Lately, the word of the day in publishing has been “reduction,” be it in head counts or acquisitions. And while several children's imprints have been lost in recent months due to restructuring, retirements, etc., 2009 will see the arrival of a new children's publisher, Egmont USA (see “New Kid on the Block,” June 16, 2008), as well as a number of new imprints. PW spoke with those helming three nascent imprints about the road ahead.
Beach Lane Books
Allyn Johnston, v-p and publisher at Beach Lane Books, may have started at Simon & Schuster on April Fool's Day last year, but heading up an imprint three time zones away from the rest of her new S&S colleagues was certainly no joke. She says that while she was accustomed to cross-continental work, given her 22 years at Harcourt operating out of San Diego, it has been a “fun challenge” acclimating to a new group of coworkers “over the 3,000-mile-long hallway.”
Brought to S&S by then-publisher Rubin Pfeffer, with whom she had worked for many years at Harcourt, Johnston says the house has been very supportive as her imprint has come together. “From the beginning S&S welcomed the kind of books we were doing and felt we would fit in nicely with the imprints they already have.” Her vision: “To publish books that are emotionally engaging that become beloved childhood books that people return to throughout their lives.” Johnston is running the imprint with editor Andrea Welch, a former coworker at Harcourt, from an office near the beach, hence the imprint's name. Johnston says she hopes the imprint will convey a certain “West Coast” perspective, though she is quick to point out, “The list definitely doesn't have a beach theme.”
What it does have is a number of authors Johnston has worked with over the years—as well as some new ones. Beach Lane's first list focuses on younger readers, with a Mem Fox/Steve Jenkins collaboration, Hello Baby!; Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas; Please Pick Me Up, Mama! by Robin Luebs; and a pair of dinosaur-themed books: Dinothesaurus by Douglas Florian and Dinosaur Woods by George McClements.
However, this doesn't mean that Beach Lane won't reach out to older readers. Johnston says she will “definitely” publish middle-grade and YA fiction down the road. To that end, M.T. Anderson's Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, part of the M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales series, which Johnston brought over from Harcourt, is due later this year. Also planned for fall are Boo to You!, a Halloween title by Lois Ehlert; Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeannette Winter; and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, “a simple but universal celebration of things that are both large and small that make up our world” (Johnson edited Frazee's Caldecott-Honor—winning A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever).
Johnston plans to publish 18 to 20 titles per year at Beach Lane. She arrived at that number before the economy turned for the worse, but she says she has not adjusted the scope or size of her list as a result. “I feel there's always going to be a place for great books and connecting them with kids.”
For Candlewick Press, the launch of Templar Books is of particular note—it's the first-ever imprint for the Massachusetts-based children's publisher. Candlewick's president and publisher, Karen Lotz, says that creating the imprint formalizes a relationship between Candlewick and U.K.-based Templar Publishing that goes back eight years. Initially, Candlewick acquired some of Templar's picture books to publish in the U.S., but that relationship changed with Dragonology, first in what would become the Ologies series, one of Candlewick and Templar's most popular properties, having sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.
“Dragonology was a title that Templar showed us in its early stages, and we ended up having a great collaborative relationship in the development of the Ology program,” says Lotz, adding that Candlewick, which was founded in 1991 by Walker Books in the U.K., is very used to working overseas. “What happened with Ologies was such a fantastic experience, we thought, 'Why put in a lot of time trying to do it piecemeal? Let's really cement this.' ”
Candlewick and Templar will decide by mutual arrangement which titles will be published under the Templar name in the U.S. (Templar is able to sell any titles Candlewick passes on to other houses). “This is much more than just a distributor relationship,” Lotz says.
According to Lotz, the debut list reflects Templar's strengths. “I think they have an excellence in illustration, design and production—they are constantly innovating in all three areas.” The list is a mix of old and new, particularly from an art standpoint. On one end is an updated version of William Plomer's The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast, illustrated by Alan Aldridge, which pairs verse with fanciful, airbrushed illustrations of insects; the book won a Whitbread Award in 1973. Conversely, the board book Art for Baby features black-and-white images by modern artists including Keith Haring and Damien Hirst. Also arriving are a pair of retro-influenced picture books by Simon Bartram: Bob's Best Ever Friend and a paperback edition of his 2002 Man on the Moon.
Lotz admits that, due to the economy, there will likely be less transatlantic travel (both face-to-face meetings and bringing authors over) than there might have been in the past, but adds, “With the online resources available, it may not be the hurdle it would have once been.” She notes, however, that Candlewick never reconsidered launching the imprint, and calls it “an investment for the future.”
Templar will release 10 titles this fall, and will publish six to eight books per list moving forward. The fall list includes two graphic novels that start the Robot City series (“what we hope will be a major property”); Day of the Assassins: A Jack Christie Novel by debut author Johnny O'Brien; and additional picture and novelty books. Lotz notes that although Candlewick does occasionally “Americanize” some language for the U.S. market, that is not the foremost concern. “Some of these titles are absolute classics in the U.K., though they are relatively unknown here. We don't want to hide their Britishness in any way.”
Balzer & Bray
Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray had been working together for 12 years at Hyperion when they moved to HarperCollins in May 2008, and that working relationship is likely to grow even stronger with the fall 2009 launch of their joint imprint. “Some people wonder why you need two publishers,” Bray admits, though the copublishers see it as a “boon” for authors. “We have been editing each book individually, but we always have access to the person we trust the most,” she continues. “So much about publishing is subjective. We really value each other's opinions, and we are able to be brutally honest with each other.”
Luckily, Harper was on board, too. “What we told them was that we acquire each book with a vision and idea for breaking it out,” Balzer recalls. “We don't believe a book is just literary or just commercial. We want to have our cake and eat it, too.”
Balzer & Bray currently employs two editors and two assistants, and Bray estimates that the imprint will eventually publish 40 to 45 books per year. In addition to talent that they will be bringing in—such as Mo Willems, Kadir Nelson, E. Lockhart and Avi—they have inherited Harper standbys, who had largely been published under the now-closed Cotler and Geringer imprints, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Laura Cornell, Laura Numeroff, Felicia Bond, Jerry Pinkney, Doreen Cronin, Harry Bliss and Kate and Jim McMullan.
Their debut list consists of six titles, which Bray calls “a pretty good example of the kind of books we will be doing: a combination of picture books, fantasy and realistic fiction from new and established talent.” In fact, it's split down the middle—three books from established authors and three debuts. In the former category are Charise Mericle Harper's Mimi and Lulu, Pop by Gordon Korman and Purple Heart by Patricia McCormack. On the debut side is The Pain Merchants by Janic Hardy, about a war orphan who has a healing power; the picture book Harry and Horsie by Katie Van Camp, illustrated by Lincoln Agnew; and the novel The After by Amy Huntley.
While the copublishers are pleased to have their name on an imprint, Bray says, “We believe strongly that our authors are our brand. Our names on the books just sort of transmits—mainly to the industry—that this is what we're publishing, this is what we really get behind, this is what we're comfortable putting our name on.”
Although the industry is facing a difficult period, the copublishers feel that it is also an occasion to explore new options. “It's an opportunity to take some new risks, market books in different ways, push ourselves in terms of formats,” says Balzer. Bray adds, “Despite all the doomsaying, publishing—and especially children's publishing—is necessarily an optimistic business. We have to believe our books are the best, and believe that they will find their audience.”