Despite the disruptions due to the pandemic, publishers are launching children’s imprints at a record pace. Some companies, such as Peachtree Publishing Group and Sterling Publishing, want to expand into the lucrative teen market, with Peachtree Teen and Sterling Teen respectively. Another, Welbeck Children’s Publishing in the U.K., is extending its reach into the global marketplace by launching its first two fiction imprints, Welbeck Flame and Orange Mosquito. Then there’s Neon Squid, a Macmillan Children’s Book Group imprint: it is focused on a smaller slice of the market with nonfiction intended to make complex subjects more accessible to young readers.
A number of new children’s imprints are emerging from a confluence of factors: a publisher wants to fill a void in the marketplace, primarily with more diverse offerings, while an editor seeks to realize their vision. Several editors have even moved from one house to another in pursuit of their passion. Most recently, industry veteran Jill Davis joined Astra Publishing earlier this summer to launch a yet-to-be-named imprint dedicated to illustrated children’s books.
Nine editors launching nine imprints during the pandemic recently reflected upon what drove them, what they hope to accomplish, and how the books they intend to publish will stand out in an already crowded marketplace. While most of these imprints will debut in fall 2022, a few editors already have introduced their lists.
Shortly before the pandemic erupted, Margaret Anastas moved from HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she had served as editorial director, to Penguin Young Readers, to launch Flamingo Books, a picture book imprint under Viking Children’s Books.
Anastas, a seasoned editor who worked at HarperCollins for 17 years, noted that her biggest challenge in launching an imprint at another house was doing so during a pandemic. “I was laser-focused on establishing Flamingo’s place among all the other impressive imprints and divisions within PYR, and in getting to know the team,” Anastas recalled. “Establishing a new work rhythm is tricky when you can’t connect in person.”
As for what Anastas hopes to accomplish with Flamingo, her goal is simple: she wants to create lifelong readers. “I never underestimate the impact a picture book can have on a child,” she said. “Introducing children to their new favorite character, the unexpected page turn, or a catchy refrain that gets stuck in their head for days—that’s what I hope to accomplish.”
Christy Ottaviano Books
Last fall, Christy Ottaviano moved her eponymous 13-year-old imprint from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The imprint will feature a mix of literary and commercial fiction and nonfiction for preschool through teen readers.
“We’re fortunate to be able to work off two foundational pillars,” Ottaviano told PW—“award-winning and author-focused publishing, which has always been the cornerstone of the imprint.” Disclosing that her imprint will feature a mix of debut authors and house authors who followed her from Macmillan to LBYR, Ottaviano referred to the imprint’s rebranded logo as symbolizing what she hopes to accomplish.
“Butterflies are symbolic of many important themes in life,” she said, “Hope, renewal, change, fragility, strength, beauty, growth, and freedom. These are all themes that I feel represent the types of ideas we aim to capture in the books we publish.”
The books, Ottaviano explained, will remain similar to those published under her previous imprint: “Books for children and teens that explore milestones, intersections, transitions and that foster emotional and educational growth in equal measure.”
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers publisher Megan Tingley described Christy Ottaviano Books as an imprint designed to grow LBYR’s list. “I’ve always felt that Christy is a kindred spirit,” she said. “We share the same mission of publishing works that speak directly to young readers and that reflect the diversity of our world. Her books win the hearts and minds of readers, along with plenty of awards—and they backlist brilliantly.”
Liesa Abrams also switched houses last fall to launch a new imprint at Random House, Labyrinth Road, which will focus on middle grade and YA novels that, Abrams said, “marry commercial, high-concept hooks with character-driven stories.” Unlike Ottaviano, though, this is the former Simon & Schuster editor’s first imprint.
“It’s a very different experience from having a full existing list of authors and titles going back years,” Abrams admitted, adding that launching an imprint in 2020 created even more challenges, as she had to meet new colleagues and learn new systems and “office culture” remotely.
“I’m sure that one challenge of launching an imprint can often be the introduction of added demands on the time of various departments,” Abrams said, “but so far I’ve been met only with excitement and enthusiasm. I was stunned and moved by the extensive imprint logo design options the design group created for me. I’m also aware that the titles on our first few seasons will carry extra weight of communicating clearly exactly what to expect from Labyrinth Road.”
