Children’s book publishers in Russia come in different sizes and specializations. Rosman Group, publisher of Rowling, Pullman, Paolini, Funke, and Stine, is the biggest, ranked #7 in the Russian publishing industry. Meanwhile, small indie publishers, spurred by market demand for new authors, unusual topics and unique translations, have sprung up and are growing fast.
The biggest of these indies is seven-year-old Meshcheryakov, which has used its brand name to start Curiosity Shop for Children’s Books (11 outlets opened and 40 planned by year-end) to help other indie publishers distribute their titles in such Russian cities as Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, and Samara. The company has also moved into e-books (under the imprint Milk Moustache), apps development, and stationery (the brand name Shy Fly). (Meshcheryakov was discussed in the Publishing in Russia 2011 report.)
Then there are KompasGuide, Pink Giraffe, and Samokat, which have found their niche markets and are working hard to expand their publishing programs and distribution networks. Here are their stories.
KompasGuide’s first two projects—“1989: Ten Stories to Cross the Walls” (published on the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall) and “Book about Human Rights” (illus. by Jacqueline Duheme)—clearly show its publishing philosophy, to educate children and young adults about social values, tolerance, and global issues.
Since then, the seven-member indie house has put out about 70 titles, 30 in 2010. “We have also established six different lines of books. For instance, Generation Www is for teen novels, Citizens of the World aims to promote global understanding, while Children versus Adults addresses child-parent relationships,” says editor-in-chief Vitali Ziusko. The young company has released such titles as Franck Pavloff’s “Matin Brun,” Marina Aromshtam’s “When the Angels Rest” (12,000 copies in circulation), Josep Tassies’s “Nombres Robados” (“Stolen Names”) and Beate Hanika’s “Rotkappchen muss weinen” (“Little Red Riding Hood Must Cry”).
Says managing director Marina Kadetova, “This year, we will publish some classics by Michael Ende, a collection of plays by Istvan Orkeny, and several picture books by young Russian illustrators. We will continue to invite international authors and illustrators, such as Wolf Erlbruch, Ketil Bjornstad, and Olivier Tallec, to Russia for various events.”
KompasGuide originally sold its books through an intermediary, a medium-size publisher. It also pushed its titles at book fairs and selected arts-and-crafts markets as well as through its Web site. Says Ziusko, “We decided to publish as many interesting titles as possible so that when we had 10 or 20 titles, we could convince retailers and wholesalers to take our books. The plan worked: in 2011, exactly one and a half years after launching our first title, we signed on with Moscow-based retailers and wholesalers such as 36.6, Omega-L, Grand-fair, Infra-M, and Knorus. Readers living in other regions can also purchase our titles online through Labirint.ru.”
Independent bookstores, adds Ziusko, are alive and well in Russia. “They help many small and independent publishers like us to survive. One can sell 2,000 copies through shops in Moscow as well as those in regional cities, such as Vperepliote in Penza, Poryadok slov in St. Petersburg, Piotrovsky in Perm, Oksumoron in Saratov, and Grammatika in Kaluga. Of course, small publishers have to be more aggressive in pushing their books outside the usual bookstores.”
This is the house of Eric Carle and Robert Sabuda in Russia. Established in 2009 by Julia Zagachin and Marina Kozlova, it has about 70 titles in its catalogue, half of which are translations of children’s classics from the U.S. and U.K. It boasts many bestsellers such as Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” Stephen Hawking’s “George’s Secret Key to the Universe,” Dina Sabitova’s “Glikeria,” and Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart’s “Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs.”
Zagachin and Kozlova met while working on an online charitable organization that eventually grew into the New York-based Help Journal, and both continue to work with various charities, especially those helping children undergoing cancer treatment. Sale proceeds from a Joseph Brodsky book, for instance, went to Podari Zhizh (Gift of Life Foundation), and books are frequently donated to orphanages and libraries. For American-born Zagachin, the biggest change in children’s publishing is “the number of publishers like us that have appeared on the scene who are willing to invest in children’s books. Four or five years ago, the quantity and quality of children’s books were simply not there.”
For now, Pink Giraffe (the name is courtesy of Zagachin’s then four-year-old son) conducts its marketing mostly through its Web site. The team also attends events and festivals, holds contests, and works with schools and libraries. In the coming months, new titles such as Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings,” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, Natalie Babbitt’s “Tuck Everlasting,” and Robert Cormier’s “The Chocolate War” will find their way to many kids’ and young adults’ shelves.
And the secret to Pink Giraffe’s successful publishing program? “Child editors. Usually a book is read by at least four kids before we make the final decision whether to publish, and their answers are basically either thumbs up or thumbs down. We have never published a title that was not approved by this group, and this editorial process seems to work very well for us.” As for translation, Zagachin considers it an art. “The less text in a book, the bigger the challenge because then every word matters. Often, it involves a play on words, as with our upcoming title “Art & Max” by David Wiesner. That said, editing is sometimes as important as translating, and fortunately we have great teams for both tasks.”
Daniel Pennac’s novel for children, “Cabot-Caboche,” launched Samokat. In 2003, the popular Russian journalist Sergej Buntmann commented on the radio that the dog depicted in the novel reminded him of his own dog. His reading of the book on the air over three months, was the best publicity publisher Irina Balakhonova could ever hope for, and the book went on to sell 23,000 copies. “My business partner and I established this small press in 2002 with $4,000, which was a big investment for us, but was nowhere enough to get started. So we identified several interesting projects and then went to the French consulate to apply for a translation grant under its Pushkin program. Pennac’s novel was the first on our list.”
Through such translation grants, Balakhonova and her team have published about 100 titles and translated nearly 17 languages into Russian, including German illustrator Rotraut Susanne Berner’s Wimmelbuch series (30,000 copies sold) and Norwegian writer Maria Parr’s “Vaffelhjarte” and “Tonje Glimmerdal” (20,000 and 12,000 copies sold respectively). “We have just published British author Philippa Pearce’s “Tom’s Midnight Garden,” and Andreas Steinhofel’s “Rico, Oskar und die Tieferschatten” and Jean-Claude Mourlevat’s “Le Chagrin du Roi Mort” will be out soon.” Efforts to nurture Russian originals have also borne fruit, as seen from Sergej Sedov’s “Tales About Moms,” which has sold about 22,000 copies.
Samokat’s most successful recent titles are Russian psychologist Ekaterina Murashova’s “To Heal or to Love” and Italian writer Bianca Pizzorno’s “Ascolta Mio Cuore.” “Stories such as these that talk about parent-child relationships, or about friendship and school life, strike a chord with our readers because of their universality,” adds Balakhonova, who has sold originals to various countries, including Italy (RCS), France (Bayard Jeunesse), and Spain (Pearson).
Most of Samokat’s titles are sold “through small and medium-sized indie bookshops—the so-called alternative booksellers, which are closer to the reader and more receptive to small houses like us,” says Balakhonova. “Around 30% of our sales come from online stores, 12% from Labirint. Our team also visits the regions, where few know of our books. Fortunately, there are several indie bookstores that know how to sell our books despite the lack of information about them or the authors—an irony really, considering the ubiquity of social networking and all the information we have around us.”