Before joining Razorbill in 2006 as President and Publisher, Ben Schrank wrote novels, served as fiction editor at Seventeen, and edited bestselling YA series (Gossip Girl and The Clique). Now at the helm of Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group that specializes in young adult and middle grade books, Schrank oversees 30 plus titles a year, mostly contemporary commercial fiction
What attracts you to writing and editing material for a YA audience?
I love the arc that happens in a story for young readers-kids learn and change so fast and working on embodying that experience in novel form is what keeps me interested in the area.
Spud, A Wickedly Funny Novel by John van de Ruit that was a huge seller in South Africa will be released in the U.S. by Razorbill this month. How did the book end up at your imprint? Please tell my readers what you love about the title.
Susan Petersen Kennedy brought it back from Penguin South Africa and thought it would be right for us. We read it and loved it and while we waited to publish, it grew into a phenomenon in South Africa that shocked everyone involved. There are now bus tours of Michaelhouse, the boarding school that John van de Ruit went to and based the story on. I love the book because it's funny and true and it teaches us a lot about ourselves and shows us a way of life that a lot of us know nothing about.
Why do you think Spud (which is being called the "South African Catcher in the Rye"), will appeal to readers in the U.S.?
It's a universal story. As I noted above, it's hilarious and honest and I have to believe that U.S. readers will relate to Spud, will love the voice, and will embrace both its foreignness and its charm.
What makes a book-and an author-right for Razorbill?
We love a book that is conceptually strong and has a voice that supports the concept. The book demands attention from the reader. The author supports the book, builds a great website, understands what the publisher can and can't do, and remembers that we're all in it because we love books.
Your website says "you can count on our list to be short and razor sharp." Why a short list?
We're a small group and we want to give our books the care they deserve. We never want to sign off on a cover we don't love or let a book go into the bookstores that we don't think is perfect. A short list gives us better control and keeps us, well, sharp.
I see at least a couple of debut books featured on Razorbill's website (Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why and Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead). How can a new author break in at Razorbill? Do you consider only agented work?
A new author breaks in because their novel is great. There's no other reason. We've only bought agented work up to this time, but you never know...
Can you offer a few pieces of advice to aspiring YA authors?
The market is a shifting target that changes all the time. Don't write for it. Write to please yourself. If you are relentless and work hard, the reader will come to your work.