Back in 2009, we published a piece on this blog called “Ten Wills and Won’ts That Make Lee & Low a Special Place to Publish,” in which we shared some of the things we do — and don’t do — for our books and authors. Several years later, the publishing landscape has changed a bit, but our commitment to supporting our books and authors hasn’t. So, we decided to update our list and share why we think Lee & Low Books is still a pretty special place to publish.
What We Will Do:
Our books are pondered, nurtured, and meticulously edited. Call us old school, but we take the time to really edit books. Several people’s opinions are solicited in order to make sure our books are culturally accurate and completely factual. We have found this collaborative effort results in books that stand the test of time and are appreciated by readers for many years after publication.
2. Celebrate Unsung Heroes:
While we certainly recognize the contributions of legends like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Gandhi, we also think it is important to acknowledge the contributions of lesser-known heroes. We have published books about William “Doc” Key, Ira Aldridge, Vivien Thomas, Anna May Wong, and Muhammad Yunus, to name just a few, and we will continue to tell the stories of courageous people whose lives and actions deserve recognition.
3. Ensure Cultural Authenticity:
We will work extremely hard to make sure every book we publish is culturally authentic in both text and illustrations. That’s what we do best. How? We do research, and more research. We consult outside readers and experts if a culture or traditions are unfamiliar to our staff. We are committed to making sure each story rings true.
4. Quality Over Quantity, Always:
We don’t publish a lot of books each year, but the books we publish are the highest quality in all respects. We don’t skimp on paper, and our production process is top notch. Our books have won numerous national, state, and special interest awards. Considering the size of our list—fifteen to twenty new books a year—our percentage of award-winning titles is amazing. Did you know that in 2016, we received a combined 16 starred reviews for our titles? We’re not gloating here, just stating a fact.
5. Publish New People:
A big part of our mission is to reach out to and publish talented new authors and illustrators. Since LEE & LOW began, we have published 118 debut authors and illustrators (including those with upcoming projects). We are proud of the careers that have been launched here, including that of Javaka Steptoe, who earlier this week won the prestigious Caldecott Award! We are especially dedicated to building the careers of authors and illustrators of color as well as Native authors and illustrators. We put our money where our mouth is with our annual New Voices Award for first-time picture book writers of color and New Visions Award for first-time middle grade and young adult writers of color. The winners of both contests receive cash prizes and publishing contracts with us!
6. Connect With Educators:
Over the course of our company’s history, we have built a stellar reputation for publishing high-quality, complex texts that reflect all students. We are dedicated to supporting educators who use our books in the classroom by creating free in-depth classroom guides to go with every book. We have several full-time literacy specialists on our staff who stay abreast of educational trends and generate innovate materials to go with our books, helping to get them into classrooms across the country.
What We Won’t Do:
1. Pay Big Advances:
It is a fact that many publishers pay big advances that never earn out. Our advances are modest, but our goal is for every author and illustrator to earn out his or her advance. Earning out is a badge of honor, and we help our authors and illustrators do this by giving each book the time and support it needs to grow. We not only promote a book in its first few months, we promote a book for its entire life in print. And our books stay in print for a long, long time.
2. Sponsor Multi-City Book Tours:
We have never found whirlwind national book tours to be cost effective for our books, and with today’s economy, that is even less likely. But we do employ every online strategy in our arsenal to get the word out about our books. Likewise, we offer support to authors planning local events, help interested authors build their school visit business, and actively participate in key conferences for educators and librarians. These alternatives to large-scale book tours get real results.
3. Base Acquisitions Only on Projections:
Publishing books is not a scientific endeavor, and we retired our crystal ball years ago. We do not require profit and loss statements in order to decide whether or not to publish a book. While we do weigh trends, sales, and other logistics of the business, ultimately we go with the gut when acquiring a manuscript. If the story moves us, we will publish it.
4. Forget About the Backlist:
We put our marketing dollars toward promoting all our books for years and years after publication. Our strong backlist is the foundation of our business, and we often feature a wide range of books in our marketing initiatives, not just our newest titles. We are always happy to work with authors who have new ideas for promoting their titles, no matter when their books were originally published.
5. Take Being Small for Granted:
Each season, larger houses have to choose which books to publicize from among the many titles they publish. As a small publisher, we have a great advantage in this area. Our short list allows us to concentrate personal attention on every author, illustrator, and book we publish, from editorial all the way through marketing and publicity.
6. Stay Silent
We are not some huge corporate conglomerate that can’t speak publicly on a single controversial issue. Our independent status means that we can take a stand on the things that are important to us, such as diversity in publishing. With our popular diversity gap infographics series going viral and the release of our landmark Diversity Baseline Survey last year, we have become a leader in the conversation on diversity in publishing. On our social media channels, we discuss these issues in depth and don’t shy away from difficult topics.
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