The Publisher

See You on the Bookshelf | Episode 15

June 6, 2017

In our finale to the podcast, we talk to one last person at the publishing house: the publisher. We speak to Lauri Hornik, president and publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Transcript

Jack: Previously on See You on the Bookshelf, we told the story of how See You in the Cosmos became a published book. It started with my agent.

Jessica Craig: I remember just reading it and realizing that, yeah, this is actually more of a kid’s book than an adult one.

Jack: We submitted the manuscript to publishers, and thanks to one of our scouts, we had a surprise deal in Germany.

Kalah McCaffrey: They were very fast and enthusiastic. And I was checking with Jessica Craig to find out what sort of money she might be looking for.

Jack: Then it was acquired jointly by two editors, one of the US and one in the UK.

Anthea Townsend: I think it was on a Friday. And I think by Monday morning, Jess and I were on the phone about how much we wanted to go for it.

Jack: In editing, we worked on making the book more squarely middle grade.

Jess Garrison: It’s just about staying in that moment where the kid is, and not pushing too far into things that are beyond their emotional experience or knowledge yet.

Jack: It went through design, for both the outside of the book –

Jacqui McDonough: There’s not a lot on this cover, but you have to get every detail right.

Jack: – and the inside.

Jason Henry: You take all of these thoughts and considerations, and you’re distilling it down into a font.

Jack: It went through copyediting, in both the US and UK.

Regina Castillo: You want a fresh set of eyes to look at it as a new person, as somebody who doesn’t know the material.

Wendy Shakespeare: The first thing I always look out for is the word pants.

Jack: About a year ahead of publication, it was launched internally at the publishing houses.

Anthea Townsend: Sometimes it’s funny details that I’ll choose to tell a group, like the fact that I read this manuscript on a Sunday night at home, when I couldn’t stop reading sections of it out to my spouse.

Jack: From there, the sales, marketing, and publicity teams put together a plan, and started getting the word out.

Kaitlin Kneafsey: If you see a book in a magazine or a newspaper, or on a TV show or on the radio … that’s us.

Julia Teece: It’s very rare for someone to buy a book off one thing that they’ve seen.

John Dennany: I go out into the individual bookstores to talk about titles.

Lindsay Boggs: You have to really be able to see where the book that you’re working on fits in to the conversation about what’s happening right now.

Jack: Meanwhile, production ramped up on the audiobook.

Karen Dziekonski: We really wanted someone who was the age of Alex – you know, a kid – just to be credible.

Jack: Advance copies were printed months before publication.

Julia Teece: We make sure that we get them out well in advance, to really get people reading them and to give them enough time.

Jack: The book finally came out at the end of February.

Alexis Watts: If you don’t get it within the first couple of months or even the first year, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to have that success.

Jack: I visited schools. I went on a bookseller dinner tour.

Kaitlin Kneafsey: A big thing about debut authors is just getting them out there and getting them known, particularly with booksellers.

Lindsay Boggs: We just find that we have more success putting authors in schools, rather than putting them in bookstores and expecting the public to come out to them.

Jack: And to a librarian conference.

Venessa Carson: They have this really robust programming for authors to speak on panels, like the one that you’re doing today.

Jack: This week, for our final chapter of See You on the Bookshelf, we wrap things up by talking to one more person: the publisher.


Lauri: The publisher, as a role of a person in the house, is the person who’s overseeing a list of books.

Jack: You get that? So there’s the publisher, referring to a publishing house – referring to a company that puts out books – and then there’s the publisher, a specific person within that company.

Lauri: I’m Lauri Hornik, and I’m the president and publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers, which is one of the children’s imprints that’s part of Penguin Young Readers. And I am the person who is working with all of the editors and designers to put that list together. So I’m helping the editors decide which books are the right ones to acquire for our list, and I’m giving them thoughts on the shaping of those projects – the title of the project, what the cover should look like, when they should be scheduled …

I’m looking over all of the books that we have coming and trying to plot out what’s the best timing for each book within a year. And then also I’m the number one spokesperson to the other groups at Penguin – sales, marketing, inventory – about the positioning of these books. I’m talking to them about expectations for the book, how to position them to our buyers, and how many copies we should expect to need when the book publishes, and watching over reprints and when should we reprint and how many copies … all of that for the life of the book, for the list overall.

Jack: So would you say it’s sort of like, editor-in-chief? Or is that just a piece of it?

Lauri: It is. I think, you know, that there are a lot of people probably with the title editor-in-chief who are in the exact same role. And there can be editors-in-chief who are all reporting into a publisher, and that publisher at that particular company might not be at all involved in the editorial development work.

