Approximately eight years after the Walt Disney Co. sold the lion’s share of its adult book business to Hachette Book Group, Disney Publishing is returning to that market with the launch of Hyperion Avenue. First books from the imprint, directed by Jennifer Levesque, will come out this summer, with a full rollout in fall 2022—and within five years Disney aims to release 50–60 titles through Hyperion Avenue, according to Tonya Agurto, Disney Publishing’s senior v-p, publisher, imprint and IP development.
The news of the launch of Hyperion Avenue follows a number of other developments at Disney—including the appointment this past winter of Sarah Weisinger as senior v-p, group publisher, Disney Publishing Worldwide—that reflect the desire to remake parts of its book publishing operations. That strategy flows from Disney Co. acquisitions and startups over the past two years “that have given us a broader audience to appeal to,” Agurto said. “We believe we can reach a new audience through book publishing.”
Agurto pointed to the 2019 purchase of 20th Century Fox, which brought Disney the 20th Century Fox film and television studios and a controlling interest in the Hulu streaming service, as well as the late-2019 launch of the Disney+ streaming service. She said the new adult imprint will tap into those properties and will use such long-standing Disney properties as ESPN and ABC to publish fiction, memoir, and nonfiction in such areas as self-help, sports, lifestyle, pop culture, and humor.
Though a portion of Hyperion Avenue’s list will be developed in-house, Agurto stressed that the company is looking to publish authors outside the Disney family. “We are 100% in acquisition mode,” she added.
Agurto said Hyperion Avenue will seek to acquire titles that can take advantage of Disney’s varied media properties, including its streaming services—meaning books that could be adapted into series and books based on series. An early acquisition is A Little Closer to Home by Ginger Zee, ABC chief meteorologist. In-house adaptations of original projects already in the works include Yes, And, described by Disney as a “contemporary novel set in the world of improv,” by former SNL writer Katie Rich.
According to Agurto, another element of Disney Publishing will be “reimagining” some of the company’s best-known narrative works by publishing new versions written by diverse talent. An example of that effort is If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy, the first title in the Meant to Be series, which, Disney said, is inspired by classic fairy tales. If The Shoe Fits will publish in August.
In addition to Hyperion Avenue, other Disney imprints that publish for the adult market are Disney Editions, which produces high-end coffee table books, and National Geographic Books, which has a backlist of 1,800 titles for adults and children.
The Disney Hyperion children’s imprint is also undergoing some reimagining, with an eye toward expanding its offerings and reach. New editorial director Kieran Viola is now overseeing all acquisitions for Disney Hyperion with a mandate to find new potential bestselling authors. Recent acquisitions include two books by Leah Johnson; the first in the series, Ellie Engle Saves Herself, is set to be released in spring 2023. Disney Hyperion has also signed a YA debut by Britney S. Lewis, The Undead Truth of Us, that features a Black dancer and a “speculative twist,” the publisher said. Current bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz has written two new novels in her Blue Blood series, and the publisher will repackage the original series for release in 2022.
New titles are also coming from popular author Rick Riordan’s Rick Riordan Presents imprint: recent additions include two titles in Daniel José Older’s Outlaw Saints series, two titles in a middle grade series by Stacey Lee based on Chinese folktales, and two books in a middle grade series by Tracey Baptiste titled Moko Magic, based on Caribbean folklore.
Disney Hyperion will also look to develop original stories in-house by identifying titles that have the potential to be adapted into Disney Co. products, games, and theatrical productions. One of the first books coming from that effort is Anne of Greenville, the first YA novel from the Melissa de la Cruz Studio, written by Mariko Tamaki.
And like Hyperion Avenue, Disney Hyperion is seeking to create new versions of popular characters that have appeared in various Disney Co. properties. In this area, National Book Award–finalist Victoria Jamieson’s Operation Parent Trap is set to be the first book in the Disney Remix graphic novel series, with each story based on a Disney live action film.
The new push at Disney Hyperion is in keeping with the strategy Agurto outlined in February 2020, following the sale of 1,100 Disney Book Group children’s titles to HBG, when she said that the company would focus on books and authors that can take advantage of the media giant’s many platforms. In that vein, she said the new initiatives are not expected to grow the overall Disney Hyperion target of publishing 60 titles annually.
Along with broadening Disney Hyperion’s program, Disney Publishing is continuing to release titles for readers up to age 18 under Disney Press, Disney Editions, Marvel Press, and Lucasfilm Press. And Agurto said it’s business as usual in Disney Publishing’s robust licensing program, through which the company partners with publishers with strengths outside its own, such as Del Rey in the sci-fi genre, with which it has an ongoing agreement.
In addition to the appointments of Levesque and Viola, Disney Publishing has named Carol Roeder associate publisher, working across all Disney imprints. Heading up sales at Disney Publishing Worldwide is Nicole Elmes, who reports to Daniel Saeva, v-p, publishing commercialization.