Publisher Interview: Heather C. Hughes on Sleeping Bear Press

Heather C. Hughes

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Heather C. Hughes says: “I’ve been the publisher at Sleeping Bear Press for the past ten years.

“Sleeping Bear Press was started in 1995, published our first children’s book in 1998 (The Legend of Sleeping Bear), which fortunately was very successful (over 250,000 sold), helping to launch our children’s publishing program.

“In 2002, Cengage Learning acquired Sleeping Bear Press, providing the support we needed to grow our program.

“Our office is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Go Blue!) where we overlook a pond filled with all sorts of wildlife! Just this morning there was a blue heron sitting in the tree outside my window!”

What inspired you to focus your career on books, especially those for young readers?

My three daughters and watching the impact books had on hospitalized children during my years as a pediatric nurse.

Could you tell us about Sleeping Bear Press, its mission and focus?

Our mission is to publish distinctive, high-quality books that will enrich children’s lives through stories that entertain and educate, helping foster a lifelong passion for reading and learning.

Could you share with us the history of the house?

Coming April 2012

We are proud of and grateful for the personal relationships we’ve formed with the remarkably gifted authors and illustrators who have worked with us over the years. They have been integral to our success.

In turn, they have told us how much they enjoy and appreciate the personal attention that Sleeping Bear Press gives them and their work. We publish 25 to 30 front-list titles each year and strive to give each project our absolute best.

Does being based in Michigan give the house a different point of view or “vibe” than, say, a N.Y.C.-based publisher? If so, how?

This is difficult to answer as I have never worked for a N.Y.C. based publisher. We admire the work of so many publishers, and, like them, strive to create the best children’s literature possible.

There is a plethora of great children’s literature being published by big and small houses, which I think pushes all of us to be more creative and innovative with how we approach publishing books for today’s children, who are graphically more sophisticated than any other generation.

How would you describe your list?

Fun and educational!

Children’s Poet & Author J. Patrick Lewis at BEA 2011

Are there any particular books you’d like to highlight?

Stella Batts by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Jennifer Bell, is a new early chapter book series that charmingly chronicles the ups and downs of an eight year old girl named Stella. She’s in third grade, she wants to be a writer, and her parents own a candy shop. We released the first book in this series in February and have been thrilled with the response from children, parents and educators.

A Giraffe Did One by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Walking, running, skipping, or jumping. Sometime…somewhere…someone around the world is doing this. Maybe even you! What can it be? Young readers will giggle and smirk as they try to guess just exactly what it is that these animals are doing. The ending may surprise you!

T is for Titanic by Debbie Shoulders and Michael Shoulders, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (teachers guide). In the Sleeping Bear Press signature alphabet format, this husband-and–wife writing team sift through the stories, documents, and artifacts surrounding the famous ship, giving a “you-are-there” view to one of the world’s greatest disaster stories.

The third title in the I, Q series by Roland Smith will release in October of 2012. In this fast paced adventure, you will meet Q (Quest) and his stepsister Angela and their rocker parents, Blaze and Roger. This Kirkus review sums up why kids have been loving this series:

“A blend of adventure, suspense, intelligently imagined characters and terrific authorial sleight-of-hand will keep readers engaged as the kids solve the mystery.”—Kirkus Reviews

We are now publishing in all age markets. In our early years, we focused only on picture books.

Big picture, what makes Sleeping Bear Press special?

The attention we give each project, collaboration between the author and illustrator, the publicity and marketing support we give each and every title, and the accessibility to the staff at Sleeping Bear.

How do you connect your titles to teachers and librarians?

Trade shows, e-newsletter, author and illustrator school visits, strong sales team, and most importantly, book content.

Eve Bunting, Zachary Pullen & Esther Hershenhorn, 2010 International Reading Association Conference

What recommendations do you have for writers and illustrators?

Join your local SCBWI chapter, visit your local library frequently, get to know the booksellers at your local bookstore (they are a wealth of knowledge, if you want to find out what children are reading), support your local bookstore by buying books, and support other authors and illustrators by recommending their books to the children in your world.

Give books as gifts, and give of your time to support literacy programs in your local school and community.

Attend conferences, writers workshops, and presentations by authors and illustrators who have been successful. They have much to share that will help with your search for the right publisher for your work.

Before approaching a publisher, get to know the list. When I’m talking to authors or agents we haven’t worked with us, I really appreciate when they are familiar with the work of the amazing authors and illustrators who have trusted Sleeping Bear to publish their work.

Sleeping Bear Press office

There’s been a lot of conversation of late about the current state and future of the picture book. What do you think?

I can’t imagine a world without beautifully written and illustrated books for children!

Another peek inside Sleeping Bear Press.

What are two words you’d like people to think of when they think of Sleeping Bear Press?

Quality literature!

Available this month!

Cynsational Notes

3 thoughts on “Publisher Interview: Heather C. Hughes on Sleeping Bear Press

  1. A third grader who wants to be a writer? I *have* to read Stella Batts! And the title "What's Looking at You, Kid?" made me giggle.

    Thanks so much, Cynthia and Heather for this profile of Sleeping Bear Press!

  2. Sleeping Bear is a great press to work with. Good people who care about making good books. My own experience with them over 4 years and 3 books has been lovely.

Comments are closed.