Colleen AF Venable
Art director, Children’s Book Group
Workman, New York
Venable took an unusual route to her current position, where, according to Workman general manager Jill Salayi, she creates books “that have never existed before.” Venable began her career as a receptionist for the Children’s Book Council and also wound up running the council’s library—a treasure chest of Caldecott and Newbery winners that left a deep impression on her. From there, she joined the marketing team at Macmillan Children’s Publishing, where she participated in meetings in which the art and design of titles, including covers, was discussed.
Venable noticed that her comments in those meetings were often met with affirmative nods from First Second publisher Mark Siegel, who one day asked, “Do you know Photoshop?”
Venable had never studied design (though she did have some knowledge of Photoshop), but Siegel brought her over to his imprint and sent her to design school. “It was a very stressful six months,” Venable recalls of her work with top graphic artists/authors including Ben Hatke, Gene Luen Yang, and George O’Connor, whose Olympian series she wished she had when she struggled with school-taught mythology. But Venable was hooked on design, and ever since she has been determined to “make books that anyone would want to hold in their hand—books that I would have wanted as a kid.”
Three years ago, Workman hired Venable with a mandate to “make art objects for great and terrible children,” Salayi says. With her team of “creatives unlike any in publishing,” as Salayi describes them, Venable has overseen the redesign of Workman’s children’s list from top to bottom—from brands such as Brain Quest, Indestructibles, and Paint by Sticker to individual frontlist titles as well.
The innovation comes from what Venable calls “the art cave,” a studio she founded where designers, inventors, filmmakers, and 3-D modelers all work together—a perfect setting for a leader who has “a vast skill set in helping creators reach their goals,” Salayi says. From this design workshop has come a number of innovative, interactive books that “expand the very nature of the form,” Salayi adds.
For Spy on History: Marty Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring, Venable created an intricate system of cryptography for young readers to decipher. In Rocket, a physical 3-D-modeled toy flies through spreads of outer space. The Most Dangerous Book, an illustrated guide to archery designed by Venable, is another title that blurs the line between book and toy: it transforms into a real bow and shoots paper arrows that resemble historical varieties of arrows from all over the world.
Though Venable’s métier is art design and direction, she is involved in the publication process from beginning to end. “Before we acquire books, we lay out spreads as a group,” she notes. Some art directors chafe at the idea of editorial oversight, but Venable says, “I’m used to designing with the editor standing behind me—in a good way.” She even brings her brief stint as a marketer to bear, developing interactive promotions for stores and custom projects that transform books into kits.
And all that is just Venable’s day job. In her spare time she writes children’s books, including the six-book Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series, Mervyn the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World, published last year, and the forthcoming Amy the Red Panda Is Writing the Best Story in the World, due in November.
Scribner, New York
If you’re looking for a beach read, don’t ask Loedel, a quickly ascending 29-year-old editor at Scribner who has already garnered an impressive list of what he calls “dark and challenging” books. While he doesn’t want to get a reputation for “sucker punching people’s souls,” he says, he’s not particularly interested in entertaining readers. What he is passionate about is presenting works that “offer high emotional stakes and move the conversation.”
Nan Graham, Scribner senior v-p and publisher, praises Loedel’s tremendous versatility in successfully publishing books of literary fiction, popular science, psychology, and history, while “always staying true to his very high standards.” His recent publications include Selection Day, the latest novel by Aravind Adiga, the Booker Prize–winning author of The White Tiger, who trusted the young editor enough to change publishers to work with him. And in March, Loedel published One of the Boys, the debut novel by Daniel Magariel about two young brothers contending with the love they have for their abusive father. It was widely acclaimed and was picked as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and rights were sold in many territories.
Loedel considers himself to be lucky to be at Scribner, where he is supported in his often-difficult picks. “It’s not always that a short and dark book can win the affection of everyone on the sales force,” he says. He gives most of the credit to his colleagues in making this work, but he gives himself a tiny pat on the back for expressing his enthusiasm for the books as well as articulating what makes them worth engaging with. As Graham succinctly puts it, “He motivates staff with his eloquence and conviction.”
