Interview with Quirk Books President, Brett Cohen
Independent Presses are having a big moment in the publishing world right now. They’re growing in popularity and quantity and producing buzzworthy books. Quirk Books is one such independent press that has seen a recent influx of attention with the release of the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children based on the novel of the same name published by Quirk Books in 2011.
Brett Cohen, President of Quirk Books, took some time to chat with AAP about recent successes and how Quirk Books got where it is today.
Tell us about your beginnings and The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.
The founder and owner of Quirk Books, David Borgenicht, created The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook when we were a book packaging company. The book was published in 1999 by Chronicle Books, which created a working relationship with that publisher helping us grow in the industry. The bestselling nature of what became the Worst Case series of books, calendars and eventually two TV shows, was also a financial win. It bolstered our business acumen and allowed us to rapidly move from a book packaging company to a publishing company.
In 2002 we launched our first book list mostly comprised of irreverent, fun, gift books. We even developed our own little niche genre, “irreference.”
In 2009, we made our first move into fiction with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That turned into a phenomenon and paved the way for us to fully enter into the fiction category. We extended our approach to publishing into this new category by emphasizing our core values of mixing an original concept with strong packaging and design.
Since then, we’ve published an Edgar-award winning mystery, IndieNext selections and several New York Times best sellers—most notably the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series. In the process, we’ve kept the list to a focused 25 books per year.
Why only publish 25 books a year?
In the wake of our successes, there was the urge to do more books because that’s the natural response to how an independent publisher should grow. But, we decided to stay committed to publishing 25 books a year (about two a month). Instead of doubling the size of the list, we invested in improving the quality of the list. We invested in authors, the product, the staff and the marketing.
How have the adaptions of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for the big screen changed things for Quirk Books?
Turning our novels into films has proven to be a fun and fascinating new aspect of the publishing business for Quirk Books. Through the movie adaptations, we have been able to further emphasize the commercial viability and uniqueness of all our content. Certainly the attention from the movies has created more buzz around our company and those specific books.
From a general standpoint, Quirk is careful to avoid ‘me-too publishing’. We strive for unique ideas. And, we have found that the studios are responding well to our list. We have even more projects with TV and movie production companies in development and look forward to continuing our relationships with other creative industries through exploring the full range of potential for Quirk Books titles.
Why do you think independent presses have gained such popularity as of late?
Independent presses typically publish into a niche subject or for a niche market. The last few years have seen an increased ability for publishers to communicate directly with their audience in an efficient and effective manner. The Internet, social media and newsletters have created daily lines of communication. Comic Con, BookCon and other events have aggregated our fans together and created ways to personally interact with fans previously only available in a retail setting. These interactions let us build strong brand awareness around the publishing house and engage with fans in more personalized ways.
The first year Quirk Books was at Comic-Con in 2009, people would come up to us and say “wow, I have your books.” They were buying books at the bookstore, but not necessarily looking at the spine to see who published them. Now at Comic-Con, they look for Quirk Books to see what’s coming next. They know the publishing house that gives them the books they love and seek us out to deliver more.
How do you come up with book ideas at Quirk? Are they spurred by something you see missing on the shelves?
With our roots in book packaging, many of our book ideas are generated in house. We come up with an idea and then look for writers to help us bring them to fruition. That may mean we develop an idea and pitch it to authors we’ve worked with in the past or those we want to work with. As our brand has grown, we now regularly receive submissions from agents and authors and have signed many to our list. Regardless of the source, we are very focused on delivering something new to the reader. It could be the story, the package or the design. We are constantly asking ourselves…What makes it Quirk?
What makes Quirk Books stand out from other publishers?
Our books stand at the intersection of high-concept and commercial viability. The books look great and have a good price point. Our ideas are fun and innovative. It begins with a cool concept, like William Shakespeare’s Star Wars or My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and then you move forward from there.
What are some of the most exciting changes you see in the publishing world?
I’m really excited about the revitalization of the physical bookstore and the leveling off of ebook sales. Building off our early days as a gift book publisher, Quirk has always placed an emphasis on making our books an object of desire—even as we entered the fiction category. You can see those production values in all of our books. And, readers take notice. They want the physical book. They show our books off and they look great on their shelves. It’s refreshing to see that physical books may not have the same fate as CDs and DVDs.