Named for geometry's lemniscate with its figure-8 curves, a Dutch publisher is introducing a curve of its own when it comes to the U.S. market. After a decade and a half as an imprint of Front Street and then Boyds Mills Press, Lemniscaat will move to a straight distribution model with Ingram Publishers Services on January 1. As a result, Lemniscaat will have greater control of what it publishes in the U.S.
Although the Rotterdam-based press is skipping its fall list during the transition, the number of books it publishes will increase, from six to eight titles a year to 10–12, according to sales and marketing manager Ellen Myrick. Historically, the list has been weighted toward picture books—two-thirds of the 50 books Lemniscaat published in the U.S. between 1995 and 2010 were for the very young. That, too, could change, with the publication of Lemniscaat's first adult book in the first part of 2011, Jesse Gussen's Plastic Soup—about how the Pacific Ocean is being turned into an ocean of trash, or the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." It's a book that Myrick anticipates could have strong YA crossover appeal. And in the spring Lemniscaat will reissue an English translation of Jan Terlouw's coming-of-age story set in a German-occupied Dutch village during WWII, Winter in Wartime.
Some things, though, will stay the same. Former Front Street and Boyds Mills publisher Stephen Roxburgh, who has edited Lemniscaat's U.S. imprint from the beginning, will continue to do so even though he now heads his own press, namelos. "We've always worked together as partners. I would select the books that I thought would work in the U.S. market," says Roxburgh. In fact, the biggest change that he foresees under the new arrangement worked out by Lemniscaat head Jean Christophe Boele van Hensbroek, whose father founded the company in 1963, will be the press's ability to better capitalize on its strengths. "You can take the book out of Holland but you can't take Holland out of the book," says Roxburgh. "The Dutch tradition is so different from our tradition, and the books reflect that. What we tried to do is celebrate that."
This fall Boele van Hensbroek is in the midst of trying to get U.S. booksellers to think Dutch. At BEA, he introduced a Dutch treat promotion, 25 books for $25—a variation of the consignment model currently being experimented with on the adult side by Assouline and Chelsea Green. While those houses are testing branded bookstore sections, or boutiques, which are stocked by the publisher, Boele van Hensbroek is giving independents books for free and asking them to pay a modest fee, $1 a book, to help defray the cost of shipping. In return booksellers contract to display all 25 of Lemniscaat's books together and to reorder any books that sell out under the company's regular terms.
"We send them a copy of every new book. They're nonreturnable. I hate this returns system," says Boele van Hensbroek, who did a mailing to 400 independent booksellers this summer. In addition to finding a way out of the returns morass, he would like the promotion to get people to stop looking at picture books as illustrated books but as art. By displaying Lemniscaat's picture books together, he believes that the influence of great European artists like Van Gogh, Seurat, Vermeer, Mirò, and Picasso will be more readily apparent—and sales will increase.
Certainly it's worked that way for Shirley Mullin, owner of Kids Ink Children's Bookstore in Indianapolis, who put up a display this summer. "They just sold like crazy," says Mullin. "The poster hadn't come, so we put up a sign—‘Imported from Holland.' People liked that." The program has enabled her to try books that she hadn't previously ordered, and she adds, even if two or three books don't sell, she has still gained more sales overall.
For Lemniscaat's Dutch treat to work, there has to be an element of trust on both sides of the bookselling/publishing fence. In Holland, stores continue to support the Lemniscaat list despite current economic conditions. "We've been doing this for 40 years in the Netherlands," says Boele van Hensbroek. "The Dutch children's market had these classic books that sold year after year; you have a sense of continuity. I believe if you want to publish children's books, you have to see bookselling isn't going from one hype to another."
Whether going Dutch will work in the U.S. children's book market on a large scale is still a question mark. But Mullin calls it "the most clever, friendly bookseller promotion I've ever seen." Plus, she notes, the margins are great.