Rocking the Boat at Oneworld: an Interview with Juliet Mabey

Hi Juliet welcome to Teen Librarian and thank you for giving up your time for the Q&A
I am sure that almost everyone in the library and book world already knows who you are but for those who do not would you like to introduce yourself to the audience?

My husband and I founded Oneworld almost thirty years ago to publish quality non-fiction on a broad range of subjects, always looking for ways to make big ideas accessible and interesting to a wide readership, and we now publish over 100 titles a year. Six years ago I launched a fiction list to publish beautifully written novels that showcase emotionally engaging stories, strong narratives and original literary voices, which is going from strength to strength and now makes up about a third of our output.

What spurred you on to start a YA imprint?

I had a chance conversation with a children’s publisher at a conference who mentioned that issue-driven novels are very popular in the YA market, and since many of our adult novels deal with big issues and explore the human condition in all its vagaries, like all the best fiction, we thought extending our approach into the YA market made a lot of sense. I have four children myself, so we are focusing on publishing the sort of books I would have loved them to read as teenagers!

YA publishing has been growing year on year – do you have any idea why it is so popular?

I think right now some of the best writing is popping up in YA. Publishers of YA fiction are bringing out some incredibly well written and exciting novels – they have set the bar very high – and this is clearly resonating with a wide range of readers, not only teens but also many adults. They are also putting a lot of effort into great cover designs and innovative marketing, and the YA market is particularly responsive to creative social media campaigns.

I read recently that you will also be publishing narrative non-fiction, do you have any authors lined up or will you be initially focusing on your fiction titles?

Our primary focus at the moment will be on fiction, but we have recently published an edition of Jared Diamond’s best-selling non-fiction book, The Third Chimpanzee, adapted for teenagers, which we’re very excited about. And making cutting-edge research and ideas – from science to history and global issues – interesting and accessible to a YA market is a challenge we would love to embrace, so watch this space.

The books are all so different – Mindwalker is a dystopian tale, Conversion is a modern retelling of The Crucible and written by a descendent of three of the accused women from the Salem trials (which is awesome); Nest is a contemporary drama and Minus Me is one I have just started so am not sure what exactly it is yet. How did you find these authors and why did you choose them for your first Rock the Boat titles?

They have all come to us in different ways. I met a translator who had read Minus Me in its original Norwegian and adored it (it is a beautiful story about a teenage girl who develops a heart condition and comes up with a bucket list of things every teenager should do at 13), and her enthusiasm was so infectious I immediately contacted the publisher and asked for the English-language rights, while Mindwalker came up in a chance conversation with a literary agent, and when I described what we were looking for in our YA novels, she immediately recommended Mindwalker and its sequel, Mindstormer (out in 2016). Conversion and Nest both came with passionate recommendations from American editors.

How many titles are you planning on releasing this year?

This year we are publishing 6 titles for YA and Middle Grade readers, with two novels coming out in the Autumn. The first is a fantastic fantasy novel called Illuminae, the first in a trilogy, jointly written by two bestselling YA authors, Jay Kristoff (author of the Lotus War series) and Amie Kaufman (author of the Starbound series). It’s set on a spaceship in the year 2575 in a time of deadly plague, and told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents, including emails, schematics, military files, medical reports, interviews, and more. And we are also re-publishing Richard Adams’ classic The Plague Dogs, about two dogs who escape from a science lab in the Lake District, who may have been infected by a deadly virus that could put the public in danger.

The book Minus Me by Ingelin Røssland has been translated from Norwegian – translated YA titles are still fairly rare. Do you plan on introducing more non-English authors to young readers?

We are certainly very keen to sign up the best YA writing from around the world, so we will include translated fiction whenever we find titles we think will work well for our audience. We have both a Mexican and Russian YA novel currently under consideration, and last year we published the Korean novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang, which was very popular with both a teen audience as well as adults. Looking further ahead, we are delighted to welcome Sarah Odedina as Publisher of Rock the Boat, whose credits include serving as Editor in Chief at Bloomsbury where she oversaw the publication of the Harry Potter series, among others, and she is planning to publish around 15 titles a year going forward, some of which will definitely be fiction in translation, as well as fiction that engages with diversity.

It would be unfair to ask you which titles are your favourites so I instead I will ask which book you would suggest readers pick up first when they discover them?

That’s an impossible question to answer – we publish what we love, so I think it will depend on where readers’ interests lie. Our list is deliberately wide-ranging, from Conversion and a group of teenage girls in the 1690s who accuse a woman of withcraft, to Mindwalker, set in the distant future, which asks interesting questions about the desirability of mind-wiping bad memories and the implications for state control. I hope readers will find each one a gem, a beautiful story, well told.

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