I left a promising career with advertising giant Leo Burnett, cashed in $17,000 from my 401(k) plan, and launched a publishing house from an upstairs bedroom in my home in Naperville, Illinois. I started with just one book, and was initially focused on publishing professional finance titles, books for bankers, and how-to books for small-business owners.
It’s pretty wild that the company I started 31 years ago has become a Top 10 U.S. publisher and the largest woman-owned publisher in North America. We have over 100 employees and now publish hundreds of books each year in a variety of categories.
We are a data-driven company in an industry that is way too rooted in the notions of “taste” and “instinct.” I’ll take data over my gut any day of the week. We gather and learn from data wherever possible, even if it’s on the smallest of scales. We use data in every single department of the company. My background has certainly helped drive us in that direction, but all areas of the company have embraced the use of data.
In terms of innovation, our personalized books platform came from the discovery that readers were already customizing our bestselling kids and gift books on their own. We launched Put Me In The Story as an app, and quickly realized that readers actually wanted a print copy featuring their child’s name and photo, as a gift or keepsake. We are constantly adapting to better suit the needs and wants of readers.
We know books change lives because books changed my life at a young age when I first came to America. I was 9-years-old and did not speak English. I found refuge in the library, where books helped me to understand the culture and the language of the world I now found myself in. I have seen over the last 31 years how books can make a profound difference in peoples’ lives, and that is what continues to drive the Sourcebooks mission.
Agile, transparent and collaborative. We’ve also incorporated “growth mindset” throughout our corporate culture. It’s meaningful when every person on the team is pushing themselves to recognize that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and strive to understand something new. We publish 400 new titles each year.
In 1998, we broke all boundaries with We Interrupt This Broadcast by Joe Garner, a mixed-media book featuring two compact discs with integrated content. It was our largest first printing, and it went on to become Sourcebooks’s first New York Times bestseller. The brilliant pairing of live audio with photographs and the written word generated enormous interest within the bookselling community.
Three years later, we reinvigorated the way readers experience poetry with Poetry Speaks, a book and three-CD combination featuring noted poets like Tennyson and Plath reading their own work. This anthology, a Los Angeles Times and New York Times bestseller, was lauded by Publishers Weekly as having “the potential to draw more readers to poetry than any collection in years.”
After saying I would never publish a children’s book, we released our first children’s picture book, Poetry Speaks to Children, in 2005. The unique grouping of poems, illustrations, and a CD of poets reading their work delighted booksellers and found its way into the hearts of parents, teachers, and children alike, landing it on the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks. The title eventually marked the springboard for the launch of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, which started in 2007. A decade later, we’re the 11st largest children’s book publisher.
When I first started the company, my husband came with me to the bank to take out a loan. The banker only talked to my husband. He didn’t pay me any attention, even though my husband made it clear I was the founder and CEO of the company. On the next visit, my husband came with me again, but this time he sat at the back of the room and read a book. When the banker asked for his attention, he said, “you need to talk to her.”
Sourcebooks is the largest woman-owned publisher in North America. Our staff is 70% female, and our leadership team is 70% female. We publish books that empower, recognize and celebrate women who have made a difference.
Sourcebooks Kids is the umbrella under which four children’s imprints live including:
The viral picture book P Is for Pterodactyl, by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter and illustrated Maria Tina Beddia, skyrocketed to #1 on the New York Times Children’s Picture Book bestseller list in December, selling 63,000 in eight weeks (NPD Bookscan).
Reading a print book will always be an incredibly special experience for all ages, but there are absolutely some areas where technology can really create major impact.
Some questions we asked ourselves years ago were: How do we engage reluctant readers? How do we turn every child into a reader? With those questions in mind, we created Put Me In the Story, which takes bestselling books and personalizes them with children’s names and pictures. We work with bestselling authors, award-winning publishers, and blockbuster brands to shape each personalized story into the best reading experience possible. For parents and children, these books become very special bonding experiences that they cherish for years to come. It also engages children at a much higher level, and helps their love of reading grow.
