In 2009, Rana DiOrio, a former investment banker in San Francisco, sought to publish a series of picture books relating meaningful, complex concepts to children, and to do it in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.
“I got laughed at,” says DiOrio, who tried to get published the traditional way, by querying agents and publishers. So instead, she assembled an advisory board and formed her own publishing company. Taking the name Little Pickle from the term of endearment she uses for each of her three small children, DiOrio opened her press in October 2009 with the launch of the series with What Does It Mean to Be Global?, followed by What Does It Mean to Be Green? and What Does It Mean to Be Present? in March and July, respectively, of the following year.
Little Pickle’s revenues increased from $10,000 to $125,000 in the first two years. Gradually, the company has signed other authors and illustrators and “grew by 1099s,” says DiOrio, referring to the tax form for reporting freelance expenses. Last year Little Pickle reported revenue of $350,000; its 2012 projection is $550,000. As DiOrio actively seeks outside investors, her stated revenue projections are $1.5 million for 2013 and $5 million for 2014.
So far, 30 percent of Little Pickle’s revenue comes from direct-to-consumer sales, through its Web site and its seller account with Amazon. The company has an inside sales rep covering schools, and reaches the trade through wholesalers, Baker & Taylor, Brodart, BWI, and Follett. Recently, the company added three regional trade rep groups – Chickman, Blue4Books, and Northeast Publishers – and is seeking distribution in the southeastern U.S. and in Canada.
As her company grows, DiOrio says she is committed to courting partners to create print and electronic books, apps, and even original music around its children’s book stable, all while maintaining a mission to be a progressive, green company. Toward that end, Little Pickle became a Certified B Corporation, recognized by B Lab, which acknowledges corporations that use “the power of business to solve social and environmental problems” – similar to the way that TransFair certifies Fair Trade coffee or USGBC certifies LEED buildings.
DiOrio says her company works with eco-minded vendors and is mindful of the environment at each phase of the supply chain, eschewing dust jackets, printing with soy inks on recycled paper, and donating 10 percent of the purchase price of three of its books to the Starlight Children’s Foundation. The publisher is also courting authors whom DiOrio believes embrace its mission of positive change, among them JoAnne Deak, a psychologist and the bestselling author of Girls Will Be Girls and How Girls Thrive. Little Pickle published Deak’s Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, illustrated by Sarah Ackerley, in 2010; it has gone on to win multiple awards given to small publishers.
Little Pickle has high hopes for Coleen Murtagh Paratore’s BIG, illustrated by Clare Fennell, which has just gone to press for a 10,000 first printing. Paratore says she plans to continue publishing with other houses, such as Scholastic, which published her novel Dreamsleeves in April. But she also likes Little Pickle’s mission and message for small children. “[DiOrio is] publishing the kind of books I would have gobbled up for my own boys when they were [younger].”
Judy Bulow, children’s book buyer at the Tattered Cover in Denver, says she’s impressed with the quality of authors Little Pickle has been signing to its roster, which now includes one of the bookseller’s favorites, Helen Ward (Snutt the Ift: A Small But Significant Chapter in the Life of the Universe, published in 2011), as well as Shawn Achor, bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage (Crown Business, 2010).
As with Deak, Little Pickle offers Achor a new audience; DiOrio has asked him to write a children’s book about the science of happiness. The company also has an unusual financial incentive for the author: rather than the typical royalty deal, Little Pickle is offering offered Achor a 60-40, publisher-author publishing split, which it’s testing as a new publishing model. While Achor does not go into detail, stressing that he continues to enjoy a productive and positive relationship with Crown, he says he’s curious to see how the relationship with Little Pickle works out.
The Little Pickle deal – which Achor brokered directly with the publisher and not through an agent – also affords him the chance to co-write a picture book with his sister, Amy Blankson. Titled Ripple’s Effect, the book, illustrated by Cecilia Roberts and scheduled for publication in October, is about how one smile can change the mood of a shark tank.
Whether working within unusual revenue-sharing models, or signing partnerships to bring apps, e-book formats, and music to its titles, DiOrio says her company will continue to innovate and evolve. Recently, Little Pickle signed its first chapter book, about a boy with Asperger’s, and DiOrio hopes to publish creative content for readers as they grow up, with sights on the young adult market as well.