Loedel wants readers to get their heads out of the sand about taboo or difficult topics such as suicide, schizophrenia, and impoverishment in immigrant communities. The latter is at the core of The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City by Laura Tillman, about the brutal murder of three young children by their parents in the border city of Brownsville, Tex., one of America’s poorest cities.
Coming in January is A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise, a book about schizophrenia that Loedel is particularly eager to get out into the world. It’s written by Sandra Allen, a former BuzzFeed editor, who crashed into the project when she unexpectedly received a package from her schizophrenic uncle. Inside was a “convoluted, error-filled, smelly autobiographical manuscript that she sort of translated into a narrative of his life story,” Loedel says. “She takes the reader into what having the disease was like for him growing up in Berkeley at a time of major social change, and when there were very different ways of treating the disease than we have now.” Woven into the narrative are passages about schizophrenia and the historical context, making it, Loedel says, “a very unusual, great document.”
In an atypical arrangement that pleases Loedel, he is co-editing the book with Scribner executive editor Kathryn Belden. He values the intimate one-on-one relationships that editors have historically had with authors, but says, “I really like working in teams: it’s really nice to bounce ideas between editors, and that’s not done enough in this industry.”
Although Loedel is young and sets a high standard for his choices, he is keenly aware of “the crucial balancing act when you’re a literary editor of books that may not sell even when the stars are all aligned and the reviews are raves.” One of his nonfiction titles, Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideasby Steven Poole, was a J.P. Morgan book club pick this summer. And, in what Loedel calls an “entrepreneurial exercise” (rather than an opportunistic one), he reissued Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers by James Donovan, originally published in 1964, in time for the 2015 release of Bridge of Spies. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, was loosely based on the book. While not a tie-in per se, the book sprang onto bestseller lists.
Loedel’s passion for books with high moral stakes—and sales potential—has served him well. Graham recounts that at a recent meeting, the president and CEO of S&S U.K. and Commonwealth publishing turned to her and said, “Daniel is the most impressive young editor I have ever met.”
Oblong Books, Millerton and Rhinebeck, N.Y.
As soon as she was tall enough to see over the counter, Hermans started working the cash register at Oblong Books. The store was cofounded in 1975 by her father, Dick Hermans, in Millerton, N.Y., and Oblong is now the largest independent bookseller in the Hudson Valley. She attended her first NEIBA when she was about 12 years old, and for the past 10 years has co-owned and managed the family business, which includes a second outlet added in Rhinebeck 16 years ago. She has seen many changes in the business over the decades.
“I’ve been aware of what has been happening in the book business since I was about 10,” Hermans says. “I watched my dad deal with the coming of B&N in our area. Fortunately B&N was far enough away that it didn’t have too terrible an impact on the store, but we certainly watched a lot of our friends’ businesses suffer or close. I grew up thinking, ‘Chain stores are the worst.’ Now, 20 years later, oh my God, we need B&N. It’s interesting to watch them go from being a complete enemy to a total partner.”
Then came an even bigger hurdle: Amazon. It remains a challenge today but was even scarier when the e-tailer launched and started offering books “almost cheaper than I could buy them from a publisher,” Hermans recalls. That hasn’t changed, but what’s new is the imperative to “shop local”—to support communities and keep their bookstores open. “It’s been wonderful to watch the needle swing back to a vibrant, independent bookselling universe,” Hermans adds.
The key is adding value. “Yes, you can buy anything I sell for cheaper somewhere else, so why do you want to buy it from me?” Hermans asks. “Because we’re extremely knowledgeable about our inventory, because it’s beautiful here, because we support our community. When we go away, it’s not just that you lose a bookstore—you lose a community partner.”
One of Hermans’s favorite community projects is working with the elementary school in Rhinebeck on a special program for fourth graders. During the semester-long project, the students learn every aspect of creating a book, culminating in making their own. They talk with a book author and illustrator, a book editor, and a book designer. At the end of the journey, as Hermans refers to it, they visit the bookstore and learn about marketing and selling from Hermans and her staff. “We get to nerd out with the fourth graders,” she says.