Another example for us is our Fiske Guide to College, the #1 going-to-college guide. It features 316 of the best schools in the US, Canada, and Great Britain. We wanted to find a way to enhance the overall experience for parents and college-bound students, so we created the Fiske interactive app. This allows individuals to browse the curated list of schools and create personal college lists, flag schools for a second look or visit, add notes about each school, email admissions departments directly, and so much more. The college search can be very daunting, and this app really helps families organize all of the information that they need so that that can make more informed decisions.
The future of publishing isn’t a far away concept; it’s actually happening right now. Books are unique, and the publishing is incredibly different than the music or magazine industries. When you buy a book for yourself or as a gift, that book tells the people around you what you like and what’s important to you. It’s another social way to share who you are with the world. That’s why platforms like Instagram are becoming vital to booksellers, librarians, and influencers. It helps them communicate their brand, and it helps them connect to the customer or reader.
As publishers, we have to be innovative and agile, and we have to constantly be thinking about what books mean to readers. We have to uncover new ways to reach them. The future of publishing involves changing and evolving. It means being brave enough to say that you don’t know the answer or the best solution – but that you’re going to ask questions and experiment until you find it. You have to stop believing everything you think you know, and you have to listen to what readers and saying and watch what they’re buying habits are. Then you collect your data, you experiment, you learn, and you move forward. And then you start the process all over again.
The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen, which launched in October with a story on National Public Radio, spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and three weeks in the #1 spot on the Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover list.
Love: from Sesame Street by Sesame Workshop also debuted on the New York Times Children’s Picture Book bestseller list, the first time a Sesame Street book has made the list in 49 years.
In addition, with more than 850,000 copies sold of Baby University, the breakout series of science books for kids by Chris Ferrie, Sourcebooks Kids has quickly established itself as a leader in the preschool category.
I started my career in publishing in the 90s at magazines like The Face and Sleazenation. I had been an avid reader of magazines before that, as a child and a teenager. With these titles, I was lucky enough to ‘go behind the curtains’ and learn how to create them. I always secretly wanted to make my own and it is when I became a Mum ten years later that the dream became a reality. Anorak is now in its 12th year of publishing which officially makes us veterans on the indie publishing scene!!
I read anything when I was a child, from Marvel comics to The Famous Five books, or my mum’s womens or TV listings magazines. As a family we moved around a lot and magazines were constant companions. When we lived abroad, we used to get comics and pop magazines sent over to us as this was a way to stay in tune with what was happening on the Continent. When I became a Mum, I started reconnecting with children’s magazines and realised things had changed hugely and not for the best. Magazines had become commercial and gender-specific and I thought about creating a magazine that I would love to read with my son and would be more about childhood than a brand extension.
I wear many hats so every day is different. My favourite day is when I have no admin to do and instead I spend the day writing stories and commissioning artists. If I have to do some admin, I will tackle it first thing, early morning, and then give myself the rest of the day to think, write or visit a Museum for inspiration. One of the things I have learnt over the years is not be a slave to my Inbox! I usually stop around 430pm/5pm (for ice cream and spending time with my son) and start again later after dinner to answer emails.
Every issue has a theme and they vary hugely, from the more conceptual (Art, Myths and Tales, Words, Dreams) to the plain fun (Cakes, Sweets, Party). The themes we explore are sometimes connected to the British Curriculum, or inspired by a documentary or a podcast. They also come from conversations I have had with my son. We never repeat themes and never shy away from the more ‘philosophical’ ones, such as Friendship, Fear and Kindness. One of the things that frustrates me with mainstream culture for kids is that it always revolves around the same topics like Princesses, Robots and Dinosaurs and yet childhood is the perfect time to be inspired by and absorb everything.
I simply love illustrations so I feel like a kid in a candy shop when I get to commission artists! The process always starts with me writing a story. For Anorak, I tend to write in a short story format, thinking about the narrative and the words (obviously!). For our younger children’s magazine, DOT, I tend to think of it more visually and would often sketch it out before I write it. That’s because DOT’s audience is made of very young readers so the approach has to be more visual than wordy.
Once the first draft is done, I look for the style that would suit it better. It’s a subjective process as it is down to tastes a lot! Sometimes I already have a visual style in mind and it is then about matching that to an illustrator and at other times, I have no idea and just look around in search of the perfect one!
