“The idea’s been percolating for years,” Moss says. “It came to a head after Random House bought Ten Speed and threw Tricycle away. An innovative voice in children’s publishing was gone.” Her strong feelings regarding Tricycle’s closure are more than just Bay Area solidarity; Moss’s best-known books got their start at the imprint. “Ages ago, when I published Amelia’s Notebook, I’d sent it to traditional publishers I’d been working with, but nobody knew what to do with it,” she explains. “Tricycle was this small publisher who didn’t know any better, and they took a chance.”
Once Moss made the decision to start Creston Books (the name she originally chose, Golden Gate Books, was changed due to copyright issues), things came together fairly quickly, she says. She began speaking with potential investors this past January, and soon after, she says, “I got authors on board who want to be part of something new and fresh.” The debut list, slated for fall 2013, contains four titles: works by Moss, Elisa Kleven, and author/photographer pair David Schwartz and Dwight Kuhn, as well as what Moss describes as “an Amelia-like notebook” called How to Make Friends and Keep Them, by an author who has autism and who may choose to publish under a pseudonym. Books will be printed in the U.S. on sustainably sourced paper, and Publishers Group West will provide warehousing and distribution.
In spring 2014, Moss plans to release four more titles, among them a middle-grade novel by Joan Steinau Lester — who, like Moss and many other authors involved with Creston, is West Coast-based and has already found success with East Coast houses. For her part, Moss plans to keep up her own very busy publishing schedule – “I have a tremendous amount of energy and discipline, so I have confidence I can handle it all” – with a middle-grade novel from Sourcebooks and her first YA story (from Abrams/Amulet) out this fall, and a picture book with Abrams arriving in spring 2013. “I’m very fond of my publishers, but I feel like there needs to be more of a range,” Moss says. “New York publishing is about: what’s the next Harry Potter, what’s the next Twilight? When I’ve approached people, I’ve asked, ‘What is the book you’ve been dying to do, but New York won’t do?’ I want the books that they think won’t sell – because I think they will.”
Elizabeth Partridge, author of numerous award-winning books for children and teens, is one member of the Creston stable who is eager for the chance to branch out. “I work with two major publishers in New York City and I love both of them, and will continue to work with them,” she says. “But Marissa is offering me a chance to be involved in a project on a deeper level than I can be with a big house. She and I brainstormed, and I told her I’d always wanted to do a book with Ashley Wolff. Marissa thought that was a great idea, and encouraged the two of us to come up with a project. This is the kind of freedom being offered to the authors and illustrators who are jumping in.”
Moosewood Cookbook author Mollie Katzen, who has written many other cookbooks for adults and children, also plans to have a book on a future Creston list –possibly her first work of narrative children’s literature. “I’d like to go deeper into children’s illustration, and I’m counting on Marissa to be my hands-on editor,” Katzen says. “I want her to be my guide.” Katzen, who has known Moss for years, calls her “the mayor of children’s lit in the Bay Area” and praises not only her editorial and networking skills, but also her market savvy. “She wants to do this for the love of books and the love of art, but she also has really good business sense. Creston isn’t the answer to everything, but at least it’s a new model.”
As Moss explains, “Authors will get smaller advances than at big houses, but still solid in terms of small press ranges. And of course, the royalties will be on a par if not better than New York, because I want an author-friendly contract. So the business model is different in that it’s weighted toward the creators of the books.” She’s eager for Creston to build an identity based on books that have both great content and beautiful art. “One of my models is McSweeneys,” she says. “[Also] Abrams, Candlewick, Chronicle. There are a few that still have a ‘look.’ I want books that look distinctive like that. ”
Plans call for copies of the fall 2013 books to be ready for next year’s BookExpo America convention. “We’ll have a big party, and introduce the list to the press,” Moss says, adding that promotion for each title Creston releases is a key component of the endeavor. “With the big publishers, they publish 50 books and promote five. I want to do a book trailer for every book, and make this a community effort. An author will promote their own book at conferences, and every other book on the list, too. It’s hard to tout yourself – I find it much easier to say nice things about other people’s books.
That collaborative spirit, she says, is one of the strengths of the Bay Area –“local booksellers are asking what they can do to support this, what they can do to help” – and will be a cornerstone of Creston. “The authors are going to be invested in the press,” she says. “I want this to feel like a community.”