Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016: Dedicated Issue: Quirk Books

Quirk Books

Editors' Note

Quirk Books

With the help of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates Quirk Books, which in short time has expanded from publishing just nonfiction gift books to a range of fiction, nonfiction, children's and YA, all of which are original, irreverent, fun and smart.

Quirk Books:

Books & Authors

Quirk Books: 'Every Book Delivers Something New'

In 14 years, Quirk Books has come a long way from its origins as a publisher specializing in nonfiction gift books. It's expanded into fiction and children's and YA. It's developed a strong presence in Hollywood. It's gained a striking pop culture focus thanks to its deep connections with a huge base of fans at the major comics conventions, who include consumers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers. And its books, many of which are heavily illustrated, are increasingly attractive to indie bookstores that want to distinguish themselves from the competition and reach many kinds of new readers.

Brett Cohen

Yet throughout its evolution, Quirk has remained true to several important principles that date back to its founding. For one, the publisher continues to publish smart and often irreverent books that "deliver something new to the reader," as publisher Jason Rekulak puts it. Probably the best known such title is Quirk's 2009 mega-bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. It's an example of "a book that spawned tons of imitators and copycats," Rekulak adds, "and whenever that happens, I feel like we've really delivered on the Quirk promise."

Early examples of Quirk's irreverent titles were the bestselling The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Quirk founder David Borgenicht and Joshua Piven, Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents by Cormac O'Brien, and The Baby Owner's Manual by Joe Borgenicht and Louis Borgenicht, M.D.

More recent titles include Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix, a funny horror novel set in an IKEA-like store and designed to resemble an IKEA catalog, and the William Shakespeare's Star Wars series, which presents each film in the George Lucas saga as a five-act Elizabethan drama. "They were New York Times bestsellers in iambic pentameter," Rekulak notes. "When was the last time that happened?"

The company is careful to avoid "me-too publishing," says Quirk Books founder David Borgenicht. "The key is not chasing trends but creating them." Borgenicht emphasizes that the company strives for "the unique, original idea that defies convention."

Jason Rekulak

Nicole De Jackmo, director of publicity and marketing, adds that "the hallmark of Quirk Books is the unexpected. I love when people see one of our books and say 'I can't believe I didn't think of that.' "

The publisher has unusual patience in waiting to find the right idea. One example: After publishing its first mystery, the Edgar Award-winning The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters four years ago, Quirk waited four years before acquiring its second mystery, Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente, which arrives next July.  "It took four years to find another mystery we were really excited about," Rekulak explains. "Our goal here isn't to fill slots or hit a quota. We might publish six YA novels next year, or maybe we'll publish none. We just want the most original and interesting books we can find."

And the publisher remains focused: for the last five years, even after publishing massive hits like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Quirk continues to release just 20-25 books a year, avoiding the push to expand its list in the way that so many medium-sized or small publishers do after striking bestseller gold. "We could have done a million mash-ups after Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," president Brett Cohen says. "Instead of doubling the size of the list, we just invested all of the extra money and resources into improving the quality of the list."

As Quirk Books has evolved--especially from being primarily a gift book publisher to publishing pop culture and pop fiction--the bookstore market has become much more important and a growing channel for the company. (Penguin Random House Publisher Services, the company's distributor for the past six years, has been a "tremendous" help in giving advice on reaching booksellers, the fiction market, and many other areas, Cohen notes.)

David Borgenicht

Booksellers are recognizing, as Cohen says, that Quirk titles are "fun, accessible, and good reads." Quirk attended Winter Institute last year for the first time, which De Jackmo described as "a great experience meeting and talking with booksellers." Indies have especially embraced Ben H. Winters' The Last Policeman series and My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix.

Because Quirk tends to publish "outside the box titles," the publisher often struggles to identify solid comps, which can sometimes cause problems when plugging in metadata. "But indies get it," De Jackmo says.

Also, in a period when e-book sales have leveled off and readers have shown a renewed interest in print books, Quirk's high production values are attractive to indies. In another example of Quirk's typical contrarian style, Rekulak describes a moment from seven years ago, when e-book sales were booming and many publishers foresaw a digital-only future. "We just doubled down on our print production values," he notes. "We spent more money trying to make our books look even better."

De Jackmo emphasizes that this care about format and production has to do with "the book as an object. We love when readers show off our books. They look beautiful on the shelf."

Quirk Books:

Finding Focus in Pop Culture

Quirk at Comic Con International in San Diego

A major turning point for Quirk Books was the 2009 publication of its "first pop hit," Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, president Brett Cohen says. Another major turning point also occurred in 2009: that's when Quirk Books went to its first Comic Con. It was the granddaddy of all Comic Cons, the one in San Diego, and it "definitely helped us hone in on a market segment"--the kinds of pop culture books that appeal to ardent fans. Cohen remembers it as "an eye opener."

Most attendees weren't familiar with the house and asked if it was a store or a publisher. But many of them were familiar with individual titles, Cohen recalls. "They were standing in our booth, pointing at titles, saying, 'I have this book. I have that book. I have this book.' " Instantly the company realized that it had a strong fan base among Comic Con's deeply passionate fans.

Those Comic Con fans are not just consumers, but include many people who are important in the business. "We meet a lot of people from comic book shops, from lots of indie bookstores, teachers and librarians," Nicole De Jackmo, director of publicity and marketing, says. "The booksellers tell us what does well in their stores and the things they love. A lot of them handsell our titles."

Publisher Jason Rekulak echoes this sentiment, saying that the essence of Comic Con is "being in a 10x10 booth for five days interacting one on one with attendees. It's a business setting, but everyone's geeking out, and they say what they love and what they hate. You know it's real."

Cohen says "the best part is when fans are in the booth selling our titles to their friends--or even to other people who've walked up who they don't know."

