Earlier this month, a group calling itself Friends 4 Levine Querido raised almost $110,000 during a 10-day online auction held September 3–13, with the proceeds benefiting indie children’s publisher Levine Querido. LQ reports that it has been hit hard by the dramatic spike in book bans, as, according to the American Library Association, most of the books being targeted are written by BIPOC and LGBTQ authors and LQ specializes in publishing books by authors from these and other traditionally marginalized communities.
Not only have Levine Querido books been challenged and removed from school and library shelves, but, in an attempt to stave off further attacks, some schools and libraries are choosing not to order LQ releases, a practice known as “shadow banning.” In a statement on its website promoting the auction, LQ disclosed that sales were down more than 30% this year from last, much of it due to the impact of book bans, as well as rising costs and the aftermath of last year’s supply chain disruptions.
“We want to be a light in this darkness,” the statement said. “To do so, LQ needs a transfusion of cash in order to bridge this temporary and difficult moment in the life of our company.”
While the publisher provided marketing and publicity, the auction itself was conceptualized and organized by two authors who aren’t formally affiliated with the press: Liza Wiemer and Debbi Weinberg Lakritz. In an email sent to LQ that was passed on to PW, the two wrote that organizing the online auction was “a complete labor of love for us. We thought about all the children who deserve to see themselves and others in our diverse world. Levine Querido’s books are vitally important, providing mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for our youth. The loss of Levine Querido, we realized, would adversely affect what books future generations would have access to. Combine this with the fight against book banning and our torch was lit.”
The two were compelled to act after hearing publisher Arthur Levine speak about the press’s tribulations in late July with Heidi Rabinowitz on the Book of Life podcast. Weimer recalled that the conversation between Rabinowitz and Levine reminded her of the closures and layoffs that roiled the publishing industry this past year. “I was deeply concerned that LQ might be next,” Weimer told PW. “I said to Debbi that we absolutely need to do something about this. I reached out to Heidi and she put us in touch with Arthur. I’ve seen how online auctions have helped independent bookstores like Books of Wonder in New York City and Anderson’s Bookshop in the Chicago area, so that is where the idea came from.”
Lakritz disclosed that during their conversation with Levine on July 31, the two promised him that they “would take the lead on the auction and run it from start to finish,” adding, “we made this our top priority.
Approximately 400 authors, agents, illustrators, and other supporters of the press donated almost 500 items and experiences to be auctioned off, including consultations, manuscript and portfolio critiques, virtual school visits, personalized signed books, and sketches of original artwork from the likes of Sophie Blackall, Gail Carson Levine, Gregory Maguire, Ruth Ozeki, David Shannon, Shaun Tan, Paul Zelinsky, and Henry Winkler, who donated two signed books and a lunch date with him that sold for $2,352.
LQ authors also donated goods and services. Printz Medalist and self-professed foodie Daniel Nayeri’s offer to “cook a three-course meal for you and up to five friends,” received the highest bid: $4,250. Locus Award winner Darcie Little Badger offered to dedicate her forthcoming novel to the high bidder’s pet, which sold for $500, and Newbery Medalist Donna Barba Higuera offered to write an original fairy tale, which sold for $750.
LQ’s publisher and editors also donated to the auction: various opportunities to spend time with Levine and to benefit from his publishing and editing expertise raised almost $6,000. Executive editor Nick Thomas raised almost $5,000 by donating a full manuscript critique that went for $2,150 and manuscript line edits that sold for $2,800.
Levine acknowledged that conducting an auction is a short-term solution to what may be a continuing problem, but noted that the money raised will help the four-year-old company “get over what is a momentary hurdle without creating debts that would threaten future health.” The auction, he added, “was also a huge help for us as human beings: for me to get support and love from authors, artists, friends, colleagues from my past to my present, was a real validation of the good we’re doing.”
Condemning the spike in book bans, Levine expressed his hope that these efforts “will be met by fierce resistance from all of us who love books and want our kids to have access to the best and most diverse collections possible.” In the meantime, he added, “we will redouble our sales and marketing efforts on behalf of our authors and find new sources of revenue.