Celebration is in the air this fall, as several children’s publishing ventures mark their 10th anniversaries (and one prepares for an early-2014 milestone). We spoke with a number of publishers and editors for this look back at the highlights—and some of the challenges—of the past decade.
Katherine Tegen Books
Katherine Tegen has always believed that “the mission of the imprint was to tell great stories,” she says. So when bringing her vision to life and launching her imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books in September 2003, she focused on “fiction for all ages,” leaning toward the school and library market. Sales of early titles were respectable, “but not blockbuster,” she recalls. But all that changed when she overcame her biggest challenge: “figuring out what my formula for success would be.”
“I never wanted to do books that adults would appreciate but that kids would not enjoy,” Tegen says. “I had children when I started the imprint and as they matured I learned more about what kids wanted to read.” The bulk of the imprint’s list is now what she calls “commercial/literary fiction. It’s fiction that has an obvious hook and wide appeal, but also has all the attributes of great literature—especially a strong voice.” She notes, “When you can marry those two things, that’s the ideal for me.”
Katherine Tegen Books’ launch list consisted of six titles: four picture books and two novels, including Vampire Kisses by Ellen Shreiber, which preceded Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight by two years and went on to sell 1.2 million copies. But Tegen credits the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage with helping her more clearly define her commercial/literary formula. “It’s well written and so fun,” she says of Sage’s seven-title fantasy sequence. The series has sold more than two million copies to date.
The Gone series by Michael Grant has racked up sales of 1.3 million copies, and the YA dystopian novels Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth are barreling down the blockbuster highway, boasting combined sales of five million units. The concluding title in Roth’s trilogy, Allegiant, pubs October 22 with an announced two-million-copy print run, and a feature film adapted from the first book hits theaters next March.
Back in 2003, Tegen had a goal to publish roughly 15 books per year. Ten years on, her imprint publishes 85 titles annually, including paperback reprints of hardcovers originally published under the imprint. Thankfully, as the list has grown, so too has the staff. “I went from one assistant in the beginning to having a large staff of 10 very dedicated women,” Tegen notes. Reflecting on the imprint’s milestones, Tegen says, “Every day I feel grateful for all the success that has happened for me and for all the authors and illustrators.” She plans on marking her anniversary in an understated way at a forthcoming sales meeting. “I’ll be doing something simple to thank the sales and marketing groups for selling millions of books,” she says. “It’s a very inexpensive celebration—humility is a good thing.”
Enchanted Lion Books
“2013 is our biggest year ever,” says Claudia Bedrick, publisher of Enchanted Lion Books, a Brooklyn, N.Y.–based independent house. However, she notes that keeping up with the many deadlines for this year’s record 14 titles has meant that “we will actually celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2014. We are publishing The River by [Italian illustrator] Alessandro Sanna in February, his first book in the U.S. We’ll take the time then to celebrate all the things we want to celebrate.”
Publishing veteran Peter Bedrick founded Enchanted Lion Books in 2003 with his daughters, Claudia and Abigail Bedrick. The name was picked because “it reminded us of the Red Lion Inn in the Berkshires,” Claudia says. “Our family had many fond memories of being there.”
The company’s initial focus was largely on illustrated nonfiction, a passion Peter carried over from his former company, Peter Bedrick Books, which he sold in 1998. But Enchanted Lion faced an important, and tragic, crossroads early on when the elder Bedrick died suddenly in December 2004. “Abigail and I honored the contracts that were signed and series arranged for,” Claudia recalls. “In 2005 we talked about what we would want to do and see happen.” Calling on her prior experience working with scholars, writers, librarians, and books in the nonprofit sector, she notes, “I had high hopes to bring books from other countries and cultures into English translation for kids here. I believe we can shape kids’ vision of the world when they can feel an intimacy with a far-flung country through books.” In 2006, the company published its first picture book, Prince Silencio, by Belgian artist Anne Herbauts. Deciding to move in that direction “helped shape the next chapter for Enchanted Lion,” the publisher says.
Bedrick points to several high points that put Enchanted Lion “on the map” in the ensuing years. “We’ve had four books on the New York Times Best Illustrated lists,” she says. “To get the call for the first one [Seasons by Blexbolex] was a real highlight. And when we had two last year [Bear Despair by Gaëtan Doremus and Little Bird by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine], we were floored.” Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Olivier Tallec, was named a Batchelder Honor Book in 2010, an award given by the ALA to distinguished works of translation. That same year, Enchanted Lion switched to distributor Consortium, which has resulted in both increased sales and additional recognition, according to Bedrick. “They have been tremendously supportive and it’s a great fit. It has served us well to be a part of a group of independents,” she says.
