Despite spending half of his life at Sourcebooks after company founder and publisher Dominique Raccah hired him as “employee #6” in September 1994, Todd Stocke, who was promoted in September to senior v-p and editorial director, is at heart a bookseller. Above all, he simply wants to put the right book into people’s hands.
“I loathe when publishers or editors are referred to as gatekeepers,” Stocke explained, as we sat in his office earlier this fall, after he’d led 50 Midwestern booksellers, in Chicagoland for the Heartland Fall Forum, on a tour of Sourcebooks’ headquarters in Naperville, Ill. “What right do we have to be gatekeepers? Because I have taste, because I am educated? What drives me personally is selling a broad base of books. Whatever that book may happen to be, whatever that audience may happen to be. Being able to be broad-based like that has allowed us to grow; it has allowed me to grow.”
Although Stocke was hired as an editor, acquiring and shepherding manuscripts through the publishing process, he also wrote press releases, ran sales conferences, and was second on the telephone-answering chain. But Sourcebooks has changed in the past 23 years, and so has Stocke. He edits or acquires “almost nothing these days,” he said, because the company Raccah founded 30 years ago currently employs 130 people, including 22 acquisitions editors. He remains closely involved in shaping the list and positioning titles. This, he noted, includes working with editors to build “the internal momentum on a project that causes a publisher to do something different than it might otherwise do” in terms of positioning a book in the marketplace.
“Part of my job is to help us to be fearless,” Stocke said. “To help us move into new spaces that maybe we didn’t expect.” After all, he added, Sourcebooks produced e-books years before the advent of the Kindle and broke new ground by publishing book and audio CD packages under its MediaFusion imprint. After releasing the multimedia title Poetry Speaks to Children in 2005, Sourcebooks launched its children’s imprint, Jabberwocky, and, in 2010, Sourcebooks Fire, a YA fiction imprint.
In August 2018, Sourcebooks will release its first graphic novel, Illegal by Eoin Coifer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, for middle grade readers. It is also moving into YA nonfiction, and, on the adult side, expanding into mystery.
Sorting through a stack of papers on his desk, Stocke said that gathering information is essential to making any decision, from acquisitions to marketing strategies: “It’s not the case that our editors merely have terrific taste and know what will work and what won’t. They have terrific taste, but they also have information, and they work hard to get outside of their own heads. If you’re publishing only to your own demographic, there are places for that. But that’s not Sourcebooks. That’s not what we do here.”
“The publisher’s job is to try to find the broadest audience possible,” Stocke continued, “It doesn’t mean the work has to be for everyone. It is our job to make it available to as many people as could be interested. That is what I do all day.”
Given Stocke’s background, it’s no surprise that he identifies with booksellers: armed with a B.A. in English from Illinois Wesleyan University and, he said, “no plan,” the Duluth, Minn., native nabbed a four-month internship at Coffee House Press in 1993, which he supplemented by working part-time at B. Dalton’s in downtown Minneapolis. He discovered an affinity for bookselling at Dalton; he liked “finding things” for customers who could provide little information about what they were looking for.
After completing the internship, Stocke returned to Illinois to join his girlfriend, now wife, who had landed a job in the Chicago suburbs. He quickly found a job at the Oakbrook Terrace Barnes Noble and was promoted to head cashier. He left BN seven months later after Sourcebooks’ creative director (“employee #2”) came into the store and asked him to post a flyer advertising a job opening. Stocke posted the flyer—after calling the number listed and scheduling an interview.
Reflecting upon his career, Stocke maintains that there is one constant amid the enormous changes that have taken place in the industry: publishers connect authors and readers. “If we’re not involved in the creative process, then we don’t belong,” he said. “If we’re merely a bank and a printer, then we don’t belong. We do the hard work, we do the creative work; that’s how we’re integral to the process. And all of us [publishers] should be thinking about that.”
Education: B.A. in English and minor in history, Illinois Wesleyan University
Recent favorite reads: Sting-Ray Afternoons by Steve Rushin (a memoir set three houses from where Stocke grew up) and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds