When asked to describe discovering a new book, Reagan Arthur unhesitatingly answers: "It's like falling in love. You have that spark of recognition, of hope, of excitement. And then there's the moment of looking forward to your future together; imagining the cover, spreading the word, wondering who else will love it." With her new eponymous imprint at Little, Brown, she aims to have all of us falling in love with a terrific mix of literary fiction, crime and commercial fiction as well as narrative nonfiction.
Reagan Arthur Books launches with the publication of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris this week. The high-powered titles coming out in the next several months include Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup, Doors Open by Ian Rankin, Black Hills by Dan Simmons, Still Midnight by Denise Mina and Next by James Hynes. (For more on these books, see below.)
Reflecting the eclectic tastes of Reagan Arthur herself, the imprint's books share some important common qualities. While they are in very different subjects and categories, "they are linked by strong voices and storytelling," Arthur said.
Similarly, Reagan Arthur Books' authors are a mix--some are well-known, award-winning and established, while others are new names. Writers whose books will be published on upcoming lists include Kate Atkinson, author of the Whitbread winner Behind the Scenes at the Museum and the bestselling Case Histories; George Pelecanos, novelist and writer for the HBO series The Wire; and Elin Hilderbrand, author of a series of bestselling novels set on Nantucket--all of whom Arthur has worked with at Little, Brown. "I was very lucky to have a roster of really great authors," she said, "who were gracious enough to agree to join the imprint."
Among the writers on Reagan Arthur Books' future lists: Sherman Alexie, who is working on the novel Fire with Fire; Josh Bazell, who is writing a sequel to his novel Beat the Reaper; Kathleen Kent, whose debut, The Heretic's Daughter, was a national bestseller; and Eleanor Catton, whose first novel, The Rehearsal, was recently shortlisted in the U.K. for the Guardian's First Book Prize.
Arthur plans to publish 15 to 20 titles annually and will release 14 titles this inaugural year. "We want to be attentive to every book and publish it fully," Arthur said.
Bringing Books and Readers Together
Reagan Arthur Books' website was launched earlier this month, and Arthur herself maintains a lively presence on Twitter (@reaganart) and Facebook. Her wit finds a natural home in her Twitter feed. Her biography on her page reads, "Book editor, music fan, east coast transplant, banana-hater, defender of the em-dash" On Twitter, Arthur has been impressed by connections booksellers and authors have made, "relationships that made a difference." On Facebook, she has had some submissions from author friends.
To help launch The Unnamed, the imprint commissioned an unusual website to reach the important online audience, but also made sure the galleys were given to any interested bookseller at BEA.
A Team That's Small but Spry
Arthur has been at Little, Brown for eight and a half years. Before that, she worked for 11 years at St. Martin's Press, the last half at Picador, a time she called a great experience. She began when Tom McCormack was still running St. Martin's. McCormack believed, she said, "that every editor was a publisher. He fostered an entrepreneurial spirit," an approach that has helped her in particular when, in the summer of 2008, Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch approached Arthur with the idea of setting up her own imprint.
She thought of many names, she said, with her own last on the list. Pietsch suggested using Reagan Arthur because it has "a president and king" in it. (Actually, two presidents, if one counts Chester A. Arthur.)
The Reagan Arthur Books staff, which Arthur described with a characteristic laugh as "small but spry," includes assistant director of publicity Marlena Bittner, associate editor Andrea Walker and editorial assistant Sarah Murphy. And Little, Brown offers "a great umbrella," she emphasized, "as the primary identity, the eminent and esteemed publisher of these great books."
Andrea Walker joined Little, Brown from the New Yorker after four years at the magazine's book department, where her duties included writing and editing the magazine's book blog. Walker wanted to edit books, particularly fiction, and was attracted to Reagan Arthur's books. "A lot of people she published were people whose books I'd liked before I knew Reagan edited them," she commented.
Her taste, she said, skews a bit to the literary side but she is interested in commercial fiction, too, as well as some narrative nonfiction. She also has "a particular passion" for debut novels. ("At the New Yorker I loved finding new voices to review," she noted.)
Walker helped create the Reagan Arthur Books website and is writing its blog. "We're hoping the blog will be somewhat informal and a place to share our thoughts on industry news, books we love, what we're watching on TV and listening to," she indicated. "We want it to be a place to connect with other readers, booksellers, agents, writers."
Marlena Bittner is the imprint's publicity director. She has been at Little, Brown since 2001, working with authors such as David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace, Gail Collins and Arthur-edited Joshua Ferris and George Pelecanos. Bittner was thrilled when the White House announced that President Obama's summer reading list included The Way Home by George Pelecanos. As Bittner said, "It was so incredibly exciting to see George get that deserved recognition--it was unlike anything else. People were writing international news stories about that list!"
Incidentally, people who work with Arthur and know her in the business and socially all spoke highly about her, saying Shelf Awareness would enjoy meeting Arthur because of her wonderful sense of humor, her niceness, her lack of pretence, her knowledge and her sense of fun.
They were right.