Meet the (Small) Press: Bushel & Peck Books
- By Larry Matthews
- August 28, 2020
This California indie is doing well by doing good.
David and Stephanie Miles are part of a growing number of idealistic young Americans who see business as not only a way to make a living, but also to make a difference. A year ago, the Fresno, California, couple, both avid readers, started Bushel & Peck Books, a publishing house devoted to children’s books. The idea was to see what they could do to improve literacy among disadvantaged kids.
Exposure to books during the early years is the key to strong literacy skills later in life. “I was shocked to learn how big a problem illiteracy is, even in the United States,” David says. “One of the big metrics is the access kids have to print books of their own.”
So, he and Stephanie joined the world of publishing. But not in a traditional way.
“We give away a book for every book that we sell,” he says, explaining Bushel & Peck’s practice of donating books both to schools in underserved areas and to individual boys and girls.
Publishing is challenging in the best of circumstances; giving away a free book for each one sold makes thin margins even thinner. How does Bushel & Peck manage?
“We’re small. We’re lean. We keep a lot of stuff in-house, and that keeps our costs down,” David says. He also takes side jobs as an illustrator to make ends meet.
Although authors who want to publish with Bushel & Peck must agree to take smaller royalties, finding them isn’t a problem. “We get inundated with manuscripts,” he says. “Authors are open to the idea of the book-for-book promise and working with a company that is trying to do more than just watch the bottom line.”
The bottom line at Bushel & Peck isn’t impressive by New York publishing standards; their bestselling book sold only 4,000 copies. But that same book resulted in another 4,000 free copies. They’ll give away about 10,000 books this year and expect to give away more in 2021. Although they work with distributors who understand their mission, business has been a challenge. “Covid didn’t help,” David admits.
To keep costs down, the books are all printed as paperbacks: picture books for preschoolers; more detailed stories for 6- to 9-year-olds; and books about serious topics for 8- to 12-year-olds.
“We like to tackle issues that are meaningful to us,” explains David. “We have a book on character. We have a book on climate change. We even have a book on sexting and the pitfalls associated with that.”
Bushel & Peck’s website announces in big, bold letters: “Let’s raise a generation of smart, kind kids.” To accomplish that, they’re building a community of like-minded authors and illustrators who embrace the idea of getting books to the children who need them most.
“We are always looking for new charitable partners to receive our free books,” David and Stephanie remind visitors on their site. “If you know of a school, nonprofit, library, community center, or someone else, please nominate them.”