Publishing is in flux. Anyone who pays attention to the industry knows that. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With change comes opportunity, and some of the smaller independent publishers out there are in a prime position to innovate and try different strategies that the big guys don’t have the flexibility to do. So today I’d like to highlight some of the smaller publishers I see doing exciting things, and as I specialize in kidlit, these are all publishers of children’s or young adult books.
I’m a big fan of the deeply distinctive books that editorial director Andrew Karre selects for this YA imprint of Lerner books. Since his tastes run similar to mine—dark, quirky, weird, awesome—I’ve paid special attention to their offerings over the past few years. More than that, though, is Karre’s vision of what makes good literature for teens, and his ability to bring that out in writers. (Note: They don’t accept queries from unagented writers.)
Some of the most innovative titles in YA are coming from Carolrhoda Lab, including R.J. Anderson’s Ultraviolet, told from the perspective of a girl who feels colors and tastes words (an actual condition called Synesthesia), and that isn’t the weirdest aspect of the novel, by far. The imprint also published the US edition for one of my favorite books ever, Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish. (My review of that here.)
This Canadian outfit publishes possibly my favorite picture books series ever: Chester. Armed with his red marker, he takes on author Melanie Watt as he revises her story about a mouse—while she’s writing it. Seriously. Love. (She also writes the awesome Scaredy Squirrel series.) They produce excellent-quality children’s books, though I believe they focus on younger readers and not as much on YA. There’s a lot to love about what they’re doing, especially for children’s literature in Canada, which tends to get overshadowed by its rather large neighbor to the south. But worry not; they have excellent distribution in the US as well.
Big plus for Canadians here: Kids Can only accepts submissions from writers in Canada.
Tu is part of the Lee and Low publishing family, which focuses on diversity in children’s literature. The Tu imprint specializes even more, offering up science fiction and fantasy books with a multicultural bent. I’ve known editorial director Stacy Whitman for several years now, and I do not exaggerate when I say that she is an incredible editor who uses her passion for speculative fiction to open up genres long dominated by white men—hey, all power to them for writing great stuff—to teens of all races and cultures. One example of their great offerings is Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Summer of the Mariposas (“butterflies” in Spanish).
If you think of Pampered Chef or Mary Kay, what likely pops into your mind first are the parties your friends host
and then badger you to attend so they can get a free gift. A consultant comes in and demonstrates the product, etc., and you go home spending more than you should have, but get great stuff a few weeks later. Usborne works on a similar principle, but their reasoning is different—they don’t sell most of their products in chain bookstores or Amazon because they want to support the small guy, i.e., their consultants and indie bookstores. They focus on nonfiction and educational books for kids but have been expanding to fiction.
I totally want their Dinosaur Excavation Kit. Digging out dino bones encased in clay with a mini hammer and brush while wearing some fancy protective eye goggles, and then assembling the bones into a full skeleton? Heck, yeah. Hey, isn’t Christmas coming up soon?
Full disclosure: My sister is a local consultant for Usborne, but I’ve loved their products long before she started with them. She does it mainly so she can buy great books for her son.
This nonfiction publisher focuses primarily on books for teens, and they aren’t afraid to tackle tough issues, or insert a bit of snarky humor into any topic. If you know of or work with teens facing difficult situations, Zest is a great place to find resources that you can’t get anywhere else.
This fall they’re publishing possibly the greatest etiquette guide ever: How Not to Be a Dick by Meghan Doherty. The concept is genius, and I so want a copy. Also, if you ever need to know how to babysit the neighbor’s screaming brat or even start up your own business while still in high school, they’ve got you covered.
Update: Over on Twitter, literary agent Ammi-Joan Paquette offered up the name of another great small pub:
@michellewitte Another great one is Tanglewood Press, Michelle. They are putting out some gorgeous books!
— Ammi-Joan Paquette (@joanpaq) August 19, 2013
- These are obviously not all of the publishers out there finding success with books in all their many facets and forms, but they are a few that have impressed me with their work and ideas.
- Some of these publishers accept unagented submissions while others don’t. I tried to mention those that don’t, though always check a publisher’s website before submitting anyway. Keep in mind, I’m not offering recommendations here on whether to work with them or not. These are just some of the little guys who create beautiful books and are doing a lot to advance the written word. Query at your own discretion (after plenty of research; always do research before making any business decision).
- You’re welcome to suggest other small publishers doing great things. However, I’ve got comment moderation on and will be vetting them. There are so many new and untested publishers right now that it’s hard for writers—and even publishing pros—to keep track of them. So comments about publishers that have yet to prove their mettle in the marketplace won’t be approved unless I can verify that they are achieving positive results and ultimately have staying power.
Edit: Removing the stupid typos that jumped in when my back was turned. Grrr. Typos.