I mean, I also, when it comes to picture books – I’m looking over the sketches for every picture book and offering any thoughts I have there. I’m part of the conversation about who the illustrator should be for a picture book and all of that. At a certain other publishing companies, the editor-in-chief would be serving that role, and then the publisher above the editor-in-chief would be more doing the marketing and sales positioning and supervising the staff, but not getting into the specifics title-by-title.

Jack: Mmm. So I guess, really quickly, can you talk a little bit about your path into publishing? How did you get started, and how did you end up at Dial?

Lauri: Sure. I was an English major in college and looking for a publishing job right out of college. I had imagined that I would be editing novels for adults because that was what I was reading. And I lived in Boston and I was looking for editorial assistant jobs in Boston, and the one that was available was for Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books.

And it hadn’t occurred to me that children’s books was something to look at, but I had a wonderful interview with the head of Houghton Mifflin Children’s and that was the job I got. And on week one, I felt completely at home. I loved the tasks I was given. I was asked to try to write the jacket flap copy for a book that then – I mean, I think this was on week one – that then went on to win the Newbery Medal. It was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.

Jack: Wow.

Lauri: And I remember on day one, I was typing up the manuscript for a Curious George picture book. I mean, it was very exciting work, even though I had just begun. And it was a wonderful time with that supervisor, Walter Lorraine, who was one of the greats in our business. He’d been in the business for a long time and he really enjoyed telling me his stories. So he would spend a lot of time talking to me about the past and the business, and just sharing insights and wisdom.

It was really just the best and luckiest start. And after about six years, I was ready to move out of Boston because my friends had all left before me and most of them had gone to New York. And so I went looking for a job in New York. At Houghton Mifflin, I’d been editing some children’s novels that had been sold for paperback rights to Dell Publishing. So when I went looking for a job in New York, the folks at Dell scooped me up because they had been buying the rights to the books I was working on and they thought, aha! This is wonderful because she can develop these books for us.

And yeah, so that was my next step. I came into Bantam Doubleday Dell as a senior editor and stayed there for about five years, and then was offered an amazing opportunity to be the editorial director at Dial. And I’d never supervised anyone at the time – I didn’t even have an assistant at BDD – and started the job at Dial supervising the whole editorial group. It was a very intense, difficult, exciting year of figuring out how to be a supervisor with a terrific, talented group of people and a wonderful backlist at Penguin, which was a very supportive group overall. So I haven’t left.

Jack: Amazing. And so that editorial supervising position, that’s the job that Namratha has now?

Lauri: Yes. So when I started, I was the editorial director and I was reporting to Nancy Paulsen, who was the publisher of both Dial and Putnam. And after a few years, she stepped aside from Dial in order for me to move into the role of publisher. So Namratha Tripathi has been at Dial for a couple of years – I think it’s three years now, as editorial director – and that has been another very, very lucky happening in my career because she and I have such similar sensibilities in terms of what we want the list to be, the books we admire, the way we go about thinking about the books on our list. And she just has so many different talents. It’s been wonderful to partner with her in developing Dial’s list now.


Jack: Let’s talk about – specifically talk about See You in the Cosmos. When did you first come in contact with the manuscript? That was while it was on submission, right?

Lauri: Well actually, because Namratha was here, she and Jess read it during the acquisition process and I trusted their enthusiasm. I mean, there was such extreme enthusiasm from both of them. So I didn’t actually read it until your first revision. So I read your first revision and then offered some thoughts at that time.

Jack: Okay.

Lauri: Yeah.

Jack: Do you remember your experience reading it?

Lauri: I do. Yeah. And actually, I haven’t read the full manuscript again since, and I remember it so deeply. All of your characters really grab hold. I mean, I definitely felt as if I was just living that life alongside them. When you and Jess worked on the further revision and your final manuscript came in, I looked at pieces that had changed a lot and read those and was really impressed by the change. But I don’t think that I went back and read from start to finish again.

Jack: Mmm.

Lauri: Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting that right now.

[ laughter ]

Jack: So, how many books does Dial publish in any given year?

Lauri: We do about 60 to 75 books in a year? So I’d say 20, 25 per season – we have three seasons a year. It turns out that it’s usually about half picture book and half novels, and those would be a mix of middle grade and YA.

Jack: And I imagine that the scheduling and timing of everything is really this sort of this puzzle, where everything has to really fit together.

Lauri: Yeah, it can be very tricky, and there are a lot of changes along the way. You acquire a book and you have a certain date when you’re expecting the manuscript to come in, and it is rarely that simple.


Jack: A theme that’s cropped up toward the end of this podcast, I think, is how even after a book is published, it can take some time – especially in children’s publishing – for people to find out about the book.

Lauri: There’s a gradual build, and the editor certainly is seeing it, but the general public isn’t seeing it. And it’s building and building and then all of a sudden, everyone has heard of this book and they haven’t seen it grow to the point where it suddenly has always been in front of them.

