What exactly does a publisher do? I think I’ve got the most wonderful job in the world, but also one with great responsibility for shaping a generation. As Kar-Ben’s publisher, I receive manuscripts from around the world – about 800+ each year – from which I, with a team of sales, marketing and editorial people, select about 15 for publication. I often run these manuscripts past a focus group or two – parents, teachers, librarians, kids – to see what resonates for them, what they like and don’t like about a particular story. I check the new manuscript against our existing catalogue to make sure it meets a need. I oversee the editing, artist selection, layout, sales and marketing for each book, helped once again by a fantastic team of people skilled in their particular areas of expertise. I determine whether we want the book to come in hardcover and/or paperback, how many copies we want to print, what targeted marketing we may want to do for each title. And then I wait for the finished book to arrive on my desk – an exciting day. Although I’ve been in this business for many years, I can’t get over the thrill of seeing a finished book for the first time – there’s just nothing like it.
It’s an exciting time to be a publisher of Jewish children’s books. As the American Jewish community continues to change at a rapid pace, I think it’s important that Kar-Ben books reflect the full vibrancy and diversity of the evolving community. And yet, we can’t be all things to all people. Do we want to address issues of ethnic diversity, divorce, gay families, the Jewish “green movement,” roles of contemporary Jewish grandparents who don’t necessarily live in the same communities as their grandchildren do, special needs kids, and intermarried families in our books? We do. And yet, we also want to be sensitive to authentic Jewish experiences that Jews share regardless of where they’re coming from. We still want to interpret Bible stories, create stories about Shabbat, and other Jewish holidays. We want to celebrate the new life that’s been given to old rituals like Tashlich and Rosh Chodesh. We’ll keep putting baseball caps on little boys but not necessarily dresses on little girls. If you have ideas to share, book topics to suggest or just want to communicate with us for whatever reason, please consider this blog your forum to do so!
Joni Sussman, Publisher