Today we are excited to have Editorial Director of Tu Books, Stacy Whitman with us here at the Enchanted Inkpot. Stacy is the founder of Tu Books, an independent press focusing on multicultural fantasy and science fiction for middle grade and young adult readers. She spent three years as an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Before that, she edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller. Stacy edited such favorite fantasy titles for children and young adults as the highly acclaimed YA series Hallowmere, the middle grade fantasy adventure series that debuted with Red Dragon Codex, and The New York Times best-selling picture book A Practical Guide to Monsters.
Ellen: Stacy, thanks for joining us at the Inkpot. We are extremely excited that you've come here to share your fantastic new announcement!
Stacy: Thanks! We’re very excited about it. You can read the full announcement here, but here’s the scoop: Lee & Low Books has acquired Tu Publishing, and we’ll become an imprint of Lee & Low. We’re still looking for launch titles, and I remain editorial director. I’ve just relocated to New York and am settling into the new office. The name of the imprint will change slightly to Tu Books, to match Lee & Low’s other imprints.
We’re very excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for Tu as well as for Lee & Low. It was a perfect fit.
Ellen: Congratulations! This is indeed fantastic news. Now you had envisioned starting small with just two titles a year. Does this merger change your plans? What is different for Tu? How big is your staff?
Stacy: Our plans are changing a bit, but not much. Our mission remains the same—to acquire great fantasy and SF titles for children and young adults that feature diverse characters and settings. The biggest change is that we’ll have more resources to accomplish our mission. Before, it was just me, juggling a full-time day job and working on the small press at night, depending upon the generosity of talented friends who helped me with art, design, editing, and other duties. This was in the process of expanding to the help of a few interns from the local colleges in Utah, as well, and when we had books to sell, I was going to be the entire sales and marketing departments until we grew a little larger.
Now, we hope to acquire six books our first year instead of just two, and we’ll have the support of several full-time Lee & Low employees to publicize, market, and sell them. Lee & Low is an independent small press, with almost twenty years of experience publishing award-winning multicultural titles. So we’ll remain relatively small, but they have the expertise to help Tu succeed far beyond my initial hopes.
Ellen: What does this mean for distribution of Tu Books?
Stacy: Wonderful things! When you start your own publishing company, getting distribution is a challenge—you have to have at least five books out, sometimes more, to be able to get your books listed with a distributor. (There are print-on-demand exceptions to that, but the costs per book were phenomenal and far beyond what the children’s/YA market would support.) I was going to have to do some major footwork to get the word out about our books. Partnering with Lee & Low means that we’ve got a system in place to get our books out, which will make it easier for readers to find them.
Ellen: How did the merger with Lee and Low come about?
Stacy: Last fall, we held a fundraiser through Kickstarter.com, and the enthusiasm and support that poured out from the children’s book community allowed us to reach our modest $10,000 goal.
That enthusiasm, I think, caught the eye of Lee & Low. There was a lot of talk at that time about us on blogs and Twitter, and someone must have mentioned us on a blog that someone at Lee & Low saw (thank you, everyone!). They publish multicultural picture books and a few realistic middle-grade novels, and so our missions dovetailed nicely. Publisher Jason Low got in touch. We started discussing the possibilities, and it grew from there. It’s a perfect fit.
Ellen: I completely agree! It is a perfect fit. But let’s go back to the beginning. To kickstart a small independent press is an extraordinary labor of love. The goal of Tu is particularly remarkable for trying to fill a hole in the marketplace. Tell me, what was the light bulb moment that made you realize there was a need for a company like Tu? And then when did you decide that you were going to do something about it?
Stacy: Actually, it happened while watching anime with a friend one night about a year ago—it was just a crazy idea that we thought we’d play around with. We were watching Saiunkoku Monogatari, which my friend mentioned was based on a light novel from Japan. (Light novels are short novels; like manga, they can be aimed at any age group from children to adults.)
