From the Ground Up: hatching a new picture book publishing company by Elizabeth Siggins

A little more than a year ago today my critique group and I braved the summer conference in LA for the first time. It was INCREDIBLE. We wrote poetry with Kwame Alexander, drew flamingos with Molly Idle, and were inspired in more ways than I can say. Gayle even wrote a piece about it for the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of ACORN. Luckily, we went again this year. I wanted to mark the occasion with this piece because something really special happened the first time we went. And it points to how  important these great gatherings of our tribe can be. One member of our group was so inspired she decided to act on an idea she’d been playing around with—starting her own publishing company. I asked her to start journaling about the process. Below is the first installment. Take it away, Elizabeth!

When the new editor of ACORN asked me if I’d be willing to write a series about starting a new publishing company, I was a little skeptical. What would I call it, I thought. Flying by the seat of your pants? Because the truth is—I am very much figuring this out as I go along.

If you were hoping for a “how to” about starting an independent publishing company, your search continues. But if you want to hear more about the ups and downs of one company’s experience, then I am excited to share this with you.

Author & Callepitter founder,      Elizabeth Siggins

It all started about a year ago. I had been working on my own picture book manuscripts for about five years. I was getting great feedback about my writing style (voice, tone, character development, etc.) but I kept hearing “This isn’t a picture book.” Or “You should turn this into a middle grade novel.” Most of my stories are about kids dealing with relatively heavy topics—abandonment, racism, childhood trauma—you know, typical picture book stuff. Or not.

Then one day, my brother threw out the idea. “You keep talking about all of these books you wish were out there. Instead of trying to write them yourself, why don’t you start a publishing company?” I laughed.

But I kept thinking about that idea and it started to take on a life of its own. Then, last year, my critique group took a road trip to the SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles. We live in northern California. So we had about twelve hours in a car and several days in a hotel room to do nothing but dream. After that and a couple of very inspiring conversations with Kwame Alexander, I decided to do it. I was going to start an independent picture book publishing company.

Thanks to the good judgment of friends and advisors, I held off the temptation to start with the website. Instead, we needed to focus on some of the behind-the-scenes work. In fact, we are still very much in that development stage.

I can’t wait to tell you more, in upcoming issues, about the formation of Callepitter—a new picture book publishing company. While we are not exclusively anything, we plan, at least initially, to focus on picture books about real world topics (the kinds of things that can be tough to talk about) for slightly older picture book readers (and the adults in their lives). It’s also important to know that our books will be gorgeous.

The name Callepitter was inspired by my son. It’s what he called caterpillars when he was younger. It seemed perfect for what we are trying to do—a kid’s take on the most spectacular transformation that occurs right around us and yet often goes completely unnoticed. Magical, beautiful, and a little bit awkward.

Because picture books are pretty expensive to make, we are still finalizing the business model (an intentionally nontraditional collaboration between publisher and artist/author) and identifying the first books to launch our venture.

That website I wanted to do last summer? It’s finally under construction. More soon….

Elizabeth Siggins is the Founder of Callepitter—a publishing company for books that are magical, beautiful, and a little bit awkward. When she isn’t trying to reform the justice system, messing around with her own picture books, or launching a new business, Elizabeth can probably be found curled in a corner reading with her son. Her passion for picture books is fueled by everything she believes about how art heals and how young people can change the world.