Skyhorse: a young, hot-to-trot company (www.skyhorsepublishing.com) that's just turned 10 -- overturning expectations, turning editorial heads, and turning $0 into $43 million!
The maverick Mustang that's been kicking down corporate stalls, publishing a range of topics as wide as the Montana skies, from Putin to Pokemon Go; from fantasy and fashion (Corsets and Codpieces) to Fix-it and Forget-It series; from conspiracies to cookbooks--titles from Malcolm Nance's The Plot to Hack America to Kristy Carlson's Eat Like a Gilmore: The Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Gilmore Girls.
Photo Source (above): www.localriding.com
Skyhorse: named after PEN/Hemingway award-winning Hispanic Native American Mexican author Brando Skyhorse. Seriously, now, could you ask for a more romantic derivation ?
Photo Source: 'S' bend corset (right), in Corsets & Codpieces - A History of Outrageous Fashion from Roman Times to the Modern Era by Karen Bowman - Skyhorse Publishing
The BEA Goes On
True, I'd heard some rumblings, but I'd never fully grasped the whole scope and soul of Skyhorse until I attended the annual BEA (Book Expo America) convention in NYC's sprawling Javits Center. Tying up my reins at the Skyhorse booth, I felt the renegade buzz.
The Lyons' Zen
Meet Tony Lyons, a gentle rebel with a maverick spirit. I couldn't resist asking what he would have become if not a publisher. His no-blink response? "Something risky like a mountain climber or explorer."
A bearded blend of Paul Bunyan and Paul Newman, sprinkled with a tinge of Aristotle, Lyons is an urban Ponce de León. Wise and whimsical, he's the antithesis of the corporate CEO -- more mindful than managerial, more Buddha than baron.
You Can't Lead a SkyHorse to Water
Skyhorse: a company, according to Tony Lyons, "dedicated to making people's lives better." And what better time to feel uplifted than now? We've all been feeling like the world's been crumbling, defying all earthly laws of physics and reality. Nope, we're not in Chicken Little. And the sky is not falling. Let's face it. We're exhausted from electoral and inaugural overkill; in-your-face news pundits; cable tv clamorings; political-kids-in-a-sandbox behavior; and overall kindergarten tantrum antics. Time out.
We all need a refuge from the global turmoil, an oasis from Cabinet-speak, a haven from the havoc. And not just for crying, on or off campus. What better solution is there than simply laughing, learning...and reading?
Chicken Little Credit: www.ravepad.com
For some it's a bubble bath or a walk at the ocean. For others like me it's a book. We all crave a heavenly crevasse, a getaway sleigh to some hideaway; a smooth Spielberg-ian E.T. bicycle ride up into the sky.
A Skyhorse of A Different Color
Enter Skyhorse. Born to pull us into that wonderland Kasbah; the nirvana of turn-the-page serenity. From thrillers and biography to yoga and coloring books - the ultimate de-stressor. Illustration: www.primarylibrarydiva.blogspot.com
Yup. In an effort to shut out technology and agita, Lyons suggests "curling up with a good book on Minecraft" instead of playing it. And, after all, why stare at the screen 24 hours...when you can color?
Source: www.readingandart.blogspot.nl Artist: Rowland Davidson
Saddle up, Sagittarians
Like thousands of other dreamy-eyed 10-year old girls, I too had a horse calling -- from colts and carousels to percherons and palominos. A Sagittarian optimist, I almost convinced my parents that I should drop out
of grad school and study Carousel Horse Reconstruction. I read Gigi the Merry-go-Round Horse; researched American carousels from Watch Hill, Rhode Island to Binghamton, New York (Carousel Capital of the World). I tried catching the brass ring with my Mom in Greenport, Long Island; visited Max, the red-plumed buggy horse on Central Park South; and giggled with my niece on the Bryant Park carousel.
I trekked to the south of France to see the magical white horses of La Camargue and flew to Vienna to witness the Lipizzaner stallions. Next stop? Wild ponies of Chincoteague.
But first, off to a much closer equine-esque destination: the Manhattan Hudson Yards offices of Skyhorse Publishing.
