A Conversation with Children’s Book Press

by Ann Parker, Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ

Last week, we heard from Jason Low from Lee and Low Books, a company that focuses on writers and illustrators of color. This week, we present an interview with Dana Goldberg, Executive Editor of Children’s Book Press.

Q: Please briefly describe your company and the books you publish.

    Children’s Book Press is a 35 year old, nonprofit publisher of multicultural and bilingual picture books. We publish across five broad cultural categories — books from and about the African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, and multiracial/multiethnic communities. While our books are set in specific cultural milieu, they are for all children to read and enjoy.

Q. Has the original mission or vision for your publishing company changed over the years? How?

    The mission and vision are the same, though our editorial program has changed somewhat. The Press began by publishing folktales and other stories from the oral traditions of various cultures. Now our editorial program is generally focused on stories and poetry set in the contemporary United States, though we have also published some historical fiction. We don’t really publish folktales at this time.

Q. What have been some of your best sellers? Why do you think they have been so popular?

    In no particular order, some of our bestselling books have been: Family Pictures and In My Family, written and illustrated by Carmen Lomas Garza, Baby Rattlesnake, a Pawnee tale re-told by Te Ata and Lynn Moroney and illustrated by Mira Reisberg, and The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, based on a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martínez and illustrated by Fernando Olivera. I think readers really respond to Carmen’s portrayals of daily life in a small town because they recognize their own lives and families in her paintings and stories; young children really delight in the naughty behavior, cute illustrations, and repetitive sounds in Baby Rattlesnake; and the magical details and surreal artwork in Woman are really captivating.

Q. Who is the audience for your books? Are there different audiences for different types of books (i.e., multicultural, non-fiction, bilingual)? Has the audience for your books changed over the years? If so, how? How do you envision this audience changing in the future?

    Our books are for all children, and many of our books present universal stories, but they are also all set in culturally specific milieus. You could argue that there are different audiences for our books depending on which cultural community the stories come from (the African American, Asian American, Native American, Latino, or biracial/multiethnic communities). While our books provide a mirror to some readers, reflecting their culture, experience, and home languages, they also provide a window into those experiences and cultures for children who are from different backgrounds than those represented in a given book. Over the years, the audience for our books has grown, as the population of children of color in the United States has grown. The audience for our books will only continue to expand as our nation becomes more diverse, as communities of color represent a greater and greater proportion of our national profile.

Q. What are some of the most effective methods you use to market your books?

    As a small nonprofit publisher, we have a very limited marketing budget so we tend to focus on activities that don’t require a lot of money. Teachers and librarians make up the largest market for our books, so we spend most of our resources on targeting the institutional market. Winning awards has a huge impact on sales, so we submit each new book to multiple award committees. Getting reviewed in industry magazines and journals often triggers orders from certain vendors. Conferences are another great way to get our books in front of the right people. Over the last few years, we’ve also increased the amount of promotion we do online. Our website is such an important tool, and we constantly update our blog. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter.

Q. What are the biggest challenges in publishing multicultural and/or bilingual books for children?

    We share the challenges of all children’s book publishers, to some extent. There are just too many picture books (thousands!) published every year — there’s no way they will all receive the attention they deserve from the overworked reviewers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers who receive them all. As a very small nonprofit press, we struggle to get our books noticed — even though our books consistently win awards and get great reviews. Also, though this is changing somewhat, sometimes multicultural and bilingual books gets pigeonholed by booksellers who don’t necessarily see them as having mainstream appeal, or they sometimes get shunted to the foreign language section of bookstores and can therefore be hard to find by your average consumer.

Q. How do you find your authors and illustrators? What are the challenges you face in finding culturally authentic authors and illustrators?

    We find our authors and illustrators via a variety of different channels. We are all voracious readers, and keep an eye out for what established and emerging authors are doing. We receive submissions from agents who represent authors and artists, as well as tons of unsolicited submissions from writers and artists who hope to catch our eye. We also get referrals from people we’ve worked with about their colleagues who are doing impressive work. Lastly, we make contact with art schools and organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to see what kind of talent is out there.

Q. Given the fact that many small publishing companies have been taken over by large conglomerates, what do you see as being the current state for independent book publishers of children’s books, particularly multicultural and/or bilingual books? What are the advantages that smaller companies have over the large companies? Disadvantages?

    It’s tough out there. There’s a lot of competition and to some extent we’re fighting for the same market share. That being said, there’s a nice collegial feeling among the smaller presses (especially ones that focus on multicultural and/or bilingual books) because we’re all driven by a similar sense of commitment, I think. I’m thinking specifically of our colleagues at Cinco Puntos, Arte Público/Piñata Press, Tricycle Press (not exclusively multicultural but a fine small press, which is unfortunately shutting down in January), Lee & Low, and Groundwood Books. Large publishing companies have a big advantage in that they have lots of resources at their disposal, in terms of money and people power. But often the corporate entities that own them are so bottom-line focused they’re rarely able to take risks on authors who may not be immediate commercial successes, but whose stories are important and worth publishing. Being small (and nonprofit) allows us to follow our passion and our mission, and because our frontlist is so small (just a few titles each year), we’re able to give each and every one the star treatment.

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