Another program is their “Fiction’ into Film” book group, in partnership with a small nonprofit arts cinema across the street from the Rhinebeck store. The group reads a book, screens the movie adaptation, and then engages in discussion about both.
The store is fortunate to have a plethora of libraries in the area that provide plenty of partnering opportunities. Another stroke of good fortune came a couple of years ago, when Malcolm Gladwell, an owner of the historical White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Conn., close to the Millerton store, approached Oblong about working with them and libraries to have events with authors. From Gladwell, the message was, “We want to invite the community into this space; we want it to be a community center,” Hermans explains. Hanya Yanaghihara and Colm Tóibín are among the authors the inn and store have hosted.
The community-building work is paying off handsomely. Hermans reports that her two stores have had a number of their best years ever recently. Her list of achievements is remarkable. In 2011, she and Oblong were the subjects of a front-page story in USA Today. In 2013 she was elected president of the NEIBA board of directors, its youngest president to date. Hermans served on the American Booksellers for Free Expression advisory council for six years. This year, Hermans was honored as one of five “female trailblazers” in Dutchess County by the Poughkeepsie Journal and has been selected as a judge for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, which she calls “the biggest honor of my career.”
Indent Literary Agency, New York
According to author David Unger, winner of Guatemala’s 2014 Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize for Literature and a teacher of translation at City College of New York’s graduate M.A. program, “Andrea Montejo is the most important agent representing exclusively Latin-American writers and Latino writers in the U.S.” She has sold five of Unger’s books to publishers in the U.S. and abroad, and her expertise and influence extends far and wide. “Montejo has been a fellow at the Turin, Frankfurt, Jerusalem, Santiago, and Guadalajara [book fairs].”
Born in Colombia and a graduate of the Paris IV Sorbonne, Montejo began her career in 2001 at Rayo, a Harper Collins imprint (since closed) dedicated to reaching a broader Latino and Spanish-speaking readership. At that time, there was great enthusiasm for publishing for these readers, and many imprints catering to them were created. But unrealistic expectations and the financial crisis of 2008 led to the demise of many of these imprints. Montejo was not deterred, and 10 years ago she opened Indent, a full-service agency based in New York that represents Spanish- and English-language authors for the U.S. market and throughout the world.
When Montejo left Rayo, she gravitated toward bringing Latin-American voices to English-speaking readers, a relatively new initiative for publishing. Her success can be—at least in part—attributed to her firm understanding of what Latinos and other Spanish-speakers in the U.S. need and want.
In the early 2000s, Montejo says, publishers made the mistake of believing that the “40 million Latinos in this country would rush into bookstores,” because they didn’t understand the market. Most first-generation Latin-American immigrants speak languages other than English (and not always Spanish), but many second- and third-generation immigrants don’t. Accordingly, Montejo has taken a broader approach at Indent. “I grew up in Columbia, so between Columbia and the U.S., I feel a very strong north-south connection,” she says—one that isn’t always reflected in the ways books travel. She explains that most Latin-American book publishing lists are determined in Spain and yet, “I feel that my inspiration, my culture—everything I aspired to—is in the U.S., and I think I’m not alone.”
Among Montejo’s authors hailing from south of the border are Lydia Cacho (Mexico), Alberto Fuget (Chile), and Mayra Santos-Febres (Puerto Rico). Montejo also represents Latinos living in the U.S., including Alberto Ferraras and Ernesto Quiñonez.
Soon to be delivered is a new book by Oscar Martinez, a journalist from El Salvador who came to the attention of readers here with The Beast (Verso), about migrants crossing the border into the U.S. Montejo describes that book as an “extraordinary piece of journalism,” and she has similar high praise to describe the author’s forthcoming title, El Niño de Hollywood, which chronicles the life of Miguel Ángel Tobar, a member of the notorious Mara Slavtrucha gang that formed in Los Angeles and subsequently became one of the most violent gangs in Central America and on both coasts of the U.S.
Another timely book that Montejo is working on is Cuba on the Verge, edited by Leila Guerriero and featuring 12 pieces: six by authors inside Cuba, six by those outside. “It examines this moment in Cuban history, looking at what happened in light of Obama—how the country and specifically Havana have been altered,” she says.
