Nion (pronounced like lion) McEvoy has an infectious curiosity that has likely helped him be successful as CEO and chairman of Chronicle Books for the past 18 years. Hailing from Bay Area media aristocracy, McEvoy has used that curiosity, combined with what seems to be a genetic disposition for business and the arts, to not only keep the company going but also have a good time doing it. We asked this independent book publisher, based in San Francisco, for thoughts on how his company stayed in business for 50 years.
1. How would you describe the typical Chronicle book?
At Chronicle Books we always try to look at an author’s words, a photographer or illustrator’s art and think about how we might publish it in a way that no other publisher would think of. We let the books be determined by the aesthetic demands of the subject and the materials so that they’re always fresh and they’re not cookie cutter. So there really is no typical Chronicle book. That said, there is definitely a recognizable Chronicle Books sensibility. Fans often tell us, “I knew it was Chronicle Books the minute I picked it up.”
2. What makes a successful book?
When everything just clicks. That elusive alchemy when the content, the design, the production, the marketing, all come together perfectly to create something exceptional. One example is Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, a rhyming bedtime picture book about construction vehicles settling down for the night. An editorial assistant saw its potential and plucked it out of the slush pile. The children’s publishing team found the perfect illustrator, the designers pulled out all the stops to get the package just right, and it all melded beautifully. Fortunately, kids (and their parents) agree, and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site has gone on to sell over 1 million copies and has been translated into 26 languages.
3. How many books does Chronicle publish a year?
We’re now up to about 300 titles per year; about one-third of them are gift formats.
4. Any idea how many books Chronicle has published?
Chronicle Books has published more than 7,000 books and gift products with combined sales of more than 250 million units in 96 countries — not bad for our first 50 years!
5. What are your best-selling books (which genre)?
Our all-time bestseller is The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook with nearly 3 million copies sold, followed closely by Mama, Do You Love Me? and The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books has had 35 New York Times best-sellers in its history.
6. Is there a book you regret publishing?
Never. We learn something from every title we publish, whether it’s a commercial success or not. But still, there is the occasional book …
7. Is there a book you regret not publishing?
When Everyone Poops came in as a proposal, Chronicle’s editorial board declined it, even though the book had been popular in Japan and was illustrated by the wonderful Taro Gomi. A children’s book about poop? Who would have guessed it would sell and sell and sell (for another U.S. publisher)? Lesson learned.
8. Advice to young writers? Or old writers who want to get published?
Read everything. Write constantly. Live. Remember. Repeat.
9. Is there something you as a publisher were not expecting to learn?
Never underestimate the appeal of cats.
10. What is the future of print?
Very bright. The power of print and the tactile pleasure of books and paper are inherent to all we hold dear at Chronicle Books.