Book packagers and publishers gathered on April 10 for a panel discussion on publishing juvenile series, at the New York Public Library’s Muhlenberg branch. The event was presented by the American Book Producers Association; panelists were Rebecca Frazer, editor-in-chief of Clever Publishing; Pam Gruber, senior editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; and Rhoda Belleza, editor at Lonely Planet Kids. Stephanie Fitzgerald, a board member of the ABPA and principal of Spooky Cheetah Press, moderated the panel.
Key takeaways from the discussion included the importance of developing versatile and adaptable series concepts; the role of package and presentation in making books stand out on the shelves; and the art of finding projects that are both consistent with and enriching to a particular brand.
The panelists opened with an overview of the types of books that they acquire and what they look for when developing a series. Clever Publishing, which launched in Moscow in 2010, has expanded to the U.S., with its debut list releasing last year. According to Frazer, Clever focuses on publishing nonfiction books for preschoolers that are “bright, eye-catching, and simple,” including board books, educational games, puzzle books, and boxed sets.
Lonely Planet Kids publishes books designed to interest “future travelers,” said Belleza. The majority of Lonely Planet’s concepts are developed in-house and, for each new project, “we are always thinking in terms of developing a series,” she said. For Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Gruber publishes YA and middle grade books ranging from nonfiction to romance, many of which are expanded serially.
Before committing to new projects, the publishers consider intended audience, form, and expandability. For potential series, Frazer pursues projects with engaging formats that might be readily transferable to suit a variety of topics.
Belleza thinks about “where I would place the books in a bookstore or other retail space.” She also considers whether she can easily brainstorm ideas for additional titles that might organically follow the first book. And at times, a story just feels like it needs to carry on: “there is just that chemistry,” Belleza said.
The panelists discussed the benefits and challenges of working with book packagers for series and stand-alone titles. Clever Publishing collaborates with both U.K. and U.S. book packagers, including Rock Scissors Paper Press in Bearsville, N.Y. According to Frazer, packagers are especially valuable for creating books in a series, in that they can use the initial title as a blueprint as the concepts broaden. From Belleza’s perspective, packagers can help lift some of the workload from a publisher’s shoulders. “It can be a relief to hand [a project] off to someone.” That being said, working with a packager also means relinquishing a degree of creative control. “It’s a big deal to let go with these projects,” she said. Belleza added that collaborating with packagers is “a fantastic learning experience,” and that having “direct communications” with packagers is especially crucial.
Gruber frequently works with Alloy Entertainment, a book packager and television production unit of Warner Bros.; successful packaged franchises have included LBYR’s Gossip Girl and the 100 series. While collaborations with packagers are often successful, Gruber believes that, in the past, “packagers used to do more.” Today, using a packager to produce books is not always a money-saving prospect, so Gruber carefully considers the decision based on the services an individual packager is able to provide. “The more a packager can do, the better,” she said.
The panelists concluded by a sharing a few items from their “wish lists.” As Belleza seeks and develops new projects, “I think of myself as a kid and what I’d like to read.” She is particularly fond of “thick, info-filled books” that tend to appeal to curious, book-loving readers. It doesn’t hurt when a project holds appeal for adults, too. One thing that Belleza is not looking for, she said, are personal travel narratives. “Those [personal narratives] just aren’t our brand,” she said.
Frazer always looks for “fresh takes” on alphabet, counting, and first word books that will stand apart from other titles on the shelves. Clever’s acquisitions must also be general enough in concept to hold appeal for the Russian children’s book market; going forward, Frazer said, Clever may also expand to include Spanish-language books. Meanwhile, Gruber is particularly eager to add titles to LBYR’s “budding graphic novel list,” she said.