Born in the early months of 2013, Christmas Press’ core list is Christmas Press Picture Books, beautiful picture books for children, featuring traditional tales–folk tales, fairy tales, legends, myths–retold by well-known authors and stunningly illustrated in classic styles that reflect the cultures the stories come from. We also publish one special seasonally-themed book every Christmas, full of wonderful stories, poems, and illustrations.
Why did we start Christmas Press? Well, we love the gorgeous classic picture books that we grew up with, the kind which featured retold traditional stories and beautiful illustrations, opening children–and their families–to a wealth of wonderful tales from around the world, books you often got as presents and that made you feel like every day was Christmas. Sitting around discussing these one day, we were musing about how there just weren’t enough of them around any more. But rather than complain about it, we decided to do something about it–and Christmas Press was born!
Tell us a little about yourself and your history in the publishing industry
I’ve been a professional writer for a long time: my first book was published back in 1990, and since then I’ve had more than 60 books published, for children, young adults, and adults. I’ve been published internationally, won awards, and am on the Boards of quite a few literary bodies, such as the Australian Society of Authors, the New England Writers’ Centre, the local sub-branch of the CBCA, and now the Small Press Network.
Becoming a publisher was the next challenge!
How long have you been working with Christmas Press?
Along with Fiona McDonald and David Allan, I’m a founding partner of Christmas Press. We started in 2013. Beattie Alvarez joined us in 2014.
What can you tell us about your publishing house and what you publish?
Christmas Press is a boutique publishing house focussed on publishing high-quality picture books and fiction texts for children, in three different imprints :
Christmas Press Picture Books: www.christmaspresspicturebooks.com
Our core list: high-quality illustrated books featuring lively retellings of traditional tales from many countries and cultures–folktales, fairy tales, myths and legends– retold by well- known children’s authors and illustrated in beautiful, classic styles inspired by the cultures the stories come from. The books have attracted great reviews, been listed amongst the best titles two years in a row with the national magazine Good Reading, and our 2014 title, Two Selkie Stories from Scotland, and its creators, Kate Forsyth and Fiona McDonald, are also mentioned in the new (2015) edition of the very prestigious Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales.
We publish two of these traditional tales titles per year. This year, it’s Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia, retold by John Heffernan and illustrated by new illustrator Kate Durack (May) and Two Troll Tales from Norway, retold by Norwegian-Australian author Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Norwegian-American illustrator Ingrid Kallick (September).
Christmas Press Picture Books also publish one Christmas-themed title a year, usually illustrated anthologies of seasonally-flavoured stories by a variety of authors.
Our other imprints, which are debuting this year, are:
Second Look Publishing: www.secondlookpublishing.com
New editions, in print on demand and e-book format, of out of print Australian children’s literature, featuring plays, poetry and fiction. Our launch title(March 2016) is a completely revised edition, with a new play added, of a fabulous collection of plays by Duncan Ball, illustrated by Craig Smith, followed in July 2016 by a new illustrated edition of Libby Gleeson’s first novel, Eleanor Elizabeth. We plan to publish two-three titles a year in that imprint.
Eagle Books: www.eaglebooksadventure.com
A new list also debuting in 2016, this will focus on adventure novels for older readers, by both classic and contemporary authors. The launch title (April 2016) is a magnificent limited edition of the first new English translation in over a hundred years of a great classic adventure novel by the legendary French author Jules Verne. We’ve titled it Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff, and it’s translated by Stephanie Smee and illustrated by David Allan.
What qualities do you look for when deciding to publish a picture book? Is there a checklist you use when considering manuscripts?
With the picture books of traditional tales, we look at how well the text and illustrations work together; because of the nature of the stories, coming from a particular culture or time, we want the whole book to give a strong feel for that, so we look at whether the illustrations have an atmosphere which is right. With other illustrated books, like the anthologies, we don’t have a set look, as we are often working with different illustrators for that: and the design will tie everything together. It’s really a matter of instinct, of feel. With manuscripts, again, aside from technical aspects, it’s an instinctive attraction, a ‘feel’ for something we think might go well on one of our lists.
It’s worth noting that our original imprint of Christmas Press Picture Books doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts—we have invited writers to send us manuscripts for those, and the same goes for Second Look. With Eagle Books however we will be looking at submissions—though remember our list is very small, our schedule is full two years into the future, and we can’t cope with a big volume of submissions so you need to be patient!
Does it help when selecting an author for publication if they already have a presence in the children’s book industry?
Yes. In the traditional tales list, and Second Look, it’s definitely the case, simply because of the nature of what they are. And because also as a very small press, we need to get good visibility for our books in the industry, and having a name that reviewers and booksellers recognise helps. However we have given emerging authors opportunities through our Christmas anthologies, and for the Eagle Books list, we are open to emerging authors too. (We are in fact presently looking at a debut novel).
We do offer more opportunities for emerging illustrators: the two Christmas Press Picture Book titles we are publishing this year feature illustrators whose first book this is.
I have written a children’s picture book manuscript – do I need to find an illustrator myself?
No—the publisher does that, and usually people don’t like it if the text is already accompanied by illustrations. Occasionally, it can work if an author already has an illustrator in mind—as John Heffernan did with Kate Durack in Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia—but that’s quite rare. All of our other picture books have been illustrated by illustrators Christmas Press chose. Though of course the author gets a say!
Does having an agent push you to the top of the slush pile?
It can speed things up. But it doesn’t guarantee the work will be taken.
What’s a common mistake you find when reading a manuscript?
That some people do not do their homework regarding the kinds of books we publish and send us texts that simply do not fit into our lists, which they could know simply by googling us!
How long from acceptance until the book hits the shelves?
It takes anything from nine months to a year, at least. Sometimes more! We have a very small team and quite a lot of projects on so it is pretty hectic, even within that time-frame.
Should a potential author be discouraged by the dreaded rejection letter?
No! Every author, no matter how established, gets rejections. You have to remember that publishing is a very subjective business and that what one publisher rejects, another might accept. And even if no-one does take that particular manuscript, don’t be too downhearted. Think of it as a learning experience, and try to analyse, in the cold light of day, why it might not have tickled publisher fancies.
I’m speaking from long experience as an author here!
And finally, what are publishers looking for in a submission?
Stories that are well told: that are fresh, lively, gripping in some way, whether that is because of great characters, an unusual voice, a new take on something, a great plot that doesn’t sacrifice characters. For visual material, looking for the same kind of thing in a way: something distinctive, attractive, that has depth. And finally, if they love a submission, publishers look for evidence that an author or illustrator is going to be someone they can work with: someone realistic, reliable and able to take constructive criticism.