In an unprecedented partnership, two Boston-area publishers—Candlewick Press and MIT Press—have announced plans to collaboratively launch two imprints for children and teen readers, starting in 2021. MIT Kids Press and MITeen Press will publish books on science and technology under the editorial direction of MIT Press and the creative, marketing, and sales direction of Candlewick.
“Given the expertise embedded in the larger organization, as well as the fabulously innovative mentality of the MIT Press staff, we feel we are in a really fortunate position,” said Karen Lotz, president and publisher of Candlewick Press and group managing director of the Walker Books Group. “First and foremost,” she said, “we shared an ambition to fill the truly international need for new kinds of nonfiction and fiction on important STEAM topics.”
“As a publisher and also someone who raised three kids in the Boston area and spent lots of time in local bookstores with them as they were growing up, I’ve been aware for years that Candlewick stands apart in the quality of its content and illustration,” said MIT Press director Amy Brand.
For both publishers, the connection that led to the agreement was as personal as it was professional. The idea for a collaboratively run imprint first came about through what Lotz called “mom circles.” Candlewick CFO Hilary Berkman knew Brand from their children’s school. Likewise, Lotz and MIT professor Angela Belcher likewise knew one another through their sons. In increasingly formal conversations that brought in MIT Press business development director Bill Smith, they recognized the skills that each company could bring to a shared venture.
Still, bringing the two publishers together was no simple process. “This was a delicate decision process and negotiation,” Brand said. “First, we had to establish real trust and make sure our visions and the ways in which our companies operate were well aligned. After a few meetings, I think both sides felt that we not only complemented each other well in terms of our operations and marketing strengths, but that we also share core values as publishers when it comes to the quality of our books, how we work with authors, and overall company culture.”
Brand also needed approval—which was granted—from MIT’s senior leadership before moving forward. “This went all the way up the food chain at MIT, both for the concept of MIT-branded books for kids, and also to get approval for us to use the MIT name in partnership with an outside entity,” Brand said.
For Candlewick, Lotz said, “the most challenging part is getting to know the differences in each other’s markets. There is the adult versus children’s difference, and also the difference between a combination of trade and school marketing on Candlewick’s part, and the trade and academic approach on MIT’s side. We overlap and we diverge, and it’s been really interesting to learn where those seams lie.”
The result of the publishers’ care in crafting the arrangement is a co-publishing agreement that both publishers believe is the first of its kind. Proposals will be taken up and also generated by an MIT Press advisory board consisting of faculty from the university and employees at the press. After reviewing accepted proposals for accuracy and editing for content, MIT will hand titles off to Candlewick, which will oversee the design, marketing, promotion, and sales of the books. Both presses are distributed by Penguin Random House, but MIT Kids Press and MITeen Press titles will appear in Candlewick’s catalogs, and will be sold overseas by Walker.
The first three titles from the imprints will debut in fall 2021. They include Ada and the Galaxies, a picture book by MIT professor and novelist Alan Lightman; Hanmoji, a guide to learning Chinese through emojis by Jennifer 8. Lee, Jason Li, and An Xiao Mina; and MIT App Inventor, a guide to coding by computer scientist and MIT professor Hal Abelson.
For both Brand and Lotz, the new imprints represent an exciting and unique opportunity for long-term collaboration. “Both sides in this partnership bring unique skill sets to the table, and have much to learn from one another through this adventure,” Brand said.
“We’re now privileged to look through our little window into the great, buzzing brain of MIT as an institution,” Lotz said, “and to work with the expert publishing professionals of the MIT Press to bring some of that excitement into homes and schools everywhere.”