The publisher has quickly established itself in the children's market
It officially opened its doors in May 1991 with six employees and launched its first list in spring 1992. It broke even in 1994 and celebrated its fifth anniversary this year as the fastest growing children's publisher in the U.S. "It" is Candlewick Press, the U.S. subsidiary of Walker Books, which had 1996 sales of $21.2 million and 43 employees.

Gary Gentel, company president since last November, and Liz Bicknell, who was named editor-in-chief in January, both attributed the success of Candlewick to its "uniqueness," which they described as ranging from such aspects as the design and layout of its Cambridge, Mass., headquarters, to its policy of having a chef brought in three days a week to make lunch for employees. "There is a spirit here that I have found no place else," Bicknell explained.

The Candlewick spirit has earned the company a solid reputation among booksellers for well designed books, and the loyalty of its authors. To help keep that loyalty, Candlewick invites its authors and illustrators to become part of the Walker Employee Trust, which makes them eligible to receive dividends at the end of each year.

The Candlewick publishing program, which published about 210 titles in 1996, reduced its output this year to approximately 160. Gentel said the reduction was due to some overpublishing of its hardcover program, as well as to the fact that it published an abnormally high number of paperbacks in 1996 to help launch the format. Gentel told PW he anticipates that Candlewick will publish between 160 to 180 titles annually.

While Candlewick is having another good year in 1997, Gentel acknowledges that although sales growth will be in double digits, the rate of increase "will be nowhere near" the 60% posted in 1996. In 1997, Candlewick invested considerable resources in building its internal operations, including the implementation of a new computer system. The investment should position Candlewick for a very good 1998 and even better 1999, Gentel said.

One of Gentel's priorities in early 1998 is to add personnel to its creative teams and develop more material in the U.S. Currently about 25% of Candlewick's titles originate in the U.S., with the balance done in the U.K.; by 2000, Gentel would like to see 40% to 45% of Candlewick's titles developed in the U.S. No matter where a title is developed, however, one thing that Candlewick or Walker editors always keep in mind is the international viability of the book. Gentel said that the fastest growing part of Walker is the sale of foreign rights. "It's been a key to our survival," he noted.

The centerpiece of Candlewick's recent success has been Guess How Much I Love You, which began life in 1995 as a picture book and has spawned numerous novelties; Gentel hopes to have a pop-up book on the market by late 1998. The picture book and board book have a total of more than 2.6 million copies in print in the U.S. and about 4 million worldwide. The title has also been "well licensed," Gentel said, pointing to greeting cards, games and puzzles. This fall, Candlewick also relaunched the three original Waldo books, whose rights it took back from Little Brown, as well as the new Where's Waldo: The Wonder Book, which had a first printing of 250,000 copies. Gentel claims that sales have exceeded expectations for the new Waldo title, and says there are a combined 200,000 copies in print for the reissued titles. In preparing to increase the publishing output in the U.S., Bicknell said that she is expecting to do about 50 titles a year in a mix of hardcover and paperback. The list will be "picture book-based" with selected board books and some middle-grade and YA novels. Indeed, increased penetration of the YA market is one of Gentel's other objectives over the next few years. And by the year 2000, Candlewick may see one of its characters, Lucy Cousins's Maisy, animated for television.

Complementing Candlewick's editorial efforts is an aggressive sales and marketing team. Gentel observed that many of Candlewick's books need to be handsold, a factor that keeps the company in close touch to independent booksellers. Candlewick has four commissioned rep groups that sell into the traditional trade market, as well as four in-house reps that call on national accounts. Penguin has handled the company's back office needs since Candlewick was launched and serves as its distributor. The publisher has also found the nontraditional market, particularly gift stores, "extremely lucrative," Gentel said. Candlewick is also continuing its proprietary publishing program for Shaw's supermarkets, and Gentel said he is considering expanding that part of the business.

In five years as a publisher, Candlewick has established a firm place for itself in the children's book field. With its current focus on producing indigenous material and pushing into new markets, the company may be able to maintain steady gains, both in reputation and sales, while forging a unique niche in what many see as a saturated business. If so, the Candlewick logo may indeed serve as an icon for a bright future.
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