In May 2002, the newly launched American children’s division of U.K.-based Bloomsbury, under the editorial direction of Victoria Wells Arms, published its first list of 20 titles. Almost five years later, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books has grown significantly in annual output and sales, and has established its own editorial identity on these shores. Arms, who stepped down last fall to spend more time with her toddler twins, is now editor-at-large for the imprint. At the helm is Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books and Walker Books for Young Readers, who arrived at Bloomsbury in 2004 as executive editor after 10 years at Viking Children’s Books.
Recalling the debut of the U.S. arm, Sarah Odedina, head of children’s publishing for Bloomsbury Children’s Books, notes that the U.K. company decided to launch a children’s list after the successful 1998 debut of its adult list in this country. “We had been selling rights in the U.S.A. to our children’s titles for many years and decided, once the adult list had got established, that it was time to make the leap into publishing children’s books too,” she says. Of its inaugural 20 releases, only two originated in the U.S. This year, Bloomsbury USA expects to issue approximately 100 titles (including paperback reprints), of which between 60% and 65% will originate in this country. Odedina describes this as “a big shift which shows how very strong the U.S. list has become.”
Explaining the acquisition process on both sides of the Atlantic, Odedina notes, “We still discuss and consider titles together, as we did at the beginning five years ago, and as both lists have grown we have also seen that we are both acquiring more independently of one another. Initially the U.S. list was dependent on the U.K. for titles but it very quickly became much more self-sufficient, growing its own authors like Shannon Hale [author of Newbery Honor Book Princess Academy].”
Wells reflects on how Bloomsbury USA’s editorial direction evolved during the imprint’s early years, commenting, “As have most children’s publishers, I think we’ve grown more and more selective of our picture books. The first lists were probably heavier than they should have been in that way, but we’ve also grown in other directions, adding paperbacks, nonfiction, novelty books and so on.”
Cecka states that one of her current tasks is to “expand the list in all directions. We are looking to add a stronger presence to our picture book list as well as to go deeper with middle grade fiction and to add contemporary voices to our young adult list.”
Signs of growth at the company include Bloomsbury’s acquisition of Walker Books for Young Readers two years ago. This remains a separate imprint, publishing some 45 frontlist titles annually. Cecka says that the Bloomsbury USA staff has grown in size from three in 2002 to 20 today. Bloomsbury and Walker share design, marketing and sales departments; publisher Emily Easton, who reports to Cecka, is Walker’s editorial head. Both imprints are distributed by Holtzbrinck Publishers.
Bloomsbury USA’s growth in sales has been steady from the start, says Cecka, reporting that sales more than doubled between the imprint’s first and second years. “After that, we’ve seen an average annual increase of 70%, which includes the addition of Walker in 2005.” For 2007, she anctipicates a “relative leveling-off” on title count growth.“We’re still forecasting double-digit increases for the year, as we continue to publish strong frontlist as well as an ever-expanding backlist catalogue.”
Looking ahead, Cecka foresees continued expansion. In 2008, the company will issue its first graphic novels, including Herbie Brennan’s Boy Brimstone, which offers a graphic spin on his Faerie Wars. And due out on the Walker list is the first installment of a series of eight graphic novels based on Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone.
Cecka is also enthusiastic about continuing to work in tandem with Bloomsbury’s adult division to take advantage of what she calls “our ability to publish in the middle ground between adult and children’s publishing.” For example, this May the children’s division will publish a young adult edition of Jim Lynch’s adult novel, Highest Tide. The children’s imprint has also had success publishing children’s books written by authors who initially made their mark as adult authors, among them Alexander McCall Smith and Sloane Tanen.
In the U.K., Odedina predicts that the next five years will not bring significant change to the way that her editorial team works with its American counterpart. “We shall continue to look for original voices writing wonderful books and we shall continue to do that together,” she says.
As Bloomsbury USA’s fifth anniversary approaches, Cecka looks forward to gathering with fellow staff members, authors and booksellers at BEA, which she anticipates will be “a great opportunity to hunker down with all the people who are so important to the core of our business. At Bloomsbury we have a wonderful family environment, which is something that we really prize.”