by Porter Anderson - Publishing Perspective February 6, 2018
How is the political climate in the United States is affecting the sales of socially relevant books? One Canadian publisher says the ‘Trump bump’ is real.
‘The Trump Era Has Made It Important’
Concepts of diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism are the stock-in-trade of Canadian children’s book publisher Margie Wolfe and her team at Second Story Press in Toronto.
“We’ve done this for a very long time,” Wolfe says in an interview from her offices with Publishing Perspectives. “And we don’t do anything else. It’s taken time, particularly on the kids’ books side for people to accept—parents, educators, librarians—for people to accept that you can deal with difficult content for young people and do it in a way that’s both compelling and often entertaining.”
Near the end of January this year, Wolfe took part in the Children’s Books Salon—produced by Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurter Buchmesse New York—where international publishers met to discuss new titles and trends in the children’s book market.
There, during a comprehensive presentation by children’s books editors from HarperCollins, Wolfe asked if US publishers have seen changes to the children’s and YA book market as a result of the divisive American political climate.
‘The Response of the Consumer’
“The ‘Trump bump’ is because there’s a recognition among educators and librarians and parents that you need to have content that deals with the world around us in a way that’s interesting for the children and doesn’t frighten them.”Margie Wolfe
While there were some at the Children’s Books Salon in New York City who said that they couldn’t see a direct correlation between the charged politics of the moment and book sales, “There were at least four people,” Wolfe says, “who came up to me later” during some of the event’s networking sessions among editors, “and told me that they are seeing response.
“It’s not so much in what you’re commissioning,” she says, “that you see the reactions. It’s about the response of the consumer now. If before Trump you were doing some of this kind of books for children and you weren’t getting a response, the Trump era has made it important that there is a big consumer response, and we’ve seen that.
“Some of the rights we’re selling is because of this” political climate in which immigration has become such a fiercely contested flash point. “For example, refugees are not bad people, and the parents who want someone to explain that will look to a book like Where Will I Live? about children looking for a home. They’re seen as human beings, not as aliens or awful people.”
This is, Wolfe says, a very clear “positive impact on a publisher like ourselves. The ‘Trump bump’ is because there’s a recognition among educators and librarians and parents that you need to have content that deals with the world around us in a way that’s interesting for the children and doesn’t frighten them, a way that enlightens without being scary.
“And,” Margie Wolfe laughs softly, “more publishers—colleagues of mine, who would never have described their books as dealing with human rights in the past?—are describing them that way now.”
‘Caring and Compassionate Human Beings’
Not unlike Sweden’s Olika Förlag with its 11-year track record of working exclusively in books for children that address what’s “different” in society and the concept of “the other,” Second Story began its operation as a house dedicated to publishing feminist-inspired books.
Second Story, however, was based originally in more adult material and has been in operation far longer than Olika: this is a 30 year old house, established in 1988.
“I came from Women’s Press,” Wolfe says, “and so I was dealing primarily with adult women’s feminist publishing that dealt with a lot of the issues we’re seeing again today.
“But when we started Second Story, along with the adult program, we started developing more books for young people with the belief that if you can figure out how to tell it so it doesn’t feel like a lesson, then there are important things you can tell children from a young age. Then you’re not trying to change people’s minds as adults because they’re growing up with content that will hopefully create caring and compassionate and active human beings.
“One of the big breakthroughs for us was Holocaust books for young readers. we started doing them about 20 years ago. At first, the reaction was, ‘You can’t tell these kinds of difficult stories to children, you have to wait until they’re older.’
“But the first one won a children’s choice award. (There are several children’s choice awards in Canada, many run by libraries.) And the second one won a children’s choice award, from the library association here.
“And then, we did a book called Hana’s Suitcase.” That book, written by Karen Levine, was published in 2002 by Second Story and now proudly is displayed with a blurb by Bishop Desmond Tutu, who writes: “How extraordinary that this humble suitcase has enabled children all over the world to learn through Hana’s story the terrible history of what happened and that it continues to urge them to heed the warnings of history.”
Basically, Wolfe and Second Story had captured a mic-drop moment with Hana’s Suitcase and put to rest a lot of assertions that young readers weren’t ready for serious topics when told well and sensitively.
Hana’s Suitcase, Wolfe says, “has in the end become Canada’s most-awarded children’s book ever. Random House handles it in the United States, but we have it in more than 40 languages.” In Canada’s award program called the Silver Birch—in which librarians nominate books and children vote on them—Hana’s Suitcase holds a unique position as “the favorite of the favorites,” taking the “Ultimate Silver Birch Award” from the Ontario Library Association.
The book is Levine’s account of Japanese research into the case of Hana Brady, whose empty suitcase, dated May 16, 1931, was found marked Waisenkind, orphan, and sent to Tokyo in 2000 for a Holocaust education center’s exhibition. Levine traced the story, as told in a CBC documentary, of the Czechoslovakian Hana Brady, the impact on her family of the Nazi invasion, and the memories of Hana’s brother who, as it turned out, had moved to Canada.
“The book was a breakthrough,” Wolfe says, “for many people trying to do difficult stories for younger people. And that allowed us even more breadth. So now, we’ve done everything from euthanasia to same-sex marriage, we’ve done books on refugees, a picture book on Malawa, work with a child-abuse center. And if you read the stories, none of them are scary.
“They’re not scary stories. They’re great stories with important content. So the kid doesn’t know he’s learned anything,” she says with a laugh. “He just knows he’s read a great story that he remembers or she remembers. That’s what’s made it fabulous for us.
