To accompany the Reading New England Challenge, I’m planning posts on some of the literary locations and organizations in our region. Among these are several wonderful independent publishers, which are surviving and even thriving in today’s challenging book-publishing climate through their initiative, creativity, and dedication to quality.
Today I’m pleased to present an interview with publisher Tristram Coburn, of Tilbury House in Thomaston, Maine. Tilbury is a growing company that offers a wide range of beautifully-illustrated educational children’s books, along with carefully curated titles for adults on topics including nature and the environment, food and cooking, Maine people and places, and more. I hope you’ll look into their offerings on their website, where educators receive a special discount every day.
ECBR: Tilbury House has gone through quite some transformations in its mission (and even its name) through the years. Can you say something about the history and development of the company?
TC: Tilbury has been in business under various names for more than 40 years now. Tilbury House took its name from the nickname given to its previous location in Gardiner, Maine, which was called Tilbury Town — a fictional town created by poet Edwin Robinson and modeled after Gardiner. Tilbury House has long been known for publishing quality books about Maine and New England.
In the 1990s, Tilbury published its first children’s book and never looked back. Interestingly, Tilbury has been publishing books about diversity for decades now — long before the current We Need Diverse Books movement. We’re proud to say that some of those titles are still in print, like Talking Walls, which has been in print since 1992. The Tilbury children’s line has never been regional, but rather has explored ideas, cultures and stories from around the world.
Since we acquired the company three years ago, we have endeavored to maintain the high level of publishing quality Tilbury has been known for while keeping an eye toward the future by expanding both lists. Tilbury, historically, has sold its books with an internal sales force — but that has changed. By the time this piece runs, we will be using a national distribution model which will greatly improve Tilbury’s visibility and bring our books to the far reaches of this country and beyond. It’s a very exciting time.
In moving from a regional focus on Maine books to a more national audience, what have been some of the challenges and rewards along the way?
Historically, Tilbury has been viewed as a small, regional press. By using a national distribution model, we will be able to go a long way in dispelling that myth. What has been most rewarding is growing a tiny company into a small company and doing this while maintaining the quality Tilbury has always been known for. And our titles have continued to win awards — which is always gratifying.
The greatest challenge, as with most small businesses, has been cash flow. Growth takes money and time. The challenge is patience and a constant need for cash. But we’re turning a corner and our efforts are starting to pay dividends.
Your books for children embody some wonderful messages: tolerance, mindfulness, care for the earth. Do you have any stories from teachers, parents or children who have worked with these books and been touched by them?
It’s actually really amazing. We get feedback all of the time from educators. This, as a parent, is very gratifying to hear. One of our children’s books, Say Something, a book about bullying, has not only been made into a play, it’s also been made into a song!
What are some of your regional/New England titles that you think readers everywhere should know about?
What are your hopes and wishes for Tilbury House in the future?
We’d love to grow Tilbury into a publishing company that is built to last for another 40 years and more. We hope to get Tilbury noticed on the national stage in order to ensure that all of our wonderful books are available to readers of all ages.
Thank you, Tristram! I wish you all the best in that endeavor, and hope that readers will be inspired to check out all that Tilbury House has to offer.