It is hard to put into words such instinctive process but generally I look for consistency and craft. Consistency because I’d like to get a good idea of how the story will come back and if a portfolio has too many styles, it can be confusing. Craft because I love detailed and fun scenes that will ultimately inspire our readers to immerse themselves in a story and pick up a pen and draw. I also have a bit of a white page phobia so bright colours are best! Anorak, to me, should be this box of surprises where every page is visually stimulating and gives children a sense that every drawing is a great drawing and there is not one way to draw.
It’s hard to pick one amongst the 46 of them but if I had to choose just one, it would be the one Amandine Urruty did for our Cats & Dogs edition. Amandine is one of my personal favourite artists so I was really humbled when she accepted to do it. I love it because it captures the theme in such a beautiful and intriguing way. It is weird but completely enticing, and looks like it could have been produced over 60 years ago. And the egg on top of the dog is hilarious and bizarre, which is just perfect!
Children are invited to take part in drawing missions and/or they review books for us. Anorak has always been about involving children, as frankly, they are the best drawers and editors. At first, Little Editors were friends of friends but now we have around 300 of them scattered across the world and we also involve schools for some missions.
I think the illustrations we use in Anorak are often very child-like so artists and children’s drawings live very well side by side. We get a huge amount of positive feedback about this scheme as it does wonders for children’s confidence to see their stories and drawings published.
The fun stuff is educational and we make the educational stuff fun! There are subjects that come back every edition such as Nature, Space, Food, and with these, we always look for interesting and fun facts. We approach everything through the lens of child wonderment and when we plan every issue, we access our 8 year old within!
We have just launched a Spanish edition of DOT and are doing events in Barcelona and Madrid to spread the word. It is distributed in mainland Spain and South America.
It is too difficult to pick a single one but I am proud of the fact that we just keep thriving with products that people genuinely love. It amazes me the level of support we receive year in year out from parents, teachers, who really champion everything we do. I am also massively grateful that we have been asked to create magazines like Anorak for brands such as The Scouts, 2017 City of Hull and Airbnb.
Our editorial policy is ‘EVERYTHING IS FUN’ so we hope that by highlighting how fun food, nature or the world are, we inspire them to treat everything and everyone around them with kindness and respect. I truly believe that learning while having fun is the easiest way to learn and stay connected to the world around. But, ultimately, we are very conscious that publishing magazines means chopping down trees so we don’t overprint and ensure we use recycled paper. I also don’t want to add to the sea of throwaway magazines that are available on the shelves (only to end up in a landfill a few months later) which is why Anorak is printed on really nice paper and it is designed to be kept and passed on.
As I grew up, I loved art and was taught that “bored” was a bad word and that one should always try to make something with what they already have - perhaps by finding the magic of what is right in front of you. I often found joy in imagining the world to come alive in wonder the way that children’s books portray (like looking at a tree in the wind and seeing the leaves dance, or thinking that perhaps the stars at night are singing us a lullaby). However, when it was time to think about what career path I wanted to follow, these things never crossed my mind. All I knew was that I wanted to do something that helped others. So, naturally, I decided I would go to school to become a doctor. Within my first year of school I came to realize, despite my best efforts, that I did not enjoy the sciences nearly as much as art. And how would I help others if I was not inspired? I thought to myself, why can’t I help people through art? And there the story really started to take off.
I always loved the way children see life as full of possibility, so I began early on in school designing materials for non profits geared toward helping children in need. As I was nearing graduation as an art major, I knew I wanted to do something that involved design, art, and children, but what? Teaching? It was then that my aunt, Diane Greenseid, introduced me to the magical world of actually making children’s books. She was and still is a children’s book illustrator. She kindly gave me a list of art directors she knew and I immediately contacted them. Several of them graciously agreed to see me! I recall taking my giant, unwieldy portfolio through the wind and rain in NYC back in the winter of 1999, meeting so many lovely people but alas, however, none that could offer me a job. I did find a job at a small design studio in NYC, which was great, but now I had my heart set on working in children’s publishing.
