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We review books. We talk to authors. Now Booklist is going behind the scenes with “Bookmakers,” a new series profiling the most prominent editors, publishers, art directors, and designers in the field, who will discuss how they take raw manuscripts and illustrations and turn them into published works. To inaugurate this ongoing feature, Children’s Books Editor Ilene Cooper spoke with Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade about their eponymous Random House imprint, Schwartz & Wade Books. —Ed.
When you talk to Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade, it sounds like they’re having fun. And why not? Their imprint, now beginning its fourth year, has produced such appealing, popular, and critically acclaimed books as Polly Horvath’s My One Hundred Adventures, Candace Fleming’s The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, and Robert Andrew Parker’s Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum (all 2008). Yet the concept of an editor and art director coming together as co-publishers is unusual, and the execution could have been perilous. Fortunately, a fast friendship and a shared vision surmounted obstacles.
The duo met at Simon & Schuster, where Schwartz had her own imprint within Atheneum, and Wade managed the art department and then worked on picture books with Schwartz. Eventually both began looking for a new challenge and decided to do so together. As Schwartz remembers, “Marrying art and text in the shape of a department, as well as in the actual books, seemed new and exciting.”
From the beginning, they knew that their list would contain a full range of titles. “Our tastes are very similar,” says Schwartz, “but we do have different strengths. Lee is particularly good with young picture books and novelty books, and I usually work on books for older readers, so we complement each other well.” With offices next door to each other, they’re talking all day long and credit each other with providing the support that launching a new imprint takes. On rare occasions, they’ve closed the door and raised the intensity of their discussions, but their respect for each other and their wicked senses of humor enable them to laugh off most of the tensions. As Wade puts it, “It’s so much more fun to do this together than by yourself.”
Schwartz & Wade Books publishes about 20 titles a year, and they have wide-ranging control and creative autonomy over decisions about their books; there are no in-house committees telling them what they can and can’t do. Yet while operating as a small publishing house, they are also tied to the strong engine of sales and marketing that comes with being an imprint of Random House. With a department of just five (including them), there’s lots of brainstorming about each and every product and how to make it stand out. Both Schwartz and Wade are committed to mentoring the younger members of the staff. Schwartz started working in publishing under such storied editors as Janet Schulman and Amy Erlich. “I learned how to make books,” she remembers, “and that’s a bit of a dying art, so it’s important to me that the new editors and designers I work with really learn. They’re the next generation that will be carrying on the tradition and making wonderful books because they know how.”
When starting a new imprint, and in succeeding seasons for that matter, the question arises of how to balance a list. When you ask Schwartz and Wade how they manage what books to publish when, they answer in unison, “We have a board!” Further questioning elicits the information that this key to all knowledge is a white board that hangs outside their offices. “It’s very high-tech,” Wade laughs. And she jokes that if anyone ever erased it, that would be the end of the imprint. The board shows what books are in, when illustrators are expected to deliver, and how books fit together with other titles on the list. For instance, a 2009 book, You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter (recently starred in Booklist), “was obviously going to be a spring list book.” The cover of the book, a ligature that allows readers to actually see Koufax in motion, is the kind of touch that shows how they take extra steps to make a book unique.
Both Schwartz and Wade agree that the challenge for them will be to keep the focus on the authors and illustrators and to continue to seek out books that they love and want to publish, not just those that will sell. Like everyone else, in this financial climate, they are looking at cutting costs but in a smart, innovative way. Their underlying belief is that, publishing downturns notwithstanding, really good books will always sell. “It’s not always true all the time,” Schwartz says philosophically, “but we do believe that quality will win out in the end.”
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