Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Q&A with Jon Malysiak

Jon Malysiak is the executive editor of Ankerwycke, a new publishing imprint of the American Bar Association. He is based in Chicago.

Q: Why did the American Bar Association decide to start Ankerwycke, and what types of books do you publish?

A: Ankerwycke evolved out of the success of a couple consumer/trade titles I acquired and published in the summer of 2014: The Mother Court, New York litigator Jim Zirin’s affectionate popular history of the Southern District Court of New York, and the true crime thriller The Innocent Killer, which chronicles a case of wrongful conviction and imprisonment that ends up with an exoneration and, tragically and rather ironically, a brutal murder.

Based on the commercial success of both of these titles – which were very different from anything that ABA Publishing had published before and, a year later, are continuing to experience strong sales – a realization was made that in order to expand the ABA Publishing “brand,” it needed to branch beyond just lawyers and appeal to the general non-lawyer audience.

These successes were followed up with our first true foray into legal fiction – and the official debut of Ankerwycke as a standalone imprint in December 2014 – David Lat’s legal novel Supreme Ambitions.

Our debut list, publishing in 2015, consists of 10 original titles that run the gamut from legal fiction (Supreme Ambitions, BigLaw, Courtship, and Tuttle in the Balance) to memoir (Stolen Legacy and The Baghdad Lawyer) to true crime (Operation Greylord), business (The Dealmaker’s Ten Commandments), Civil War history (The116), biography (A Triumph of Genius), and sports (On Level Terms).

While each of these books is very different in subject, style, and tone, what unifies them is the power of their storytelling – both fiction and nonfiction – and their connection in an often underlying way to the law. Our 2016 list, which is on track to double in size, continues this trend.

We are also re-introducing into print the iconic Perry Mason series to a new audience with the publication in June 2015 of the first two Perry Mason novels. Many of these classic novels haven’t been in print in decades. Ankerwycke will be publishing one a month in a high quality paperback editions. 

Q: What do you think the introduction of this new imprint says about today's publishing world? 

A: What excites me most about Ankerwycke is its potential to become the destination publisher of quality legal fiction and non-prescriptive legal non-fiction. The feedback I’ve received from authors and agents – as well as the media – has been overwhelmingly positive.

I think because we are affiliated with the American Bar Association, we have the credibility and gravitas to fill a niche that seems to be heretofore underrepresented in the trade publishing world – that of a popular trade-focused publisher that is unafraid to publish exciting and accessible books that delve more deeply – and perhaps more credibly – into the law than perhaps other commercial publishers.

What also sets us apart is that we are bucking a trend in today’s publishing world where so many publishers are consolidating or cutting back their operations, certainly not expanding them. It is almost unheard of for a publisher to be launching an entirely new imprint in today’s publishing world.

Because we are positioned so uniquely, however, and because we have a strong vision for what this imprint is – and what it isn’t – all the ingredients are there for success.

Q: What is the significance of the name Ankerwycke?

A: Ah yes, excellent question! I get asked this a lot. Ankerwycke is derived from the name of an ancient yew tree that stands on the site of the Ankerwycke priory in Berkshire, England.

The tree, which is at least 1,400 years old, is said to have been witness to the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215, and was the spot where Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn 300 years later.

So you can see how it is fitting that we should be named from something that bore witness to one of the most significant – if not the most significant – events in world legal history. I like to say (tongue-in-cheek of course!) that Ankerwycke Publishing is more than 1,000 years in the making!

Q: In addition to your work as the executive editor of Ankerwycke, you are also a writer. How do the two aspects of your work complement each other?

A: I think it helps me better relate with my authors. I know first-hand how authors think, how they feel, and what they need to feel confident and validated…because as a writer myself, I feel and have felt the same way.

Regardless of whether an author is writing fiction or non-fiction, like any art form, the writing process is deeply personal and then when you add to this the stress of deadlines, edits, and sending the work out for review and hoping it is well-received, being an author can be quite scary.

I get that and I’d like to think one of the things I am particularly good at as an editor is my ability to work with my authors on a personal level, encourage them and hold their hand when I need to, push them when they need a little push to stay on track, and (most importantly) serve as their most dedicated cheerleader from start to finish.

Q: What are you writing now? 

A: I am collaborating with my brother on a crazy e-book series called Dangerous Machinations that on the one hand is meant to poke affectionate fun at novels like Fifty Shades of Grey and the Real Housewives television franchise while being fun page-turners in their own right. The first two are currently available for download on Amazon and the third book in the series will publish online later this summer.

It is utterly unlike anything I’ve ever written before – crazy, over-the-top, even a little outrageous – but I’ll tell you, I’m having more fun writing this series and creating these characters and working with my brother than I have with anything I’ve ever written before. Is it great literature? No. But it is definitely entertaining to write and (hopefully) to read as well.

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Given the nature of their work, lawyers encounter larger-than-life personalities and stories on a daily basis – they witness both the very best of humanity as well as the very worst – all of which I think is what makes legal fiction and narrative non-fiction so compelling. The possibilities are limitless.

Ankerwycke exists in a very dynamic space and I am so excited to be a part of the growth and development of this new publishing endeavor. Looking forward at our 2016 list and beyond, I can tell you now that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

1 comment:

  1. A great interview and a fascinating publishing house. I will be keeping my eye on it in the future. Thanks for posting!