We can all agree that access to quality texts for schools, and therefore children, is a necessity. Luckily, there is an abundance to choose from. Even the most avid of readers will be unable to keep up with the 10,000 children’s titles published each year. You’d need to read over 190 a week!
Not all of those books will meet everyone’s needs. That is why it is important to read critical reviews. And also research authors, read the book (if you get that far), and research the publisher too. By the way, many of the newly published books will not be in bookshops, libraries, or even obviously visible online.
You might not think knowing about different publishers is important, but it can be extremely useful. Some of the big publishers you might be familiar with already. But there are a number of small independents producing quality books which often fly under the radar. Books which might well meet the very specific needs of a reader or school.
But like every small business, they face big challenges*. They are small fish in a large pond with some dominating neighbours. But they are no less interesting, no less relevant, and no less important to the reading ecosystem. Schools and educators should get to know these companies and understand what it is that makes them unique. Because all the different varieties of readers’ needs deserve attention.
I asked a number of these publishers about their work. Hopefully, this will give some context and perspective to a largely invisible world.
The passion shown from these companies in their responses reminded me of those who work in education. They have a mission. Whether it is to produce books that “explain current issues, celebrate diversity, and every kind of child and family”. Or “examining the world around them and digging for truth.” And the all-important “encouraging and feeding the love of stories”. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
The biggest challenges these companies face are getting noticed, and the limits on what they can spend. Out of all the new book releases (see above), how do they make a book “visible”? Especially without the advantage of huge marketing and advertising budgets. There is also only one major high street bookshop chain with limited shelf space. “Social media, customer reviews, book awards, and schools all help spread the word.” However, resources continue to stretch beyond their means.
Small publishers already work with schools directly, but they would like those links to be stronger. Some will organise author visits and produce educational resources for their titles. But getting these resources to the right people, or even making educators know about them, is difficult. As is making contact with those who are responsible for adding books to schemes of work. Schools knowing about these publishers would give them an advantage when choosing which books to use in the classroom or library.
There are, however, some things that a smaller publisher does that larger ones don’t. Firstly, they are freer to take risks on “new authors, new voices, and new content”. This is important for those under-represented in books and society; everyone deserves to see themselves in a book. Small publishers can also act quickly too. Because they don’t have to appease shareholders or involve multiple departments, a book can get given the go-ahead relatively much sooner than most. But they cannot always take these risks. Small publishers may suspect a book will not sell but take a risk anyway because it is “outstanding and deserves to be published”. A book might have a low readership, but imagine the potential impact it could have on a child.
The difference small publishers make to the children’s book market is great, and they would be missed. We are lucky to have them. Keeping larger publishers on their toes is something they clearly enjoy. By bringing books to the market quicker, and by taking more risks on books that are “a little unusual or specific in terms of their content.” These are books that may not otherwise find a readership if it was left to the big publishers. Books that are more “inventive” and “diverse”. And the difference goes further than the books: “we change trends.” If a smaller publisher is successful, a larger company is more inclined to take a risk too. If it was not for some of these businesses, we would be years behind in the number of books there are celebrating diversity.
So they impact the market, but what about the actual readers. Do they make a difference to the readers? Short answer, yes, absolutely. The feedback small publishers receive from children and adults is overwhelmingly positive. Whether transporting a child to a different world or helping them grieve for a grandparent. Helping a parent introduce a new language to a child. Giving a young person a chance to see themselves in a book for the first time, “and then being able to articulate why they love what makes them different”. Or how about a child starting to colour princesses and fairies brown instead of pink. It is this sort of feedback that keeps small publishers doing what they do, and makes “the stress and pressure of running a small publisher fall away.” Once again, doesn’t this sound familiar to the educators out there?
Like a lot of small businesses, small publishers are “mission-led rather than profit-led”. And for them to keep doing the great things they do, so you can do the great things you do, they need our continuing support.
*Just Imagine is no different. They have the common goal of wanting to put the right book in the right hands and all the benefits that this brings for the reader and wider society. The Best Books For Schools bookshop is one of the ways they do this, and like the small publishers, they are competing with a certain multinational giant. P.S. Best Books for Schools’ prices are low, and they offer free postage too.
Thank you to Everything With Words, bSmall Publishing, Guppy Books, and Lantana