everything—have gone on to sell well.
This fall will see the fruition of a “passion project,” as Napolitano calls it, with the publication of You Can’t Touch My Hair, by the comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.
Crown, New York
“Julian has a real nose for what consumers are looking for in the sci-fi space. He has emerged as an editorial star and a wunderkind at spotting talent.” —colleague
A few years back, Pavia sent the spoken-word artist and screenwriter Ernest Cline a note wondering if he had ever thought of publishing a novel.
That note turned out to have a big influence on Cline, who eventually responded, via agent Yfat Reiss Gendell, with Ready Player One, a cult classic that has gone on to sell 1.2 million copies for Crown in the U.S., with foreign rights sold in 40 territories.
Pavia also noticed a free serial on a website, got excited, and mentioned it to agent David Fugate. The website belonged to Andy Weir, and the serial was The Martian. Once Fugate signed Weir and sold the book to Pavia, it quickly became a sensation. The Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon was nominated for seven Oscars, and the book has sold more than 2.8 million copies.
Chronicle Books, San Francisco
“I work on a lot of books that make people laugh, that speak to their sense of humor, or help them connect with friends. And that’s just a great honor.”
Rankin has indeed helped many people laugh—he works with Francesco Marciuliano on his hilarious collections of cat poetry I Could Pee on This and now I Could Pee on This, Too. “I like to live in a world where I speak to people that want to see cats write poems,” Rankin says.
Rankin recently took over the mantle of the Art Of series of books in collaboration with Pixar, a longtime passion of his. Chronicle’s close proximity to Pixar allows Rankin to meet with their production team and “have real development conversations with them to make the books come to fruition,” he says, adding that “it’s kind of magic.” That’s not just true for Pixar. Rankin relishes the joy of working with authors who are bursting with creative enthusiasm and want to connect with an audience.
Portfolio & Sentinel, New York
“There’s a high that comes from helping controversial figures on the bleeding edge of the political process communicate their messages.”
Though some might be daunted by editing books by presidential candidates during campaign season, Sandford calls editing Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Scott Walker “a lot of fun.” Not that it’s always easy. “There’s nothing I love more than the moment when an author and I suddenly find the solution to a seemingly intractable framing or organization problem,” she says.
Publisher Adrian Zackheim puts it another way: “Like other great editors who have far more experience, Bria combines the insight and instincts to help her authors develop their big picture goals.” Zackheim says Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose Team of Teams was a bestseller, and Brian Kilmeade, who wrote the bestselling George Washington’s Secret Six and Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, are among the prominent figures who have benefited from this.
Associate Publisher & Editorial Director
Charlesbridge, Watertown, Mass.
“We global citizens have a responsibility to make the world a better place, and making books is the way I can effect change in our society.”
With a degree in Russian language and literature, and several interviews at Langley, Scott was supposed to be a spy for the CIA, but it didn’t work out. Our national security’s loss has been a gain for children’s publishing, particularly for independent press Charlesbridge.
One project that Scott “can’t stop talking about” is a picture book from Juan Garcia Esquivel, whom she describes as “the father of ‘space-age bachelor pad’ lounge music” from the 1950s and 1960s. It is “truly a case of the right manuscript finding the right editor, because I’m a singer in the world’s only Esquivel tribute band!”
Scott is also on the board of the Children’s Book Council, and she cofounded Children’s Books Boston, which provides a variety of programming for stakeholders in children’s literature.
Director of Film & TV
New Leaf Literary & Media, New York
“Pouya puts authors first and strives to see that their works are adapted for films that will actually get made.” —Peter Knapp, colleague
Hollywood may have a reputation for being dismissive of the authors whose work gets adapted for the big screen, but Shahbazian is an exception. After various stints in the entertainment industry, he has solidly crossed over to the book side as head of film and TV at New Leaf, where the writing comes first. “Knowing that I can have an impact and help a manuscript or article or short story find life in other mediums while remaining true to an author’s vision is very gratifying,” he says.
Just as gratifying are the seven films that New Leaf has seen produced in the past two and a half years under Shahbazian’s leadership. Among them is the Divergent series, which went from the initial deal to “an actual green light of a big-budget studio adaptation in less than 20 months,” he says. Apparently the Hollywood Reporter had it right in naming him to its Next Gen 2013 “35 under 35” list of industry up-and-comers.
Author Marketing Specialist
Goodreads, San Francisco
“Cynthia’s impact on West Coast publishing has been huge.” —Katie Sheehan, senior communications manager, Berrett-Koehler
When Shannon left New York for San Francisco, her friends warned her that she would be disappointed with the literary scene there and would soon hurry back east. “They couldn’t have been more wrong,” she says. “The Bay Area is a phenomenal place to be as the future of publishing unfolds.” She has taken an active role in bridging the worlds of books and technology—not just as part of her job, but across the region.
In her day job, Shannon helps publishers and authors integrate Goodreads into their promotional campaigns, from giveaways to yearlong marketing strategies, and she helped launch the site’s Ask the Author feature. But that’s just part of it. She sits on several area boards, but what probably makes her most popular are the happy hours that she arranges with local publishers such as Chronicle Books, HarperOne, and McSweeney’s in order to bring the publishing and digital worlds together.
Green Apple Books, San Francisco
“I am in solidarity with every reader, she says, “because we all share the most important bond of all: a love of books.”
