The wide world of children’s publishing has its own unique challenges and opportunities, not to mention a touch of magic. MS in Publishing students gained insights into the children’s publishing process and learned what makes this market special during their in-person industry visit to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (LBYR). Listening to VP and Editor-in-Chief Alvina Ling, VP and Creative Director David Caplan, Marketing Manager Bill Grace, and Editor and SPS Graduate Alexandra Hightower (class of 2017) we quickly gleaned that working for a children’s publisher like Little, Brown opens doors to a world of creativity.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, was started in 1926. Today, the publishing house produces a diverse range of books for “readers of all ages and backgrounds,” and their list of titles clearly reflects this mission. LBYR’s wide variety of books includes celebrity projects, such as basketball player Kareem Adbul-Jabbar’s Becoming Kareem, collections of poetry, like Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott, and bestselling fiction, like Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This selection of books is carefully curated. Hightower explained that the publishing house is “constantly thinking about our readership and how it reflects the world we live in.”
As a smaller division of Hachette, LBYR takes an “innovative and personal” approach to publishing. David Caplan described the publishing house as having a “community, small-town feel” as it benefits from the resources of a large publishing house while being able to provide a more personal touch to authors. During the editorial process, Hightower noted, “When I’m working on a project, I’m really forming a relationship. Even once you’ve finished editing, you’re still in contact with the author.” In fact, the editor remains involved as the book moves through the marketing and sales process. Ling described the editor as “the project manager and the author’s spokesperson.”
Students and Associate Dean Andrea Chambers (4th from left) at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Comparing children’s publishing to general trade publishing, Caplan noted that “children’s publishing includes a huge breadth of formats” including media tie-ins and picture books. “We get to design the whole package from back to front, flap to flap,” he explained. Our glimpse into Little, Brown’s lightroom revealed the hard work and care that goes into perfecting each and every book’s design, whether it’s a board book, or a YA fantasy novel.
Marketing Manager Bill Grace also noted the creativity that children’s publishing embraces, even in terms of distributing books. “We do have books that wind up in Pottery Barn, and I love it,” he said, describing the more unconventional spaces where readers can find children’s books. Marketing, Publicity, and Sales departments can get creative with finding the perfect fit for a book, thinking of innovative ways to reach the right reader.
A key message was the importance of appealing to a broad audience. “When you’re working on children’s books, in addition to marketing to consumers, you’re also marketing to the gatekeepers who get the book to the end consumer,” explained Grace. He noted that, while it is possible to market to communities of YA readers on TikTok, it is often crucial to market to librarians, parents, and teachers to get a book into a reader’s hand.
Marketing to gatekeepers can present complications as well, especially given the increase in U.S. schools banning diverse books about topics like racism, sexuality, and gender identity. “A child is not going to discover that book if it’s been banned,” Ling notes. To promote the awareness of marginalized voices, she explains, “We work really hard to find books for every child.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of children’s publishing, however, is more sentimental: the opportunity to turn a child into a lifelong reader. According to Grace, LBYR’s main goal is to “make sure that a book’s story has been told in a way that reaches the child and keeps them coming back for more.”
For those considering entering children’s publishing, Grace offered a final word on the unique magic of this industry. “We all have that one book that we remember reading as a child,” he said. “You never know when you could be the one working on that special book.”
Olivia Whetstone is an MS in Publishing student and blogger at The Candid Cover. A professional bookworm, she has a passion for making strangely specific book lists and sharing her love for literature with anyone who will listen. She hopes to continue reading anything she can get her hands on while working toward a career in publishing in either marketing or editorial.