Publishing Profiles: Francesco Sedita, President and Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap/PSS!

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Recently, YPG sat down with Francesco Sedita, President and Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap/PSS!, a Penguin Young Readers imprint for paperback series, brands, and licenses, in his Hudson Street office to chat about his views on the future—and present—of publishing.

YPG: How did you initially get involved in publishing?

Francesco Sedita: I went to NYU’s creative writing program and graduated a little bit early. Then I had this idea for a show, which came together off off-Broadway pretty quickly, actually and ran on and off for five years. And in the middle of it all, I realized that I needed to make some money. I interviewed at Random House for a job in publicity and showed up in a ruffled tuxedo shirt, sailor pants, and platform shoes. [Laughs.] I worked as an assistant there for two years and then left to go to grad school. Then Knopf brought me back in and allowed me to work and take classes, which was amazing. After working there for another two years, I felt like it was time to make a change. I left and got a job for a teen website. That was short-lived and then I began working at Scholastic in 2001. I moved to my current position at Penguin in September 2008.

YPG: What does a typical day look like for you?

FS: It’s hard to say, if only because in addition to Grosset & Dunlap and PSS!, I also am on Young Readers digital team and work on our consumer products program, so I wear a lot of different hats, which I love. I do have a lot of meetings, which can be really fruitful…. My ideal day would only have three to four meetings and plenty of time to sit down and really work with the editorial group on the big picture for our publishing program. That’s the best part in my opinion—and the most challenging.

YPG: What’s something you learned at the assistant level that helps you be a better publisher?

FS: First, don’t pay the bill for the Miami Book Fair twice. I did that. But seriously, I think it’s important to remember to stay calm day to day. Especially at the assistant level, you get tied up guessing what’s to come or what your boss needs. The best thing I learned while I was at Knopf was not to give in to the instinct of trying to predict what’s ahead—even in your own career. I always felt like I had to figure that out. Even though I knew publicity might not be the idea match for me, I tried to stay open.

YPG: What’s your favorite part of your job?

FS: When I get to sit down at this table with the design and editorial or digital teams and hash out what we want a project to look like and feel like. We’ll sit and talk about a new series called Hello Gorgeous, for example, about a 13-year-old girl who gets a job in a hair salon and doesn’t realize that the gossip she hears can bring her much power. So we’ll try to figure out what type of reader would like it and why. It can’t happen without having these kinds of conversations.

YPG: How is the children’s marketplace adapting to the digital transition differently than the adult marketplace, and how are you as a publisher adapting?

FS: In my opinion, the children’s marketplace has more to offer digitally. Most adult books are black and white, but the picture books have so much to offer onscreen. I think we’re raising a whole new generation of kids who have a choice between print and a device, and we’re lucky to be at that moment in reading development right now. We’re growing a new type of reader who’s not intimidated by devices, and that just makes the playground bigger. I love seeing the collective mind of the publishing industry grow, and it’s growing so fast because there are so many smart people here. It’s like a new part of my brain opened up, and I ask, If we acquired this book, what could we do with it traditionally, digitally, and beyond? I try to keep it as a creative challenge—it’s not going to work if it’s a race. Doing everything digitally doesn’t always serve the greater need.

YPG: What tools do you use to keep abreast of changes in the industry?

FS: The PW Daily e-mails are great for bite-sized industry headlines, and of course I read Publishers Lunch and the print PW. But publishing is such a small world that it really helps to make some close friends within it. I get so much from a drink or a walk through the park with a [publishing] friend.

YPG: What can publishing learn from other industries going forward?

FS: Of course we’re always getting compared to the music industry, but everyone, in many industries, learned lessons by witnessing that. Not that we don’t already know this, but I think other industries can teach us to continue to be malleable and let the wind carry us a little bit. It’s nice to have something pushing us—and scary—but we can definitely evolve.

YPG: What was your favorite book growing up?

FS: Two books really made distinct impressions on me—Charlotte’s Web and Nobody’s Fault? by Patricia Hermes. Charlotte’s Web was such a memorable reading experience with my parents. I haven’t reread it in five or six years, but what’s amazing is that it’s still crisp and vivid in my head. You can read it and reread it, and there’s still so much magic. Nobody’s Fault? is a children’s book that’s out of print now but [laughs] so clearly defines the person I am now. It’s a very dramatically told story about a girl whose brother is mowing the lawn, and he hits a hornet’s nest and dies. I read it a million times.

Sedita, also a successful author of children’s books, writes the Miss Popularity series for Scholastic. You may have also seen him at the YPG social event, Pitch!, where four comedians clamored for his approval of their children’s book ideas.

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