For Candlewick Press’s 25th anniversary, they decided to make a podcast that gave listeners a peek behind the curtain of the house that gave them Judy Moody, Because of Winn-Dixie, Where’s Waldo? and more. Candlewick Press Presents gained thousands of listeners during its limited run in 2017, and it’s still getting plays from industry hopefuls as well as book lovers.
In this guest post, Ally Russell from Candlewick Press describes how a traditional publisher got into the podcasting game and how it benefited from connecting with its audience in a new way.
A Learning Experience
Publishing is a fairly small and exclusive community, and many people want to know how others broke into the industry. Some readers just want an answer to a simpler but equally complicated question: How are books made? Giving people insight into the journeys of successful book creators and providing them with details on the publication of particular books gives them tools to use on their own publishing paths and a deeper appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes.
One of the most exciting pieces of information we’ve come across since the release of Candlewick Press Presents is that our podcast has been used in college classrooms as a teaching tool. At least two college instructors have required their students to listen to episodes of the show to gain a better understanding of the book publication process. We’ve always aimed to help educators use our books in the classroom, so having the podcast used as a supplementary teaching material was a huge measure of success for Candlewick.
We use the Candlewick podcast to give our readers insight and entertainment. We tell new stories — stories that wouldn’t work in a traditional book format. It’s true that the Internet has forced publishers to adapt and find new ways of putting books into the hands of readers, but it has also allowed us to broadcast stories into the heads and hearts of millions of listeners.
We’re still book people, but now we’re also in the business of oral storytelling.
Initially, we weren’t sure if our readers would be receptive to a different kind of storytelling from Candlewick Press. However, the publishing industry has had to adapt to the digital age, and reaching readers beyond bookstores is something that we feel passionately about. So we dipped our metaphorical toes into the world of podcasting. We could only hope that our listeners would enjoy the stories from behind the scenes as much as they enjoy reading the stories printed on the pages.
We’re book people. We spend our days looking closely at text and illustrations, but we had to learn to listen closely to audio recordings to eliminate extraneous noises (which were almost always children from the daycare next door pattering their tiny hands on our windows during their afternoon walks). We know how to produce and market beautiful books, but we had to learn how to present and promote the creators of those books. We know how to tell stories on paper, but we had to figure out how to tell them in a podcast.
We spent months completing logistical work: Choosing a podcast name, purchasing a domain name, designing a logo, and testing recording equipment in our “studio” (which is really just a small conference room named after one of our most beloved book characters, Maisy).
Creating and Launching Candlewick Press Presents
For the launch of the podcast, we had to curate a list of locals from our roster of brilliant talent who would be willing to help us on our journey into the world of nonfiction audio storytelling. The task was particularly difficult because we wanted to choose authors and illustrators who represent the broad spectrum of books we publish. We brought in picture book illustrators Ekua Holmes and Scott Magoon and wordless picture book storytellers Aaron Becker and Ethan and Vita Murrow. We included board book and interactive activity book creator Jannie Ho and middle-grade fiction author Teresa Flavin. We also invited nonfiction storyteller Martin W. Sandler as well as two creators who are skilled at spinning tales of both fiction and nonfiction for various ages, author/illustrator Annette LeBlanc Cate and author/poet Lesléa Newman. Annie Cardi and anthology editors Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant covered YA books. Finally, we rounded out the list with picture book creator Matt Tavares and YA author M. T. Anderson, who have been publishing with Candlewick Press for almost as long as our doors have been open.
In May 2017, after months of research, interviewing, and editing, Candlewick Press Presents launched! The podcast aired weekly between June 8 and August 31. The show was available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. During its first week, the podcast picked up almost 500 downloads. Within its first month, almost 2,000 downloads. As the weeks went on and with each new episode, the program gained steam.
Within six months of airing, our podcast was picked up by Spotify. At the time, Spotify was relatively selective about their podcast content, so it was an honor to be included in their offering of shows. Red Tricycle’s website — which has 1 million unique visitors per month — named Candlewick Press Presents one of 5 Cool Podcasts to Try on Your Next Road Trip. In addition to other media outlets taking notice of our show, we learned that our podcast was being listened to all over the world, including in Australia, Canada, the U.K., Singapore, Japan, and Argentina.
The biggest hurdle for any podcast is acquiring ratings and reviews, and we haven’t been able to gauge the success of the show based on those. However, we know it has been a success because we’ve managed to hit 10k downloads in just over one year, even with an irregular, somewhat unpredictable schedule in 2018.
Value of Candlewick Press Presents
Here’s why we think readers will continue to seek out and listen to Candlewick Press Presents:
Behind-the-Scenes Peeks at Candlewick Press:
Isn’t it every reader’s dream to see where and how their favorite books were created? We’ve had local readers stop by our office and ask for a tour. There’s a reason that some of our most popular social media posts are photos that feature our office and staff: readers want to know! Candlewick Press Presents throws back the curtain and gives readers a glimpse into the world of publishing. The show is recorded right in our office in Somerville, MA, and it invites readers to join the experience that Candlewick employees and book creators are part of every day.
Background Information on Celebrated Authors and Illustrators:
Many of the guests on Candlewick Press Presents have been interviewed by other media outlets, but what makes the Candlewick podcast so engaging is the wealth of background information that we’re able to collect about our authors and illustrators and the publishing process of each book. We thread each discussion with funny anecdotes about the guests and interesting facts about the publication of certain books — information that only our staff could provide. Without background information from editors, book designers, and publicists, our listeners wouldn’t know about Scott Magoon’s impeccable singing voice or the story behind M. T. Anderson’s first manuscript.
Ally Russell is the consumer outreach specialist at Candlewick Press. She works to develop long-lasting, impactful relationships with organizations, and connect with consumers. She is the host of Candlewick Press Presents.