Beginning next March, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books will publish a line of formerly out-of-print picture books and novels under the name Marshall Cavendish Classics. The debut list will consist of two picture books—Genghis Khan by Demi and Little Sister and the Month Brothers by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Margot Tomes—as well as the YA novel If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? by M.E. Kerr. “Even though we have a commitment to bringing new talent into the field of children’s books,” says Marshall Cavendish publisher Margery Cuyler, “it’s also important for children to read the literature of the past.”
According to Cuyler, the program originated during a brainstorming meeting and quickly found support among staffers. “I’ve been in the field for 35 years, and in the last 10 years I’ve heard from many librarians that they are disturbed that so many really good books and treasures have gone out of print,” says Cuyler. “I thought, ‘Here’s where I really have an advantage. I’ve been in the field long enough to remember books that were really beloved when they first came out.’ ”
But this isn’t a case of a publisher mining its backlist for gold—Marshall Cavendish was not the original publisher of any of the titles in this classics line. Demi’s Genghis Khan, for example, was first published by Henry Holt in 1991 as Chingis Khan; Marshall Cavendish’s edition will tie in with the author’s current and future books with the house, such as Marco Polo, which pubbed last month. “It seemed like a nice way to support her with one of her strong backlist titles,” Cuyler says. “We also thought it was timely to reintroduce a title on Genghis Khan, because of interest in that part of the world.”
The process has involved a fair amount of “detective work and time,” according to Cuyler (tracking down rights, contacting authors, publishers or estates if the contributors are deceased), and she praises the efforts of associate editor Marilyn Mark, the “point person” for the project. “Most of the time we can’t get art, because it’s either been sold or distributed to relatives,” Cuyler adds. “Which means we have to track down a first edition in really good shape and scan it in such a way that we do justice to the original art. It’s probably crazy but I’m still glad we’re doing it.”
Acquisitions of additional out-of-print titles are in progress; future seasons will include The Fat Cat by Jack Kent (Parents Magazine Press, 1971), The Rabbi and the Twenty-Nine Witches by Marilyn Hirsh (Holiday House, 1981), Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub by Jamie Gilson, illustrated by Linda S. Edwards (HarperCollins, 1982), and Blackbriar by William Sleator, illustrated by Blair Lent (Penguin, 1972). With the exception of new cover art for the novels being republished, the house has not made significant changes to the books’ text or artwork. Going forward, Marshall Cavendish plans to reissue three books per season.
The company has a call for submissions for the new line on its Web site and Cuyler says they have received a strong and positive response from agents and authors. The publisher requires that authors or agents provide proof that the rights have reverted for any out-of-print title being submitted. “We’re giving full royalties, but no advances,” Cuyler says, citing modest sales expectations for the classics.
Cuyler suspects that the library market will be most receptive to these reissues, though she does anticipate bookstore interest as well. “My hunch is independents will be more likely to pick these up than chains because independents are more likely to handsell,” she says, adding that as a midsize publisher, Marshall Cavendish doesn’t necessarily have the pressure that a larger house might have to sell a large number of copies of these reissues. “As long as we break even on these, that’s good enough for me,” says Cuyler. “We’re not publishing them to make money. We’re publishing them because we believe they should be back in print.”