As Candlewick Press closes out its 25th anniversary year, it is turning to backlist favorites and beloved characters for continued growth. Taken together, sales of books that were on the press’s very first list in spring 1992— like Farmer Duck and Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?—have helped make Candlewick the largest independent children’s publisher in the U.S., as well as one of the country’s top 15 publishers overall, based on NPD BookScan figures for unit sales in 2016.
Candlewick president and publisher Karen Lotz, who is also managing director of the Walker Books Group, told PW at a recent interview at the press’s Somerville, Mass., offices, “We’ve had good revenue growth. Picture books are still a significant portion of the list, but middle grade is right up there.” She pointed to brands like Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo?, which turned 30 this year. Strong initial sales for books featuring the bespectacled Waldo (known as Wally in the U.K.) provided the financing for Walker U.K. to launch its U.S. outpost. Fittingly, a Waldo title is on Candlewick’s anniversary list: Where’s Waldo? Destination: Everywhere! (Nov.), an oversized “best of” his adventures over the past 30 years.
To further promote its bestselling brands, the Walker Books Group hired Veronica Wasserman last spring to the newly created position of executive marketing director for group brands and corporate PR. “We were looking at our brands and seeing how we can bring them to the next level,” Lotz said. Wasserman, who was previously brand director for Wimpy Kid and licenses at Abrams, will align individual company efforts across the group. One of her first projects has been Waldo’s birthday celebration, along with this summer’s Find Waldo Local campaign in conjunction with the American Booksellers Association. She’s also coordinating the relaunch of the Judy Moody series in the U.S. and the U.K. in spring 2018 with new covers that speak to both markets.
At a time when Candlewick is strengthening established brands, it continues to seek out new ones. The press recently announced that it will begin publishing a new list of books in fall 2018 that harkens back to its origins: Walker Books U.S. This marks the first time that Candlewick has published under the Walker name on this side of the pond. (When Candlewick opened, “Walker” was already in use by U.S. indie Walker and Company, which was subsequently purchased by Bloomsbury.)
“It feels very fitting in our 25th year and at the dawn of Walker’s 40th to open up yet another new initiative in the United States, this time under the founding name, bringing the Walker Bear full circle at last,” Lotz said. She acquired the Walker trademark following Bloomsbury’s decision to fold Walker Books for Young Readers into Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 2014.
“The new list,” Lotz continued, “will capitalize on the Walker name and reputation.” Although she declined to mention specific titles on the new Walker Books U.S. list, she noted that it will be a place for more commercial titles than Candlewick typically publishes.
Not that Candlewick doesn’t already publish a number of bestsellers. This summer two books in Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series went back onto the New York Times list, in large part because of a summer reading promotion with Target. Her first picture book in nine years, La La La: A Story of Hope, illustrated by Jaime Kim, will be out in October.
Lotz also sees the Walker Books U.S. list as enabling the group to acquire rights in a different way. For commercial YA titles, and sometimes for middle grade books, it is typically more difficult for U.K. publishers to purchase a broader grant of rights for countries outside the Commonwealth. Her hope is that over time the group will have a coordinated approach between Walker U.K. and Walker U.S. on the types of titles that suit their mutual editorial sensibilities in these segments of the market.
To support the new list, Candlewick will add three more staffers in New York City, where Wasserman is based. The trio will work closely with editors at Candlewick and Walker U.K. to develop the list. But, according to Lotz, Candlewick will not be opening a New York office at this time.
Growing the Books
Even before the first Walker Books U.S. titles roll off the press, Candlewick has been building sales by publishing more books. The press has gone from 42 titles in its initial catalogue to 180 original titles a season for the past few years, or 360 books a year. That figure includes books from imprints that the press has added over its first quarter-century: Big Picture Press, Candlewick Entertainment, Candlewick Studio, Nosy Crow, and Templar Books.
“Our growth strategy has been to leave the Candlewick identity at its same balanced level of output, but to use additional imprints with clear identities to engage with additional channels and customers in the marketplace,” Lotz said. Although all five imprints have experienced gains, Nosy Crow has had explosive growth. Sales have tripled in the past two years, according to Lotz, and the number of new releases has more than doubled, from 24 titles in 2015 to 57 this year.
The press has also begun to increase the number of Candlewick Studio titles, from four a year when it was introduced in 2016 to six a year going forward. The other imprints have held steady over the past few years, with Big Picture publishing eight titles a year; Templar, 12; and Candlewick Entertainment, 15. The remaining 260 titles are Candlewick books.
The press has also been growing its backlist, which at present has more than 3,000 titles. To keep pace, its staff has also grown, to more than 100. More impressively, in a business often marked by turnover, half of Candlewick’s staffers have been with the press for more than a decade.
While Candlewick is eager to support its key franchises and develop new ones, it hasn’t neglected its mission to promote children’s literacy and encourage young people to become lifelong readers.
In 2016, Candlewick kicked off its birthday with a 275,000-book donation to First Book, which puts new books in the hands of underserved children. Other efforts include sponsoring children’s programming at the Boston Book Festival in November. And in mid-June the press launched Candlewick Press Presents, a series of 13 weekly podcast interviews with authors. The 30- to 45-minute podcasts feature a different author or pair of storytellers, including M.T. Anderson, who began his book career as a Candlewick intern.
In late July, Candlewick introduced My First Book Club and an accompanying website to deepen first, second, and third graders’ engagement with books. “We know that a lifelong love of reading begins when a young reader finds a story that he or she truly loves,” Lotz said. “That’s why we are so proud to introduce My First Book Club, where we’ll showcase our wide variety of early chapter books.” At BookExpo, booksellers and librarians got an early peak at a 19-page activity guide.
The idea for a book club for young children grew out of readers’ response to Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s the Princess in Black series, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Lotz said. Because the books are intended to appeal to both boys and girls and are marketed by Candlewick and the authors that way, kids of both genders have begun attending the Haleses’ signings in dress-up; the signings, in effect, create communities of kids. The new club is intended to foster that type of enthusiasm in early readers by featuring up to four titles each season, for example Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue, Matt Tavares’s Henry Aaron’s Dream, and Megan McDonald’s Rocky Zang in The Amazing Mr. Magic.
Looking back over Candlewick’s 25 years, Lotz said, “It’s a huge privilege to work in a business where our passion and care channel every day into making something that a child may treasure and benefit from for a lifetime. We feel a debt of gratitude to all the booksellers, librarians, teachers, and reading specialists who have partnered with us to put our titles in the hands of millions of children.”
Print Sales of Key Candlewick Properties
- Where’s Waldo? titles: 69 million books worldwide
- Maisy titles, Hooray for Fish!, and other Lucy Cousins titles: 42.4 million books worldwide
- Guess How Much I Love You?: more than 35 million books worldwide
- Judy Moody books and spinoffs, including Stink, Judy Moody and Stink, and Judy Moody and Friends series: more than 33.4 million books worldwide
- Kate DiCamillo books: 26.7 million books worldwide
- ’Ologies: more than 8.8 million books in the U.S. and Canada