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."

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