Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA continues to evolve, with personnel shifts, new initiatives, and a refocusing for the Walker Books for Young Readers imprint. “Restructuring allows us to expand into new categories and build on our successes,” said Cindy Loh, who as publishing director at Bloomsbury oversees both the Walker and Bloomsbury imprints. Loh joined the company in June 2012, succeeding Melanie Cecka, who is now associate publisher at Knopf.
As part of the restructuring, two members of Walker’s editorial staff have moved over to Bloomsbury: senior editor Mary Kate Castellani and associate editor Laura Whitaker. Authors heading to Bloomsbury with Castellani include Megan Frazer Blakemore and Kate Messner. In addition to acquiring her own work, Whitaker will finish up some of the books in progress that had been overseen by Victoria Wells Arms, who is leaving to start a literary agency. (Bloomsbury is currently seeking a new editorial director with the departure of Michelle Nagler, who as of July 15 will be associate publishing director of Random House/Golden Books.)
Whitaker will also bring with her the forthcoming Bloomsbury Activity Books line, a project that began at Walker under publishing director Emily Easton. Set to launch in winter 2014, the books will cover concepts, seasonal themes, and topics aimed at both boys and girls ages three to six. There are more than a dozen activity books in the pipeline, each with more than 100 stickers and associated apps.
Another new initiative for the division: Bloomsbury Spark, an e-first imprint for YA, New Adult, and crossover books, which is set to launch in the fall. Loh said that the company’s commitment to the project is evident in the hiring three months ago of digital editor Meredith Rich. “We have a dedicated e-book editor – it’s Meredith’s whole job,” Loh said, explaining that other publishers tend to use existing resources for digital ventures. Bloomsbury Spark authors will be a mix of debut, self-published, and established writers. “We’re really looking to develop them,” Loh said, adding that the authors will have high visibility on the imprint’s Facebook page, which will promote authors of the week and publish guest posts. That commitment, she said, extends across the company. “We are talking about the author’s whole career and where we want to take them.”
Back to Its Roots
Elsewhere within Bloomsbury, as of spring 2014, Walker will publish 18 titles a year, or six per season, compared to its current annual output of about 40 titles. By contrast, Bloomsbury will publish anywhere from 100 to 125 books a year. “Walker is getting “back to its roots as a boutique imprint,” Loh said, a move she said will allow Easton to have a “laser-like” focus on her list.
For Easton, 18 books a year “feels like a comfortable number. Not that I haven’t loved everything I’ve signed up before, but now I’m looking for books that I absolutely love.” As part of the restructuring, Walker will house all of Bloomsbury’s nonfiction going forward (backlist nonfiction under the Bloomsbury imprint will remain there). Among the titles forthcoming on the Walker roster is the middle-grade How They Choked: Fatal Flaws and Failures of the Fabulously Famous by Georgia Bragg, illus. by Kevin O’Malley, a follow-up to 2011’s How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous.
But nonfiction, Easton clarified, will only be “a flavoring” of the list. Other titles due out in spring 2014 include Penguin and Pumpkin, a picture book starring the character that Salina Yoon launched in 2012 with Penguin and Pinecone; and a YA novel, tentatively titled One Past Midnight, by Jessica Shirvington, author of the Embrace series with Sourcebooks Fire.
A current YA star at Walker is Simone Elkeles, whose new novel, Wild Cards, will be out in October. “I would really love more like her,” said Easton, who also cited Eric Velasquez and Megan Miranda as “authors [whose] voices are so distinct. They win awards but also have commercial appeal.”
Easton, who says she has “a very quirky sensibility,” said that with Walker’s reduced output, she welcomes the opportunity to really focus on the authors and illustrators on her list. “I’ve been overseeing so many books in a year,” Easton said. “I’m looking forward to the long phone calls – having that development time one-on-one.”