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Going Local: A Spotlight on Arcadia’s New Children’s Imprint

by Sarah Diamond


Arcadia Publishing, the specialty publisher behind nearly 15,000 “hyper-local” titles, is launching its first children’s imprint in 2020.

Arcadia built its brand publishing regional nonfiction titles for adults, written by authors, teachers, and historians with local expertise. Under the guidance of Publishing Director Nancy Ellwood, the children’s imprint will follow this mission by printing mostly true stories about regional history. This niche category has helped Arcadia develop an expertise selling local books. “We have more than forty successful series,” says Ellwood, “and an exceptional team who understands what topics work best in which cities, regions, or towns across the country. When local historians, curators, and civic-minded writers approach us with an idea, we know immediately where we’ll be able to sell that book, and we proceed with efficient, targeted print runs and sales plans.”

Getting a book deal with a powerful publishing company like one of the Big 5 is a dream for many pre-published authors, but it isn’t the right strategy for every book. Publishers like Penguin Random House need to consider things like large print runs and nationwide reach, and may be forced to pass on quality books that would only sell in a certain part of the world. That’s where small presses come in. Nancy Ellwood was formerly editorial director of DK Books, and before that a managing editor of Penguin Random House, before moving to the world of “creative and scrappy” small presses. She explains that big publishers “need to choose books with the widest appeal, which is great for them. But they miss out on the successful hidden gems we are honored to publish every day, like Springfield’s Celebrated Horseshoe Sandwich. Our books sell nationwide, too, but we’re built in such a way that even if a book will sell in only one little corner of the country, we can publish and market that book with as much vigor as all our others.”

Ellwood calls gift shops and regional bookstores Arcadia’s “bread and butter”. They produce books that appeal as much to patriotic locals who love learning about their hometown as seasonal travelers craving a memento of their journey. Local color is the secret to a strong seller. “Currently our food- and restaurant-centric series American Palate is really strong, as are the multiple series we have on long lost buildings, restaurants, and communities of days past.” Some of Arcadia’s titles have been about such narrow topics as a beloved Ohioan recipe (Barberton Fried Chicken), a defunct zoo in California (Jungleland), and a Jewish community in Philadelphia (Strawberry Mansion). In a feature with the Washington Post earlier this year, Arcadia’s president and chief executive David Steinberger explained the business appeal of focusing on small, timeless topics: “The books are completely evergreen. Once you publish them, they sell forever. So even though the initial numbers are modest, you’re creating a kind of annuity.”

The children’s imprint is just beginning to spread its wings, and is therefore relying on a modest budget. Ellwood’s support staff is mostly freelance, and the projects they commission are mostly work for hire. The good news is that they are willing to take a chance on less experienced artists and are actively courting fresh illustrators. “I enjoy building relationships that can last decades,” says Ellwood. “Our potential is huge, and our reach and exposure is pretty amazing, so even with our modest budgets we can offer a tremendous opportunity for creative talent to get their work into thousands of stores nationwide.”

Arcadia’s Children’s Books is now open for proposal submissions. “My mission is to publish books that really engage kids,” Ellwood says, “and that bring local information and stories to young readers in the genres they love (like humor, local history, early concepts, and spooky stories, to name a few). We’re looking at all formats and all topics from birth to age twelve at the moment, almost entirely nonfiction.” The imprint is also actively searching for book designers and illustrators with design experience. 

Writers and Illustrators should email a brief intro and links to their previous work to, and must put “Writer/Illustrator Information” in the subject line.

Visit Arcadia’s website for more information about the publisher. You can access a list of more small presses in the SCBWI Market Survey section of The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children