CKT Writers’ Festival – The Audience in the Margins with Margrete Lamond

Margrete Lamond
Children's Book Industry | CKT Writers' Festival 2021 | Dirt Lane Press | Margrete Lamond

Margrete Lamond is a publisher, workshop presenter, speaker, curator and author of around twenty books. She has worked in the publishing world for over twenty years mainly as a picture-book publisher and art director in both large, multi-national publishers, and small independent companies like the not-for-profit, Dirt Lane Press, where she works now as the Publisher and Creative Director.

Dirt Lane Press was created by Margrete because the books she longed to publish were becoming impossible to push through to publication at the big commercial publishers. These were books that deserved to be published but were not considered to be financially viable. These were books outside the mainstream.

Margrete used the Kale v’s Ice cream Analogy to describe the acquisition process at a big publishing company.

  • Over the last 20 years, picture book prices have remained static
  • Paper, print, salaries, rent and distribution have increased significantly
  • Publishing profit margins have stayed the same or increased
  • Book sales have decreased.

This means

  • Publishers need to make sure the books they publish sell
  • These books need to sell in large numbers in order to cover costs and make a profit
  • The books therefore need to appeal to large numbers of people
    • The largest number of people possible

This broad appeal means the books they publish need to be easy to understand and unambiguous, have an accessible message, and not triggering deep, layered or conflicting emotions. They need to be in a tried-and-true genre, format and length. They need to fit comfortably within a trending range of themes.

Now, back to the kale principle

  • Kale is healthy, but not always fun
  • It can be hard to chew and tastes a lot like grass.
  • Ice cream is fun and can even be healthy
  • More people are going to buy ice cream than buy kale
  • It is more profitable to open an ice cream shop than a kale shop
  • More shops sell ice cream than sell kale

When you apply this principal to picture books, the outcome is clear. Publishers are less likely to publish kale books than ice cream books. This makes kale books much harder to find, especially good kale books that don’t taste like grass.

With Dirt Lane Press, Margrete is able to publish these less commercially palatable books. They publish outside the square and share their books outside the square as well. They publish into the margins, for an audience in the margins. Some of the places Dirt Lane Press have shared their books, other than bookshops and libraries are the Wayside Chapel and Freedom Hub. They had brass plaques made into the pages of one book and set them along the path in the Botanical Gardens, so people could share the book while enjoying the gardens. They have shared at adult TAFE classes, youth groups and participated in an international digital book drop.

But what are the margins?

Dirt Lane Press publish the kinds of picture books other publishers are not publishing so much anymore. They publish stories with ambiguity, books that have multiple levels of meaning, irregular formats and genres, and for an audience who don’t always fit into the standard age group.

Margrete went on to share some of the books, and the stories behind them, that she has published since founding the company.

The Dream Peddler by Irena Kobald and Christopher Nielsen is about a boy who leaves home and is tricked by the Dream Peddler, but the dreams he is selling lead him down a dark path. When he returns home, his parents do not recognise him as their son, and send him away. This story is essentially about ice addiction. Although this book may sound dark, a four-year-old reader commented, “It’s a book about how your mum and dad will always love you, even if you do the wrong thing.” It also had a profound effect on at least two young people who found the book at the Wayside Chapel, it gave them hope that there is a light at the end of the long dark tunnel they were living in.

Winter of the White Bear by Martin Ed Chatterton is a lavishly illustrated picture book about Little Bear whose happy life in the Great Forest is suddenly changed by the arrival of an unwelcome visitor. White Bear forces Little Bear to come and hunt for him in the northern Ice Lands. This book is an analogy to modern day slavery.

Leaf Stone Beetle by Ursula Dubosarsky is a gentle and charming tale about a leaf, a stone and a beetle whose lives are disrupted by a storm. They lose their communities, their homes and their moorings, but by chance and effort they find solace and new community with each other. When Margrete reads this story to a people, she often asks if they relate more to the last leaf left alone, clinging to the tree, the current tumbled stone, or the beetle wash away from its home? She told the story of one woman, a hard, ex prisoner, who ended up sharing her story, and how she could see herself in all three of the characters, as well as the tree.

The books that Margrete produces through Dirt Lane Press may never sell as many copies as the mainstream picture books released by the big publishers. They may never be as well known, or appeal to as wide an audience, but they are books that are needed. They are important books, and when they are placed into the hands of people who need them, they give hope.

Report by CKT Author, Jeffrey Doherty


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