It’s a YA fantasy set in a world much like medieval China—I’m unsure which dynasty—a setting I hadn’t seen much of in YA fantasy up to that point (Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix hadn’t released yet). I was disappointed that it wasn’t translated in the US, because I was interested in reading it. She said, “Hey, we could start a small press to do just that!” I said, “You’re joking, right?”
She was, and she wasn’t. We decided to draw up a business plan and see where it went. As we discussed and researched, a nagging feeling grew, which I’d discussed with several other children’s literature industry friends: we needed more stories like this one—stories set in fantasy worlds based on Asian, African, Latino, and other non-western cultures. That would be a good place for a small press to distinguish itself in the market, a hole we could fill.
As we continued to plan, the idea took more solid form. My friend ended up having to leave the business behind before we really got started, but I continued working on it with the local Small Business Administration office, because I felt strongly that I could make a difference. I couldn’t do it alone, though—and over the last six months or so, so many people have come forward to help make it happen.
Ellen: It has been extraordinary to see the amount of support Tu received. And because of it, you have now moved cross country to NYC. How are you adjusting? Are you enjoying NY?
Stacy: It’s definitely an adjustment. I’ve lived in other big cities with great public transit before (Chicago, Boston), so it’s a return to a lifestyle I’ve lived before—no car, more planning to go to the store, the ability to walk or bike almost anywhere you need to go. I’ve been depending on a car to get me around for a while, though, so I’m going through a little bit of withdrawal. (Not enough to want to find parking in Manhattan.)
New York is also unique compared to those other cities. It’s a different culture from the Midwest or even the Northeast, and it’s been fun—and sometimes, trying, I’ll admit—to figure things out. Occasionally I feel like I have “bumpkin” branded on my forehead because some things are just done differently. But the people here are really friendly and helpful to someone who looks lost, and it’s so nice to have a great public transit system, and there are so many interesting things to do. Once I finally get organized and unpacked, I have a list of museums to visit, places to see, and people to catch up with. First and foremost: finding a new favorite Korean restaurant.
Oh, and the best part about moving to NYC: I get to go to KidLit Drinks Night, instead of just hearing about it! :)
Ellen: Speaking of Korean restaurants, tell us about your new offices in NYC. Aren't you near Koreatown? Do you stop and think how you are now acquiring multicultural titles in the most culturally diverse city in the world?
Stacy: We’re about three or four blocks from Koreatown, yep! I am on the hunt for my new favorite Korean restaurant. I’ve already discovered a great Asian food market where I’ve found many of my favorite foods for making at home. (I have finally figured out how to make that coconut sauce that goes on Thai sticky rice, and it’s nice to be able to make it myself.)
As for the diversity of New York City, I’ve thought about that. It’s definitely a diverse place and I love being surrounded by and interacting with people from all over the US and the world on a daily basis. But Utah is a diverse place in its own right—something that a lot of Utahns don’t realize. So it was fun to focus on diversity in a state that is often viewed as not being very diverse, and I was sad to leave behind a strong children’s writing community there.
Yet New York is a great place to be, too! I love how diverse my neighborhood in New York is (Harlem), and Lee & Low itself is a microcosm of the diversity I see every day in my apartment building and on the train and at church.
It’s been fun to tell new friends where I work because many of them recognize Lee & Low for its diverse titles. I see appreciation in their eyes—not for me, but for the Lee & Low brand—and it makes me feel great to be joining a company with that kind of reputation.
Ellen: Stacy, thanks so much for being with us today. It’s an honor to have had you here and we wish you and Tu Books the best of luck in your publishing endeavors. Is there any additional information that we can provide our readers?
Stacy: Thanks for having me! Our updated submission guidelines are on our website. We have a few manuscripts in the works, and we’ll let you know more about our acquisitions when we announce them. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook . And you can find out yet more by reading the Lee & Low blog and my own personal blog .
Ellen: So there you have it! The new Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books, under the helm of the amazing Stacy Whitman! Please look out for their books coming in 2011.