As life will have it, you never know what turns your path will make unknowingly — 2 weeks later, I got a call from the very first art director I met, Joann Hill, saying she had a position open for a design assistant at Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin). And it was there that my career really began. I spent several years learning under her wing and having such a great time. I then moved on to the Knopf imprint at Random House, where I continued to learn every day for just shy of a decade, meeting so many amazing creators from authors to illustrators, editors of all styles including Janet Schulman who showed me how a book can be serious and funny at the same time, fellow art directors and designers, and of course Isabel Warren-Lynch, who taught me to always focus on powerful expression (and yes, I mean that in more ways than one).
When we moved out to the North Bay of California after my daughter was born, I never thought I would be able to find what I have found now which is the incredible team of Cameron + Company — a small boutique publisher that embraces the love for story, design, books and creative collaboration. I am definitely one of those lucky people who can say they love their work.
Here, at Cameron Kids, I feel my job is less about directing the art than inspiring artists and idea makers to inspire our children as they acquire language and gain a deeper understanding of the world around them and their part in it. To help bring stories to people through books. Because in the end it is our stories that make the world human. I guess I finally found my role after all.
Although Cameron + Company has been publishing children’s books for a few years, we really started to establish and grow this past year with the official launch of the Cameron Kids imprint. The team consists of our children’s publisher, Nina Gruener, our children’s book editor, Amy Novesky, (both amazing authors in their own right), myself — the art director, our production manager, CJ Hemesath, who is stellar at making all our crazy ideas tangible, Emma Kallok, our Marketing and Publicity manager (also a published author), and Jan Hughes, managing editor and copyeditor extraordinaire.
We are an imprint of Cameron and Company -- where Iain Morris is the creative director, who is always inspiring with his expertise -- making sure none of our books got to print being anything shy of perfect and Chris Gruener is publisher. And of course, the heart of our work -- all the authors and illustrators! So, you see, we are all here because we truly love the art of making stories for children and pretty much everyone does a little bit of everything. There is a definitely a lot of joy in our work, but we take it seriously. We publish about 6-8 titles a year on our list, as well as publishing our Cameron Studio projects on our Roundtree list, which is an exciting new endeavor.
To me what that means is that our books are stories begging to be heard in a way that only a tangible book can do (you know that feeling that comes from reading and holding an actual book? the smell of the paper, the feel, the quiet...)
I’ll have to refer to our blog about this as I couldn’t put it better myself.
To us there is a place in today’s digital media-driven culture for the printed word and the print design that goes with it. We seek out those books that need to be held, and appreciated for their tangible value. The books that call to us to be just that, books.
Following the Cameron tenet of publishing books that need to be books – FOR KIDS, has been a thrilling and rewarding journey for our team. Whether it be a picture book biography or a board book about trucks, we choose stories that need to be told, and told well. Our hope is that when given the chance to visit some other world in the pages of our books, children will glean wisdom, compassion and empathy. The dance between words and art in a picture book, executed with thoughtful design, has the power to not only entertain a child, but engage them in a way no other medium can. Books can expose kids to beauty they may have otherwise missed in our fast paced world. Even among the youngest of us, beauty is a great and underrated tool for cultivating change and inspiration.
Truthfully, they all stand out in their own little way. Each project I have worked on has taught me something new. It would be fun one day to make a list of what they have taught me!
I will say, that one of my most treasured experiences, that stands out in a big way, was working on THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. I remember being handed a huge stack (real paper!) of a manuscript to read and turn into a physical book. I read those very pages on an airplane ride across the country, unable to put it down. I was haunted by the imagery and power of Markus’s story and have been ever since. How on earth was I going to capture that in a cover?! His words were life changing and the project was humbling. And then to watch it over the last many years reach so many other people. It has been an honor to see how much one little book really can help the world.
There are most definitely so many wonderful books I have had the pleasure of working on, it is almost impossible to choose as what has meant the most, is the process of creating a book for children together with other creative people whether we are like-minded or not. What a delight it is to work with other artists, constantly hearing and seeing new ideas. I actually just finished working on a project, called ODE TO AN ONION written by Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Felicita Sala, that is to be published in the Fall of 2018, that I am simply thrilled about all around: the words, the pictures, the content, the design, the process of collaboration between publisher, editor, author, artist and production — truly lovely.
