BookPeople, Austin, Tex.
Jordan, a San Antonio native who has spent her bookselling career at BookPeople, originally planned to stay at the store for only a year or two before pursuing a career in academia. But life had other plans for Jordan.
Jordan applied twice before BookPeople hired her in 2002, over the objections of a floor manager (he said, “We don’t need more bartenders around here”; he’s now her husband). But once hired, she began rising through the ranks, becoming a sales floor manager in just a few months.
Jordan quips that she has covered just about every job except bookkeeper at BookPeople, a 28,000-sq.-ft. indie that was a PW Bookstore of the Year in 2005. She was adult book buyer and inventory operations supervisor from 2007 to 2017, when she became general manager. When longtime CEO Steve Bercu retired in June, Jordan was named to take over.
“I came to the bookstore because I liked to read,” Jordan says. “I liked the business of bookselling, which was a shock to me. I had a philosophy background.”
During her years at BookPeople, Jordan has been instrumental in helping the store form a number of partnerships. It is now the official bookseller at the SXSW (South by Southwest) Conference and Festivals; it took over after Borders closed as official bookseller at the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania conferences for women (it also handles the Texas and Silicon Valley conferences); and it is the official bookseller at the 2017 Texas Book Festival.
“For years I was like, ‘Why can’t we do this?’ ” Jordan says. “[The Texas Book Festival] had been with Barnes Noble from its inception. I was inspired by Politics Prose doing the National Book Festival [which had also originally contracted with BN].”
Jordan notes that despite having to sell books at four different venues while keeping the store open, “we were very successful and managed to be profitable.” She adds, “We’ll be back this year.”
As for being named CEO, Jordan says, “This has been an adjustment for me to step into the limelight, to be the face of the store. Some days, I just want to go to receiving and do something concrete.” Instead Jordan has been rethinking the best ways to restructure her time and to make sure the store’s staff of 100 are kept in the know about store matters, including by holding town-hall style meetings.
Going forward, Jordan says that preorders will be one of her primary focuses—“trying to see our share and the independent market share grow.”—Judith Rosen
Read It Forward, Crown Publishing Group, New York City
Abbe Wright attended her first book party after moving from various roles at Condé Nast to the books department at O, the Oprah Magazine. She immediately thought, “Oh, these are my people. I’m a book person.” In 2015, she learned about Read It Forward, Crown’s publisher-agnostic online community whose mission, Wright notes, is to help readers find the “literary loves of their lives” and to “build community around books.” She says she knew it would be a perfect fit and was hired that year as editorial lead, back when, as she describes it, Read It Forward was “essentially a place where people could win a free book, with some editorial content.”
Wright’s job was a complete redesign and revamp of the editorial content. Under her leadership, the enterprise has become “a seven-days-a-week content machine that offers book recommendations galore, author-and-editor-curated bookshelves, giveaways, reading lifestyle pieces, and thematic essays series,” according to Kristin Fritz, v-p, executive editor of content marketing at Penguin Random House (Crown is a division of PRH). Wright, Fritz says, “works at breakneck speed, churning out every manner of book-adjacent content driving into the site’s tripod goals: site traffic, subscriber acquisition, and book sales,” resulting in 163% year-over-year growth in unique visits to the site since she has been at the helm. For Wright, this growth has meant a very recent promotion, just before press time, to senior editor.
Next year will bring a new dimension with the Clarkson Potter publication of a Read It Forward book journal. In addition to journal pages for readers to record any and all reflections about books, it offers a plenitude of book lists that are the core of the Read It Forward experiences, Wright notes. The lists include books to make readers laugh or cry, books with feminist themes, the classics, and so on.
Wright believes that reader trust has been built by Reader It Forward’s commitment to remaining publisher-agnostic. “Our readers don’t feel marketed to,” she says. “As a conduit between readers and books that will deliver this magic, I feel like a wizard.”—Liz Hartman
Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli
Timbuktu Labs, Santa Monica, Calif.
Favilli and Cavallo, creators of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, made crowdfunding history in 2016 by raising more than $1.2 million from close to 25,000 backers in 75 countries in a combined Kickstarter and Indiegogo InDemand book ordering campaign for their illustrated children’s book.
The book, which they published and distributed themselves through their children’s media start-up, Timbuktu Labs, highlights the stories of 100 women from the past and the present who dreamed big, such as Elizabeth I, Serena Williams, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It also includes 100 pieces of art by women artists. In addition to becoming the most crowdfunded children’s book in Kickstarter history, the book stayed in the top 10 of the New York Times bestseller’s list for 42 weeks.
“We are filling a vacuum,” Favilli says. “We are responding to a clear need. When we started Timbuktu and became entrepreneurs, we could see how many female stereotypes were still around.”
In responding to questions from a male reader about the book’s name, the pair said they regard it as empowering: “This book is a way to tell girls that they don’t have to believe anyone who tries to make them think that when they disagree with a man it’s just because they’re too emotional, or stubborn, or self-destructive.”
