Last week’s New England Children’s Booksellers Association spring gathering, held on May 8 at the offices of 24-year-old Charlesbridge in Watertown, Mass., focused on how independent presses work. The day began with booksellers sharing current favorites, from RITA Award-winning romance author Sherry Thomas’s first YA, The Burning Sky (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Sept.), which Keri Patch at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., called “a book that could take off,” to Elizabeth Hand (Radiant Days, Viking, 2012), who should be better known, according to Jan Hall at Partners Village Store in Westport, Conn. “Her writing is just amazing,” said Hall, who is also a fan of Hand’s adult crime novel Available Dark.
Charlesbridge v-p and associate publisher Mary Ann Sabia welcomed the group and credited indie booksellers with enabling her company to grow. “You took a chance and put our books in your stores,” she said. During a tour of the editorial, accounting, and design departments Sabia and other staffers answered questions; of particular interest was how Charlesbridge acquires books and how long it takes from acquisition to publication. “A minimum of two years once it comes in,” responded editorial director Yolanda Scott. “Seventy percent of what we sign is agented. It’s easier to get into Harvard than to get an unsolicited book published.” The press fields 30 to 50 agented manuscripts a month and another 300 from the slush pile.
That two-year time span includes a lot of back and forth with the printer. Art director Susan Sherman spoke about the printing process and shared original art, finished books, and proofs from the press’s printer in Singapore, so that booksellers could see the difference. Like many houses, Charlesbridge prints its picture books overseas. Sherman explained that instead of traveling to Asia to watch the books on press, as art directors once did, she checks scans for dust, color contrast, and image problems. Books with straight text are printed in the U.S.
As booksellers looked at the proofs, it became clear why a picture book can take so long: like other picture book publishers, Charlesbridge checks carefully to make sure that the text is properly translated into the art. Designer Martha Sikkema demo’ed the use of Photoshop for fabricating changes or even fixing a piece of art that’s been torn. The type of change determines whether the publisher or the illustrator makes the correction. Booksellers also had a chance to view different sizes of blank dummies that designers use to wrap jacket designs around and to get a better sense of how a particular manuscript can best be translated into print.
Getting the cover design right can be time-consuming, a point made by those working in the art department and again when Scott gave a presentation on Eve Bunting’s The Cart That Carried Martin, illustrated by Don Tate, an October book that tells Martin Luther King Jr.’s life story looking back from the day he died. Associate art director Diane Earle explained how carefully the staff reviewed photos and news clips from King’s funeral so that each spread would accurately reflect what happened. Scott discussed the decision to let readers know from the get-go with the cover art that the “Martin” in the title is in fact Martin Luther King. Rather than change the title the press used an image of Dr. King on a poster held up by people who lined the cart’s route, as many did that day.
To a question of how the press decides how many copies to print, Sabia said that it’s not always easy to determine. “We’re never sure if it’s a three-month supply or two months,” she said. Among the factors that she tries to take into consideration is the eight- to 12-week shipping time for books printed in Asia.
In addition to offering sneak peaks of several upcoming books like Terror Birds (Aug.) by Sarah Thomson, illustrated by Andrew Plant – the first book in Charlesbridge’s new Ancient Animals early reader series – and Alma Flor Ada’s and F. Isabel Campoy’s Yes, We Are Latinos! (Aug.), illustrated by David Diaz, Charlesbridge staff also gave a brief history of the Common Core, which emerged from the Race to the Top educational initiative. It’s something that they are particularly conscious of with so many of their books geared to classroom and library use.
As Hall wrote in a thank-you e-mail that she shared with other booksellers: “Seeing the author’s art work on display, the offices, and just a tip of the daily operations gave us all a real appreciation for what you do, the care and attention you give your authors and artists, and why your books are worth our extra attention. All we learned enhances the appeal of your books, and increases the pleasure of selling them, and working with you.”