One year after Charlesbridge acquired Imagine Publishing, founded in 2009 by former Sterling CEO Charles Nurnberg and his son Jeremy, Charlesbridge publisher Brent Farmer credits the purchase with growing the house’s sales “substantially.” In addition to adding 20 children’s books a year to Charlesbridge’s annual list of 36 titles, the purchase brought big-name children’s authors like Judy Collins from Imagine’s Peter Yarrow imprint. Her book-and-CD set, When You Wish Upon a Star, illustrated by Eric Puybaret, will be released this month with a 100,000-copy first printing, the largest in Charlesbridge’s 22-year-history.
“We feel very good about the changes. We’ve added to our frontlist by over 50%,” said Farmer, who described Charlesbridge today as “a children’s book publisher with more than a toe in the water on the adult nonfiction side. Our experience is in children’s, but we view the adult arena as an opportunity.” Farmer stressed that from a publishing point of view, Imagine is totally independent, with its own adult catalogue, while Imagine’s children’s titles appear in the Charlesbridge catalogue.
To illustrate Charlesbridge’s hands-off policy, Charles Nurnberg, v-p and publisher of Imagine, points to two adult humor titles on the fall list—The Official Red Neck Alphabet and The Official Fart Alphabet. Both differ markedly from Charlesbridge’s more traditional children’s alphabets, like the five nature alphabets by Jerry Pallotta with which Charlesbridge launched in 1989. “You wouldn’t think of those normally as Charlesbridge,” said Nurnberg. “But they said, ‘Fine. You do what you do.’ ”
Part of the attraction of merging with Charlesbridge was maintaining Imagine’s independence while also avoiding going corporate. “I would never do another one-, three-, or five-year forecast,” said Nurnberg. “I just want to do good books, which is what we’re able to do now. Charlesbridge is actually anxious for us to grow the adult books—there were zero before. They’ve completely trusted us.”
Imagine’s books require a more commercial and trade approach to reach consumers than Charlesbridge’s more educationally oriented trade titles. Celebrity songbooks like When You Wish Upon a Star need national and regional PR campaigns, and Charlesbridge is putting the money behind them to do that and supporting the entire Yarrow series by republishing The Night Before Christmas, the book/CD package performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary, with a print run of 75,000 more copies.
“I don’t think our publishing philosophy has changed,” noted Farmer. “When we began it was informed by our classroom experience. That continues to be what we’re about.” However, the sales side has changed. Jeremy Nurnberg was appointed v-p of sales at the time of the acquisition, and Farmer credits him with opening up new accounts for Charlesbridge in the special sales area, while Charlesbridge has helped Imagine’s children’s titles gain entry into the school and library market.
As a Charlesbridge imprint, Imagine continues to evolve. This fall it will publish its first paperbacks: for Lilach German’s Cupcakes, Cupcakes, & More Cupcakes! which went into three printings in hardcover, and Viola Goren’s Pies, Pies, & More Pies! It is also adding more partnerships like Stephanie Troeller and Mary Kate Mellow’s Prima Princessa’s Ballet for Beginners, featuring the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center, which is just out in paperback. Imagine is also distributing American Express’s Travel and Leisure and Food & Wine imprints.
In a way, “imagine” is exactly what the two presses have done. Next up for Charlesbridge is to continue the conversion of its 500-title backlist into digital books. Farmer expects 90% of the press’s backlist to be converted by year’s end.