Absolutely! One of the most fascinating things to me is watching artists grow to reach their potential while working on making a book reach its highest potential. I love looking through an artist’s work and finding that little nugget of art that is just begging to be explored, and subsequently working with an artist to develop that in a way that is unique to them.
As an art director, I can look at sketches and help with pacing, emotion, expression, perspective, composition, etc. once we get into the book making – but the artist is the artist, and that is what we are looking for – that unique artistic expression that will turn a story into a tangible magical world.
I am lucky that I can say all of them! Our Spring 2018 list which just published at the end of April, features a The Great Chicken Escape by Nikki McClure, for which we had fun creating a giant die-cut of a chicken in the case to echo her signature cut paper style, Red a 2 color wordless book by first time author/illustrator Jed Alexander, a bright and bold book about Los Angeles by Elisa Parhad, illustrated by Alexander Vidal, and the second installment of the WALNUT ANIMAL SOCIETY, Magnolia’s Magnificent Map written by Lauren Bradshaw, illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan....that is 4, but I can’t choose.
Being a small publisher, it is always a collaboration. We receive a story submission, and decide if we love it. Since we do so few books, we always search for that absolute yes moment! Once that is settled (often after several rounds of edits to the text), we begin the search for an illustrator who can bring the words visually to life. This sometimes happens quickly and sometimes takes a really long time.
While we do have a certain aesthetic we gravitate towards, what excites us most is when we see something different than what has been done before. We believe the art for children’s books can be sophisticated yet still childlike. So, often, we may work with artists who are amazing artists but have never done a children’s book before.
Once the team for the book is made, we go through anywhere from 1 to 4 sets of sketches, with the level of involvement differing due to the nature of the project and how the artist works. The design happens simultaneously as we begin to think about the production aspect of the book from the get go.
Design plays a huge role in our books, but it has to be thoughtful. No bells and whistles! So we think about the format, the paper, and any other added elements we may want to explore. Then the final design comes in to play once the art is done, we go through several rounds of edits to make it perfect. Then we proof the book to get the look and feel just right, then it becomes a book! That is an extremely simplified version of the process (not including all the materials and plans made to get the outside world excited about the book, the number crunching, the marketing and publicity,...)
WHAT A MESS! by Frank Muir illustrated by Joseph Wright is still one of my favorite books, as well as Who Took the Farmer's Hat? by Joan L. Nodset, illustrated by Fritz Siebel, Harold and The Purple Crayon, and The Little Prince.
We are looking for artists who can visually capture childlike wonder–artists that have a unique expression that can turn a story into a tangible magical world and fill the spaces the words leave open with more. It inspires me when an illustrator shows the reader what he/she can’t already see.
I am moved when I can see an artist’s passion and potential through their work. A good balance of fresh use of line, white space, and poignant expression of character—whether that is portrayed through the setting of the stage or the characters themselves . . . I love to see an artist open to trying new things within his or her own style to make the story come to life.
Our emphasis is on beauty, simplicity, and story.
To continue to find stories that inspire and teach children about empathy and an open minded understanding of the world around them and inside them, to see the beauty in the simple things that are really the big things. And to turn those stories into books.
Yes! I am so excited for OH, BEAR. It will be illustrated by Ruth Hengeveld - this is her first picture book and she is a true talent. I am over the moon at the art I have seen so far. After all these years of being on the art director side of picture book making it is invigorating to see someone else put visuals to a story that came directly from my heart. And Ruth couldn't be a more perfect fit. She is brilliant! The story is simple, yet deep. It's about a dear bear, a beloved kite, loss and renewal, and friendship. The art is realistic yet magical and my hopes are that this book will inspire children to find the magic in nature, the magic of connection, and the magic that can emerge when you change the way you look at something. It will be published in the spring of 2019.
If I do have to pick, a couple of projects that come to mind, I’d mention Lunch Lady and Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, who I am simply thrilled has had so much success in publishing.
The Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
A Splash of Red, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
See the City by Matteo Pericoli.
Modern Fairies, Dwarves and Other Goblins by Lesley M.M. Blume, illustrated by David Foote.
