Around 175 publishing professionals gathered February 7–9 at the La Fonda on the Plaza hotel in Santa Fe, N. Mex., for the annual PubWest conference. While there were no sessions dedicated exclusively to children’s programming, kids’ publishers and booksellers brought an essential energy to the conference. The event included three programming themes: “Culture, Content, Commerce,” while the children’s publishing contingent emphasized another key value: community.
The importance of community first surfaced during the “Beyond the Reading: Events-Based Book Marketing” session. During the panel discussion, publishing professionals shared strategies for small publishers to both plan and host exciting live events without the budgets of the Big Five publishers. Panelists included Angie Zbornik of West Margin Press, Denver’s BookBar founder Nicole Sullivan, and moderator Rachel Noorda—founder of the children’s publisher ThunderStone Books. Each speaker shared lessons learned through successful children’s events.
Here are some of the best bookselling tips shared during that session:
- “Think about your audience.” Publishers should be sensitive to booksellers’ timing. Consider holidays, regional events, weather, and school breaks that will affect attendance. (Zbornik)
- Pay attention to your state’s school curriculum, and help teachers find ways to plug a particular author into a particular moment in the curriculum. “We have things on our website to help teachers—free PDFs and lesson plans that teachers can integrate, to make it as easy as possible for a teacher to put that text into the things they have to check the boxes for in the curriculum.”(Noorda)
- Host storytimes in the afternoons when harried parents are looking for activities. BookBar even offers “Happier Hour” wine specials for these events. “This is the roughest time of day for moms.” (Sullivan)
- Enlist local kids and teens to read ARCs and review them for the bookstore. “We create little shelf talkers and we put [the kids’] reviews up on the blog.” The reviews from young readers can also help stores make buying decisions. (Sullivan)
- Partner with a local bakery that can make cakes with the author’s book cover reproduced in frosting. (Sullivan)
- Send parents a note explaining the book, topic of discussion, and activities two weeks before an author’s classroom visit. (Noorda)
- If a particular book addresses a social cause, use the event to raise money for the cause. “It’s a chance to not just talk about a topic, but to do something about it as well!” (Noorda)
- West Margin Press partnered with rescue dog organizations for a book release; a portion of proceeds went to local rescue dog groups. (Zbornik)
- “Kids love to be able to meet authors in person, especially local authors. The kids can look up to the authors and say, ‘You are a real person and you live in my community!’ It plants a seed in their head that they can do this too.” (Sullivan)
- Invite local self-published children’s authors to host events at your bookstore. “It turns into a party—they are going to invite friends and family. It generates a lot of good book sales.” (Sullivan)
Although the “Social Justice, Diversity, and Equity: Not Just Words, but Deeds” session didn’t focus entirely on children’s programming, it reinforced the idea of building community as children’s editors, authors, and booksellers shared advice.
Panelist Samm Saxby, a bookseller at Portland children’s bookstore Green Bean Books, won this year’s Jack W. Swanson Scholarship—an annual initiative to bring more young publishing professionals to PubWest free of charge. “I’m thinking about all the people in my community who don’t know about PubWest. I’m already trying to think about who needs to be on the diversity committee,” she said.
Katelyn Keating of Prospect Park Books moderated, and Saxby joined Jennifer Newens of West Margin Press and Jessica Powers of Catalyst Press and Cinco Puntos Press for the session. Here are some of the highlights:
- Cultivate a diverse workplace. “Publishing is still notoriously white-dominated today. That is a problem everybody here in this room can fix. You can hire these people, you can go to these communities [and say,] ‘I need your voice, how can I bring you to the table?’” (Saxby)
- To ensure that a book is respectful of the community it describes, hire a sensitivity editor as early in the life of a book as possible. “I like to get in as a developmental reader and a sensitivity reader so I can read the book from the jump. The earlier the better!” (Saxby)
- Don’t just hire one sensitivity reader. Employ readers to cover every culture explored in a book. “With sensitivity readers, this is not just where you hire one reader. Hire 19 and pay them well!” (Keating)
- Pay attention to community conversations that could make your list more diverse. When the team at West Margin Press read this thought-provoking tweet from LJ and SLJ reviews director Kiera Parrott: “There are literally hundreds of potty books for kids. How is it that ALMOST NONE OF THEM feature black or brown protagonists?,” the small press decided to change the art for a forthcoming title, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? to include more diverse characters. (Newens)
- Use writers and editors who are “deeply immersed in a community.” This brings an “urgent sense of the needs of the community, borne out of lived reality, rather than some theory.” (Powers)
- Publishers and booksellers need to look at the community around them. “None of us live in a monocultural world. If you look around, you can start reaching outside of yourself.” (Powers)
Finally, the “Editorial: Examining Style and Tone” session at PubWest, featuring Don Goreman (Rocky Mountain Books), Laura Stanfill (Forest Avenue Press), Rachel Bell (Overcup Press), and Rick Rinehart (Globe Pequot), shared resources that children’s authors and editors can access to make sure they are respectful and accurate when creating content about other cultures.
Here are the lessons shared during that discussion:
- For general publishers exploring children’s publishing, make sure to hire a children’s editor to work on the project. “You have to be deferential to other people’s expertise.” (Rinehart)
- Hire a visual editor to work on children’s book projects, especially if it is the first time your press is exploring the medium. “We added this layer of visual edit that we didn’t do before. I was so surprised to learn about all these details.” (Bell)
- Let your copy editors help keep a writer’s style (as well as grammar) consistent in longer books. “I have a super wonderful copy editor we contract. She creates a style guide for each of our books as she’s working on the copy edit.” (Stanfill)
- During the editing phase, have the author read the manuscript out loud. At Forest Avenue Press, Stanfill enlists the help of Samm Saxby as an early editor for style and sensitivity. Saxby described the process: “I have the author read the manuscript to me, so I can get a sense of what they are trying to do.”
- When writing about Canadian tribes, consult copies of Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and About Indigenous Peoples by Gregory Younging and Indigenous Rights by Chelsea Vowel. “It’s a profound resource everybody should have when writing about indigenous cultures. These are absolutely vital, right alongside the Chicago Manual of Style.” (Gorman)
- When writing about Native American communities in the United States, editors and authors can contact individual tribes for an expert sensitivity reader. “Most of the tribes have a marketing resource and a library resource within the tribe,” she said. “You shouldn’t hesitate to reach out. They really want you to do that and are more than willing to help.” (Bell)