August 17, 2017

Skyhorse, Salon Join Forces on “Hot Books” | PubCrawl

Francine FialkoffWhen David Talbot, founder and former editor in chief of Salon, told a writer friend about an idea he had for investigative books on critical issues that would fill a gap left by the devastating cuts at newspapers and magazines, his friend introduced him to a like-minded publisher, Skyhorse founder Tony Lyons. The result: a new investigative book imprint, Hot Books, aimed at “ignit[ing] national debate.” Launched in late May by Skyhorse, the imprint will have a cobranded digital platform created with Salon.

After that first conversation, Talbot and Lyons went back and forth about 15 or 20 times, talking about their concerns and the right format for such deep reporting on a topic. They agreed on a 40,000-word (176 pages) book by an expert reporter or whistle-blower with a strong literary voice and point of view.

“So much of news comes from a branch of government or a big corporation. [Writers] are mixing and matching and personalizing the story, but you can see an error, even a minor error, in one newspaper or magazine repeated 20 different times,” Lyons told LJ in an interview. “Newspapers don’t have the budgets to investigate. They don’t want to go out on a limb.”

The partnership with Salon gives Hot Books a strong online arm. Salon will feature Hot Books’ excerpts, scoops, and author interviews and use the brand’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) to tout them. “We believe in books, and we believe that the most important journalism involves the ideas others are too afraid to approach,” said Salon editor in chief David Daley.

Hot Books’ first title, The Beastside: Living (and Dying) While Black in America, by D. Watkins, is scheduled for August. Its author is a young Baltimorean, an African American man whose work has appeared on Salon and in the New York Times and who straddled two worlds, one urban tough, the other intellectual—he has an M.Ed. from Johns Hopkins and an MFA from the University of Baltimore. Skyhorse called the book “searing dispatches from the urban zones where African American men have become an endangered species.” Five more books are scheduled for spring 2016, with titles ranging from Rebecca Gordon’s American Nuremberg to Nick Schou’s Spooking the News, about “how U.S. intelligence agencies manipulate journalists and spin the news.”

“I hope these books upset people,” said Lyons. “I hope that they become a topic of debate, that they’re used as a source for newspapers—and that the news reporting becomes a teaser for the in-depth reporting in the book.”

Skyhorse sales hot, too

In addition to launching Hot Books, Skyhorse’s Lyons also announced a re­organization in May, better to position the company for growth. In April, Lyons had hired Skyhorse’s first COO, Alex Merrill. The reorg responded to an increase in sales by 23 percent in 2014 (to $32 million) and a similar projection for 2015. Much of that success came from Sky Pony Press, the children’s imprint launched in 2011 by Julie Matysik, who was named editorial director of children’s and educational publishing. According to a company press release, Matysik grew the imprint to 100 books a year, publishing authors and illustrators such as Iza Trapani, Randall Platt, and Nancy Cote. Other changes include an expanded role for managing editor Rodger Weinfeld and Sam Caggiula’s promotion to director of publicity, overseeing six publicists.

“Growth has come from different sides each year,” said Lyons. “We’ve done a lot of books that tied into something newsworthy or trends.” This year, it’s the coloring books for adults trend. Skyhorse is coming out with 12 coloring books in 2015—four were published in June (e.g., Paisleys: Coloring for Everyone).

“Coloring books for grown-ups make sense. People are getting messages from ten different places at once. They’re looking for a way to shut off for a couple of hours,” said Lyons. [For more on coloring books for adults, see the forthcoming August 2015 ­PubCrawl.]

Skyhorse has also published niche titles, “books that aren’t going to sell a lot of copies,” said Lyons, such as ­Michael S. Bernick and Richard Holden’s The Autism Job Club (2015), about bringing adults with autism into the work world. “B&N will pick up memoirs by a famous person on autism, but [it] won’t stock a book on biomedical treatments, or a book on high-functioning, or low-functioning, three- to four-year-olds.” Lyons, who has a daughter with autism, has published over 30 books dealing with it. “People affected by autism are scrambling to find out as much as they can,” he said. “Libraries are great resources for them.”

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Francine Fialkoff About Francine Fialkoff

Francine Fialkoff (ffialkoff@gmail.com) spent 35 years with LJ, and 15 years at its helm as Editor and Editor-in-Chief. For more, see her Farewell Editorial.

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