“I think the mystery category could be an interesting space for us. Could you look into that?”
At Sourcebooks, big projects often grow out of small questions. And in this case, the small, seemingly innocuous question—“Could you look into that?”—was directed at me, a fledgling editor with the time and interest to do a deep dive into the well-established, sprawling mystery category to determine whether Sourcebooks might be able to find a foothold in the marketplace.
At other publishing houses, the thought of taking on such a large task might be intimidating. But at Sourcebooks, innovation has always been a prominent theme, especially in the fiction program. From building a new imprint from the ground up under publishing legend Hillel Black’s guidance, to the Jane Austen spinoff craze that rocked the early 2000s, to the establishment of a thriving romance program, Sourcebooks editors have been seeking out new opportunities in adult fiction for nearly two decades, and I was thrilled to have the chance to take on a similar challenge.
I started my investigation with data, analyzing the top twenty mystery imprints in the Big Five, as well as looking at the most successful independent publishers in the space. I broke the entire mystery/suspense/thriller market down into categories, and from there into subcategories. Everything from James Patterson’s gritty thrillers to Joanne Fluke’s delicious cozy mysteries went under the microscope as I worked to identify which types of books were selling well, paying special attention to where debut authors were finding success.
Finally, I had to put together a plan for Sourcebooks’s entry into the mystery category. I compared the data I had to Sourcebooks’s strengths, looking for places where we could capitalize on our existing knowledge and skills to reach readers in new ways. Women-oriented mysteries were a clear opportunity for us—as a well-known romance and women’s fiction publisher, I suspected we might also find success with books featuring female sleuths that tackle issues of importance to women readers. Since we also have a strong historical fiction program, historical mysteries in the tradition of Jacqueline Winspear and Susan Elia MacNeal were an area I was eager to explore. Our well-established mass market romance program and strong presence in the library market could lend itself to development in the mass market cozy mystery space, and our passion for book club fiction and fantastic storytelling led me to wonder if we might not want to publish books in the vein of Tana French, Lori Roy, and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.
All of this research and planning went into a 108-slide PowerPoint presentation, which I shared with our publisher and senior staff to propose the development of a mystery program at Sourcebooks. A year and a half later, we are releasing debut author Radha Vatsal’s A Front Page Affair, the first book in an exciting historical mystery series set in World War I New York City that has received outstanding trade reviews, is a Library Journal debut of the month, and represents the beginning of what I hope will be an important evolution in the Sourcebooks fiction program.
One of the very best things about being an editor at Sourcebooks is the huge number of opportunities we get to take advantage of in terms of flexibility and our publisher’s enthusiasm for innovation and willingness to let us experiment. Editors armed with nothing more than passion, a keen editorial eye, and a small question (“Could you look into that?”) have established imprints that now house some of the most beloved and respected authors in their categories. And, of course, in the end, everything we’re able to do as editors comes from the wonderful authors we work with. A frequent refrain at Sourcebooks is “We publish authors, not books,” which points to our belief that one of our jobs as a publisher is to support our authors in editorial work, marketing, publicity, and sales, in hopes that we’ll still be working together five, ten, fifteen years down the road. As we embark on this new adventure, I’m so thrilled to be welcoming our new mystery authors to the Sourcebooks family and can’t wait to see the success we’ll create together.
At BEA 2016 a group of children’s publishing industry experts gathered to talk about current and upcoming trends in picture books and middle grade. Editorial Director Steve Geck of Sourcebooks moderated the panel and David Kleeman (Dubit), Andrew Medlar (Chicago Public Library), Betsy Bird (Evanston Public Library), with surprise guest Jamie Thomas (Women & Children First) provided the expert knowledge.
From left to right, Steve Geck, David Kleeman, Betsy Bird, Jamie Thomas, and Andrew Medlar.
Technology: How Kids Are Reading
Kleeman kicked off the panel with trend information from quarterly research among 1000 families in the UK and the US on the reading habits and preferences of children. His results show that 70% of children prefer to read printed books over digital, and that when children are sharing their favorite books with friends the easiest way to do that is with a printed book.
Kleeman identified five major trends they are seeing:
Bird shared that they have seen a big increase in people obtaining library cards and many of those people are joining the library in order to have access to ebooks, but ebook sales on picture books are flat to down. Medlar pointed out that children’s behavior patterns are often picked up from their parents, so when they see a parent constantly on their phone texting or playing games, they want to do the same. There is a book out there for every person, but the reader has to find it, which is what librarians help facilitate.
