Publishers Weekly, in partnership with the Frankfurt Book Fair, is pleased to announce the honorees and finalists of the fourth annual Star Watch program, which recognizes outstanding individuals who further the cultural and economic success of publishers, bookstores, and the industry at large. Each year, judges from PW, the American Booksellers Association, and the Frankfurt Book Fair select 45 honorees and then five finalists. This year, among the spots for honorees and finalists, there are two pairs; each pair is considered a single entry, so overall we have 47 honorees this year. The 2018 Superstar—who will win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, courtesy of the fair—will be announced at the Star Watch party, set for September 12 in New York City.
Booksellers grabbed a spot among the finalists and took several honoree slots, reflecting a recognition of the effort required to make bookstores a success in a persistently difficult environment for bricks-and-mortar. Finalist Elizabeth Jordan, CEO of BookPeople in Austin, Tex., through her “why can’t we do this?” approach, has made BookPeople the official bookseller at such major book festivals as South by Southwest, the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania conferences for women, and the Texas Book Festival.
Comics and graphic novels are in the spotlight as well. Finalist Matt Gagnon, editor-in-chief of Boom! Studios, whose entire career has been dedicated to comics, is far more excited about bringing recognition to the genre than to himself. “Gagnon has a singular focus on growing the world of comic books,” says Filip Sablik, Boom’s president of publishing and marketing.
Then there is finalist Abbe Wright, who exemplifies how to expand readership through new channels. She is senior editor for Read It Forward, Penguin Random House’s publisher-agnostic online community, whose mission, she says, is to help readers find the “literary loves of their lives—to help people find the books that will excite them, and touch their heart, and make them cry.”
A pair of finalists, Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli, founders of Timbuktu Labs and creators of the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series, made crowdfunding history in 2016 by raising more than $1.2 million to launch the first book in the series about women who “aim high and fight hard,” as they describe it. “We are filling a vacuum,” Favilli says. “When we started Timbuktu, we could see how many female stereotypes were still around.”
Helping to fill that vacuum is another finalist, Daniella Wexler, an editor at Atria, who has “a clear-eyed focus on the types of books she wants to publish: literary fiction and narrative nonfiction centering on women’s issues and representing culturally diverse points of view,” says Peter Borland, the press’s v-p and editor-in-chief. On Wexler’s list are Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, which examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the upcoming Rage Becomes Her by journalist and activist Soraya Chemaly.
The mission to turn up the volume of marginalized voices in publishing is something we’ve seen among the honorees and finalists since Star Watch’s launch. But this year, there is a twist. Though much of the work heretofore was outside of the office through small grassroots community organizations and national campaigns such as We Need Diverse Books, this year’s talented group of editors, publicists, marketers, and designers are making their mandate for diversity a reality through the books they publish, as Cavallo, Favilli, and Wexler demonstrate. Read on to learn more about the finalists and the other honorees who make the future of publishing look very bright indeed.