In a double loop eyeglass-shaped space that's an urban blend of loft, tech start up, and schoolhouse, dotted with randomly cool, personalized cubicles, an otherwise drab office floor is delightfully decorated with vivid expressionist paintings by Mari Lyons (yes, indeed, the publisher's mother), stylistically influenced by Max Beckman & Cézanne.
View of Zabar's - Artist: Mari Lyons; Photo Credit: Leslie D. Davis
Out of the Clear Blue Skyhorse
Book-stuffed shelves of assorted heights and materials pop up everywhere -- lining walls, corridors, interiors and desks, exposing snappy titles from Willem Post's quirky landmark morsels of Enchantment of New York to Terry Goodkind's contemporary thriller Nest. Wandering around the aisles of Skyhorse is like walking through a slightly formalized rummage sale... or a small town American library housed in an urban workspace.
Skyhorse Publishing offices
Photo Credit: Leslie D. Davis
Tao of How Now
In the Land of Lyons there's lots of problem-solving, less why, more how. Skyhorse
seems to be jumping through an obstacle course, ignoring the negative. Hold the neigh-saying. "It's a matter of conquering the NO's and moving forward." Eat your heart out, Meghan Trainor.
Pie in the Skyhorse? Not.
His biggest craving?
To find the next quintessential slice. Give him a story that must be told and he'll put it in print. He's the guy that puts his galleys where his gut is.
Why Not StirrUp Controversy
Like any explorer worth his hay, Lyons pursues the truth. He loves a good whistleblower...and has rounded up quite a few of them into his author stable, each one addressing and investigating a vital social, humanistic, political, or international topic. On the link between autism and vaccines (one of Lyons' personal favorite topics), there's Kevin Barry's Vaccine Whistleblower - Exposing Autism Research Fraud at the CDC, featuring some eye-opening findings by Dr. William Thompson; Andrew J. Wakefield's Callous Disregard - Autism and Vaccines: The Truth Behind a Tragedy; and James Ottar Grundvig's Master Manipulator.
Add in Intelligence Expert/conspiracy theorist Malcolm Nance; environmentalist/author Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., editor, Thimerosal - Let the Science Speak; Snowden screenplay authors Oliver Stone and Kiernan Fitzgerald; and New York Times bestseller/pundit and Republican political strategist Roger Stone, whose sizzling The Making of the President 2016 -- about Donald Trump's stunning win and upset -- is due out January 31. In parallel universes, Trump just shocked the political world; now Skyhorse is shocking the publishing world, striking while the proverbial branding iron is hot.
Both Sides Now
With a nod to Joni Mitchell, Lyons is a both-sides-now kind of guy. Loyal to the concept of presenting two sides of the argument coin, he's the Jacques Cousteau of publishers. The "oceanic" idea is to set up building blocks for deeper exploration of an issue. Give readers all the evidence so they can think...and probe below the surface. One might also say Skyhorse reflects Tevye's thoughtful, double-sided approach in Fiddler on the Roof. On the one hand, Skyhorse has both Wilson Casey's books: 101 Reasons to Vote FOR Hillary. "On the other hand," it's also got 101 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Hillary. On one side Skyhorse offers up conservative pundit Roger Stone; on the other, the liberal voice of D. Watkins' insights into Black America.
Hitch Up the Niche
Specific, yes. Narrow, no. Lyons seems to go for the niche audience: ecologists, falconers, Lego-maniacs, politicos, fantasy fanatics; gamers; sportsniks; classicists; cooks; librarians; historians; spy thriller-o-philes. For starters, there's Racehorse Publishing for classic literature; Seahorse Press for oceanic, boating, and sailing adventures; Night Shade and Talos for science fiction and fantasy; and Hot Books, a specifically investigative imprint led by Salon founder David Talbot.