Labyrinth Road’s YA offerings will contain such themes as sexuality and grief “that present inner labyrinths for characters to explore,” Abrams explained, adding, “Representation in many forms is a key goal for the imprint, especially expanding the scope of readers who can see themselves within genres like fantasy—particularly queer and intersectional representation.”
The middle grade series she will curate will be characterized “by the intersection of epic world-saving stakes with deeply emotional character journeys.” Projects range from a medieval fantasy series featuring a non-binary protagonist fighting both dragons and a patriarchal society to a contemporary series about a queer Black boy who must defeat the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
“I’ve long been an advocate for the notion that it’s not only permissible but essential to tackle more complex, mature experiences and ideas about identity within middle grade series,” Abrams said. “This is how we offer readers windows and mirrors to lives that are less than smooth, that contain twists and turns, and yes, sometimes jagged, painful edges.”
Random House Books for Young Readers Group publisher Mallory Loehr, who persuaded Abrams to move from S&S and launch Labyrinth Road, disclosed that the two had discussed whether or not Abrams should take the helm of an existing imprint or launch a new one. “Her taste and strategy is very clear, both creatively and from a business perspective,” Loehr said. “Pairing that with her success rate at building beloved, sustainable middle grade series, as well as strong YA, it ultimately felt right for Liesa to have her own imprint.”
In addition, Random House is launching a children’s imprint by a duo who may not have professional editorial experience, but certainly have expertise regarding teen romances: David and Nicola Yoon. The authors will—with the assistance of Delacorte Press editor Bria Ragin—acquire titles and shape Joy Revolution, a teen romance imprint by and about people of color.
In a joint statement, the Yoons wrote that they have long been frustrated with the “almost complete lack of POC representation in our beloved genre of romantic comedies” and have wanted “to carve out a safe space for love stories that star POC and allow the full breadth of their humanity.”
The primary challenge, they noted, comes from the fact that they are, first and foremost, writers. “It’s really important to keep our publisher and writer personae as separate as possible, in order to protect both,” they wrote. “We don’t want our specific writer aesthetic to get in the way of seeing the real potential of a manuscript,” yet “we don’t want to let buzzy market trends cloud our own artistic visions.”
The Yoons told PW that they primarily hope to dispel stereotypes with Joy Revolution. “Black girls were always cartoonishly sassy sidekicks, never the hero, and Asian men were always horribly emasculated foreigners or lab techs,” they recalled of popular culture during their youth. “It sounds silly to say, but POC fall in love all the time and are heroes of their own epic romances. It’s critically important to show that side to a broader audience, because if you don’t counter bad stereotypes, bad stereotypes will simply persist.”
The Yoons envision Joy Revolution books as “a safe place” where POC readers “can simply be swept away by a great story, free from the dread of running into some horribly typecast POC character. That’s why the logo is a little heart just chillin’ under a sturdy stone shelter—our imprint is a place to relax and just be yourself.”
As for competition, they welcome it. “There’s plenty of room for POC love stories, which is a nice way of saying there’s a huge void to fill,” they wrote. “In fact, we look forward to the day when the market is so rich with leading POC characters that we don’t even have to make an obvious statement like ‘POC fall in love’—because that’s when the revolution will finally have been fulfilled.”
As for the strategy behind enlisting authors to head an imprint, Delacorte executive editor Wendy Loggia expresses the rationale succinctly: “Romance readers are clamoring for stories about people of color and these two authors have star power. This imprint is dedicated to what [the Yoons] do best.”
Anne Schwartz Books and Random House Studio
Besides recruiting a top editor from another company as well as two popular authors to launch new children’s imprints, Random House has launched two imprints led by two veteran editors—Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade—who for 15 years had co-piloted Schwartz and Wade Books. Schwartz has transitioned to Anne Schwartz Books under the Knopf Books for Young Readers imprint, and Wade to Random House Studio.