And I mean, I really do expect that that’s going to be the scenario with See You in the Cosmos. Your novel, for sure, has been one that has very quickly had the word-of-mouth. It started with the word-of-mouth in-house; it was one of those novels that people in the sales and marketing read quickly, told their friends in the group, about and more and more people were reading and loving it. Which then, you know, bubbled over to the booksellers and the librarians.

I mean, it’s been one of those great stories where after pub, our conversations – and this is one of the pieces for me as publisher, is going to sales and going to marketing and saying, look at how quickly this is really catching on. How do we make it bigger? What haven’t we done yet that we want to add now?

Jack: And I think that’s something that’s easy to overlook – it’s how much everyone at a publishing house really has to work together from the moment a manuscript is acquired, all the way through the publication process, and even after the book comes out … in order to make it a success.

Jason Henry: When I first started, I remember one of the first things that someone told me was that this process of publishing is such a collaborative process. Just, all the different people with all these great skills that go into making a book that you’d pick up in the bookstore.

Julia Teece: It’s not just one person in a room making it all happen. There’s a whole team of people, pulling together to make a book of success.

Jack: And there are so many people at the publishing house that we didn’t even get to talk to for this podcast because well, then it might go on indefinitely.

Lauri: There’s a whole staff of people in production who are working with the printers and liaising between design, and there’s a whole staff of people who are managing our inventory – whether we have enough copies in the warehouse, when we’re going to need a reprint to come in, how many is the ideal quantity for a reprint … And there are people who are doing a lot of sales analysis or, you know, all different types of studying the marketplace to help other people make the right decisions. So yeah. It’s a cast of thousands.

Jack: A term you might hear when you hear people talk about big publishing houses is this term, publishing machine. Even my editor Jess used it in my conversation with her and Anthea.

Jess Garrison: It’s like a grand machine, and we’re all sort of playing our role.

Lauri: There are pieces like the passing of a manuscript from author to editor, to copyeditor, back to author, and then to the printer, that are all completely in place and there’s no – nothing gets lost there. It’s quite beautiful, how fully formed the conveyor belt of book development has been created.

Jack: Okay, you probably feel a but coming on here and … you’re right.

Jess Garrison: We keep talking about the publishing machine and the process, how it’s deliberate, but at the same time as all that, which sounds so technical and almost cold, there is this intimacy. There are these people, starting with the three of us, and then everyone involved at every level who is intimately involved with the project because it gives them the feels, you know? They feel passionately about it. And then they become invested in you, Jack, and wanting to help you promote the book, help get the book out there, help you meet your fans and all these things.

Lindsay Boggs: We’re often privileged in that we get to keep working with the same authors year after year. And you know, it’s a long relationship, and you get to be friends with really smart people who are creative and thoughtful and are making a difference in the world. And you know, it’s a privilege. The same can be said – I have favorite, favorite booksellers and favorite librarians … you really get to meet a lot of people. And it’s just – I mean, I feel very lucky.

Lauri: I don’t know that there are many other professions where almost everyone you’re working with day-to-day is so invested in the work and the finished product. Nobody’s cutting corners here. And it’s really exciting because it’s not a task where you learn how to do it and it’s rote from then on. You’re sort of figuring it out fresh every single time. You know, that includes the editorial development, the design, the production decisions, the sales, the marketing …

I mean, it’s never one size fits all in publishing. Every book is a new puzzle. And I think the people who are here really relish that.


Jack: You might listen to this podcast and think that the whole thing sounds like one big ad for the publishing industry. But I think it really reflects the genuine passion and enthusiasm that I’ve encountered going through this process with See You in the Cosmos. Sometimes you hear in the news about publishers doing this or that; it’s easy to forget, or to not even realize, that at the end of the day, that publishing machine is just a collection of people. Who all really love books.


[ peppy music ]

Today is June 6, 2017. See You in the Cosmos has been out for more than three months now. And even though the podcast is over, the publishing process for the book is still going on.

In the meantime, I’m still living here in Detroit. The birds are chirping outside my window, and I’m working on a new book. A new puzzle.


Thanks to Lauri Hornik and the “cast of thousands” at Penguin Young Readers US and Penguin Random House Children’s UK, including Jess Garrison, Anthea Townsend, Jacqui McDonough, Jason Henry, Regina Castillo, Wendy Shakespeare, Karen Dziekonski, Lindsay Boggs, Kaitlin Kneafsey, Sophia Rubie, John Dennany, Julia Teece, Venessa Carson, Alexis Watts, and Namrata Tripathi. Thanks also to Jessica Craig and Kalah McCaffrey. And to Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory), for the music throughout this podcast.

And lastly, thank you for listening. Goodbye for now, and I’ll see you on the bookshelf.