San Francisco’s Little Pickle Press faced a situation that many children’s presses encounter – its readers were growing up. According to publisher Rana DiOrio, Little Pickle’s new YA imprint, Relish Media, was created because “no 15-year-old is going to pick up a book by ‘Little Pickle.’ We started with picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels, and the logical trajectory was to [add] YA.”
The first title in the imprint, Breath to Breath by Craig Lew (Nov. 17), is a novel told in free verse, based on a true story, which details the mental and emotional torment of a 17-year-old boy on his path to recovery following abuse. It’s the first in a trilogy; the latter titles will be released in November 2016 and November 2017. According to DiOrio, September Productions, in partnership with March 4th Productions, is currently developing a feature film adaptation of the series.
In a letter DiOrio sent out to the Little Pickle Press community, she recounts the how the project came about. “I was struggling in an unsafe relationship that was bringing up issues of abuse from my childhood,” she wrote. She sought the help of a healer named William Lewis, who helped her and who had his own story to tell. Lewis knew DiOrio was a publisher, and showed her pages he had written about his own life, which deals with surviving physical and emotional abuse.
“I cried as I read his story,” wrote DiOrio, who identified with his story, adding, “When the tears abated, I realized that I was holding the means to continue Lewis’s own healing, my own, and many other like us.”
With Lewis’s consent, DiOrio posted a want ad on the Little Pickle Press blog seeking a YA author to tell his story. Many talented authors presented themselves, but one emerged as the optimal candidate for the book title – Craig Lew, who saw the posting in a tweet. Both Lew and DiOrio happened to be at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles, where they met in person.
DiOrio said it became apparent very quickly that he “was the ideal author to pen the story. When I asked him in a perfect world who he would like to edit the work, he said Emma Dryden,” adding that Dryden has edited work for Little Pickle in the past, and edits all of Ellen Hopkins’s YA titles. Lew had previously been given a mentorship award through the SCBWI where he worked with Hopkins as his mentor. “This project is just several instances of all the right pieces and all the right people coming together at just the right time,” DiOrio said.
Lew had never adapted the life story of a living person, and while the novel is a fictionalized account, he said, “There’s a real person at the core of this story. He wanted this story out there to stop the chain of abuse and to help other people.”
DiOrio called working with industry experts like Dryden is “competitively differentiating” and should help the new imprint succeed in a crowded market. “Even as an emerging imprint, we’re able to get that level of professionalism and craft which will position us well to succeed,” she said. The house is distributed by Ingram, which she hopes will help ensure success because it’s “definitely well-versed in meeting the whole spectrum of buyers in the distribution chain.”
Relish Media is actively seeking YA content, and DiOrio is interested in stories that explore, in her words, “the gray area. I want these stories to help evoke conversations with caring adults about all the subjects in the gray, to bring them into the light and help shape these young adults into their best selves.” Relish Media’s mission is to create “stimulating content, inspiring stories, and powerful events for young adults,” said DiOrio.
Relish Media’s inaugural event, Relish Entrepreneurship, will be held next year at Stanford University, which DiOrio describes as a kids-only “TED-type summit,” where attendees are “actively engaged in the dialogue.” Di Orio says Relish is very focused on the “multi-media experience. We’re a social mission company, so the passion and conviction of our social mission is really going to fuel the growth and development of the imprint.”