For decades picture books have been a very backlist-driven business. Yearly sales have historically been roughly 75 – 80% backlist and 20 – 25% frontlist, but in recent years there has been a big shift in people purchasing new, frontlist titles. Bird felt that new printing technology has allowed for brighter, more colorful books. Geck pointed out that there has also been a tremendous shift in the way the art for picture books is put together. Most artists now work with some sort of digital art, as opposed to sticking solely with more traditional techniques like watercolor and gouache, which also allows for brighter colors and a wider variety of styles.
Medlar pointed out three trends that he sees represented by the 2016 Newbery Medalists. First, Last Stop on Market Street was an example of a picture book tackling a deeper and more complex issue. This is something that more picture books are taking on. Second, Roller Girl is a graphic novel, an area where demand continues to increase. And third, The War That Saved My Life is very much in the category of classic literature that has always had strong readership.
Thomas is also seeing a lot of stand-alone mystery titles that are expanded into series when the initial book is successful in stores.
Diversity of reading materials and characters continues to be a trend. Thomas said there has been a significant increase in the number of teachers and librarians shopping in the store looking for books that feature diversity. Bird also noted that there has been growth in nonfiction featuring obscure and unknown stories, far more than what has traditionally been published in the past.
Thomas would love to see more authors who are Muslim or biracial writing about biracial children and Muslim children, and Bird would like to see more international books translated to English.
When it comes to social media, Medlar noted that the influence really depends on “the height of the patron.” YouTube is most effective for the youngest readers, Snapchat is where many school-aged children are, and Pinterest is a great platform for reaching adults. Geck told how he saw this play out for the picture book The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. [cover image to be included] Published in the fall of 2011, sales increased dramatically over the summer of 2012 when parents and educators began recommending it on Pinterest for children feeling pressured to succeed in school. The book has enjoyed a similar sales bump every summer. Thomas said that many authors have great success with engagement when posting on Instagram.
These five major trends give both booksellers and publishers some insight not only into what kind of books young readers will be looking for, but also the ways that those readers are discovering, sharing and learning.
At BEA, a group of ABA booksellers got together with National Sales Manager Heidi Weiland of Sourcebooks to talk about creating amazing store events. These expert booksellers provided insight into creating great events around authors, themes, holidays, or other special occasions targeting young readers.
Panelists Becky Anderson (Anderson’s Bookshop), Cynthia Compton (4 Kids Books and Toys), Meghan Dietsche Goel (BookPeople), and Valerie Koehler (Blue Willow Bookshop) have been running children’s events for years and shared the benefit of their knowledge with the bookseller audience:
Ultimately, there are no silver bullets to creating a great event, but lots of local connections really help. Events are a lot of work, but as you continue to create amazing experiences for your customers, you will see your reputation, your knowledge, and the success of your events continue to grow.
Publishers Weekly also did a great writeup of the panel, which you can check out here.
The romance community is often stigmatized, and with the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas last week, we took the opportunity to launch the #ireadromance social media campaign, which highlights all of the wonderful reasons why people read romance. A Twitter follower of ours may have said it best:
The conference is organized by RT Book Reviews and this year more than 2,500 attendees—composed of readers, bloggers, librarians, booksellers, and published/aspiring romance, YA, and fiction authors—gathered at the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel & Casino to celebrate all things romance!
We armed our authors with dry-erase boards and #ireadromance buttons and asked them to connect with readers and fellow authors. We wanted them to ask attendees to share just one of the reasons why they love reading romance. What we received was a wonderful mix of powerful pictures that showcase all of the diverse reasons why people love to read romance novels.
Enjoy these photos, check out more on Twitter @SourcebooksCasa, and tell us why you read romance on social media by using the hashtag #ireadromance.
Back in July, we launched a really exciting joint program with Wattpad, the world’s largest community of readers and writers. The program, ‘submit2sourcebooks’, was inspired by some of the terrific authors that we publish who came from the Wattpad platform like Natasha Preston (natashapreston), Ali Novak (fallzswimmer), Estelle Maskame (EstelleMaskame), and Kara Terzis (Kara_writes).
The idea is to give aspiring authors another way to connect with us, beyond the traditional submissions process. Now, a writer can just add the tag submit2sourcebooks to their story on Wattpad and our editors will take a look. It lets writers circumvent the usual process of query letters, and also lets us see how readers are responding to and interacting with the story. We get a sneak peek at how readers will respond to a story, which is really useful data.
And now we are excited to share that we’ve acquired our first romance project through Wattpad! It’s a light paranormal romance series titled the Undead Dating Service, by Juliet Lyons (julietlyons). It’s described as “Bridget Jones’s Diary…with vampires, a fresh concept, a touch of suspense, and a whole lot of snark.” We can’t wait to bring it to readers!
