The Making of an International YA Bestseller: A Behind the Scenes Look

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ruta Sepetys' debut young adult novel, Between Shades of Gray, stunned us all with its depiction of life during the Soviet reign of terror.  The story was researched and original.  It had meaning.  It could teach us.  It was no wonder, then, that a publishing house of the quality of Philomel and an editor as graceful and dear as Tamra Tuller would want to take it on.  But how did Philomel convert this book into an international force before it had even launched in the United States?  How did it transcend paranormal and dystopian trends to achieve this kind of bestsellerdom?

I am not the only one who wondered.  But I am someone who was privileged to go behind the scenes with Philomel's dynamic president Michael Green and with Tamra herself.  I had already seen, first hand, how enormously capable and engaged and passionate and just plain kind these two individuals are (thanks to the upcoming publication of my novel, Small Damages, with Philomel).  But the answers I received to the questions I asked underscored for me the value of simply taking care—of thinking strategically, working ahead, exercising patience, and believing in books with a literary, historical bent.

I told this story in the October 13 Frankfurt Show Daily, a publication of Publishing Perspectives.  The piece is available here and also here on page 14.  For now I will leave you with these thoughts, from Michael Green.  They brighten my day each time I read them:

“YA literature is simply some of the finest writing
in the business,” says Green. “We’ve long known
this, and we’ve long known that reaching emerging
readers is important. Changing the world one
reader at a time may sound simultaneously corny
and impossible, but we believe in what we do. Ruta’s
book allows us to touch people otherwise out of
reach and open their eyes to something important.
That is literature, YA or otherwise, at its best.”


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