Though the U.S. market remains somewhat resistant to translations, after a decade of running Indent, Montejo reports promising signs. She still gets “rejected a ton,” but she sees a changing of the guard with the latest generation of editors, many of whom speak second languages and are more comfortable with evaluating manuscripts in foreign languages. “I want to think that books in translation will get more attention in these turbulent times—that there is something positive to all this extremism that will make us reevaluate what we’re doing,” Montejo says. “We need more and more to see other parts of the world, how others think and live, and to learn from their experiences.”
A few months ago AmazonCrossing, the literary translation imprint of Amazon Publishing, celebrated its seventh anniversary. Under the leadership of Page-Fort, who has been at the press since its inception, AmazonCrossing has published more than 300 titles from 36 countries in 21 languages. Page-Fort acquired 239 of those titles in 19 languages. Galen Maynard, associate publisher and foreign rights director of Amazon Publishing, credits Page-Fort with “changing the landscape of literature available to English readers today and introducing voices from around the world at a pace unmatched in the industry.”
Page-Fort’s list includes the 1.5-million-copy-selling Hangman’s Daughter series by German writer Oliver Pötzsch and a wide array of award-winning books from many countries, including Zygmunt Miloszewski’s crime novel Rage, which won the prestigious Paszport Polityki Prize for Literature in Poland; Mariam Petrosyan’s The Gray House, winner of Russia’s Big Book Prize; and Shion Miura’s The Great Passage, which won a Japanese Bestsellers Award.
Literary agent Tom Colchie, who represents several international authors, called Page-Fort “a maverick of the first order.” He adds, “What I especially appreciate about Gabriella is that she doesn’t divide literature into high or low, difficult or easy, too dark or too light—she only cares about whether or not the work has something wonderful to say to readers.”
Page-Fort’s passion for translation harks way back to a high school Spanish class. “As soon as we did our first text translation in the class, I had a pretty good understanding that translation was awesome,” she says. She joined Amazon Publishing in 2008 after spending a decade at Continuum as publishing services supervisor, a vague “jack-of-all-trades” title that enabled her to learn many aspects of publishing in a small environment. Her first job at Amazon—one that she didn’t have for long because of the rapid changes taking place within the company—was working with publishers to bring their authors into Amazon’s print-on-demand program. Right across the hall, Amazon Publishing was just starting to blossom and, as Page-Fort recounts, “I had the honor of being the first employee hired for AmazonCrossing specifically.”
Page-Fort is grateful to Amazon “for asserting that a specialized imprint in translation is a good idea.” She adds, “Having that focus as an editor has allowed me to hone my expertise working with translators and editing translations.”
Within the context of a translation-only imprint, Page-Fort and her team have a completely open focus, publishing in multiple genres with the goal of adding languages. She embraces the challenges that translating from languages and cultures less familiar to English speakers in the U.S. and abroad offer.
“Indonesia has been interesting for me personally,” Page-Fort says. The language differs in its use of verb tenses and temporal references, and she calls working with Indonesian texts a “great education.” Indonesian writer Laksmi Pamuntjak’s debut novel “changed my life,” Page-Fort adds, and led her on what she calls “an obsessive quest” to study 20th-century Indonesian history.
On the horizon is the first translation from Greek for Amazon Publishing: The House by the River, by Lena Manta, one of Greece’s bestselling writers. The novel, due out in November, opens a window into Greek culture and history by telling the stories of five young women. “It also is a great fit for all of us with Ferrante fever,” says Page-Fort.
Also forthcoming is A River in Darkness, a memoir of escape by Masaji Ishikawa, who fled North Korea to Japan. “It has been an honor to work with a man who has experienced this much darkness and handles the most difficult subjects with a graceful levity,” Page-Fort says. “He invites us into his heart, putting a human pulse on the glaring simplicity of recent headlines.”
Porter Anderson, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, summed up her accomplishments succinctly when he recently wrote, “What Page-Fort is doing here may be one of the best things to happen to work in translation in decades: she’s demystifying it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of years one of the Oblong book stores had been in business and incorrectly named the "Fiction Into Film" book group.