Hold Your Horses
Skeptics, whinny away. In Irving Berlin's words, "They all laughed at Christopher Columbus," which is ironic, since Lyons is a trailblazer extraordinaire. They all (those allegedly in the publishing know) winced at his original plan to widen the scope of his publishing categories. Nope. Intuitive and stick-tuitive, Lyons holds his ground - and the reigns. "Why limit the range?" Lyons hit $5M before year three was up. And now, the decade-old company has raced ahead to $43 million. "Who's got the last laugh now?"
Photo Source: www.dreamerincolors.tumblr.com
Dwindling of the Kindle-ing?
I'm someone who loves to touch - fabrics, curtains, paper, pages of books. So when "they" threatened the doom of the bookstore, I panicked. Guess the joke's on them. According to Skyhorse staff, e-books are down, book sales are up, and library hours are increasing.
Which makes sense. Lyons, a Dylan fan, agrees that the Times They Are A-Changing; or, he chuckles, maybe They're A-Changing Back.
Librarians Minnie Oakley and Florence Baker Hayes, 1896
Photo Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society, WHS-23281
SkyHorse Bits & Pieces
Yup. Defying the odds, Skyhorse -- the breakaway company of 93 employees -- in one short decade boasts a kickin' 18 imprints, 45 New York Times bestsellers; 6,000 books on its backlist; and 900 titles planned for 2017.
K.L.M.N.O.P. Kharma: Listen Meet Nurture Open door Policy
Lyons' simple rules of thumb (or should I say hoof)? Commitment; collaboration; innovation. Resistance to Profit & Loss statements ("they're a waste of time"), huge advances and corporate red tape. It's all about quick decisions, deals, flexibility, and camaraderie. "If anyone has a cool idea," Lyons is ready to hear it.
Skyhorse staff meeting, NYC (l to r): Lillian Santos, Director of Royalties; Candy Rijos, Royalty Analyst; Ann Choi, Comptroller
Photo Credit: Leslie D. Davis
Thoroughbred or Hybrid ?
Another Skyhorse principle? Diversify. Get authors well known for a certain genre to write in other areas. Take pro wrestler, politician, and actor Jesse Ventura, who wrote Marijuana Manifesto (his tenth book, to boot).
Skyhorse Above...Groundbreaking Below
What? A publisher less interested in 'growth for growth's sake' than breaking ground? Unfathomable! Lyons takes on books that most publishers 'shy away from'...welcoming the obscure as well as best-seller manuscripts. Rebels with a cause, they like to treat authors well, so they "feel taken care of."
From Jiffy to Spiffy Horse Sense
Once upon a "jiffy bag," Group Editorial Director Mark Gompertz agonized over those massive mailings of books landing on toppling piles in apathetic assistants' offices of huge publishing houses. Solution? Combine the old school (face-to-face meetings) with the trendy (increased social media presence). To wit, the Carousel Blog (http://blog.skyhorsepublishing.com/ -- Leslie D. Davis, editor) and its sister, SkyPony Press blog (http://skyponypressblog.com),
where you can "live chat" with Timekeeper's Tara Sim. I can't say I've ever explored anything quite like this book, in a Young Adult-historical fantasy-steampunk romance category of its own.
Photo Source: Thimerosal - Let the Science Speak, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Editor
A Case of Pace
Secretariat, Seattle Slew... and Skyhorse! One of the most remarkable themes of the Skyhorse timeline or, as I call it, their "SKYLINE"...is speed. From pitch to finish line, it's a record dash. As quick as two weeks. This is no slo-mo dude ranch trek. (For Roger Stone's The Making of The President 2016, there was a mad, all-nighter filled, seven-day turnaround from final manuscript to printer). In a word, get the book out.
Photo Credit: www.secretariat.com
The Nest is History
Case in point: Bestselling science fantasy author Terry Goodkind was pitching a contemporary paranormal thriller, hoping to get it out to fans before Christmas. Meandering through the dusty roads of the big guy publishers, he was told he'd have to wait...possibly until 2018. He called Skyhorse and Presto! Contract finished in a radical 48 hours; art jacket done; social media escalated. Nest was out in about five weeks.
Ditto for Malcolm Nance' s The Plot to Hack America - How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election, most of which was written before the parallel Wikileaks-Putin news was breaking.
