New YA Imprint Focuses on LGBTQ Books From the Heart of North Carolina
Just like the adage “write what you know,” the editors at Riptide Publishing will launch a young reader’s imprint with stories they’d like to read. “We wished we had these books when we were teens and questioning our identity,” Riptide Publisher Rachel Haimowitz said. “They can see a mirror in these stories where they can be the hero and have happy endings.”
This fall, Riptide will release the first titles under a new YA imprint, Triton Books, with a goal similar to the publisher’s line of LGBTQ fiction of a readership behind the gay or transgender teens found in the tales. Haimowitz said that Riptide’s novels invite all readers to explore the world around them.
“It’s exciting to see our titles taught in college courses about feminism and LGBTQ experiences in modern culture,” Haimowitz said. “To have those titles presented to a majority-straight class and have those kids—at a very impressionable age—reading and discussing them can help open eyes. Not to sound conceited but that’s changing the world one reader at a time.”
Since 2011 the North Carolina-based indie house has specialized in gay and transgender fiction that—in the purest of all literary traditions—serves as a travel guide to new worlds and experiences.
“Whether it’s a queer kid or a straight kid who doesn’t know queer people, these kids are dealing with the same problems that every other teen deals with,” Haimowitz said. “Some people read to validate their own experience. A lot of people read because they’re interested in understanding a culture they’re not part of: A window into a life not their own.”
Timely, Topical Titles
Regardless of the subject matter, Triton’s success remains vulnerable to familiar challenges: the state of independent publishing; competition for young adult leisure time in the high-tech age; and the uphill struggle of a digital-first publisher. “Our print titles are print-on-demand,” Haimowitz said. “We can’t get into the big chains so we’re focused on independent book stores which, for many communities, don’t exist.”
On the other hand, Haimowitz said their particular niche may benefit from the elevated awareness and visibility of LGBTQ issues—including headlines from Riptide’s North Carolina base that have brought transgender rights into the forefront. “Just getting the attention out there is important,” Haimowitz said. “Suddenly you have people who have never in their lives considered transgender rights talking about it.”
Haimowitz looks forward to a time when North Carolina’s elected officials will be revealed to have “been on the wrong side of history,” a day that may not be too far off. “We have run into resistance—forty years from now we’ll still run into resistance,” Haimowitz said. “But look how far we’ve come with racial equality. Every generation is more open than the generation before it.”
Politics aside Riptide and Triton are in the book business. Reaching young readers who spend up to half their waking hours in the digital world won’t be easy. “Getting paper into the hands of the kids these books are meant for is definitely a marketing challenge,” Haimowitz said.
Entertaining and Enlightening
The niche aspect of Riptide’s core audience may, Haimowitz said, be a marketplace edge. “A lot of the kids these books are written for tend to be socially isolated because of their identity,” Haimowitz said. “Those kids tend to escape with books. Even if we’re only reaching a small segment of the market, it’s an important segment.”
This fall will see the release of the first three Triton titles:
Assassins: Discord, by Erica Cameron, the story of a sixteen-year-old girl raised to be a thief and killer-for-hire who fights to break from familial fate while on a path of self-discovery;
Investigating Julius Drake, by Daisy Harris, which follows a prep school misfit determined to understand a classmate’s attempted suicide; and
Junior Hero Blues, by JK Pendragon, in which a gay high school student comes to terms with super powers.
“Early reviews and reads have all been very positive,” Haimowitz said. “We cannot wait to get these out there.”
A fourth title is expected in December, and Haimowitz said the expectation is to publish four-to-six titles annually. “We’ll roll with it and see what the response is and how the books do,” Haimowitz said. “If it’s popular and books sell then we’ll aim at that point.”
Success of the imprint remains in the hands of readers, and Haimowitz is confident that the stories pass the bottom-line test that all books face: Simply put, they make damn good reading. “They are just wildly entertaining,” Haimowitz said, noting the comic aspects of Junior Hero Blues. “I laughed my way cover to cover. The first duty of a book is to entertain, and these books are entertaining.”
James A. Mitchell is a veteran reporter and author of four books, including The Walrus & the Elephants: John Lennon’s Years of Revolution and But For the Grace: Profiles in Peace From a Nation at War. You can follow him on Twitter @jamesamitchell3.
James A. Mitchell