What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
We’re seeing a big boom in graphic-novel publishing for young readers recently, and I think that category is only going to keep growing and becoming more diverse and exciting. Especially as YA softens, children’s publishers and booksellers are looking at the commercial success of authors like Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey and wanting a piece of that pie. Barnes & Noble is devoting a section in their stores to graphic novels now, Random House is creating its own graphic-novel imprint, and comics are racking up awards and recognition. I think we’re going to keep seeing innovation in that area, and I’m particularly excited about seeing even more of the fresh, diverse voices that have been publishing independently in the comics world for years breaking into our side of publishing and finding new readerships.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’d love to see original, funny, heart-filled graphic novels with complex friendships in the foreground, along the lines of the Lumberjanes [series] and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends. I am always hungry for YA and middle-grade speculative fiction that uses its genre to critique, subvert, or illuminate a truth about our world, à la Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, or (to borrow from television) the Battlestar Galactica reboot.At the end of the day, I’m looking for skillful, original voices and diverse, vibrant characters who rail against limitations in some way—books that actively engage with power systems and find a way to speak to change, hope, and joy.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I get tired of oversaturated genres, just like anyone else does, but I’ve always found that an innovative voice can suck me back in. There are mindsets, though, that I try to steer clear of as an editor (and so far I’ve been fairly successful, thank goodness). I am always a little uneasy when I hear from a writer who’s chosen to tell a story of a person more marginalized than them and it’s clear that they haven’t carefully examined their reasons for doing so or grappled with the immense responsibility they have to tell that story authentically and without doing harm. I want to be presenting children and teens with a rich, diverse, and ultimately just literary landscape, and that requires all of us to be accountable for doing good with our work.
What would you like to change about the publishing industry?
In addition to (and as a part of) becoming more diverse, I’d like to see the industry value its employees more—especially its employees in their first five to eight years in publishing. This industry is built on people, and the tastes, relationships, and experiences of employees at all levels bring huge value to companies. But it’s increasingly difficult for newer employees to be successful. I’ve seen publishing lose some incredible talent to burnout during the interminable waits for limited promotions, and we’ll never know what voices we’ve missed out on because long hours and a reliance on free or low-paid labor deter so many people from entering the industry in the first place. There is great organizing attempting to address this (often led by entry-level and midlevel employees), but I’d love to see companies make a strong commitment to better valuing, growing, and retaining employees at all levels.
Rachel Stark is an editor, marketer, and activist with almost a decade of experience in children’s and young adult publishing at houses including Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Bloomsbury, and Sky Pony Press. Books she has edited have won the Christopher Medal, been shortlisted for the Schneider Family Book Award, received starred reviews, and been listed as most-anticipated new releases by Hypable, AfterEllen, Tor.com, the B&N Teen Blog, and more. She’s currently a freelance editor and is thrilled to be spending the next three months editing graphic novels for First Second.