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IPG Publisher Spotlight: BraveMouse Books

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In our first IPG Publisher Spotlight, we sit down with BraveMouse Books‘ Creative Director and Founder, Molly Coxe, to discuss her fresh take on the “Early Readers” niche, the difference between working in independent publishing versus the Big Five, and how the recent changes within the industry have created a dynamic, democratic publishing environment.

IPG: What was your involvement in the conception and start-up of BraveMouse Books?

MC: I started BraveMouse Books six years ago—impulsively, when a huge publisher informed me that several of the children’s books I’d written and illustrated were going out of print because they weren’t selling enough copies. “Enough” to a publisher of that size meant tens of thousands of copies a year. I wondered if a smaller publisher could make a go of it with a different business model, one that did not require leasing office space in midtown Manhattan.

IPG: What makes BraveMouse Books special?

MC: I think it’s fair to say our books don’t look like anything else out there right now. The illustration style is beautifully-lit cinematic photographs of homemade characters, like the ones a child might make in his/her imaginary play using simple materials. We think they are charming, and full of heart, but then we’re biased. Also, we don’t compromise on production values. The results are beautiful books on beautiful paper.

IPG: Where did you get the idea for the Short Vowel Adventure Books? What was your starting point?

MC: Previous Early Readers that I’ve written and illustrated have sold over two million copies, so I thought it would be wise to focus on a niche that I understand. Also, lots of Early Readers published currently look dated because most publishers aren’t taking chances in this genre. (The Mo Willems titles for Disney/Hyperion are an exception.) I felt the BraveMice could offer something fresh—slightly longer books which allow for more satisfying stories, a phonics focus which many children find helpful as they are learning to “crack the code”, and illustrations that are as beautiful as those found in high-end picture books.

IPG: Can you walk us through your process—from a book’s conception all the way to its publication?

MC: The idea begins with a fun title which is appropriate for an Early Reader and has the kernel of a fresh story within it: Princess Pig, Wet Hen, Cubs in a Tub, Hop, Frog! I play with the text in an InDesign document, so that I have a clear sense of the rhythm and pacing as the story develops.

From Cubs in a Tub

Then I hire a wonderful freelance editor I worked with when she was an editor at one of the Big Five. Her contribution is invaluable (as is the input of first rate freelance designers, production and pre-press experts at other points in the process.) At the same time, I start making the characters out of animation wire, wool, and fabric. When they feel ready, I begin taking the photographs, a process full of physical, technical, and artistic challenges which can take several months. I love it.

IPG: You write, photograph, and publish all of your books. What is your favorite part?

MC: Watching how my original plot and the emotional arc of the story changes in the process of creation. Moments when the light on a scene creates something unpredictable and magical. Also, hearing that someone out there is really connecting with what we’re doing. Last summer, we got word that Rat Attack, the short “a” adventure, had been chosen by the New York City Public Library for their K-1 Summer Reading List. This was thrilling.

IPG: How long have you been in the publishing world and how did you get your start?

MC: My first book, Louella and the Yellow Balloon, was published in 1988 by Thomas Y. Crowell, then an imprint at HarperCollins. This book is now quite deservedly out of print! I submitted it without an agent while I was teaching preschool in New York, and working on a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. In those days, you could walk into the office of a publisher and someone might look at your portfolio on the spot.

From Hop, Frog! (Pub date April 2016)

IPG: What has your experience been with independent publishing? What is the biggest challenge? The biggest advantage?

MC: The biggest challenge is staying in the black. The biggest advantage is the freedom and flexibility to take risks, and the fun of working with amazing freelancers, and a distributor who is on your team and supportive every step of the way. It’s a fantastic job!

IPG: How does your experience with independent publishing differ from your “Big 5” publishing days?

MC: I’m wearing more hats now than when I was a writer and illustrator, and it can be challenging to be changing them all the time! The reward is in shepherding a project all the way through the process, feeling that you have given 110% at every step, and getting an email from a teacher, librarian, or parent saying one of your books has been in some small way a sweet thing in a child’s life.

IPG: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since you started out?

MC: Big publishers have gotten a lot bigger, with all the pros and cons that go along with that for everyone involved. This is a cool time to be a tiny upstart publisher because you can produce a book, an ebook especially, at such low cost, and launch it into the world quite quickly!

It’s a dynamic, democratic publishing environment. At the same time, the enormous volume of titles produced makes it more difficult for any of them to get any attention. It’s quite a challenge, but the BraveMice aren’t called “brave” for nothing. To the (very tiny) ramparts!

IPG: You’re approaching your last Short Vowel Adventure book. What’s next for you and BraveMouse Books?

MC: The Long Vowel Fables! And if I’m feeling really brave, another picture book, perhaps wordless, featuring Benjamin the Mouse and his friend Bumper the elephant on a quest to find Bumper’s mother, whom he has not seen since he was a baby in India.

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