This is just one of the many projects we hope to acquire through the ongoing partnership. The Undead Dating Service series will begin releasing in spring 2017. Head over to Wattpad and search submit2sourcebooks to check out some other fantastic submissions! We can’t wait to hear what you think!
THE HAVANA BOOK FAIR
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining a group of American book professionals (booksellers, publishers, distributors) visiting the Havana Book Fair in Cuba as part of the first US Publishing Mission (created by PublishersWeekly, the Combined Book Exhibit and PubMatch).
The Havana Book Fair is a giant open-air book festival that takes place annually in the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana. There is music everywhere! Publishers exhibit in old prison cells (now turned into booths); authors launch new books and give talks to crowds of readers. It is a once-a-year opportunity to see the entire publishing market of Cuba in one place.
"Many families only buy books once a year," says Zuleica Romay Guerra, President of the Book Institute of the Cuban Ministry of Culture. "You see families saving for months to go to the book fair and buy as many books as they can." (from Calvin Reid’s During Panels, Realities of Cuban Publishing Market Laid Bare)
The Cuban book business, being largely run and subsidized by the government, is extremely different from our own industry. A few examples (at least as I understood them):
Some numbers as supplied by the Instituto Cubano del Libro:
This is an industry undergoing major change right now, and they recognize that it will likely take a generation to turn over to a different business model, but they are excited about the future.
“I know you will take this work seriously. And I can promise you that we will also be serious about it.”
— Zuleica Romay Guerra, Book Institute of Cuba
One of the challenges in Cuba is the availability and the cost of books. Fuentes says that while about 70% of Cubans are used to reading digitally, there is a shortage of digital reading devices available in Cuba. As their connectivity improves in the coming months and years, it will mean greater access to ebooks and digital reading.
"We have started but not as fast as our readers. Readers are actually ahead of us. It is one of our challenges."
-- Zuleica Romay Guerra, Book Institute of Cuba
As part of the final panel of the conference, we talked about what the digital transformation has looked like in the U.S. and what that has meant for our industry. In my presentation at the book fair, I highlighted that what is particularly relevant for the Cuban industry right now are what I called the 5 major outcomes of ebooks:
One of the things I highlighted in my talk (as I have in other talks elsewhere) was the persistence and importance of print. As we know, in the US, we are part of an additive transformation, with ebooks and physical books co-existing in the ecosystem rather than ebooks replacing physical books. We also know that different categories of books behave differently with respect to ebooks. And that in our market, the ebooks revolution was driven by women who are also the key purchasers of books in Cuba. I covered a lot of these points as part of the final panel of the conference.
I’ve posted the full presentation to Slideshare.
For more about this Cuban book journey, please see:
THE CUBAN BOOK EMBARGO PETITION
This morning President Obama is in Cuba. Over the weekend The New York Times had a fascinating photo-essay which may give you a sense of Cuba today.
Publishers Weekly and many in the book publishing industry (including Sourcebooks) have urged an end to the Cuban book embargo. You can read about that in the Publishing Perspectives article on the background of the petition, and the content of the petition itself which was started by Publishers Weekly.
ONE LAST WORD
I was surprised by how much Cuba touched me—the people, the culture, the sense of change (both the excitement and the fear). I’ll leave you with my favorite picture of Cuba, which I took on the very first day.
P.S. A huge thank you to Cevin, Jon, Janet, and the many new friends we made in Cuba!
If you want a whirlwind of a life, then I recommend working as a salesperson for a book publisher’s gift division. Not only is it an amazing job, but twice a year, we have gift show season. For six to eight weeks in January/February and June to August, every customer you might want to see goes to all of the major gift shows to see what’s new—which means you get to spend six to eight weeks traveling around the country, showing off all the great books and gift products they’ll love.
Such was my life for the past three weeks, attending as many gift shows as I could and meeting as many customers and readers as possible!
Atlanta boasts the largest gift show and gift mart in the country. If you are a gift customer or a supplier and you aren’t there, you are missing out. Trust me when I say I was there (Tuesday through Sunday)!
Featured in the RPM Gifts and Greetings Showroom, my reps and I met with hundreds of people and talked books, wrote orders, and discussed future opportunities and titles.
But Atlanta wasn’t the only show on my list. So giddy up, cowboys, because my next stop was…
Where hospitality was high…
And everyone was wearing cowboy hats.
Including the dinosaurs!
I spent two days with our reps, daniel*richards.
I was able to work with new customers and get everyone excited about all of our new titles, include our new series, Love Is All Around, and our Keep Calm and Color On coloring books.
But Dallas was left in the dust as I slid into Las Vegas…
…and touched base at the Sports Licensing and Tailgate Show.
This was a new show for my coworker, Peter Vanaria, and me, where we launched our new line of MLB activity books to a new type of customer—sporting goods stores!
