Kelly Link, author and
co-publisher of a new children's imprint.
When Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, founders of Small Beer Press in Easthampton, Mass., first considered publishing children's books several years ago, they had a problem: the name of their press sounded like a brewery. And they had already faced having a book display taken down at Comic-Con because of a presumed alcohol connection, until the powers that be realized that the press actually specializes in edgy fiction, science fiction and fantasy (including Link's popular, offbeat stories).
The name problem was finally solved by starting a separate children's imprint with a kid-friendly name, Big Mouth House. The creation of the new imprint was spurred on by Link and Grant's desire to publish a collection of stories by the late children's author Joan Aiken (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase). “Aiken's agent, Charles Schlesinger, is one of our favorite people and Aiken's a favorite author,” says Grant, explaining the decision to launch Big Mouth House in October with The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories by Joan Aiken, who passed away in 2004.
Also next month, Link will publish her first collection of short stories aimed at teens, Pretty Monsters (Viking). It's her first non-Small Beer collection, although the two projects are intertwined. As Link chose stories for the Aiken volume, she noticed that many of the author's story collections overlapped. At the same time she was having trouble writing a novel, something Sharyn November at Viking Children’s Books had suggested she do several years earlier. “At a certain point,” says Link, “I realized I had enough stories for a young adult collection. I was writing for the reader that I had been.” Of the nine stories included in Pretty Monsters, only the title story is new. The others include previously published stories like The Faery Handbag and Magic for Beginners, which both received Nebula Awards.
Although Link is best known for her two adult collections from Small Beer, Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen, she found moving into children's a natural progression. “I wanted to try writing different kinds of stories,” she says, adding that she had become interested in children's literature when she worked at a children's bookstore, B. Dolphin, while she was getting her MFA at the University of North Carolina. “A big part of the job was to read as much as I could. I probably spent half my paycheck in the store.”
Both Viking and Small Beer/Big Mouth are expecting big things from their October releases. In the letter accompanying the galleys for Pretty Monsters, November called Link's writing “sui generis.... There are very few authors for whom I would take a bullet. Kelly Link is one.”
Hyperbole aside, November has indeed gone all out for the book, which has a 40,000 first printing in hardcover and is illustrated by Shaun Tan. The two presses are working together to get the book out using Viking's connections into the children's market and Small Beer's into indie bookstores that have supported Link's work. In addition, Small Beer is setting up a local tour for Link and is promoting Pretty Monsters on her Web site, www.kellylink.net.
Booksellers have already begun to respond to the galleys of Link's new collection, which were given away at both BEA and ALA. Gina Glenn at Malaprop's Bookstore & Cafe in Asheville, N.C., calls it “phenomenal,” saying, “I love the fact that her new collection allows younger readers to sample her work but it doesn't feel watered-down at all.”
Small Beer will publish Aiken's The Serial Garden with a 10,000-copy first print, a fairly hefty one for a small press. The book features introductions by Garth Nix and Aiken's daughter Lizza, and is illustrated by graphic novelist Andi Watson (The Skeleton Key). Link, especially, would like to publish more of Aiken's work, since she regards her as one of three writers—along with Roald Dahl and Margo Lanagan—who have influenced her writing the most.
In addition to reissues, Small Beer plans to publish original children's fiction and has already signed two new titles, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black and The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. It will begin small as it did on the adult side by publishing one children's book a season; now the company publishes five or six adult books a year.