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Inside Bond & Grace, a women-owned publishing house that wants to add context to historical literature

October 2, 2022, 11:00 AM UTC
Bond & Grace cofounders Savannah Bond, Jacqueline Bond, and Ayana Christie.
Courtesy of Bond and Grace

Supply chain woes aside, book sales have fared relatively well the last few years, both as consumers had more time to read at home but also as many people turned to nonfiction for self-education on social issues and experiences about which they knew little.

Founded in 2021, Bond & Grace launched as a female-owned publishing house that wants to add context to historical literature, reflecting social and personal growth that comes with time. The imprint’s first book is scheduled for publishing this October. Available for pre-order now, The Secret Garden Art Novel is filled with scholarly texts by identity and belonging expert Dr. Amy Wong and historical context expert Dr. Maria Frawley, among others.

Founders Jacqueline Bond, Savannah Bond, and Ayana Christie recently shared more with Fortune about launching a new publishing house and the mission behind it.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Could you share a bit about your professional backgrounds before launching Bond & Grace?

J. Bond: I began my career in the public health communications space. I worked with nonprofits and foundations on issues including access to healthy foods, the opioid epidemic, childhood obesity, and climate change. That’s where I learned the power of storytelling and how to use it to help improve society and create positive change. 

From there, I worked in the corporate government consulting space. I learned quickly the corporate environment was not for me – or rather, it was not meant for people like me. Every decision our leadership team has made for Bond & Grace about our values, policies, culture, and advocacy work—we call it our “People Promise”—is informed by and in response to our collective experiences as corporate professionals. We want to demonstrate how leading with kindness, respect, and empathy drives productivity and revenue.

Christie: Right out of college I was at a crossroads. I needed to maximize the glow of my Ivy League degree, but I felt compelled to intentionally choose which employer would benefit from my youthful energy and will. Knowing for sure that I wanted to “do good,” I chose to start my career in consulting for the U.S. government. Fast forward 10 years later, I’m so grateful for that decision. While problem solving on behalf of everyday citizens, I fell in love with the dance that happens between chaos and order as ideas take shape. Deepening my knowledge in tech development and customer behavior, the activities that go into iterating the value of something as you build it, and the quest of turning curious minds into early consumers, became my domain. Most recently, I’ve championed my expertise by implementing incubation strategies at Google Cloud. And in year one of Bond & Grace, we’ve birthed our first creative invention using the very instincts I developed while working with emerging technologies. Same dance, different song.

S. Bond: After interning in New York City during the spring of my senior year of college, my love letter to New York City began. The entirety of my early career was spent at a large beauty company, one of the top names in the world. I worked across various brands and roles from supply chain to global marketing. In every role I was exposed to new learnings: logistics, event management, brand development, product development, and go to market strategies. I’m forever grateful for the valuable skills I gained at every level but the core of what I loved was brand building. Eventually, I wanted more for myself and my talent in order to experience brand development on a deeper level. With the reality of burn out and wanting change, this encouraged me to set my eyes on my next opportunity. This in turn led me to take the life changing leap to join Bond & Grace and build our startup. We now have a small incredible team and plan to hire for two more part-time positions this fall to support our retail sales and distribution strategies. 

An inside look at the illustrations and layout for the special edition of ‘The Secret Garden.’
Courtesy of Bond & Grace

What inspired the launch of Bond & Grace?

J. Bond: I have collected Jane Austen novels since I fell in love with her writing in middle school. Every time I visit a new place, I try to find a local bookstore. I go directly to their classics section and pick out their version of Pride and Prejudice. I probably have about 50 to 60 unique versions of Jane Austen’s books I’ve collected over the years.  

In late 2019, I was visiting my husband’s family farm in upstate New York with my mom. They have a beautiful old library with hundreds of old books. While browsing through the books, I asked my mom, “Have you ever seen a coffee table book version of Pride and Prejudice?” She knew I collected them. She said no, she hadn’t seen that. I quickly did a Google search. Nothing popped up.

”Someone should do that,” I told her. “Why don’t you?” she asked. 

And that was the beginning. Bond & Grace was born from our search for a coffee table book; we have evolved and expanded our mission quite a bit since then. Today, we are Bond & Grace, a women-owned publishing house and art shop but we know we’ll have more to give.

Part of Bond & Grace’s mission is to add context to beloved works of historical literature. Can you explain more about what that means and how Bond & Grace intends to achieve that?

Christie: As we began masterminding the product features, we realized we needed our books to represent the growth that comes with time. We witnessed more hearts and minds opening to social change, and saw it as an opportunity to challenge ourselves, and others to choose progress. Many of these so-called classic books are misaligned with contemporary values. They document sexist, racist, homophobic and a range of other dated narratives that young readers are questioning.

It’s such an opportunity to be able to see these books as the historical artifacts they are and instead of erasing these stories, or rewriting them, we thought, “What if we could evolve them? What if we could share the historic context around the books? What if we could provide background about the author and what may have influenced her writing? What if we call out what we know today is controversial about the book, so that no matter who is reading it, they too can feel the story belongs to them, not just the few?”