But while in Vegas, I made sure to visit our rep group California Marketing Association at one of the fast-growing gift marts, the Las Vegas Market.
There, the customers streamed through all the way until the end of the show. (The East Coast blizzard caused many customers to arrive later than expected, but they made the most of it.) Everyone excitedly perused our latest line of calendars (I am a cat lady; of course I’m going to show everyone our Call Me Cat Lady wall calendar) and our wide variety of gift and children’s titles.
Overall, these three weeks have been fantastic. All the customers, new contacts, new trends, ideas, and places have really geared me up for a fantastic 2016…though, I think first…a nap...
National Accounts Manager—Gift and Regional
We were all saddened to hear of the passing of Hillel Black, our executive editor here at Sourcebooks for nearly 10 years.
Hillel’s impact on the company that Sourcebooks became cannot be understated. It was Hill’s deep love for authors that helped form a cornerstone for the sort of publishing company we sought to create. As the former publisher of Macmillan and editor-in-chief at William Morrow, he joined what was then a small publishing house trafficking entirely in nonfiction. Simply put, Hillel Black put us on the map.
Indeed, Hillel is the reason we have both the Sourcebooks Landmark fiction imprint and a New York City office. Soon after he joined us in the year 2000, Hill was here in Naperville to visit and took Dominique out for dinner. I received a call at home that night from Dominique: “I think I just committed us to starting a fiction program,” she sheepishly told me. To be frank, it was a huge risk.
But Hillel would get it done, famously asking Dominique over sushi what kind of novels she’d like to publish. “Writers like Michael Malone,” she said. Hill being Hill located one of Michael’s old books, found the agent in the acknowledgments, and soon thereafter Sourcebooks Landmark was publishing Michael’s first new novel in more than a decade, placing it on the New York Times bestsellers list. As we’ve recently reported, Sourcebooks Landmark had its best year ever in 2015, and 2016 is off to a rollicking start. Hillel got it all off the ground and would be delighted.
Hillel’s care for books and authors was unparalleled, and his drive to find the next big book was never-ending. He was a mentor to me and to many others here. Several of us have been commiserating today about his phrases of wisdom that have become vocabulary around here – a “publishing prophet” is just one way of explaining his impact. Go for it, ask a long-timer, they’ll have a Hillel story to tell you.
Most importantly, though, Hillel was a dear, dear friend. His was a kind and genuine soul. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
VP Editorial Director
At left, Hillel and Alfred Blumrosen, author of Slave Nation, enjoy a drink and lively conversation at Sourcebooks' 20th birthday party. At right, Hillel celebrates his retirement with Todd Stocke, Tom Murphy, and Deb Werksman. Below, Hillel and Dominique cut the cake and drink champagne to commemorate his 10 wonderful years with Sourcebooks.
Sourcebooks Publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah made NewCity’s Lit 50 2015, a list of the 50 greatest contributors to Chicago’s vibrant literary scene!
“This year’s list includes indie-bookstore owners, booksellers, publishers, editors, chairs and directors of creative writing programs, literacy advocates, library leaders, execs at major literary foundations, organizers of festivals, conferences, live lit productions and salons. All of the individuals on this list contribute significantly—whether they help to get books in readers’ hands, excite the next generation in literary arts, afford writers opportunities to publish, provide storytellers a stage to share their tales, or create environments where writers can make the right connections or just talk shop.”
“Behind all of the innovation is fundamentally our desire to create a more expansive future for readers, authors and book publishing,” Raccah said.
Raccah is featured at #3, behind Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune’s literary editor, and Robert Polito, president of the Poetry Foundation. It’s a great honor to be included and the Chicago literary scene is a community that Sourcebooks is proud to be a part of.
This morning Dominique was part of a panel that opened Book Expo America 2015, talking about the digital transformation and how the data that comes with that change can help drive innovation. The impressive lineup of panelists included:
Scott Galloway, Founder & Chairman of L2, Joanna Stone Herman, Moderator, Co-Founder and CEO of Librify, Dominique Raccah, Publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, Gareth Cuddy, Founder and CEO of Vearsa, Bethlam Forsa, President of Pearson Learning Services, and Trip Adler, CEO & Co-Founder of Scribd.
Professor Galloway kicked off the event with a 15-minute roller-coaster ride of information about the future of digital. A couple of interesting predictions from him:
From there the panel discussed data. Our conversation ranged over the power of data and how it’s being used in various publishing businesses today, some of the limitations of the data available to us now, the biggest innovations happening across the industry and how our industry compares to others, as well as conversation and predictions around the next 5 years of the book publishing business.
The panel was filmed by CSPAN and we will update with a link to the video as soon as it becomes available.
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