For Summer Publishing Institute students, reading is a given, like breathing. They are obsessed with books, so we oblige by sending them around the city each summer for visits to publishing houses to meet key executives and hear all about books, audio books, and podcasts. Read on, as they say, for an inside look at SPI student visits to Penguin Young Readers and Blackstone Audio.
Penguin Young Readers: “Never Letting Go”
From The Tale of Peter Rabbit (published in 1902) to Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) to The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969) to Good Night Gorilla (1994) to The Fault in Our Stars (2012) to Chelsea Clinton’s new children’s book She Persisted, Penguin Young Readers has a rich and storied legacy. A small group of SPI students were thrilled to be ushered into the inner sanctum of PYR to meet with those who create the books we have grown up with and love.
We were welcomed by Jocelyn Schmidt, Vice President and Associate Publisher, and Stephanie Sabol, Executive Director of Business Development and Brand Management and a member of the SPI class of 2004. They introduced us to PYR’s 10 imprints, which publish over 600 books per year.
As a major player in publishing children’s literature, PYR loves to find books that make readers feel something and not want to stop reading. Namrata Tripathi, Editorial Director and Associate Publisher of Dial Books, spoke about her experience receiving a submission from a literary agent of Peter Bognanni’s Things I’m Seeing Without You. “There was something about it that made me start reading it that night,” she recalled. (Namrata graciously provided each of us with a galley, and I have felt the same way.)
As a coming of age novel, on sale October 3rd, the book analyzes loving again after a huge loss. “It recognizes grief in a really honest way,” said Namrata, who bid on it in a heated auction. “The story felt personal to me. I thought: ‘I have to have it, otherwise I might die.’ That’s the place you want to be when you acquire a book.”
We then heard from top members of the team at another PYR imprint, Penguin Workshop, home of the New York Times bestselling series Who HQ. Starting in 2002 with their Who Was? series, Who HQ has seen a 285% growth in sales; their titles include lively histories of Elton John, Bono, and Andy Warhol, among others. Francesco Sedita, President and Publisher of Penguin Workshop, explained that Who Was? has “developed into a three-dimensional picture of history, shaping history for young readers.” Penguin Workshop now publishes 210 books a year.
Emily Romero, Senior Vice President of Marketing, has helped build Who HQ from the ground up. “It’s about never letting go of a series, and continually reinventing how to move from [one] channel to next,” she explained. Innovation is key.
Shanta Newlin, Vice President of Publicity, is always seeking new ways to get attention for the books Penguin Workshop publishes. One of her favorite campaigns was partnering with a theater company to bring trivia game shows into classrooms around the country for two years in a row—what she calls an “authorless tour.”
We also heard from Cristi Navarro, Director of National Account Sales, and Helen Boomer, Vice President of Subsidiary Rights, who explained the role of sales and sub rights within PYR. It’s so important, emphasized Cristi, “to generate revenue, excitement, and awareness” for a book.
In the art and design room, we met with Denise Cronin, Vice President and Executive Director of Art/Design for Viking Children’s Books and Ellice Lee, Art Director for Philomel Books. Ellice recounted her experiences working directly with Chelsea Clinton on She Persisted, explaining that book publishing is “really remarkable.” Ellice loves being able “to make a positive difference in women, regardless of political opinions.”
As we departed PYR after an afternoon of books and book conversation, we felt both privileged and inspired. We left thinking back not only to our own childhoods and books we loved, but ahead to the continually evolving future of innovation and creativity in children’s books.
by Jennifer Slagus
Blackstone Audio: A New Kind of Kismet
“Audiobooks and what’s happening with audio actually makes the story,” Jeffrey Yamaguchi, Senior Director of Marketing at Blackstone Audio, told a small group of SPI students touring the Blackstone office on July 10. “Audio has become very dominant.”
The rise of audio in media was the theme of the afternoon, as Blackstone employees emphasized the growing market and increased interest in both audiobooks and podcasts. Blackstone averages 70 new release recordings each month, and the demand is only growing—from both consumers and creators. Good EReader reported in Dec. 2016 that the audiobook market saw a 31% increase between 2015 and 2016, and audiobook publishers are anticipating 2017 to be their most successful year yet. Jayme Mattler, Producer/Director at Blackstone, noted that she has been working with more authors interested in recording their own books, a task she enjoys since so many authors are enthusiastic and eager to learn about the process. For professional narrators, Studio Director Bryan Barney observed, “We don’t need to look for narrators anymore; they come to us.”
On the other end of the audio spectrum, special guest Bart Warshaw, creator of the podcast Kismet, explained how he reaches his audience as an independent producer. For example, he was struck by the podcast potential for how couples meet. “I just thought, ‘This has to be a podcast about what’s happening at that intimate moment.’” Warshaw enjoys working on Kismet and asking the right questions to get his guests to explain their sometimes romantic, sometimes wild stories of first meetings and impressions. However, he admits that it is a tough job for a single creator, and that the funding and analytics for podcasts need to improve. Currently, podcasters have limited opportunities to make money through advertising; the podcast platforms themselves do not offer creators much data on how many people are listening or the audience demographic. Yet as Yamaguchi observed, “It’s a fun industry to watch.”
So what ties audiobooks and podcasts together? Mattler summed it up: “They’re both for people who like to be told stories.”
by Briana Wagner