Publisher pursues the kids books he wants

By Andrew Wallmeyer

Stillwater Gazette

OAK PARK HEIGHTS, Minn. — Now more than a year old, Maren Green Publishing is growing about as fast as the young children it caters to, and founder Todd Snow couldn’t be happier.

Snow, who lives in Lake Elmo, Minn., with his wife, Peggy, and their 11-year-old daughter, Greta, got the inspiration for the business several years ago when he had trouble finding the kind of books he wanted to read to his daughter.

"She was really my motivation to put something else on the market that I felt was better than what was already out there in some of these areas," he said. "I had some really specific ideas in terms of what she identified with that really appealed to her and engaged her, and that’s what I was trying to replicate with some of the books that we’re publishing now."


Snow, who left Free Spirit Publishing in Minneapolis in May 2006, founded Maren Green five months later. Eight months after that, he and co-worker Marie Kruegel left for New York to launch a line of 13 books. Snow said the company expects to publish another six or seven in 2008.

"They say it’s really difficult to break into children’s publishing, but sitting here as a young publisher with new books on the market, I feel like I can speak contrary to that," Snow said.

Though he said it is difficult to put a figure on how much it cost to start the business, Snow estimates he will have invested $250,000 in the venture by the time it breaks even, which he expects will happen sometime in 2009.

"They say you shouldn’t expect to be profitable until year five, but I’m looking to break even in year two or three, and we’re on track for that," Snow said. "The thing for me is that this is what I want to do. This is what I love doing. It’s been so right for me, making this transition and starting Maren Green, that financially I’m prepared to do what it takes to make it work."

Snow knows that’s going to take a lot of hard work in the years to come, but between Kruegel and himself, he figures, they have enough know-how to get Maren Green off the ground.

"It would be a lot more challenging if Marie and I didn’t have the prior publishing experience that we do, because it’s easy to spend a lot of time and energy doing the wrong thing," he said.

The right thing, according to Snow and Kruegel, is creating good books that are unique and knowing how to sell them in a number of very distinct markets, including education, libraries, catalogs, distributors, mass-market retailers, online, and, of course, independent booksellers.

"But at the end of the day, if you’re not publishing good books, you won’t be successful," Kruegel said.


Sources of books

Most of the books in Maren Green’s initial lineup were written by Snow and his wife, but he said that percentage should fall quickly in coming years as more authors become aware of the company and the kinds books it wants to publish.

One book Maren Green took a chance on, Carrie Hartman’s "Child of Mine," deals with the complicated relationship between a parent and a child with emotional or behavioral issues.

Jami Stack, an elementary school psychologist, said she’s used Maren Green’s "Feelings to Share" as a way to get kids to talk and to let them know that "it’s OK to have feelings; it’s what you do with them that counts.

"Overall, I think their books are great, and I really like the idea that they come from local authors and a local publisher," she said.

"I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do so far — especially when people tell us about how their kids responded to our books, and the conversations they helped spark in those families — and I look forward to doing this for years to come," Todd Snow said.

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