Former Scholastic employees Aimée Felone and David Stevens are launching a new children’s publisher that will focus on commissioning writers and illustrators from a diverse range of backgrounds.
The London-based venture, called Knights Of (a reference to the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend, which offers everyone an equal voice and an equal say in all matters), will publish commercial fiction for five to 15-year-olds that will be distributed through the UK, Ireland and Europe.
Felone and Stevens both left Scholastic earlier this year to found Knights Of. Felone, who was assistant editor at Scholastic and has also worked for David Higham Associates and the Eve White Agency, said: “Knights Of was born out of a frustration with the lack of representative voices and narratives in children’s fiction. With Knights Of we can publish uniquely, putting our differences first and celebrating them, making it central to our business.”
Felone and Stevens have reached an agreement with independent children’s publisher Little Tiger Group, which will support Knights Of with a broad range of industry expertise. This will include advice around the launch, followed by design, production and sales support as Knights Of moves into publishing titles, as well as help engaging freelances and external teams.
Little Tiger sales and marketing director David Bucknor said: “We are thrilled to be involved in such an exciting and urgent project as Knights Of. As a group, we are committed to improving inclusivity in books for children and supporting broader, industry-wide representation among authors, illustrators and publishing professionals. Aimée and David’s proposition is an innovative new approach that promises to disrupt traditional routes to publication, while being grounded in their combined wealth of experience.”
A key aim for Knights Of is to actively connect with UK black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and working-class networks and communities. One way Felone and Stevens intend to do this is by making themselves and their partners visible in schools, colleges and universities, as well as at conferences and in parallel industries, such as design and marketing. To reach more readers, Knights Of plans to work with retailers to make bookshops approachable to communities and families who do not regularly visit them, through events, outreach, marketing and partnerships. In areas without bookshops, they aim to engage with non-traditional community spaces such as libraries and youth groups.
The list will take an inclusive approach to recruitment as well as to its books. Felone said: “The industry fails to publish and hire inclusively enough. We want to give new writers the start they deserve while building a more representative workforce.”
Knights Of will be hiring freelancers at first with a view to expanding its permanent team in future. Stevens, who was media development director at Scholastic and has previously worked at Penguin Random House, Brown Bag Films and Children’s Books Ireland, said: “Our goal is to ensure as many different perspectives touch every title, across editorial, design, marketing, and so on.
We aim to pair experienced candidates to work with more junior candidates, ensuring that every part of the process is creating opportunities in the industry.”
Knights Of is open to submissions from both unrepresented and agented writers and illustrators via a live chat mechanism on its website as of today (27th October). The publisher’s launch campaign includes an online community built around the hashtag #BooksMadeBetter on social publishing platform Medium. #BooksMadeBetter will enable established authors and underrepresented voices to champion each other and offer a safe space for articles, opinions and reviews from across children’s books.
Knights Of has secured initial investment to ensure a “comfortable launch runway” and will actively seek further investment, including under Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) venture capital initiatives.
It will announce its first books in early 2018. Stevens said: “We have an unbelievable opportunity to launch a children’s publisher actively making change, and we are setting out to prove there is a genuine market for commercial inclusive books.”