JuYoun Lee: Defining and Nourishing Perspectives

JuYoun Lee; credit: Svetlana Chmakova

JuYoun Lee is the Deputy Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Yen Press. Among her many duties at Yen Press, she is head of the JY imprint, an imprint dedicated to publishing books for middle grade readers. In this role, she is the editor for creators such as Svetlana Chmakova and is a driving force for shaping the wonderful stories that have come to be a part of JY. Below, she discusses the importance of books for middle-grade readers and her goals for JY.

JY was launched in Fall 2017. What compelled you to create this imprint?

I've been very interested in kid's comics for a long time and was lucky enough to have been working with the enormously talented Svetlana--which led to the publication of Awkward! This fantastic book was beloved after it came out in 2015, and the next book in the series, Brave, also gained a great deal of popularity. By then, it was clear there was a strong market for middle-grade graphic novels and it seemed to be the perfect time to establish a dedicated home for Yen's all ages comics and manga, allowing us to give them the marketing efforts they deserve and expand the line-up. We also wanted to make it easy for librarians and educators to identify properties safe for all ages through the branding.

How would you describe the process of getting the imprint up and running?

Well, I've been with Yen from the very beginning and we'd launched our light novel imprint, Yen On, a few years earlier, so it wasn't my first time. The most important part of having an imprint up and running is to launch with a solid line up.

Why focus on the middle-grade audience? Is there any intention of someday expanding into YA or early readers?

I believe that middle school is when what you read defines and nourishes who you are and your perspective of the world. You are old enough to observe what's going on around you with insightful curiosity and your mind is open and willing to take things in like a sponge. Some of the books I still remember best are those I read during that age. I have long wanted to publish comics for those readers. Some books for early readers might be a consideration down the line, but for now, we are focused on the middle-grade audience.

You're the Editor-in-Chief of Yen Press as well as the head of JY. With the responsibilities that come along with these positions, what does your average day look like?

I don't think we have enough time for this question, haha. At the end of the day, I think it comes down to allocating time and multitasking. I try to have dedicated slots for meetings with creators for original properties, while also ensuring I have enough time to oversee the licensed materials. One of my secrets is to alternate between something that requires a lot of brainwork and something that's more mechanical--then I can use the time to think of the more creative task while still getting something done. Between meetings and other decision-making tasks, it's always tough to find a good chunk of time to actually focus on editing, so it's a challenge to shift appropriately and manage my attention wisely and to use spare moments efficiently.

What is your goal for JY? Has that goal changed at all in the three years since the imprint's launch?

I wouldn't say it has changed--I want JY to be a comfortable home for many authors where they feel like their voices can be cultivated and heard. I am endlessly amazed at what authors can do--making comics is a lot of work!--not just in terms of their skills, but the ideas and stories they have inside are marvelous. It's my job to help them convey those messages to the readers in the best possible way and to make sure the books have a place in the market where they can reach their audience easily. I also have the added benefits of working with so many great licensing partners and want to expand the list of kid-friendly materials from overseas as well.

Do Yen Press or JY have any other big plans on the horizon?

I believe every book we publish is a big plan. 2020 was tough in many ways, not just for us but for the whole world, so I hope 2021 will be a year of healing and getting back to some form of normalcy. I think Yen has been doing relatively well given the circumstances, but I really hope 2021 brings us a lot more to be happy about.

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