Another bonus of running a small, “fiercely independent” company—Claudia’s mother, Muriel Bedrick, and production director Lawrence Kim are the only other staff members; Abigail left the business in 2008 to pursue interests outside of publishing—is the creative relationships that Claudia has forged with authors, illustrators, and other people who “always seem to come to us in a nice way,” she says. Her bond with author/illustrator Arthur Geisert is one that stands out. “My relationship with Arthur involves long conversations on the telephone,” she says. “We have the kind of wide-ranging, thoughtful talks about things that never would have come up via e-mail.” Bedrick also had a memorable face-to-face visit with Geisert recently. “I took my son out to Bernard, Iowa [Geisert’s hometown], this past spring for a book launch event for Thunderstorm at Coe’s Bar there,” she recalls. “He sold 500 books in a town of 98 people!”
Those are the kinds of experiences that have been reassuring during Enchanted Lion’s evolution. The company has published its first middle-grade novel, and will release a collection of comic strips by Argentine cartoonist Liniers in June, both of which are departures for the house. The future will also see a slight shift toward originating more books in-house, Bedrick notes. “I’m grateful,” she says. “It’s such a lucky thing that we are able to do what we love and are passionate about.”
Paula Wiseman Books
“I came to make picture books,” recalls Paula Wiseman, speaking of her 2002 move to Simon & Schuster, where she established her eponymous imprint. Wiseman has certainly accomplished that goal, beginning with Clorinda by Robert Kinerk, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, which was her list’s debut title in fall 2003. “The book is about following your dreams, so that seemed a great book to launch with,” she says.
Though picture books were the primary focus of the imprint “and what I enjoy working on,” says Wiseman, “as my own children grew up, my interests as an editor evolved, too.” As a result, Paula Wiseman Books has shifted to publishing more novels, including titles by Gloria Whelan, Jerdine Nolen, and Carol Lynch Williams. “I hadn’t expected to stretch into that new area, and it’s been sort of surprising to me,” she says.
Since starting out of the gate with Clorinda, the imprint has grown to publish between 20 and 25 titles per year. For eight years, editor Alexandra Penfold worked with Wiseman, and left in early 2013 to become a literary agent. Sylvie Frank came on board in January as associate editor, and, according to Wiseman, “Her passion is middle grade, so we are looking for more middle grade now too.”
Looking back, Wiseman says, “I am proud of every book we have acquired and published.” Dog by Matthew Van Fleet; Our 50 States by Lynne Cheney, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser; and Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly, illustrated by C.F. Payne, were all bestsellers. “It’s also very exciting to see the books being published in other countries,” she adds. “We just licensed Matt [Van Fleet] to Russia. He has 21 foreign publishers in all.”
Wiseman notes that publishing “debut people” on the list has been a high point over the years. “It’s such a joy to find new talent,” she says. Among those discoveries are David Ezra Stein and Scott Starkey, as well as the imprint’s newest additions: Mike Twohy (Outfoxed), Jorey Hurley (Nest), and Elizabeth Rose Stanton (Henny).
But Wiseman is equally enthused by the opportunity to do more books with authors and illustrators she has “worked with for over 20 years,” continuing relationships she established at her previous positions at her Silver Whistle imprint at Harcourt, and at Philomel and Dial before that. “I’ve seen their work grow and deepen,” she says. “That’s one of the real pleasures of doing this for a while.” The imprint’s backlist contains a roster of talent that Wiseman considers “cornerstones” of her work, though she hesitates to try to offer a full list of names, not wanting to leave anyone out. But PW’s peek into the catalogue reveals that a partial lineup of authors and illustrators includes Patricia Polacco, Jim LaMarche, Elise Primavera, Marissa Moss, Diane Goode, Kate Feiffer, Stephen T. Johnson, Donna Jo Napoli, Kadir Nelson, Meghan McCarthy, and Judy Sierra. And, fittingly forming a 10-year-bookend, illustrator Steven Kellogg’s latest book, Farty Marty by B.J. Ward, is out this month. “It’s a nice way to mark the 10 years with Steven, who is such a talent and a dear friend,” she says.
Wiseman plans to forego any hoopla marking the anniversary. “I’ll be working,” she says, which is just fine by her. Collaborating with her team as well as S&S’s design, marketing, and publicity staff has been “loads of fun,” she notes, adding, “We have a good time making the books happen.”