Thelonius Monster's Sky High Fly Pie by Judy Sierra illustrated by Ed Koren.
...and a recent book, Play? by Linda Olafsdottir.
I’ve been in love with print for as long as I can remember but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to make art or write. In the end I did an art degree, but while I was there I wrote for magazines and interned at a couple of publishers. I had an Aunt in Romford who let me kip on her sofa. When I graduated I had a body of work to show, so I was able to get a job with a local publishing consultancy in the production department. From there I worked my way up, writing bits whenever I had the opportunity, to production editor, where I was in charge of coming up with ideas for new titles. I love that bit the best, so this job is perfect for me. I get to come up with a whole raft of new ideas every month.
We’re a small in-house team. Benita Estevez and I share the editor’s role and manage a large group of freelance writers and illustrators. Then we have Sophie Bryant Funnell who is a very talented art director an in-house illustrator, and Tim, who manages layouts.
My day begins at about 8.30, directly after I’ve finished the school run. I check my emails, maybe commission for a few things later in the year and then I’ll take a look at the spreads for the current issue and start proof reading, copy editing, image research and approving roughs. I might be involved in kicking around concepts for an important cover or talking a museum into lending us their expertise on a feature. Last week I spent some time building a pinball machine out of cardboard. It’s so varied, I am really lucky.
The world may have changed quite a lot over the last 25 years but fundamentally the kids who read AQUILA have not. They respond to the same things you and I responded to at that age. They’re incredibly switched on, well informed and eager to learn, so as long as the content is colourful, interesting, intelligent and packed with fun, it remains relevant and engaging. We try not to think too much about this trend or that. Our aim is that the AQUILA going out this month will still be being passed around, used and enjoyed two or three years from now.
That’s a tricky one. I like the covers with little hidden jokes or details in them but I know they don’t necessarily please marketing. A cover has to do so much! It has to work at loads of different sizes and communicate a very precise message. I LOVED Ed Brown’s Grow Your Own cover for our March issue. I felt it really conveyed the nuttiness of AQUILA.
8-12 is a really diverse age group and within that there are kids of all different abilities and with a whole host of different interests. It’s an organic process. We don’t run anything that we don’t find interesting, and when we run something that is very challenging we have a few tricks up our sleeve – we can pair a very tough maths feature with a really fun and colourful illustrator, we can use a very bright and friendly colour palette or I can write jokes and splice them into the text. Animals and ecology always go down well.
Repeat pattern artwork (below) by Ed Brown.
I can’t speak for Sophie, our art director, but personally I look for these things:
A fairly consistent style running across all the work. I should be able to tell instantly that all this work has been made by the same person, and it should tell me something about the person who made it.
Ideally I want to see a good mixture of subjects including people (adults and children), town and country scenes, food, diagrams (a good diagram illustrator is worth their weight in gold), hand-rendered text and large illustrations and spots.
A mixture of personal and professional projects. It’s really interesting to see what an artist chooses to work on, as opposed to what they’re given to work on.
I LOVE sketchbooks. Show me your sketchbook work. It will tell me so much about your process and your practice.
I like to be surprised by a topic. Often my favourites are things I think I’ll get nothing out of, but then suddenly I’m fascinated. A while back we ran a feature on slime moulds and their ability to solve mazes, and that just blew me away!
Slime mould artwork (below) by Rachel Tunstall.
Personally I think it’s absolutely crucial. For a start I think it helps people retain information but a shared joke also makes you feel like part of a gang. That’s what AQUILA really is – it’s a club for kids who are creative, kind, curious and a bit mad.
I just hope my jokes are actually funny.
The boy who was so inspired by our interview with a coracle maker that he made his own boat and sailed it down a river.
The kid who made our Dig for Victory garden with his granddad and ended up learning all about his experiences during world war two.
The boy who can’t go to school because of ill-health and disabilities, but who enjoys learning and feeling part of a community of kids because of AQUILA magazine. And then the replies to him from other children on the letters page telling him how proud they are of him and what he is achieving.
These are the stand outs, but I get great letters from kids every day. Each one makes me feel really privileged to be able to come to work and do this job.