Six months after unveiling Skybound Books, a joint partnership between the media company Skybound Entertainment and Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint, three new publishing projects are in the works at the Los Angeles–based imprint.
Skybound senior editor Michael Braff, a veteran of Penguin Random House’s Del Rey imprint, has received more than 150 agented submissions since opening the office in the Beverlywood neighborhood. “I’ve gotten more submissions in the last six months than my last year at Del Rey,” he said. “All the agents that I’ve spoken to are really excited that there’s a new buyer in town.” During his tenure at Del Rey, Braff edited a range of titles, including Zero World by Jason M. Hough, the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown, and Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel.
Skybound Books’ first release will be coming this fall, but the exact date hasn’t been set. In January, Braff preempted The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag, a Swedish artist who made his reputation online with landscapes that incorporate looming robots, decrepit spaceships, and other elements from science fiction. The book began as a Kickstarter project with more than 5,000 backers pledging more than $350,000 total. The book, which will be roughly 85% illustrations, is a departure for an imprint that was conceived to focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror prose.
Atria senior editor Jhanteigh Kupihea is an editorial liaison connecting Braff’s Los Angeles office with Simon & Schuster’s New York City headquarters. She was drawn to The Electric State’s timely themes. “One big story line throughout the book is that people are addicted to a virtual-reality system and use it to escape present-day problems,” she said. “Stålenhag taps into this idea of society crumbling and people choosing to escape rather than rebuild.”
Skybound Entertainment opened in 2010, founded by the Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, with David Alpert. The media company has published about 30 comic book titles and has expanded into different platforms, including film, television, web content, virtual reality, and tabletop games. Some of the company’s biggest hits include the long-running superhero coming-of-age comic book series Invincible. The 144th and final release of that series came out February 14, and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg will write and direct an adaptation of Invincible for Universal. The company’s epic horror comic Outcast has already been adapted as an ongoing series at Cinemax.
“Skybound Entertainment encompasses so many different kinds of media,” Braff said. “I’m able to wander down the hall to somebody who is working on virtual reality. I can pop in, see what they’re doing, and get some expertise on how I can find books for that space. The amount of creativity that is around me is staggering.”
Skybound Books’ first deal came in 2017, when the imprint acquired S.K. Vaughn’s science fiction novel Across the Void. “It’s essentially a relationship story set against a space survival adventure,” said Braff. The imprint picked up the project as a partial manuscript, and its release is projected for early 2019. The third book on his slate is The Obsoletes, a debut novel by writer, cartoonist, and teacher Simeon Mills. Set in a small town in Michigan in the 1990s, it offers an alternate version of our world—“the story of two robot brothers who must keep their robotic nature secret in their high school because everybody in their town is robophobic,” Braff said. Publication is planned for a mid-2019 release.
“We work on all these projects hand-in-hand,” Kupihea said. “The majority of submissions go to Mike, and I handle the process of making the offer and negotiating the deal. Mike takes a lead on editorial, but we speak almost every day.”
Skybound Entertainment prides itself on its “wheel of awesome” strategy. When a creator comes into the company, different corners of Skybound are activated to create franchises out of the story worlds. The different departments can suggest additional content to create around the property, such as podcasts, comic books, games, or virtual reality experiences.
The partnership has enabled Skybound Entertainment to expand its brand into traditional publishing. Skybound Entertainment also has a wide footprint in comic book, gaming, and other pop culture conventions around the country, giving Atria direct access to a new network of readers it couldn’t reach without the partnership. The Atria authors at Skybound also gain the ability to explore adaptation options in other formats.
“This puts us in a slightly different position with the creatives,” Braff said. “We’re building something with them, as opposed to coming in to just publish their book or putting out their game, movie, or comic. We do want creators to come in and feel like this is a partnership. That we are all building a world together.”