Shaw brings a depth of experience to her job at Green Apple, an independent bookstore. She held various positions at Abraham Associates, Chronicle Books, Copper Canyon Press, Graywolf Press, and Milkweed Editions. Shaw isn’t myopic about “old, dead authors,” Chronicle’s Kevin Armstrong says. “She’s an amazing supporter of the current book world and reads a lot of genres and authors others don’t, like sci-fi, poetry, and YA. I love seeking her recommendation.”
Shaw takes pride in her diverse experience, such as working events for big names like Cheryl Strayed, selling books to Urban Outfitters, and packing boxes in a Midwestern warehouse. As Green Apple’s events publicist, she is excited about the high-profile authors who visit, such as Colson Whitehead, who is coming this fall, and is in thrall to the crowd’s energy that ensues.
Red Fox Literary, Shell Beach, Calif.
“I believe in the difference the writers and illustrators I work with are making in the world.”
A book’s potential impact looms large in Smith’s life. Her son, she says, “couldn’t speak were it not for a copy of Trucks Trucks Trucks by Peter Sis and many readings over time which would bring his voice back to us.” There is her own childhood, too, clutching the worn pages of Beverly Cleary’s Socks, to reinforce her belief that books open worlds and change lives.
“Each day I have the privilege of working with creators,” Smith says. Those creators consider themselves privileged, as well. One of her first clients, Julie Falatko, credits Smith with the successful debut of her picture book Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!). “Thanks to her,” Falatko says, “my book had an initial print run of 25,000 and was featured in People magazine.”
In only two years, Smith has closed 17 book deals for clients, the bulk of which will see publication in 2017.
BookBar, Denver, Colo.
“It is vital to become a community space, an experience, rather than just a retail space.”
During the seven years that Sullivan was home with her children after a corporate career as a website analyst, she had a lot of time to think. When the owners of the local bookstore reached out to the community to search for ways to save the store, Sullivan thought about how she could help. She wrote a proposal for them with various options, but in the end the store went out of business.
“I was too far down the road at that point,” Sullivan says. She bought the building where the old bookstore was located, hired an architect, and opened three years ago with just retail space. Now BookBar features a garden patio, a reading room, and an eight-top community table. And, of course, the wine bar—“a place to go and sit, have a glass of wine, read a book, and have it not be weird,” Sullivan says. “We truly are a community bookstore,” she says, crediting that with year-over-year growth of 20%.
Dey Street Books, New York
“Thornton sets a standard for professionalism and thoughtfulness that we can all aim to emulate.” —Yfat Reiss Gendell, agent, Foundry Literary & Media
Thornton considers herself lucky to have played an integral role in the reboot and launch of two imprints: first Three Rivers Press at Crown, and then Dey Street at HarperCollins. “There is something so exciting about creating a mission statement and helping to design your imprint’s identity,” she says. Dey Street’s list is broad, but, as a voracious reader of psychological suspense, Thornton is jazzed about Claudia Rowe’s The Spider and the Fly, coming in January. She is also committed to publishing books “by musicians who speak to my generation.” To that end, this fall she will publish a memoir by Johnny Marr, Set the Boy Free.
Thornton is passionate about her relationships with authors. “Our jobs our unusual,” she says. “We become intimately acquainted with writers as we are asking them to bare their souls or offer up their expertise and personal time.” For her celebrity clients, there is an added layer. She is tasked with having to explain a world that is foreign to them and guide them through the publishing process. Gendell, an agent who has sold Thornton several books, calls her “an invaluable North Star to my clients.”
Light Messages, Durham, N.C.
“I see myself as a midwife for books—I help the stories to be born. It’s an incredible privilege.”
Turnbull must be a busy midwife. In her three years at the independent press, she has birthed 20 debut authors, with 85% of them winning awards. From 2013 to 2015, revenue grew by nearly 80%. All those babies and she still finds time to serve on the executive board of the Independent Book Publishers Association. She also organized the first Read Local Book Festival in Durham last year.
While very pleased with the company’s strong finances, Turnbull also takes pride in the press’s mission “to publish meaningful works that tell an engaging story.” Whether it’s a thriller, a YA fantasy, a work of literary fiction, or even an inspirational romance, she’s looking for books that invite the reader to “peel back the layers and ask the hard questions.” As an example, she points to the recent publication of Rebecca Brewster Stevenson’s Healing Maddie Brees, which delves into illness, faith, honesty, and isolation. “It’s one of the most beautiful, brave books I’ve ever read,” she says.
Leading the editorial team at a small press means that Turnbull is involved with a book from acquisition to postpublication, something that she considers “an incredible privilege.”
Alison S. Weiss
Sky Pony Press, New York
“Publishing is a business; blending the thrill of an exceptional read with the potential to break out never grows old.”
When she landed an intern position as a college sophomore, Weiss’s first reaction was “I can read children’s books for a living.” Three days later she was explaining to her father that “you have to balance the quality of a project with salability. A book may exhibit exquisite writing, but if no one wants to buy it, it doesn’t make sense to pursue.” A decade later, that is still the mantra that drives her.
Georgia Morrissey, a former colleague, credits Weiss with broadening the commercial reach of the Sky Pony list by bringing in a mixture of critically acclaimed authors, including Mike A. Lancaster, Helene Dunbar, and Michelle Houts. Weiss is behind the launch of the press’s first chapter book list, the cornerstone of which is Project Droid, a series cowritten by the internationally bestselling author Nancy Krulik and her daughter, Amanda Burwasser, and illustrated by Mike Moran.
Weiss likes to work with lesser-known authors as well. “I love championing something unusual and delicious,” she says, pointing to the forthcoming Timekeeper, a gay fantasy set in an alternative Victorian London.