The New York Review Children's Collection
The New York Review Children’s Collection made its debut in November 2003 as an outgrowth of the New York Review Books Classics imprint, which began reissuing well-loved titles for adults in 1999. “There were several books that the editors wanted to include in the Classics line, but they didn’t really work; they were more for children,” explained Linda Hollick, publisher, New York Review Books. The NYRCC’s inaugural list of four titles, which included Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill, one of the imprint’s top sellers, was overseen by Edwin Frank, who remains editorial director for both the Classics and Children’s Collection lines. According to NYRB’s official description, the Children’s Collection is “an attempt to reward readers who have long wished for the return of their favorite titles and to introduce those books to a new generation of readers.”
Though initially conceived as containing mostly middle-grade and young adult fiction, Hollick notes that as the line has evolved, “We have published titles for very young children up through about 14 years old. About half are picture books, which is something we didn’t anticipate at the beginning.” NYRCC releases five or six titles per year, and currently has a roster of 63 books in print.
Inspiration for new projects is often found in house. Hollick says that any of the eight-person NYRB staff is welcome to offer suggestions. And Frank continues to be a driving force behind the selections. “Sometimes they are books [Frank] has read and loved, or books he has read to his kids,” says Hollick. Frank and the staff entertain ideas from librarians and booksellers as well. And every now and then, serendipity plays a role, as was the case with the reissue of James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks. In late 2001, author Neil Gaiman posted a blog entry about how he was sharing the title—one of his favorites from childhood in England and “probably the best book in the world”—with his daughter. He lamented the fact that he could not replace his well-worn volume because, “to my surprise, and to my dismay, I discovered that it’s more or less out of print... Which leaves me perfectly gobsmacked.” Gaiman then closed with this proposition: “If any enterprising small press publishers are reading this, I’ll happily write an introduction to the book if you can bring it back into print. (And the same goes for big publishers.)” In 2008, NYRCC reissued the book with its original illustrations by Marc Simont, and Gaiman held up his end of the deal, penning an introduction.
Among other highlights of the list over the years, Hollick points to several titles by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, including the popular D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, which features a preface by author Michael Chabon.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NYRCC plans to present a panel of children’s book experts discussing various classic titles from the collection at McNally Jackson Books in New York City next month. Hollick adds that there is another project in the works as well. “We will sell a special set of bestsellers [from the collection] for the trade,” she says.
Blue Apple Books
“We never follow a trend,” says Harriet Ziefert, publisher of Blue Apple Books. “If you start following market trends, by the time you get there, it’s over. Stay with what you know.” Those words encapsulate the philosophy that Ziefert has embraced since she founded Blue Apple in 2003 (and even earlier, in her role as an author). And what Blue Apple knows—“our true path,” says the publisher—is “books for babies, toddlers, preschoolers; we really know up to age eight.”
The company’s open loft space in Maplewood, N.J., is especially conducive to creativity and collaboration, according to Ziefert. She credits her eight-person staff with allowing Blue Apple to be “quick and responsive. We have books out in a year’s time, without stops and starts, which keeps things fresh,” she explains. Blue Apple currently publishes 40 titles per year—20 each in spring and fall. “We’re committed to producing well-crafted books. I’m proud to make beautiful books that work on two levels: they are intelligent and they deal with the emotional side of childhood,” Ziefert says. And, lest anyone think that sounds too serious, she emphasizes, “I’m a big advocate of humor!”
From a decade of milestones, Ziefert plucks a few notable ones as she reflects on her company’s anniversary. “At a time when there were a lot of celebrity books out there, we did two books with Bernadette Peters,” she says. “Broadway Barks hit the New York Times bestseller list. It was such a positive experience. She is a hardworking person who cares about getting it right.”
Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?, a colorful concept book by Susan Shea, illustrated by Tom Slaughter, was a slush-pile find that was named an ALSC Notable Book for 2012. Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types and its companion titles by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss feature animals comprised of typed letterforms, and were the results of the publisher following up on a poster that arrived in the mail from Werner’s design firm in Minnesota. Ziefert is also very pleased to have titles by the late Simms Taback on Blue Apple’s list, as she first worked with him 30 years ago. “We’ve kept his books in print and they look as good today as when he first produced a line,” she notes. A licensing partnership with Dwell Studio has yielded a successful line of board books; and of Deborah Zemke’s doodle books, including Please Pass the Doodles, Ziefert says, “We have upward of 600,000 copies out there.”