No Castles in the Sky-Horse
The rebel company whose champion's mission is to move fast, work hard, have fun, and maintain integrity, is staying on course. Lyons may be a dreamer, but he's no ivory tower guy. From day one, he's stayed on track, mingling with the populace, pounding the publishing turf, sticking his neck out--just like those elegant racehorses--loping lengths ahead of the pack, running at a sleek and steady gallop.
The SkyHorseman Cometh
We're all seeking that god or goddess in the Milky Way: a Vasco da Gama, an Einstein, a craftsman, an ombudsman, a middleman, a newsman, a highwayman,
a funnyman, a gentleman, an Everyman. A nobleman, a shaman, a boatman, a sandman...So why not a flying Skyhorseman?
3R's - Reading, Riding, Requestrian-ship
Personally, this filly would like to grab a gorgeous Arabian stallion and ride bareback into the magenta horizon. Next best thing? Plowing into one of thousands of new books on Skyhorse's bare-back-list titles...delving into the plump and pulsating pages of whatever makes your heart race and your mind work up a sweat.
Could be Natalia Ginzburg's The Little Virtues (I carry it everywhere). Or The Gilded Rage, Alexander Zaitchik's hot literary pursuit of Trump on the campaign trail--an insight into the "forgotten Americans" baffling the media experts. Or maybe 101 Secrets from a Pokemon Master; or Bob McNally's Failproof Tactics for Whitetail Bowhunting; Scottish novelist Edward Hoagland's In the Country of the Blind. Or the vibrant pages of salsa musicians, shiny red cars, paladars and ficus trees of Cynthia Carris Alonso's Passage to Cuba.
Photo Credit: Bellerophon riding Pegasus https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The-Winged-Horse.jpg
Source: Mabie, Hamilton Wright (Ed.): "Myths Every Child Should Know" (1914)
Photo Credit: Passage to Cuba - Skyhorse Publishing
Author/Photographer: Cynthia Carris Alonso
Out of the Clear Blue Skyhorse
"Why do authors come to you? " I ask Lyons quizzically yet sincerely.
"I'm charming." The simple answer tumbles out as swiftly as the whirring pace of his pitch-to-publishing timeline.
When authors talk, Skyhorse listens. It's all about collaboration, not confrontation. When bestselling writers and celebrities get stymied by the big boy publishers (translation: delay tactics and "holier than thou" attitudes), it's time to hitch up the horses and say WHOA, boy!!!
Skyhorse encourages partnership. For Lyons, it's a plus when a writer like Goodkind "tells us what he thinks..., what kind of paper we should use, what the cover should look like." Ultimately Lyons wants to "learn as much as teach...to be his partner and not get in the way of the process."
Julian Lennon, passionate about the White Feather foundation (https://whitefeatherfoundation.com), opted to bring his environmental kids' project Touch the Earth to Skyhorse. Guess he rejected the "we know best" publishers. Sometimes a writer just wants his voice to be heard -- spiritually and virtually. I'll be listening up around Earth Day. Giddyap.
Lyons seems to sniff out the sweet nuggets of literary marvels. Listening to his own sense of the good (Good Books is actually one of his imprints), Lyons is dedicated to publishing books that enhance people's lives, "whether that means teaching them a hobby, bringing them a unique and important story, or encouraging them to fight against injustices, conspiracies, or abuses of power."
Buck-ing Bronco to Mellow Mare
Walking into the office of Sky Pony Press Editor Bethany Buck, I felt as if I'd entered the cool after-school club zone. Or the Office of the Director of Conservations of the National Parks Service. Her plaid flannel, quilted vest and warm smile reflect the sparkle of the children's and YA books she delivers....from the Golden Girls of Rio to Julian Lennon's upcoming Touch the Earth. The daughter of a marine biologist, the Harriet the Spy aficionado welcomes the quirky along with the quaint. Bottom line: enchanting.
