In an unusual move, bestselling children’s author and illustrator Cornelia Funke, whose fantasy series Inkheart and Mirrorworld have been globally popular, cites creative differences with her U.S. publisher, and a growing wish to be free of restrictions on her artistic output, as the motivating factors in her decision to start her own press, called Breathing Books. Funke’s partner in this endeavor is Mathew Cullen of Mirada Studios in Los Angeles.
At issue was a request by Funke’s publisher Little, Brown, to move the first chapter of The Golden Yarn – the third title in her Mirrorworld series – to a different place in the book. After returning from a book tour in Germany where her publisher had released The Golden Yarn this February, Funke says she was “stunned” by the email she received from her editor at Little, Brown in the U.S., who she says was also speaking on behalf of the author’s U.K. editor. “It said, ‘We love the book, Cornelia, but could you please change the first chapter? It’s a birth scene. That’s a little drastic for our audience. Could you please put that somewhere else?’ ”
The opening chapter describes a dark faerie watching a princess give birth. “It’s about love,” says Funke, from her Beverly Hills home. “And it’s about what love does to you, and it’s about the fruit of love – a baby. The golden yarn is the yarn that binds us to people with love.” Her publishers also objected to the “open ending” of the book and asked Funke to turn it into an epilogue instead. “And I love that ending,” says Funke. After discussing these issues with her agents, Andrew Nurnberg and Oliver Latsch, Funke made the decision to part ways with her publishers and launch her own publishing house for markets in the U.S. and likely the U.K.
When asked for a comment, a Little, Brown spokesperson said, “Cornelia is a magnificent writer and LBYR is proud to have launched the Mirrorworld series to critical and commercial success. The decision for Cornelia to pursue independent publication at this stage was entirely mutual and we wish her the best in her new endeavor.”
Funke had worked with Mirada Studios before, when they produced her Mirrorworld app in 2013, released at the same time as her novel Fearless. It was a successful creative partnering, and Funke says she found a kindred spirit in Mirada’s co-founder, Matthew Cullen. The pair had frequently discussed doing more projects together, and when Cullen suggested a publishing company, he and Funke decided to start Breathing Books.
“Cornelia and I ended up being perfect complements to each other – words and pictures,” Cullen says. “I’ve been able to bring together wonderful creative troublemakers that are the perfect collaborators for Cornelia’s imagination.” Mirada, a multimedia storytelling company that launched in 2010 in Los Angeles, follows a unique production model that integrates classic storytelling with emerging technologies. The company offers story development, design, 3D animation, and digital software, and with Breathing Books it is now also in the business of publishing. “I’ve always felt that Mirada made my work breathe,” Funke says, “and there is a motif of breathing in many of my books, so choosing the company’s name came easily to me.”
Breathing New Life into Publishing
Breathing Books is releasing The Golden Yarn in November with a new design, cover, and title. “I will publish the “Reckless” series under the European sub-titles,” she says, “which are The Petrified Flesh, The Living Shadows, and The Golden Yarn In the U.S. the books were called Reckless and Fearless, and the third would have been Heartless. “From the very beginning, I had the problem of Little, Brown placing the Mirrorworld series in the 9–12 age group when I had told them it was age 14 and up,” Funke says. “The last seven years were bitter at times because of that argument.” She is grateful to Little, Brown, though, for giving her the rights back to the whole series, which has sold over 150,000 copies in the U.S.
Breathing Books, which plans to release two to four titles a year, will start with a comparatively small print run of 5,000 copies of The Golden Yarn. “It will be sort of a rare, limited edition on paper,” Funke says, “and I will reprint if it’s accepted by the booksellers. The print run is low, but I promised my readers the book would be ready in November, and I just had a few months to set all of this up.” Mirada, which handles production for for the fledgling press, is currently deciding on a distributor. “It would have been easy to go with Amazon and their self-publishing program,” Funke says, “but I won’t do that because the independent booksellers made me who I am.” In fact, she says she is working on a Sendak-inspired original picture book, The Book That No One Ever Read, expressly for the indies. “I will give it to them for free, next February, as a way of thanking them. If they love it, I will do it as a hardcover run.” Funke has both written and illustrated the book, which she estimates will have a 5,000-copy first printing when it comes out next spring.
Funke seems to have acquired literary hindsight over time. Book one of Mirrorworld never truly satisfied her, because “I did not see that world fully yet, and didn’t know the characters that well.” She has revised the novel and will launch a free download of it as an e-book when The Golden Yarn is published. “I don’t think anyone has ever done that.” she says. She might release it as a paperback in the future as well. Random House’s Listening Library imprint has teamed with Funke to do the audiobook of The Golden Yarn, which she will read.
Next up is an app for Funke’s 1997 novel Dragon Rider (Scholastic/Chicken House). “Mirada did a brilliant script for it,” Funke says. “It will mainly be in a graphic-novel format, but it will have some music and animation, too. We plan to release it through iTunes and also as a paperback.” While working on the app, Funke “fell in love” with the characters from Dragon Rider again and was inspired to write a sequel to it called A Griffin’s Feather, which she illustrated as well. It will publish next fall, possibly with Scholastic if the print run is too big for Breathing Books to manage.
Additional Breathing Books projects include a print version of the Mirrorworld app, with its art and short stories, to release in 2016; and the re-launch of Funke’s Pirate Girl (illustrated by Kerstin Meyer), Ghosthunters series, and all of her other picture books, which are now out of print.” I will have to build my backlist stock again next year,” she explains. For now, Breathing Books will only publish work by Funke. “We would love to open it up to young artists and writers, but that may be too ambitious at the moment.”
As she speaks, Funke exudes confidence in her decision to become a publisher. “Little, Brown and others are like ocean liners that can only go to certain places,” Funke says. “I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places. If I have to figure this out myself, good! I feel I’m at a time in my career when I can afford to do this, and where I can say, as long as I cover my costs, I’m fine. I have many traditional publishers in Europe, Asia, and South America who still earn me money. And I can finally be a storyteller for all ages.”