By Julia Marshall, Founder, CEO & publisher at gecko press
At Gecko Press, we are now deciding the books we want to publish in 2022. It came as a surprise to me when I started working in publishing that books take so long to make, but I have learned that they cannot be rushed—or at least only rarely and with good reason.
Books need to be where they are supposed to be at the right time for them to have the best chance of finding readers. Many a book has been lost because it didn’t get to the sales reps on time, wasn’t in the warehouse on time, didn’t make the sales conference, changed its name at the last minute, didn’t have its details submitted to the right places—there are myriad opportunities for a book to fail, and so fitting into the existing and global discovery process is a necessary part of publishing.
Egg & Spoon window display at Wardini Books
At Gecko Press we choose books for children from the best writers and illustrators in the world, to translate and publish in English. We are small by choice, and deciding which books to include can be difficult—or easy, when a book feels right in every way. The latter doesn’t happen often. In my experience, there are only a very small number of books that somehow have everything, or at least everything we look for. Sometimes I don’t recognize that a book has everything, and that is very annoying! We don’t know if a book is going to be really good until it has found its readers, when we see that it strikes a chord.
The first Gecko Press book, Can You Whistle, Johanna?
Our criteria have remained largely unchanged since Gecko Press began in 2005—we look for books by internationally award-winning authors and illustrators that we think are excellent in story, illustration and design, books that are original (curiously good), warm and child-focused, often funny, and that we think will travel into another language and culture. We look for books that stop us in our tracks, but also books that reach to the heart of childhood.
For our 2022 list we have a shortlist and a longlist, and it is now time for us to make some decisions—for the books we publish in translation, at least. Sometimes we take a long time to decide and sometimes we have to be super-quick—especially if there is competition from other publishers.
This year is different because Rachel and I have not been to the Bologna or Frankfurt International Book Fairs for a while (of course) and it feels less easy to choose books from afar. Going to a book fair is for me a three-dimensional process. In those four days of 70 or so prearranged meetings, I am listening and looking, following up on tips from other non-English publishers, cross-checking—running, often, but equally often chatting in the aisle, going to drinks, dinner (sometimes a second dinner for pudding!). Some of our best books come to us via word-of-mouth, exactly the same way that the best books we read sometimes come via our friends.
Julia and Rachel sorting through books in our apartment post-fair, Bologna, 2019
So this year we have had to ask for more hard copies of books than we would normally so we can experience them “in person”. Digital versions are harder to judge (picture books, especially) so if we really like a book, we ask for a hard copy. A picture book is quite different when you have the actual page turn, when you feel its heft. Always, we look for the sense of satisfaction of a story well told when we get to the end. It is very hard to find a picture book with all the elements of a good story—character development, plot, drama, emotion, and a good ending. Equally, we like to avoid sentimentality, predictability, books that talk down to us, or seem to be written for adults rather than for the child.
It is a practical business too. We look at what is already on the list for the year and where we have gaps. We are small by choice so there is only room for 18 titles—maximum!—on our publishing list for the year. Generally, the Gecko Press list will have a range of picture books, including some that are fun and entertaining, some more serious or unusual, ones for older and for younger children, plus a non-fiction title, some illustrated junior fiction, a book that feels nice to give as a gift, something for babies and toddlers. Each year we also plan to translate one of our best selling and most loved books into te reo Māori, alongside the two or three New Zealand-originated books we produce every year.
An overview of the 2020 publishing list
It is a complicated challenge, a brainteaser, to come up with a list that is rounded, surprising, and sort of purposeful. Every publisher has their own personality and niche; publishing is a subjective business. Sometimes we say no to stories we suspect will be hugely successful, but don’t feel right for our list. It is not personal!
Ultimately, we like to love our job. So we choose books we think are genius, cross our fingers and hope that the children will enjoy them too and that we will survive—flourish, even—for another year.
Reading lineup from A Book Is a Book illustrated by Sarah Wilkins
Publishing is not easy, but as our late guru John McIntyre of the Children’s Bookshop told me—at least once a year—if anything is worth doing, it won’t be.
We hope you enjoy the books we have chosen to publish in 2021 and we look forward to sharing what we choose to publish next year when those books are ready. Now back to that 2022 list!
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