Approximately one year after Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt tapped Emily Meehan to reinvent the retailer’s publishing operation, Meehan has unveiled a new name for the press as well as a host of new initiatives.
Union Square & Co. is the new public-facing name of what has been known as Sterling Publishing. Meehan explained that the underlying business will still be called Sterling Publishing, but that all books will be released under the Union Square & Co. and Union Square Kids imprints, plus two existing imprints: Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright. Books bearing the Union Square name will roll out this fall, while the publisher’s website and email addresses will be updated January 10.
Meehan said she is keeping the Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright names because they are so well known in their categories of magic and mystic publishing and pencil-and-paper puzzles, respectively. Meehan said Puzzlewright accounts for about 10% of Union Square’s revenue, and she sees more opportunity to grow both that business as well as the business of Sterling Ethos. Specifically, she plans to take hit titles within those imprints and expand them across a variety of formats, including calendars and journals, with the goal of reaching not only existing fans but also a wider audience. Kate Zimmermann is heading up Sterling Ethos and Francis Heaney is leading Puzzlewright.
The launch of the Union Square brand is in keeping with Meehan’s previously announced strategy to broaden the types of books that the group publishes for both adults and children. She believes Union Square is well positioned both to help authors who are looking to reboot their careers and to assist new authors with launching theirs. She said Union Square will be looking for authors who are writing on subjects that reflect shifts in the culture.
“We will be placing bets in the areas where we believe we have a good chance to grow,” Meehan explained, noting that she has no intention of going head-to-head with the Big Five on a regular basis. “We’ll act on books in categories where we want to put a stake in the ground.”
Meehan said a good example of the type of author and book Union Square will focus on is a new untitled interior design book by Carmeon Hamilton, the winner of HGTV’s Design Star: Next Gen and star of the Reno My Rental show. Hamilton “wants to move design in some new ways,” Meehan noted. The author was signed by Amanda Englander, who joined Union Square from Clarkson Potter and who will oversee the publisher’s lifestyle efforts, which include the decorating, food and drink, and health and wellness categories.
Growing Union Square’s fiction list is another Meehan priority, and to that end she signed the Wolf Den trilogy by Elodie Harper. The first installment, The Wolf Den, was a U.K. bestseller, and the series has been touted by B&N’s U.K. sister company Waterstones. Meehan said Union Square will use Waterstones’ merch team as a sounding board when looking to sign other U.K. authors.
To help Union Square expand not only its fiction list but also its narrative nonfiction offerings, Meehan recently hired well-known editor Claire Wachtel as editor-at-large. Wachtel, who will report to Meehan, will acquire eight to 10 titles annually. And Meehan is still searching for the right person to expand Union Square’s classics list.
On the children’s side, Meehan is looking to fill in some holes on Union Square Kids’ backlist. She is particularly interested in upping the quality of its picture books list, with the goal of finding works that can become perennial bestsellers. “Easier said than done,” noted Meehan, who had been at Disney Publishing before joining Sterling. She added that, as a first step, Union Square Kids “will be backing in a big way” the September release of I Cannot Draw a Horse by author/illustrator Charise Mericle Harper. Another picture book on its fall list is How to Eat a Book by Mrs. and Mr. MacLeod, which, Meehan notes, meets another of her mandates: to publish books about books.
Other titles with strong visual elements include the illustrated series Quest Kids by Mark Leiknes, creator of the Cow & Boy comic strip, and Alterations by Raymond Xu, a middle grade coming-of-age graphic novel. Meehan said she’s expecting to make a major announcement in the next few weeks regarding a children’s acquisition that will give another indication of where Union Square Kids is headed.
Accompanying changes to Union Square’s editorial approach, Meehan has made changes to its sales operations, with an eye to improving the publisher’s sales across the entire trade. To that end, Elena Blanco has joined as director, trade sales, and her duties include expanding Union Square’s outreach to independent booksellers. To help reach indies, the publisher will be working more closely with its regional commission rep groups to highlight the new types of books it will be publishing. In addition, Elke Villa, senior director, marketing and publicity and Blanca Oliviery, senior manager, marketing and publicity, is charged with “building buzz for our books across all accounts,” Meehan said.
And Meehan is not overlooking Union Square’s ties to B&N. She noted that Union Square will make sure the retailer’s buyers get a good look at what is on its list, and will work with the chain to use its different sales vehicles to promote its authors.
Meehan was named publisher and chief creative officer of Sterling in early 2021 and said the unveiling of the Union Square brand “is an exciting way to start a new year.”