An inside look at the illustrations and layout for the special edition of ‘The Secret Garden.’
Courtesy of Bond & Grace

The publishing house’s first book, The Secret Garden Art Novel, comes out this fall. What made that the first pick?

J. Bond: We first took a look at the extensive list of the novels on the public domain. There are nearly thousands and thousands of books to choose from. There were some major copyright changes in recent years, and as of 2022, anything written prior to 1926 does not have a copyright law associated with it in the United States. That includes countless popular novels like Little Women, Pride & Prejudice, Treasure Island, and The Secret Garden, to name a few. We compared the public domain books list to multiple other lists including required reading in schools, the most beloved classic books list of all time, and even lists like “books banned across the U.S.” After cross checking these lists, we narrowed down to a dozen novels we thought might be an exciting first release option.”

Christie: In the end, The Secret Garden was chosen because of its opportunity to stand out as a work of art given all the beautiful descriptions and floral scenery in the book, while also, of course, giving us a rich opportunity to unearth marginalizing narratives and tropes evident within the novel. It’s also a book that can resonate with all ages—there’s a tapestry of topics from mental health, gardening, and friendship to parenthood, orientalism, and medical history that serves a little something for almost everyone.

Then there was the element of timing. The novel, being largely about regrowth, regeneration, and redemption, echoes sentiments of the post-pandemic experience as many of us are recovering from loss of special events, loss of normalcy, or loss of a loved one. We even believe the author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, wrote The Secret Garden as a memorial to her son, Lionel, who died of tuberculosis at the tender age of sixteen. And in this novel, she gave us main characters who model how to thrive in the face of loss and find happiness by way of determination–it really couldn’t be more perfect.  

S. Bond: We have heard countless times, “I read that book as a child, and I had no idea about the deeper implications of the medical references in the book or even noticed the commentary on colonialism.” It’s a powerful example of why our brand matters. Not only to honor the novel so that it continues to live on, but to give it new life with a contemporary and socially conscious lens. While both timely and beautiful, The Secret Garden is a resilient story we feel the world is ready to reread.

What other famous books do you intend to explore next?

S. Bond: That’s the beauty of the public domain. There are thousands of extraordinary books at our fingertips that we can republish next. As we continue to evolve our roadmap forward, we have in mind the next four titles that we’d like to release, launching a new title each year. We view each new Bond & Grace Art Novel launch as a means to reach different types of readers, but also to demonstrate a range of art and artists. If you are so curious, we may or may not include a subtle hint to our next title in The Secret Garden Art Novel.

‘The Secret Garden: Art Novel’
Courtesy of Bond & Grace

How is the company funded? Is it self-funded or have you reached out to investors? What has the financing process been like?

J. Bond: Bond & Grace is currently self-funded, and while we’re not seeking funding from institutional investors we’re open to the conversation. We acknowledge the privilege of being self-funded and it’s a driving force in all our decisions to use this opportunity to not only focus on the details but push the envelope of supporting causes wherever possible. It’s a humbling experience and welcomed responsibility to further my family’s legacy in this way and to then do it alongside my sharp as nails co-founders, I feel so proud and grateful for where we are and where we’re headed.

Christie: Because we’re self-funded, we’ve maintained a focus on production. There’s a lot we want to do but using a phased product roadmap, we’ll be cash positive this year. We’ve also put a heavy emphasis on feedback loops with users, founders, advisors, artists, and writers who can help us fail smart and avoid pricey mistakes.

Looking forward five years, how do you want to Bond & Grace to grow?

Christie: Looking forward, we have a robust and ambitious plan starting with the launch of our online art shop in 2023. Then, I expect us to grow deep versus wide for some time by deepening our authority in publishing and social impact through the arts. We have a queue of novel titles to produce and impact strategies to implement and test–the first being the sale of original artwork featured in our books. All the original art within each Art Novel will be sold through Bond & Grace with most of the proceeds going back to the artists in support of them and their contributions to localized social change. We’re always looking to do more in a smart way.

In these foundational five years, we’ll detail how focused impact will carry our business to the next milestone. We’re already planning ways we can bring this meaningful Art closer to more people through reproductions and line extensions. No matter what the future holds, we know loyalty is all about making people feel seen so we plan to remain intimate with our customers and deliver the benefits they crave: treasure-worthy expressions of their curiosity and discernment. 

S. Bond: As we evolve with each year, our brand values: progress, beauty, love, and respect will remain at the root of everything we do. With our consumer at the center, it’s critical we continue offering experiences that drive connection and joy. As we grow, we envision intimate engagement with our consumers at various touch points from pop-up events to brand and bookstore partnerships. Showcasing not only just our Art Novel product, but also our advocacy and community engagements.

J. Bond: Our vision for the future is to continue to evolve public domain works so they can be read by students, parents, and teachers for generations to come. We are thinking about ways to make our books accessible for all who hope to read them and would love to offer digital versions for schools and research efforts. Yes, these books are flawed and contradictions exist, but we think our books are creating a critical opportunity to pass them along, with the future in mind. 

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