“With Anne Schwartz Books, I’m launching an imprint for the fourth time, so it’s almost old hat,” Schwartz told PW of the new imprint, which will focus on picture books, with “a smattering” of middle grade and YA reads.
Schwartz hopes to acquire and create books “that will resonate deeply with young readers —that will comfort them, excite them, move them, motivate them, make them think, shape the way they see and interact with the world, and that they’ll remember for years to come.”
For her part, Wade promised “a broad and diverse list of titles that are each thoughtfully and respectively edited and art directed, gorgeously designed and produced, and that become reliable backlist titles that live on for a long time.”
RISE x Penguin Workshop
Another PYR imprint, RISE x Penguin Workshop, which launched in fall 2020, is meant to “create literature that empowers babies, toddlers, and preschoolers,” Publishing director Cecily Kaiser hopes that the board book and early picture book imprint inspires others to “create, stock, sell, lend, teach, and read aloud such books for the youngest audience.”
Kaiser compares launching an imprint to childbirth, explaining, "The long build-up to the moment in which the imprint meets the world is arduous: the preparations are endless, with waves of anxiety balanced by waves of giddy anticipation. You are growing something very quietly, very internally, that might change the world! You know its books are special, but that it's entering a world with many other special books. You know you'll have to work special hard to advocate for it to be seen and heard, whether it's one of several children's imprints in a house, or the only children's imprint in an otherwise adult house. And the naming! Having named two human children of my own, I can unequivocally say that naming an imprint is more difficult. But when you find the name, it sings!"
Kaiser, a children’s industry veteran who joined Penguin Workshop in 2019 after overseeing the launch of the Abrams Appleseed imprint for preschool books and the re-launch of Phaidon’s children’s imprint, noted, “Children ages 0–5 deserve authentic and powerful books that transcend basic concepts, fuzzy animals, and superficial love. I hope that the existence of RISE draws attention to the fact that publishing for this age group demands the same level of consideration and grace as goes into the creation of award-winning books.”
When asked how RISE releases can stand out in a crowded marketplace, Kaiser explained that the books will do so by virtue of their subject matter, “written authentically by authors with first-hand knowledge, lived or learned,” and their aesthetic, “often involving artists working in their ‘adult’ style, in which their passion shines through and speaks to young children.” But, she added, she actually hopes RISE books will not stand out. “I’d prefer the 0–5 shelves to be full of books like these,” she said. “I’d prefer that anyone in a bookstore or library be able to approach the youngest bookshelves, close their eyes, spin around, and point to a book that makes the reader feel smart, safe, capable, and important.”
Heartdrum and Quill Tree Books
Finally, at HarperCollins Children’s Books, editorial director Rosemary Brosnan recently launched not one but two imprints: Heartdrum, in partnership with author Cynthia Leitich Smith, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, and Quill Tree Books.
With Heartdrum, Brosnan said, HarperCollins hopes to “create a welcoming space for Native and First Nations authors and illustrators,” with picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA fiction, graphic novels, and nonfiction.
“We’re working with debut writers and illustrators as well as previously published ones,” she explained. “We want Native children and teens to recognize themselves in the books we publish, and we are focusing on Native young people as the heroes of their own stories. We also want non-Native kids and teens to have a chance to read about contemporary Native people.”
Brosnan pointed out that Heartdrum is the first Indigenous-focused imprint from a major publisher. “Small, Native-owned presses have been doing the work for years,” Brosnan noted. “And so have some university presses. But with Heartdrum, we are doing something new and very exciting, focusing only on Native and First Nations creatives. We have published five books under the Heartdrum imprint so far, and together they have garnered 19 starred reviews.”
As for Quill Tree, Brosnan described it as a general imprint that publishes picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA fiction, graphic novels and nonfiction by authors from underrepresented communities with strong points of view. “The imprint is really a continuation of what my wonderful team and I have been publishing for a number of years,” she said, “with the addition of an imprint name.”
Brosnan believes that because so many authors are writing essential books for increasingly diverse audiences, a new imprint like Quill Tree is not so much competing with other imprints as “complementing one another, making sure that great authors and illustrators will find a good home, and that readers have plenty of wonderful books.”
This story has been updated.