Purple House Press

Purple House Press began with a love of wonderful old books. In the early days of buying and selling used books on the Internet, Jill Morgan discovered that all the copies of one of her favorite books, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, were being bought up by one person and then re-listed and sold on another site for $300 each. Disappointed that children were being priced out of the books meant to entertain and engage their minds, Jill decided to take action.

In 2000, after receiving the author’s blessing, Jill borrowed the name “Purple House” from the book that inspired her and established Purple House Press to bring fantastic vintage books, produced with exceptional quality at affordable prices, to new generations of children. Since then, Jill and her husband have brought over half a million books to young readers everywhere.

Republishing Vintage Books

Jill soon found that republishing vintage books presents some unique challenges. Unlike publishing a brand new book, it's necessary to track down who holds the copyright for both the text and the illustrations and obtain permission to print and sell new copies of the book. Sometimes the original publisher holds the rights and sometimes the rights have reverted back to the author. If a book is not currently being published, an author can request to have their contract terminated and the publishing rights reverted back to them. Often with books published before 1970 the illustrator was paid a flat fee and did not retain rights to their illustrations so no separate permissions are necessary, but if the book is newer, Purple House Press must get permission from the copyright holders of the illustrator’s and the author’s works. It has taken Jill as long as 18 months to get the rights to books like The Ark and Rowan Farm or as little as 24 hours for Pharaoh’s Boat.

In addition to obtaining publishing rights, there are many decisions to make when republishing a vintage book. Sometimes the original publisher has revised the book over time by changing the text, deleting passages, or altering the illustrations and fonts, and it's necessary to determine which version or combination of versions will be republished. Occasionally the author or author’s family will request that Purple House Press publish a particular version of the book. Author Morrell Gipson made sure Jill found the original edition of The Surprise Doll as later editions had some pages removed. N. M. Bodecker’s son not only sent Jill a first edition of Miss Jaster’s Garden so that she could use the original text and illustrations, he also sent a lovely photo and biography of his father for Jill to use on the dust jacket.

The Behind the Scenes Work

Making books and selling books are two different things and Jill has had to learn both trades. Photo editing has been a skill Jill has had to master in her line of work. For Miss Jaster’s Garden, she took the cover image from the Golden Books 2001 reprint and used Photoshop to remove the generic title and then replaced it with the original hand lettered one, adding leaves as necessary to the tree in the background.

From left to right: Purple House Press, Original Golden book, Golden Books reprint

On the interior of the book Jill used the original, softly colored illustrations as opposed to the darkened and somewhat bizarrely colored illustrations from the 2001 edition. She also made some illustrations larger even than the original so that they would fill the whole page instead of having a lot of extra white space. Jill even outlined the lettering on an urn so that the words were more legible.

From left to right: Purple House Press, Original Golden book, Golden Books reprint

The original 1972 version of Miss Jaster’s Garden is a very lengthy picture book with many descriptive passages and when Golden Books reprinted the book in 2001 they cut and altered much of the descriptive text. Jill found the reprint to be too oversimplified. As an example the phrase "poets making poetry" was changed to "poets rhyme"—and not all poets use rhyme in their poetry. So Jill attempted to find a golden mean and made the decision to publish the original 1972 version of the book with some of the more loquacious passages removed.

From left to right: Purple House Press, Original Golden book, Golden Books reprint

Packaging and Shipping

Once the books are republished there is still more work to do. Purple House Press does their own fulfillment and has since 2000, shipping nearly 1,000,000 books during that time. One thing they pride themselves on is how well they package their orders. Many of their customers send thank you notes when their books arrive in pristine condition. Jill knows dust jackets are important to collectors and she doesn't want them or the books arriving with bumped corners.

Below is a picture showing how 99% of chapter book orders are mailed: books are wrapped in plastic to protect them from water damage, then a layer of bubble wrap is added and the books are shipped in a sturdy box with padding. They know the frustration of ordering from major retailers only to have books thrown in a bag with no padding—they arrive looking used even though they were bought new.

Packaging and Shipping

Future Plans

As some readers may have heard, Purple House Press will be moving some of their titles from hardcover to paperback. Keeping all their books in print requires storage space and money tied up in inventory. Hardcovers are getting more and more expensive to print in good quality and even for highly popular books it can take years to sell all of the thousands of books required for one printing. Hanna’s Cold Winter, one of my personal favorites, took 7 years to sell one printing. So instead of discontinuing good books or printing poor quality hardcovers, some Purple House Press books will be released only as high quality paperbacks.

Some books will continue to be printed in hardcover. When a publisher obtains the rights to publish a book, sometimes conditions are included that require the publisher to print the book in a particular format. For example, the Little Britches books are being printed in paperback by another publisher and Purple House Press only has permission to print them in hardcover.

In addition, Jill is experimenting with Kickstarter campaigns as a way to offer a single print run of hardcovers for some books which would otherwise only be available in paperback. That way those of us who love hardcovers have an opportunity to purchase hardcover copies if the Kickstarter campaign is successful and Jill can publish those hardcovers without undue financial risk. The first Kickstarter campaign for two Lois Lenski books, Ocean Born Mary and Phebe Fairchild, is underway now. Please consider supporting the campaign!

As always, Purple House Press will strive to produce superior quality books combined with the extra personal touches that make their books stand out. Jill is passionate about including things like the letters at the ends of Little Britches and Man of the Family and Bertrand Brinley’s son’s introductions in the Mad Scientists books. Jill even dropped a hint that if everything works out, there may be a very special introduction for two upcoming books.

Amanda Rossman Amanda Rossman was a reluctant reader whose dad bribed her with video game time and unlimited trips to the bookstore. Soon her love of reading consumed her waking hours and her father's pocketbook. Now she homeschools her two daughters on her hobby farm with her husband, Matt.