“In the past year, we’ve become the first publisher to get an award from the Civil Liberties Association” of Canada. And people who are foreign publishers looking for a certain kind of book have learned to come to us because they know this is the kind of work we do.”
And Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, Wolfe says, has selected Second Story over the major houses to have the North American rights to its own upcoming book, All About Anne, coming later this year with illustrations by Huck Scarry and a special set of responses to questions asked by children in many countries about Anne Frank’s story.
Image is of Margie Wolfe. Image: Second Story Press
Net Neutrality is a political hot button that is used to divided our nation even further. While we don’t want to get into the Republican vs Democrats points, what is critical is that this issue can cause Indie Authors, and even small press Authors to lose valuable sales.
With internet providers now being able to charge both the providers of content as well as those who receive the content, this gives them the ability to manipulate what you see. Not only is this a free Speech issue, but it also relates to if and how an Authors website is viewed. The providers can charge each individual website an extra fee to be able to be delivered to homes at the normal speed, and if you don’t pay, then you get downgraded to a slower speed, which let’s face it, this means the person downloading an authors site will give up waiting for it and move on. That means YOU LOSE!
In addition, the provider can charge more for a site to speed through their system and be delivered quickly and effortlessly. This, then gets passed on to the users of that system, such as Amazon sellers. More cuts into the profit margin of Authors and sellers.
This is BAD for everyone with higher costs to promote their products, means higher cost to purchase their products. Net neutrality from our perspective as small businesses is bad for everyone: Buyers and Sellers.
Publishers Weekly encouraging publishers to step up and fight the change that was implemented by the FCC last month. We encourage you as small businesses to step up and let your Congressmen know how it will affect you.
Below is an article that appeared in Publishers Weekly encouraging publishers to step up and fight the change that was implemented by the FCC last month. We encourage you as small businesses to step up and let your Congressmen know how it will affect you.
It’s Time for Publishers to Join the Fight for Net Neutrality
by Publishers Weekly | Jan 19, 2018
Supporters of net neutrality marked two important developments in recent days. On Tuesday, January 16, it was revealed that 50 senators have now committed to a bill that would block the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) December repeal of net neutrality rules. In addition, as the New York Times reported, more than 20 states have now begun a battle in the courts to block the FCC’s repeal.
Codified by the FCC in 2015, net neutrality rules were created to keep Internet service providers from favoring certain websites or content over others. But, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Corynne McSherry explains, the FCC’s repeal last month now paves the way “for an Internet that works more like cable television;” a “pay-for-play” system where content providers could be forced to “negotiate with multiple ISPs to avoid their content being buried, degraded, or even blocked.”
Polls and public comments show the move to repeal net neutrality is broadly unpopular. It is also potentially dangerous. In comments to the FCC, a coalition of the nation’s top library associations stressed that preserving an open Internet is “essential to our nation’s freedom of speech.” And, in a letter to the FCC, 1,838 members of the Authors Guild demonstrated that American authors also unequivocally recognize the danger of the FCC’s action.
“As authors, we rely on the Internet to make our voices heard,” the guild letter states, concluding that the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality protections “will harm the free speech of American writers.”
But a key voice remains noticeably absent from the net neutrality debate: publishers. Despite widely expressed concerns that the FCC’s action could negatively impact free speech, and in contrast to concerted efforts to preserve net neutrality by others in the publishing ecosystem—including the library community, authors groups, and dozens of media and public advocacy organizations, including PEN America—the Association of American Publishers has yet to release a single statement on the issue and has taken no formal position.
We recognize that publishers and the AAP have limited resources and must prioritize the issues they choose to take on. However, supporting free speech is one of the AAP’s core policy areas. Which is why publishers can no longer sit this one out.
Following the FCC’s repeal, restoring net neutrality protections is going to be an uphill political battle. But it is not too late for publishers to stand up for free speech, and to stand with their readers, their authors, and the library community.
With the battle headed to Congress, now is the time to make that stand. AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante is widely known for her policy acumen and her relationships in Congress. And as widely recognized champions of free speech, a strong, unified statement from America’s book publishers can make a critical difference.
There is no doubt that the world has gone crazy with Social Media. It can be a great tool that supports people, businesses, and even authors, but it also has the power to hurt. A challenging aspect of Social Media is when authors tell the world about something doesn’t work for them and then determines that it will not work for others. This kind of dialogue can not only damage a fellow author but set a negative tone against the author who wrote it.
We run into this issue a great deal when we send out notices about a program or app that we’ve tried and does or doesn’t work for us. We do this only after testing it thoroughly. And as with anything, the results that we arrived at, may or may not work for someone else.
However, this is where reviews of products come in handy, and we encourage YOU the membership, to share your comments about a program, event, etc. and let other authors know what YOUR results are. Your honest review can help another author determine if that program, event, company, or app will work for them.
We also read and follow various journals and programs to stay on top of new trends to help guide the membership, so they can use Social Media to the best of their ability.
There is a move to become less engaged in Social Media with Facebook and Twitter being the ones hit the hardest, as they have been around the longest. Also, they are the ones that have the most users compared to the other 300 plus systems out there.
One of our goals as TxAuthors is to create a Social Media system designed specifically for authors and readers as a part of our overall program to be more creative, independent and supportive of authors in general. However, this is also a costly endeavor that may not happen soon enough.
Keep in mind that people are drawn to what they like, including what type of books they read. For this reason, what may work for one author may not work for another. So, just be careful when you are on Social Media and make a blanket comment about whether something is good or not as the ‘final and only’ go-to factor. Remember, you are unique, and your results are related to You and not someone else.