Purple House Press
After working for 13 years as a software engineer, Jill Morgan quit her job in 1997 to spend more time with her three children. Today, she is working harder than ever operating Purple House Press, the company she founded last year, out of her home in Keller, Tex.
With a passion for children's books and her professional skills as a computer programmer, Morgan first started an online bookstore specializing in hard-to-find children's titles. She noticed that customers were repeatedly requesting the same titles, and they were telling her that expensive online auctions were the only place to find the books. Morgan cites the 1965 children's book Ann Likes Red by Dorothy Mills, which she saw go for more than $900 in an online auction. "Who is going to let their child read a $900 book?" Morgan thought. When auction prices rose to over $300 for her childhood favorite, Mr. Pine's Purple House by Leonard Kessler, Morgan decided that something had to be done to provide affordable copies of these books for future generations. "Baby boomers want to pass their favorite stories to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews," she observed.
Morgan tracked down Kessler, now 80 years old, told him about the sentimental requests that she had received for the book and said she would like to reprint it. Kessler, like many of the authors Morgan has contacted, was thrilled at the idea of having his book in print again and signed over the rights. Last September, using her own savings, Morgan printed 5,000 copies of Mr. Pine's Purple House.
A year later, Purple House Press (named after Kessler's story) has reissued five titles, with plans for three more by Christmas. Of her first printing of 5,000 copies of Mr. Pine, Morgan has personally sold 4,000 copies (at $17.95 each); the other 1,000 were sold to Amazon. There, the book has been given a strong boost by Jeff Bezos's personal recommendation of the title in an e-mail that was sent to some 500,000 customers. Morgan is planning to go back to press for another 10,000 copies. She is preserving the original cover design and page illustrations for all of the reissued books. For Bertrand Brinley's Mad Scientist Club, a series about a group of adventurous young scientists, Morgan is completely restoring the manuscripts, and is including in them some previously omitted portions. The original printing of the third book in the series, originally published in 1968, was for only 1,000 copies; the fourth in the series had never been published. Purple House will release all four, with the first book in the series due in September, in time for its 40th anniversary.
Morgan is also using her expertise as a computer specialist to let the public know about her efforts via the Internet. Generally, she says, her Web site accounts for 60% of her current sales, with the remaining 40% divided evenly between direct sales to bookstores and through wholesale agreements with Baker & Taylor and Ingram.
She reports her total sales to be around 12,000 books, and hopes to increase that number significantly in the future, via new marketing plans. "The main objective for the future of Purple House Press is letting booksellers and the public know that these books are available," said Morgan. To that end, she is in discussions with Neiman Marcus about having the retailer become the exclusive marketer for one of Purple House's upcoming books, Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones, along with two dolls of the main characters.
Jennifer Anglin, owner of Enchanted Forest in Dallas, said that beyond her personal handselling efforts, stories in the local news and Dallas's D magazine have created a lot of interest in the publisher. Anglin has set up a Purple House section in her store, and said she is seeing interest from all of her customers, especially grandparents. "The books are perfect to recommend because they are stories you can trust," Anglin said. "There is no bad language or violence, and there is also no marketing gimmick associated with these characters."
For Morgan, Purple House represents a goal fulfilled. And for long out-of-print children's books, it means another chance to be seen by a new generation of young readers.— Alys Stephens
Last fall, Marc Aronson left his position as senior editor at Holt Books for Young Readers to become publisher of a new imprint at Carus Publishing; since then he has been shuttling between New York City (where he lives) and Chicago (where the company is based). One year later, the imprint, Marcato Books, is launching its first list.
The name of the imprint, said Aronson, is a musical term meaning "with a distinct accent." "Like in a march," he explained; "think John Philip Sousa." The imprint will focus on books that, in Aronson's words, "push at the edges of art and ideas in children's literature." The fact that the name relates to music is in keeping with Aronson's personal interest in that area. "And I don't mind that the first five letters are M-a-r-c-A," he quipped.
Marcato's first release, in September, is Seek by Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman. Written as a play about a boy and the connection he has with his father, the novel draws on Fleischman's interest in radio. The format has inspired schools and libraries to plan performances of the play, and Aronson has been receiving requests for performance rights. The book has been chosen as the topic of an episode of the Loose Leaf Book Company radio show, which will also be aired in all of NPR's markets as part of its fall pledge drive. Aronson said that orders for Seek have already exceeded his projections (the first printing was 11,000 copies), and Cricket has gone back to press for a pre-pub second printing of 3,500 copies. "Teens really like radio," he said, "and it has been a perfect link with that audience."
The imprint has three other books on its debut list: Patakín: World Tales of Drums and Drummers by Nina Jaffe, a book that Aronson published at Holt, will be issued in paperback for the first time, and will be newly packaged with a CD; Wáchale!: Poetry and Prose About Growing Up Latino in Americais an anthology edited by Latin American scholar Ilan Stavans; and Taf, a YA novel by Irish author Annie Callan, will pub in November. Future plans for Marcato include expanding into nonfiction and translations.
In his new capacity, Aronson also works on Cricket Books, the larger book-publishing arm of Carus Publishing, into which the Marcato imprint fits. Besides books, Carus publishes 15 magazines, including Cricket, Cicada and Muse. Aronson sees these magazines, which target specific age groups, as a particularly effective way of cross-promoting Marcato and Cricket titles. "Unlike book publishers, magazines are directly in touch with their readers," he observed.
Aronson sees a number of advantages to being at a smaller house, among them the ability to take more risks. "We are using creative marketing to give books their best shot," he said. To help with those efforts, Marcato/Cricket has joined Inchpub, an alliance of small publishers working to share marketing and publicity resources.
Aronson remains enthusiastic and hopeful as Marcato takes its first steps into the marketplace. "The response to Seek is showing that people are willing to believe that a major book can come out of a smaller house," he said. "The challenge is to make sure we keep publishing major books." — Jason Britton