Almost two years after former DK staffers Joanne Clark, Fiona Macdonald and Sam Priddy joined Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (MCPG) to launch their own list of accessible gift non-fiction aimed at the middle-grade market, they are preparing to launch their first titles under the new Neon Squid imprint.
We wanted to get across this idea that we want to look at things from a slightly different angle. To me, a squid seems a strange mascot, but actually they’re really cool and interesting, so it spoke to a lot of underlying themes that we want to convey with our books and as a whole
Priddy, who serves as co-publisher alongside Clark and Macdonald, says of the move: “The three of us had worked very closely together at DK for a number of years and we had this idea for what would become Neon Squid. We met with Macmillan in America and they seemed to think it was something that would work really well, something a bit different from the other imprints they had.” Based in London, the trio report to Sally Poulson, global operations director at MCPG division Priddy Books. This should be something of a homecoming for Sam Priddy, as his father is Roger Priddy, who founded his eponymous imprint in 2000. Clark adds: “While we had lots of creative freedom in our roles at DK, we just felt like we had our own ideas to bring to our non-fiction books. The guys at Macmillan were really excited about us bringing our own vision and they have been really supportive about getting our ideas out there.”
Allison Verost, senior vice-president and publishing director at MCPG, echoes this: “Non-fiction has been really exploding, particularly in the US, and we felt like the books that the team was making at DK was accessible non-fiction that is kid-friendly and can function both as a reference book and as a gift book. We were excited about the team, and we were excited about the kind of books that they are going to make.”
Explaining the ethos behind Neon Squid, Priddy says: “We wanted an imprint that really focuses on intriguing topics and looks at them through a different lens, trying to find a new perspective.” This is reflected in the imprint’s name, as Clark explains: “We wanted to get across this idea that we want to look at things from a slightly different angle. To me, a squid seems a strange mascot, but actually they’re really cool and interesting, so it spoke to a lot of underlying themes that we want to convey with our books and as a whole.”
Neon Squid will publish in the US and UK simultaneously, with the first six books coming next month. The launch list encompasses the key areas of history, culture and science, with an ambition to cover “core topics but in a slightly unusual way” and titles created with the idea of developing a series in mind. The line-up includes The Book of Sistersa collection of biographies of notable sisters throughout history, and Animal Sidekicks, an illustrated introduction to the concept of symbiosis featuring pairs of animal friends. Another key principle of the books is that they promote “learning by stealth.” Priddy explains: “Our books are very educational, but… through amazing illustrations and fun stories, we want them to almost look like fiction.” As Clark puts it: “We really want to make non-fiction the star of the show.”
The team comes up with all the ideas for the imprint’s books in-house and then looks for experts to write them. Several of those they have signed so far are podcasters and YouTubers who are “so used to explaining tricky topics in a way that is digestible and exciting, which really lends itself to our kind of publishing”, according to Macdonald. She says they also spend a lot of time trying to find illustrators “that will really bring each individual subject to life”. They have recently turned to TikTok to find new writers too. “Because they are not traditional authors, their fresh approaches to things can often be really exciting,” comments Clark, adding: “We want to be able to access as wide a pool of people as we can, because there are so many different topics we want to cover and so many different ways we want to tell a story.”
Reflecting on the challenges of setting up an imprint during a pandemic, there were practical issues. The team is used to working very collaboratively but once they figured out ways to do this virtually, it made their processes “significantly more efficient”, says Priddy. The trio works closely with Verost’s team and MCPG’s US sales and marketing team. For Verost, the widespread adoption of remote working due to the pandemic was a positive as “the distance from the US to the UK has never been shorter”. She expands: “We’ve been able to do so many virtual events with both US and UK tastemakers simultaneously. So this virtual world has actually made launching an imprint based across the ocean seamless.”