The sixth annual Star Watch program, put on by Publishers Weekly in partnership with the Frankfurter Buchmesse, attracted several hundred nominations touting the qualifications of the industry’s rising stars. Judges from PW and Frankfurt settled on 40 individuals—hailing from different parts of the country and different sectors of the business—to be celebrated in this strange and most challenging of years. With the industry and the country in upheaval, and publishing professionals trying to determine how to do business amid a pandemic, nominees spoke of everything from the difficulties of keeping their bookstores in the black to pivoting authors’ promotional campaigns from physical spaces to virtual ones.
This year’s nominees, the program’s most diverse to date, also spoke of both frustrations and hope that publishing is becoming a more welcoming space for people of color. On this front, many of our nominees are trying to be agents of change, championing organizations working to bring more people of color into the industry and keep them here. Ultimately, these rising stars all agreed that 2020 is a trying, uncertain time and that the one hopeful constant has been literature itself. Working on books in this moment—be they urgent political tomes or diverting genre novels—is a balm. Or, as Star Watch finalist Nicole Counts puts it, books “give me a safe space to wonder about the hardest and most joyous parts of this life.”