Quirk Books is celebrating a big anniversary. For 20 years, the independent publisher has championed a line of unconventional, entertaining, and high-concept titles that ignite readers’ imaginations.
PW spoke to David Borgenicht, founder of Quirk and the author of the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook series; Jhanteigh Kupihea, SVP publisher; and Nicole De Jackmo, SVP sales and marketing, about Quirk’s first 20 years of innovative publishing, what’s in store for the future, and what makes the Quirk brand tick.
How are you celebrating Quirk’s 20th anniversary?
Borgenicht: Well, I’ve always thought there should be a Book Publishing Prom… Seriously though, it will be a Fall Celebration from September through December. We’ll definitely have a big block party here on our street in Old City (should the world and its viruses allow that). We’ll be sharing anniversary swag, as well as consumer, retail, and trade promotions, like a retail stock offer leading into the fall. And most importantly, we’ll do Thank You’s, including a special “Quirksgiving” giveaway (our annual consumer Thanksgiving celebration) that will feature an unprecedented 20 days of giveaways featuring our top 20 titles from the last 20 years.
Personally, I’m just looking forward to a nice dinner with good wine and my entire team to acknowledge how grateful I am to be working together, and everything we have accomplished so far.
What makes Quirk titles so distinctive?
Borgenicht: We’ve always tried to be a publisher that looks at the whole package and process and every element of a book as part of what makes them resonate. It’s our goal for every new title to have something unconventional, attention-getting, compelling yet substantive, and “quirky” that gives the reader multiple reasons to pick our books up, to want them, and to share them with others.
What can you share about your new vision and mission for Quirk?
Borgenicht: It’s a bit of a “meet the new boss–same as the old boss” situation. We’re still an entertainment company at heart, just a bit grander in our ambitions. Our vision is “Seriously Entertaining,” meaning we take our entertainment seriously and we want our serious subjects to be entertaining, too. And our mission is to “Make a Big Impact with a Small List of Unconventional, Engaging, Purpose-Driven Books.” We want to continue to publish what we think the culture wants and needs–but make a bigger impact on the culture in the years to come. Yet, I also realize that’s only possible if we have a great team that feels seen and valued, isn’t burnt out, and is empowered to do good work, so we’re really focused on creating a work culture that’s healthy, sustainable, and human.
Jhanteigh, the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series were so innovative and groundbreaking. For longtime fans of those books, how about some Quirk recommendations for further reading?
Kupihea: We're really channeling our love of all things high-concept and quirky/spooky into all parts of our list. On the adult fiction side, we've got Clay McLeod Chapman's Ghost Eaters and James Kennedy's Dare to Know to appeal to horror and speculative readers. On the gifty side, we've got J.W. Ocker's The United States of Cryptids, a compendium of major and minor cryptids that have helped shape the supernatural mythology of America. On the kids side, fans of Miss Peregrine will absolutely love the rich, immersive world of Hunters of the Lost City, a brand-new middle grade fantasy filled with magic, monsters, and mystery. They'll also likely enjoy This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey, a Truman Show-esque speculative YA novel that taps into our culture's current obsession with the '90s. The sequel, This iI Not the Real World, goes on sale on May 24, so this is the perfect time to dive into the first book!
Tell me more about your expanding line of titles within the lifestyle and wellness categories?
Kupihea: I'm thrilled about the direction of our lifestyle and wellness list, which is all about tackling tough-to-discuss topics in a friendly way. I'm excited about the Feel Good series by Julia Blohberger and Roos Neeter, two Dutch yoga and Ayurveda instructors on a mission to destigmatize and demystify topics like pooping, which they did in their first book, Good Sh*t; sleeping, which is the focus of their next book, Good Night, out in 2023; and menstruation, the subject of their third book, Good Flow, out in 2024. Outside of the Feel Good series, we'll be exploring dealing with loss of all sizes in What’s Your Grief?, how to exercise when you're struggling with mental health, finding calm and joy in your natural surroundings (even if you live in a city!), and navigating relationships of all kinds for newly sober people.
Nicole, how are you connecting your authors with their readers?
De Jackmo: This is always evolving—especially during the ups and downs of the pandemic, which necessitated many pivots for how we connect authors to their readers. I’m really looking forward to more stability so that we can take advantage of what we learned from the pandemic and combine it with in-person events that will connect authors directly with booksellers, librarians, and readers.
Nicole, from a marketing perspective, how are you continuing to ensure that Quirk’s titles stand apart?
De Jackmo: Since Quirk has a small list with a team of 24, the sales and marketing department is able to be a part of conversations surrounding a title from the point of acquisition through cover development and beyond. The whole sales and marketing team is invested in the creation of the marketing plan, and this allows us to positively challenge ourselves and each other to come up with creative ideas to help our titles find their readers.
What are you each most excited about going forward?
Borgenicht: I’m always excited about what’s in the pipeline–we’ve got some terrific titles in the works. I’m excited to reconnect with others in the industry and the wider world and form new partnerships in all sorts of playing fields. But most of all I’m excited to see what adventures and opportunities the next 20 years will bring our way, and whether I’ll be able to continue to create a work culture at Quirk that supports not just the business, but each other. Looking forward to finding out!
Kupihea: Quirk has always been known for unconventional books, but what I love about the list now is that nearly every book is marked by a seriousness of purpose, which we're bringing to categories that don't always carry that type of expectation. The convention I'm most interested in breaking as a publisher is the idea that genre fiction and gifty nonfiction are disposable. Horror can absolutely tackle social justice issues without sacrificing terror and entertainment, just as romance can reflect a darker aspect of society—say, influencer culture on social media—without sacrificing the lightness and Happily Ever Aftet that readers expect. Our books are fun but they're also brainy and reflect the topics that our staff—not just the editors and authors—are passionate about. Expanding our ideas about genre goes hand in hand with diversifying the company, the authors, and the books, which includes thinking about the reading experience for the intended audience. A children's book that celebrates neurodivergent leaders and creatives can be for everyone, but it should be executed in a way that is inviting for, say, dyslexic readers. But why stop there? A nonfiction middle grade book about vampires could easily have the same goal. These are the conversations that excite me—and motivate the whole company—every day.
De Jackmo: Our Fall 2022 list will really start to give readers a feel for how we’ve embraced our “Seriously Entertaining” vision with books that tackle impactful topics like grief in What’s Your Grief and the horror novel Ghost Eaters, as well as a highly illustrated guide on propaganda with How to Win the War on Truth. And I just can’t wait to unveil our Spring 2023 kids list that our senior editor Alex Arnold and assistant editor Jessica Yang are working on—but that’s for another time!