This fan base helped the company focus as it grew into new areas. After publishing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and attending Comic Con, he continues, "we saw we could do fiction in a way that's fun and different, including great design and cool packaging."

This helped the company avoid the problem of some publishers that have "undefined brands." Cohen explains: "For us, it started the branding experience and answered the question, 'What does the logo on the spine mean?' "

Grady Hendrix signing copies of his book Horrorstör at New York Comic Con

Nowadays you can find the company at three other major comic cons besides the one in San Diego: New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comicon in Seattle and C2E2 in Chicago, roughly one show per quarter.

The company keeps connected with this audience year-round via social media and its popular blog, which Cohen says has "great content that appeals to bookish pop culture fans." De Jackmo called many Quirk readers "early adopters" who enjoy meeting authors and finding out about new books. "They want to discover great new talents and great new reads and share them with friends and the Internet. They want early access."

Quirk Books believes so much in the power of early adopters that it plans an unusual series of events next spring that aim to help independent bookstores bring the comic con experience to fans who don't live near the cities that host the major comic con shows. Quirk will select key titles, preview upcoming books, supply "cool comic con giveaways and swag," as De Jackmo puts it, and bring authors to certain locations. The events aim to draw the many "young readers who are into comics, graphic novels and all things geeky" and highlight the many "strong, female character-driven titles" that will come out next year, including Geekerella by Ashley Poston and The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson (more on these two titles below) as well as this year's Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs.

Quirk Books: Comic Con Event Kit

Quirk's Hollywood Connection

Quirk Books is having "a great year" for movies, Cohen notes. In February, the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released, and a movie based on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is out now, just two examples of how many Quirk titles lend themselves to movies. "A key element," Cohen says, "is that our books are strong, commercially-driven ideas that translate well to the screen."

The company has options on and is in development with other titles. Cohen notes that Quirk has a Hollywood agency that's constantly pitching titles, and says that at Comic Con, BEA and Bookcon, production companies come by and ask what's available.

Four Big Titles on the Way


The star of the novel Geekerella is Elle Wittimer, a Starfield superfan. She grew up watching the classic sci-fi show with her late father, and is determined to win the cosplay contest being held for the new Starfield movie. The savings from her job at the Magic Pumpkin food truck, and her father's old costume, gives Elle a chance to win the contest and its prize: a trip to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, where she'll meet the actor playing Federation Prince Carmindor in the Starfield reboot. That actor, teenager Darien Freeman, used to love fan conventions before landing this role. Now it will take a special kind of fan, Elle perhaps, to break his jaded shell--if her wicked stepsisters don't get in the way.

It's "one of our strong female-character titles that we have in spring and fall," said Nicole De Jackmo, director of publicity and marketing. Geekerella ($18.99, 9781594749476) makes its debut on March 7, 2017.

Hope Nicholson

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen

Everyone already knows about Batgirl and Wonder Woman, but what about all the other female heroes who have graced the paneled pages of comics throughout history? There's the Jaguar, a Brazilian exchange student struggling with American culture and her animal powers, and Tomboy, the girl-next-door who dons a mask to beat up bad guys at night, not to mention 13-year-old Street Angel, a skateboarder who fights ninjas and demons.

In this socially conscious survey of comics history, Bedside Press owner and founder Hope Nicholson shows that female heroes have been around since the dawn of comics, though they've often received less recognition than their male counterparts. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History ($24.95, 9781594749483) soars onto shelves May 2, 2017.

Let's Find Momo!

Momo the border collie is an Instagram sensation. His BFF, photographer and designer Andrew Knapp, takes Momo places--fields, country roads, yards--and lets Momo hide. Quirk turned Momo's adventures into the New York Times bestsellers Find Momo: A Photography Book in 2014 and Find Momo Coast to Coast: A Photography Book in 2015. The Find Momo series brought this collie's Where's Waldo-style hide-and-seek action to all ages. Now Momo is in hiding again, this time in a book just for kids. Let's Find Momo!: A Hide-and-Seek Board Book ($9.99, 9781594749582) challenges children to search for Momo and other objects amid whimsical scenes like carnival rides, a bookstore and an airplane hangar. Readers can spot Let's Find Momo! on shelves March 14, 2017.

Tania del Rio

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods

Twelve-year-old Warren the 13th is the heir to his family's grand, if recently dilapidated hotel. He works as valet, groundskeeper and all-around errand boy in this dark, secretive mansion. In Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle (2015), the boy bellhop solved the puzzle of the All-Seeing Eye, a treasure hidden in the hotel. Now, in his second middle-grade adventure, Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, Warren has discovered his family's hotel is mobile. The building walks around the countryside with its guests along for the journey, all good fun, until the hotel enters the shadowy Malwoods. When Warren gets separated from his home, he must traverse a realm of witches, monsters and maddening riddles to find the hotel.

Will Staehle

Tania del Rio is a comic book writer and artist whose work has appeared in Dark Horse, Marvel and Archie Comics and is best known for writing and drawing the 42-issue Sabrina the Teenage Witch series. Will Staehle is an award-winning artist who has designed and illustrated dozens of book jackets, among other projects.

The team of del Rio and Staehle is typical of the kind of creators Quirk has found at Comic Cons and elsewhere. "The first time I met Will and Tania, they were exhibiting their work at San Diego Comic Con," explains Rekulak.  "And it was literally love at first sight. Their stuff was a perfect match for Quirk, for our sensibility. They've since created some of my all-time favorite Quirk titles."

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods checks in to bookstores on March 21, 2017.

Quirk Books: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Quirk Books: The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson

Quirk Books: Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania Del Rio

Quirk Books: Let's Find Momo! by Andrew Knapp

Quirk Books: Literary Yarns by Cindy Wang

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