Michael Bolton called it a "wonderful thing" and Sinatra crooned that it’s "many splendored," but I’ll align with the Beatles, correct as always when they told us "love is all you need." As a reader, how many times have you just fallen so in love with a story, with its characters, with a writer’s exquisite turn of phrase, that you wanted to shout it to the world? When you’re a publisher, sometimes you get to do just that.
Two years ago at the Bologna Book Fair I ran into a self-published children’s picture book called My Name Is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry. Mixed in on a shelf with other small- and self-published books hoping for translation rights buyers to fall across it, it needed a little attention. I had a read and fell in love.
And I remember asking to take a copy for just a moment and running back to our booth to just show it to our team. I had to tell people about it!! Jennifer had done an amazing job publishing that lonely little book. She’d enlisted the terrific Mike Litwin to illustrate and she told a story that is at once a remarkable read-aloud, an educational powerhouse, and a touching connection between parent and child. The book was well-printed and she’d begun to sell copies wherever she could, plus snare a few awards. If I’m remembering right, she’d sold something like 1800 books.
And I remember thinking this book is brilliant and there are so many people who are going to love it. So right away, I tried getting in touch with Jennifer. I emailed. I asked my friend who’d represented her at Bologna to connect us. I was definitely possessed as only a person in love can be. And I was possessed because I believed we could bring Jennifer to a much bigger platform, that our team could be a megaphone for her (and for Isabella!).
Among the first things we did with Jennifer was to begin planning the future we planned and began work on a second book almost immediately, the companion book for boys, My Name Is Not Alexander (we’ve since announced the second Isabella book for Spring 2012). One of the most important things we’ve done with Jennifer is worked with her to develop her characters and we started plotting how to build these characters as a "brand" of sorts. Most importantly, we wanted to allow Jennifer to never again worry about printers’ shipments and bills, packing boxes, collecting invoices, or cold-calling promotional appointments or reviewers. We wanted her to get back to flexing her creative muscle in short, we wanted to let the writer write. When you love a writer that much, helping them be their absolute best is just one way of sharing that love with the world.
The earliest results for My Name Is Not Isabella included a big one on January 9, 2011, author Jennifer Fosberry and illustrator Mike Litwin became New York Times bestselling authors, as the book snared 9th position on the Times Children's Picture Book list. How? Well, as both authors and publishers know, it’s not that easy. For starters we coordinated a big tour with bookstores and schools for Jennifer, putting her in front of kids, teachers, and libraries nationwide while we did the heavy lifting of tying in media and local booksellers along the way. And this spring we coordinated another tour as My Name Is Not Alexander came out.
We also very early personally showed it to booksellers that we knew would have an affinity for this book. And they got behind the book in some very important ways because what’s important is not just for the publisher or the publishing house to love the book, but for the love to spread. For booksellers, librarians, readers, bloggers, reviewers, teachers, and lots of other people to love the book.
As a result, we got heavy placement with our partners at national chain bookstores, who identified the book as a major one at early-season marketing meetings held with select major publishers. And we got a big break when bookseller Rona Brinlee raved about it on her holiday round-up on NPR’s Morning Edition. Was it a lucky break? You bet, we were blessed that Rona loved the book but it was connections that started the train rolling when our matchmaking sales rep Tom Murphy plucked it out for Rona and suggested, "I think you might love this."
And our bookselling army has kept finding others who share the love. We just announced that Jennifer’s books have been optioned by Facinelli Films, led by Peter Facinelli, of Twilight and Nurse Jackie fame. Also, in exclusive partnership with the merchandising team at a major retailer, later this year you’ll see Isabella’s paper dolls, available as a companion to the books on prominent display in stores. Paper dolls!
Ebook users will also find My Name Is Not Isabella available as an innovative recordable book on the Nook Color readers can experience the entire picture book, listen-along as the author (and her daughter!) perform the book for you, or record the book themselves for a loved one. And you’ll see other innovative and playful forms of the books soon, including apps and animated readalongs for devices we wouldn’t have imagined having "books" on years ago!
Like most great loves, the affair renews continually. It takes a lot of people and tremendous number of details to successfully unfold this kind of love story. Every day someone on our team pulls an arrow from the quiver and aims for a welcoming new heart. More importantly, every night, homes across the world share in our joy as parents and children together lovingly shout along with the story’s refrain, "my name is NOT Isabella!" And that’s the most important part of this love story.
That's the magic of book publishing the falling in love and making something extraordinary happen. Whether it’s picture books or romance novels or historical fiction or college guides or parenting titles it’s about finding these books that you love and then working incredibly hard (and I mean seriously hard) on behalf of the books and their authors.
This year, 2011, we’ve spread more love then ever before. This week, we brought The Heir, a first novel by Grace Burrowes, a remarkable talent discovered by Deb Werksman whose star is definitely rising, to the New York Times bestsellers list. It has been an extraordinary year for Sourcebooks so far beyond the predictable and ordinary. And it’s really all about finding these books you love and then working incredibly hard to spread that love to others.
As we head into Book Expo America 2011, those of you at the show will see the theme "Authors Are Our Rock Stars" at our booth, and we know we share that feeling with pretty much everyone at the show. We’ll have plenty of love to share about a lot of different authors and books. That’s a big task, but when you love something that much, you just have to spread the word.
Chief Excitement Officer— Sourcebooks