Bethany Buck, Editorial Director,
Sky Pony Press (http://www.skyponypress.com/)
Photo Credit: Randee Mia Berman
Coffeetable Books: Oats, Apples & Recipes
It's not just light frothy fare - not that there's anything wrong with that. We all love our cooking, sports, coloring, humor, and fiction. Fun stuff like Rainbow Loom and Eat like a Gilmore Girl cookbooks for diehard Luke's Diner fans, with menus honoring chefs who cook for non-stop eaters Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Nostalgic recipes like Stars Hollow pumpkin pancakes, rocky road cookies, and salmon puffs.
ABC's of A.ssassination, B.ig Business, & C.orporate conspiracy books
But then there' s the pith of life. The tough stuff. History, Medicine, Politics, Global Crises, Health. The Hunting Ground is the companion book to the intense documentary exposing universities about their sexual policies protecting their corporations, not their students.
Try American Corporate Conspiracies - How Big Business Hijacked Our Democracy - David Wayne's take on big banks, Big Oil, Big Pharma, mainstream media and how we're all "kicked to the curb"; or one of the myriad JFK assassination conspiracy theory titles.
For historical and religious insight, there's Brad Schreiber's Revolution's End - The Patty Hearst Kidnaping, Mind Control and the Secret history of Donald deFreeze and the SLA;God's Generals - The Military Lives of Moses, The Buddha and Muhammad by Richard A. Gabriel; and Arsalan Iftikhar's Scapegoats - How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms. For international intrigue-o-philes, there's Aim High In Creation - A One-of-a-Kind Journey Inside North Korea's Propaganda Machine by Anna Broinowski.
A Nod to the Pod
Count 'em: Six strings on a guitar; six degrees of separation; 6th sense; six geese a laying; six articles of Islam belief; six points on a Star of David; six legs on insects; six sides of a beehive cell; and six members of an ice hockey team.
Skyhorse follows suit. In a curve towards separation of powers, Lyons created six editorial divisions (run by Pod heads), which tends to avoid criss-crossing: Racehorse Press; Sports & Outdoors; Cooking & Lifestyle; History/Politics/Reference; Fiction/Literary Non-Fiction; and Sky Pony Press.
Photo Credit (right): Carvin satin green bass 6-string guitar ebay.com
Six - Blood Brothers (inspired by real Seal Team Six missions) also happens to be one of Skyhorse's multiple movie/tv tie-ins, this one coinciding with The History Channel's military thriller series Six . (Another is Yossi Ghinsberg's six-letter title Jungle - A Harrowing True Story of Survival in the Amazon).
SkyHorse-Shoes - Fix-It & Forget-It Series The name Vermont conjures up images of ski slopes, farmhouses and moonlight. And now, a satellite office of Skyhorse...run by cooking and lifestyle books. At the reins? Abigail Gehring, adding new life to the F & F series, enhancing the bindings, codes, recipes, access and downloads.
Photo Credit: Moonlit Sleighride by Rockwell Kent. Source: www.asgaardfarm.com
Trends 'R Us: Horse of another Color
Once again, if you thought coloring books were just for kids, think pink or periwinkle again. The baby boomer adult coloring book craze caught on like Macarena, windsurfing, karaoke, and bottle flipping, which, by the way, is another mad wave that Skyhorse picked up on.
ABC's of Appaloosa Budenny & Clydesdale
Just like the potpourri of horse breeds, Skyhorse embodies diversity of content, style, category.
The unique spotted coat patterns of Appaloosa of Native American Nez Perce origins -- and its wide range of body types within the breed -- reflects the scope of Skyhorse topics, imprints and breeds. The highly intelligent, independent, spirited Budenny horses bond with their handler as Skyhorse bonds with its readers. The Clydesdale (yes, one of the Skyhorse imprints) is a draught horse of Scottish farm horse stock, renowned for power, endurance, and ceremony.
Photo Source: www.horse-genetics.com
It Makes Perfect SkyHorse Sense
I now understand the edgy, probing, fun-loving, literary soul of Skyhorse. I think I've broken the code, seen my blacksmith maker, and finally nailed it. To put my finger on the pulse of this publishing wonder (move over, Nicholas Evans), I'd have to say Tony Lyons is the ultimate SkyHorse whisperer.