A recent, more high-tech departure for Blue Apple has been especially gratifying for Ziefert. “For years we had gotten many requests for our content to be used for the digital space, and I always said no,” she notes. “But 18 months ago I finally said yes to CJ Educations, a South Korean company.” Ziefert was impressed by CJ’s respectful approach and willingness to collaborate. As a result, she says, “There are 20 apps I’m really proud of and feel good about because they resemble our books.”
Figuring out “the right way to put content in the digital space” remains a challenge for Blue Apple, says Ziefert. She believes that the proliferation of online retailers can make it more difficult for print books to be appreciated. “We’re offering a very highly designed, special, visual product, and it’s very hard to see that on [an image the size of a] postage stamp on Amazon. It’s not the best way to sell our product.”
As Blue Apple has grown, establishing its identity as a freestanding publisher has sometimes been an issue. “Many people thought we were an imprint of Chronicle Books [which was Blue Apple’s distributor until 2010; the house is currently distributed by Random House Publishers Services]. It was frustrating.” And competing with the sizeable marketing dollars of larger companies has been tough. “Huge budgets do seem to work,” Ziefert says. “It’s quite daunting.”
Blue Apple’s collaborative spirit is playing a big role in its 10-year celebration. The company has commissioned 30 artists on its list to create original works of art incorporating its signature blue apple. The publisher plans to reveal one design per day throughout the month of October, and it will challenge readers, booksellers, librarians, and educators to guess which artist created each piece. Guesses may be submitted via Blue Apple’s Facebook page and Twitter account, and each day, the first person to guess correctly will receive a Blue Apple book illustrated by the creator of the design in question. A giveaway of a 10-book set of Blue Apple titles is also planned for later in October.
In spring 2004, Abrams Books for Young Readers (launched in 1999) was branching out. At the time, Howard Reeves, then v-p and publisher, told PW how he and his colleagues searched for a name for a new imprint that would put an alliterative spin on Abrams. “We came across Amulet and immediately loved it,” he said. “It is a word that seems to encompass everything we’re doing in that it is as contemporary as buying a necklace at the mall, yet also has an ancient, mystical feel.”
Susan Van Metre, the current senior v-p and publisher of Abrams Books for Young Readers, Amulet, and Abrams Appleseed, was there from the beginning. She arrived at Abrams in the early 2000s from Dutton, at Reeves’s invitation. “As part of my coming over, they decided to expand the [children’s] program to include fiction,” she recalls, noting, “Abrams was so strongly associated with illustrated books, we thought it would be smart to start a new imprint.”
The initial goal was “to draw on Abrams’s strengths as an art house—its strong tradition of design, illustration, and production—to create books that are as satisfying to look at and hold as they are to read,” Van Metre explains. “And to take chances with form and with new talent to stand out, as a house, from some of our bigger brethren.”
As the imprint began to take shape, Van Metre knew that she also wanted it to reflect her personal taste for “a certain kind of very reader-friendly YA and middle-grade fiction that kids would pick up themselves—books that didn’t have to be positioned by adults.”
Amulet’s launch list of four novels included ttyl by Lauren Myracle, a title that was “really on the front lines, culturally,” Van Metre says. She recalls that the book—sprinkled with emoticons, formatted as a series instant-messaging conversations, and containing generally bold content—was not always an easy pitch at sales meetings. (As a side note, ttyl and its two sequels have landed on the ALA’s annual list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books several times since their publication.)
“Generally we have attracted young, risk-taking authors,” Van Metre says. “When [we’re] up against big, well-established houses, working with outside-the-box thinkers allows us to present something different to audiences.”
Jeff Kinney is one of those authors who brought something completely original to the Amulet table, with his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which Amulet began publishing in 2007. “He took two forms—middle-grade school story and comics—and melded them seamlessly into a form that kids responded to immediately,” notes Van Metre. “There’s a whole section of the bookstore now devoted to books in that highly-illustrated diary format.”
Other peaks of the past decade include a Newbery Honor for Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus, and the very first YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, given to Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel, Amulet’s first biography.
From four books the first year, Amulet has expanded to publish 30 titles per season (two seasons per year). Consequently, the staff has grown, too, says Van Metre—from one dedicated editor and marketing person to a total of 20 people contributing to the company’s children’s imprints.
As the anniversary approaches, Amulet will mail a goody box to retail and library partners in December, and will offer special anniversary discounting to retailers. The imprint is reissuing the ttyl series in an updated format in February, with a new title in the series scheduled for fall 2014. Plans are in the works for various anniversary events, with authors at bookstores and conferences throughout the spring, and “lots of cake,” says Van Metre. “We’ll be raising some glasses of bubbly. Oh, and looking at photos of ourselves 10 years ago and wondering where the time has gone!”