Six months ago Karen Lotz, president and publisher of Candlewick Press since 1999, took on the added responsibility of sole managing director for Walker Group, parent company to Candlewick and Walker Books UK and Australia. In 2010, she had agreed to share the position with finance director and longtime Walker Group managing director David Heatherwick until her daughter turned one year old. Now, in addition to caring for two children under the age of eight, she oversees 228 people worldwide, along with Candlewick and Walker’s publishing, marketing, branding, and licensing programs. To find out how a publishing supermom does it all, particularly during a challenging time in the industry, PW spent a crisp November day with Lotz at Candlewick’s offices in Somerville, Mass.
This seemingly ordinary day couldn’t have been more indicative of the kind of success that the mid-sized press has worked so hard to earn, particularly in the picture book market. Earlier that morning, the New York Times Book Review announced its list of the 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books for 2011, which included two Candlewick titles—Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back and Yu Li-Qiong’s A New Year’s Reunion, illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang. Both figure prominently in the 10 a.m. video-conference with Walker Books UK, particularly the latter, the first book Walker bought from China and which could have legs well into a second holiday season, Chinese New Year. A second video conference an hour later focused on marketing for the picture book brand that gave company founder Sebastian Walker the financial means to add a U.S. office: Waldo. Candlewick will release four new Waldo titles this year, including a 25th anniversary hardcover edition of the one that started it all, Where’s Waldo? (Apr.).
Because of the five-hour time difference between Boston and London, Lotz explains that mornings are reserved for speaking with colleagues at Walker and Templar Books UK, which originated the Ology Books and launched an imprint with Candlewick in spring 2009. She follows up in the evenings from home with Walker Australia in Sydney, 16 hours ahead. Since the latter added a publishing arm in 2008, Candlewick has published just about everything released Down Under. As to whether Australian books speak to a U.S. audience, Lotz responds by pointing to Walker Australia successes like Sally Sutton’s Roadwork, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, which sold more than 50,000 copies in the U.S. last year.
As an employee- and author-owned company, Candlewick is used to working collaboratively in-house and with the other Walker groups. “We try to have very open communication and lateral decision-making wherever possible and appropriate,” says Lotz. That translates into a lot of meetings, six nearly back-to-back ones between 9:15 and 12:30, followed by a quick break for lunch, and an offsite confab at WGBH-TV’s offices nearby in Allston. One of the perks of being MD, though, is that Lotz can often duck in and out of office meetings, rather than stay to the end. She listens, offers suggestions, and then moves to the next one. She says that what differentiates that day’s meetings is that she is much more on time than usual, for which she credits PW’s minder, Laura Rivas, associate director of marketing, publicity, and events.
The day begins with a covers meeting. Attendance includes sales, marketing, and editorial staff, who range themselves around a large conference table in an alcove within shouting distance of the art staff. Once a presentation is complete, creative director Chris Paul calls the next designer, literally. Today’s meeting is for September 2012 titles. Ann Stott presents three possible designs for Peter Reynolds’s Sky Color, the third book in his trilogy with Ish and The Dot; Matt Roeser does the honors for Gigi Amateau’s Come August, Come Freedom, Lesléa Newman’s October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, and Don Calame’s Call the Shots.
The Amateau book is one of Lotz’s own acquisitions, an historical novel about a slave rebellion in Richmond in 1800, decades before Nat Turner. Led by blacksmith Gabriel Prosser, the thousand-strong uprising might have succeeded had it not been for torrential rains and a tip to governor and future president James Monroe. However, Lotz warns PW not to look for too many books to be edited by her further down the line. “I’m trying to restrain myself from taking on new authors out of fairness to them,” she says, one of her few acknowledgments of just how busy leading a global publisher and its largest division can be.
Between meetings and at free moments throughout the day Lotz answers questions about Candlewick and Walker Group, which are both expecting 2012 to be “huge” because of two big anniversaries: Candlewick’s 20th and Waldo’s 25th. To mark Candlewick’s platinum year, Lotz says, “We’ve decided our major goal is to support picture books, because our roots are in picture books and because we’re in a climate where picture books are under threat.”