Last year, Cavallo and Favilli announced a second volume of Rebel Girls via Kickstarter, and their fans were excited that there would be more tales of women who “aim high and fight hard,” like environmentalist Rachel Carson, Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Beatrice “Bebe” Vio, the only wheelchair fencer in the world without arms and legs. Through Kickstarter, they raised just over $866,100 from nearly 15,500 backers. Volume two, out last fall, also went on to become a New York Times bestseller.
“We have been overwhelmed, but not surprised, by the public response to the books,” Favilli says. “It reinforces the fact that we are doing work that matters [and] that we are telling stories that matter to rebel girls all over the world.”
The response has indeed been impressive. In a little less than two years, combined print sales of both Rebel Girls volumes is expected to surpass three million copies by the end of this month. And rights have been licensed in over 45 languages in more than 70 countries, the latter a number that changes every week. To keep up with demand, Favilli and Cavallo have grown Timbuktu Labs from a two-person operation and brought in 17 additional full-time employees. They’ve also added offices in New York City and London.
From the beginning, Favilli and Cavallo saw Rebel Girls as an umbrella program. Earlier this year they added podcasts to promote the second volume, such as Melinda Gates reading about environmentalist and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, and Diana Nyad reading about refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini. But the pair prefer to keep mum on whether or when a third volume will appear, as well as any other big plans for the future.
For now, the two expect to continue to build Timbuktu Labs and the Rebel Girls brand, which, Favilli says, have been growing “really fast” over the past 18 months. “We are building a new kind of publishing venture with digital media at its core,” she adds. “Expansion is always the goal, but we want to be smart about our growth. It is important to us that Timbuktu Labs continues to embody the same values as the books, that we continue to hire rebels as innovative, fearless, and diverse as the subjects of our stories.”—Judith Rosen
Atria Books, New York City
One of the first things that struck me about Daniella was her clear-eyed focus on the types of books she wants to publish: literary fiction and narrative nonfiction centering on women’s issues and representing culturally diverse points of view,” says Wexler’s boss, Peter Borland, v-p, editor-in-chief of Simon Schuster’s Atria Books and Washington Square Press. “She has acquired a list of books that would be the envy of almost any editor.”
At the top of that list is Wexler’s very first acquisition, Chloe Benjamin’s debut novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, which was long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and won the Edna Ferber Fiction Award in 2014. Another standout is Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel examining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Sadness Is a White Bird came out earlier this year and is long-listed for this year’s Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. In September, Wexler will publish journalist and activist Soraya Chemaly’s look at women and anger, Rage Becomes Her.
“I usually jump into things with my whole heart,” Wexler says, by way of explanation for her rapid rise in publishing. “I’m in a position that I’m working with the books I’d love to be reading.” Part of that is because she has made her own luck by seeking out and building relationships with agents who represent the kinds of books, both fiction and nonfiction, whom she admires.
Beyond her list, Wexler is committed to making SS a better and more diverse place to work. “I’ve been disturbed by the lack of diversity in our industry, though Atria has been a shining exception,” says Wexler, who joined the SS Diversity Council when she became an editor. The group makes hiring diverse staff and retaining them a priority for the company. It adopts a local high school and provides mentorship and college scholarships. It is also responsible for Simon Gives Back Day, which Wexler helped rebrand and transform. As a result, the number of SS employees volunteering for SGB earlier this summer increased 40% from 2017, to nearly 200 people. —Judith Rosen
Boom! Studios, Los Angeles
When Gagnon joined Boom! in 2008, it was a tiny start-up. Since 2010, when Gagnon was named editor-in-chief, it has grown exponentially. It now boasts four imprints: Boom! Studios, which publishes a mix of original and licensed comics and graphic novels; Boom! Box, home to YA series; KaBoom!, for middle grade graphic novels; and Archaia, which publishes sequential storytelling from auteur creators and newcomers with art house flair. Last year 20th Century Fox formed a strategic partnership with Boom to fuel the creation of more original content.
Gagnon attributes some of this success to his grandmother. Among his earliest memories are those of his grandmother taking him to the local library in Tucson, Ariz., where he “tore through” landscape-format comics such as Garfield, Family Circus, and Peanuts. “I’ve been deconstructing comics my whole life,” Gagnon says.
According to Filip Sablik, Boom’s president of publishing and marketing, that’s exactly what Gagnon’s done. “Gagnon has a singular focus on growing the world of comic books by publishing a broad variety of comics with no genre restrictions, driven by editorial and creative talent from all walks of life,” Sablik says.
Gagnon strives to build what he calls “a healthy comic book company that is ahead of the curve—that looks like where comics will be 20 years from now.” Among his notable projects is the multiple award-winning YA series Lumberjanes, which has sold more than one million copies worldwide.
In 2016, Boom revived the 1990s pop culture phenomenon Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in a series that also has sold more than one million copies. But what Gagnon is most proud of is “taking something from infancy, a start-up, to a company that has an excellent reputation for world class books.” He adds, “Now we have this vibrant, flourishing company beyond my wildest dream.” —Liz Hartman