That doesn’t mean the company is overlooking digital. “We have a very robust fiction e-book program,” says Lotz, adding that she takes her cue from a Chinese fortune cookie that she got at lunch once with Becky Hemperly, v-p of contracts, rights and royalties, which said, “The second mouse gets the cheese.” Candlewick may not have been first to get into the children’s e-book space, but its books are available on the Nook and it was the only children’s publisher at the Kindle Fire launch in September. Following the lead of John Mendelson, senior v-p of sales and digital initiatives, who asks reps to handle both regular and digital accounts, all departments, including editorial, are expected to incorporate digital into their work flow.
Candlewick began planning for a five-year transition to digital back in 2009. “This is the future,” says Lotz. “So we have to be prepared.” She sees the press’s relatively small size, and consequent nimbleness, as an advantage. “Our staff can facilitate workload shifts,” she says, “and we’re close to the books and the numbers. We’re able to make quick decisions with quick response times to our customers in either print of digital form.”
Lotz projects e-book revenue at 3 or 4% for the current fiscal year. By contrast, print book revenue for 14 out of 25 new picture books in spring 2011 was above forecasts, in the high double digits and in a few cases triple digits. While Candlewick has cut back slightly on the number of print titles it takes on, by about 5%, e-books are picking up the slack. Last year, the press published 178 new titles, 70 reprints, and 103 e-books. Sales across the Walker Group were £48.9m with profits of £1.6m. “At the moment,” says Lotz, “with the market and [the demise of] Borders, we’re excited not to be shrinking.”
For Lotz, not just digital but global publishing is key to the company’s ability to hold its own in a world where the meaning of territory is changing rapidly. And with offices in London, Sydney, and Boston, Walker is used to thinking globally. Two years ago, Walker began working with local publishers in India for an Indian edition of the Judy Moody series, and plans to move forward with other locally produced titles in that market. As if to underscore the global nature of its list, at the Walker video-conference picture book publisher Deirdre McDermott discusses the fact that the Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang book, one of Walker’s few reverse co-editions with a Chinese publishing partner, has such an immediate appeal for Westerners. Pictures speak across cultures, she notes, and she would like to do more Chinese picture books. Typically Walker exports bestselling English titles like Guess How Much I Love You to China. McDermott anticipates that export sales to China could grow by as much as 25 to 30% this year.
As for the press’s other NYT Best Illustrated title, Lotz credits Klassen’s 10-day, 10-stop global blog tour with establishing the book and used the video-conference to get her U.K. colleagues’ thoughts on bringing him to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March. The award should help the book to really take off in the British market, according to Walker sales director Jane Harris, who expects strong pick up at Urban Outfitters, Waterstones, and Amazon. Even before the special notice, Candlewick had arranged for 120,000 copies in four printings to be available in time for Christmas. At the video-conference, Lotz asks about creating a small gift-book edition of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Ted Kooser’s March picture book House Held Up by Trees, which Klassen illustrated.
At another meeting, Lotz and Emily Marchand, v-p of human resources and administration, discuss the press’s free share, whereby longtime illustrators and authors get shares in Walker. Not everyone who is offered the chance wants a share of Candlewick, Lotz explains, because of tax ramifications, since Walker Group is a British company. But the advantage for Candlewick to have authors and illustrators be part of “the family” are important for inspiring them with the Candlewick spirit. “We want them to publish their best books,” says Lotz. “This is a way of saying, ‘We’re here for you and we want to be creatively led.’ ”
Later at WGBH, Boston’s public television station, that creativity is on display as Lotz and New York-based Candlewick editor at large Joan Powers preview the first television series from Walker Productions, the press’s two-year-old TV company based in England. The Tilly & Friends TV series, which is based on Polly Dunbar’s picture book series of the same name, is slated to air in the U.K. later this year on CBeebies. Walker Productions won’t formally pitch the series until February’s KidScreen Summit in New York City.
“Going forward,” says Lotz, “Walker Productions will look at Candlewick publishing as well as U.K.-originated publishing for properties to explore. We also will be publishing the tie-in programs that feel appropriate to us from Walker Productions. Tilly is definitely one that we will publish in-house when a U.S. broadcaster is secured.”
After a day of possibilities and good news, it’s time to head home to a waiting family for Lotz—and for calls to Australia. This reporter is exhausted by the sheer breadth of a day that takes a publishing MD around the world and across Boston in just a few hours.