IPG Children's Publisher of the Year

Articles tagged with: allen & unwin

What is a publisher for?

Posted by Kate on Aug 01, 2012

I think some people may have been surprised to see yesterday’s blog post about self-publishing on the Nosy Crow site.

We are, after all, a publisher (and I am going to concentrate on Nosy Crow as a publisher of “straight books”, whether ebooks or print books, in this post, by the way, not as a publisher of multimedia, interactive apps, which, of course, as many readers of this blog know, we also make).

I had several reasons for asking M G Harris to contribute.

The first was that it was a topical response to a Guardian article about social media as a means of marketing books. Given the experience of the author, the focus was on self-publishing, but the points made seemed pretty relevant to any author, whether self-published or traditionally published, or any publisher trying to use social media to connect with potential readers or advocates. The original article had generated a bit of discussion on Twitter, and M G Harris suggested that she had more to say on the topic than the 140 characters allowed.

The second was that I know her and like her. I have, as she said in the blog post, published her. She’s a shrewd, entrepreneurial business woman as well as an author, and I thought she’d have interesting things things to say.

I knew, though, that she’d be talking about her experience of self-publishing. But I think it is pretty pointless for publishers to pretend self-publishing doesn’t exist. M G Harris one of several authors I know who have tried it with modest success, though as she acknowledges in her blog post, she already had a platform and digital assets like the game that were available because the books to which her self-published book was connected were published “traditionally” by Scholastic.

There are people who think publishers are doomed: sad old dinosaurs lumbering around the end-game landscape of a Jurassic industry.

Of course, I believe in our role as a publisher. But, when self-publishing, particularly self-epublishing is cheap and easy and has lost so much of its stigma, I think that publishers need to be able to answer the question: what is a publisher for? To paraphrase Lytton Strachey, I think that every publisher has to be able to answer how we have a right to “interpose” ourselves between the author and the reader.

I believe that Nosy Crow brings several things as a publisher, and that, because of them, we have earned that right to “interpose”:

CREDIBILITY

We select what we publish. Yesterday (I am on holiday – see the picture above of me and Adrian working), I immediately rejected three books sent to me by agents. I’ve no idea how many books were rejected by people back at the office. If yesterday was like any other day, we’ll have received between 10 and 20 unsolicited manuscripts. We are asked to consider for publication perhaps 6,000 books per year. This year, we will publish just over 30: we publish around half a per cent of what we are offered. But selection is only valuable if your selection is credible. At Nosy Crow, we believe in the judgments we make. Of course, we get things wrong: maybe we don’t like books that go on to be successes (though actually I can’t think of any right now); maybe we think things are promising that don’t then quite shape up the way we hope they would or sell the way we hoped they would; maybe we aren’t quite fast enough in our response to unsolicited manuscripts and they go elsewhere… I am not saying we’re perfect, but we set out to create a list of high-quality, child-focussed and parent-friendly books and apps. I think we’ve done that, and are increasingly recognised for doing so. We are building a brand that has meaning and reputation, and each book we publish benefits from that brand.

MAKING BOOKS BETTER

The idea that publishers sit twiddling their thumbs, waiting for a book to appear so that they can slap a cover on it and sell it is, in my experience, not one that reflects reality (though it’s one that I know that some people have). Nosy Crow, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the kind of book and the nature of the material we receive, intervenes in the content of the book. In my own experience, children’s publishers do this more than adult publishers, and perhaps Nosy Crow does it more than many publishers. I’m not talking about correcting punctuation and spelling mistakes here, though we do that too. I am talking about suggesting rewrites and restructures; suggesting changes to, or the elimination or addition of, plot-lines and characters and pieces of artwork; work on scansion and rhyme and the register of the language used; work on making sure that the page-turns in a picture book work with the sense of the story, so that each spread is a reveal. I am talking about making the book as good as it can be. This can be a frustrating and challenging process on both sides: we are pretty demanding, and if we really don’t think something’s working, we will ask the author or illustrator to do it again (and again and sometimes again) until we feel it is right. Sometimes we work on things directly ourselves, rewriting for authors with their agreement and doing detailed Photoshop work on artwork. We respect our authors and illustrators and their creative integrity, but we roll our sleeves up and change, or help them to change, their work in ways that we think make it better and more likely to be commercially successful.

We also want books to look and feel as good as they can, and spend time, money and effort on creating what we think are arresting covers that communicate to their audience of potential buyers. We choose formats for board books and picture books that we think suit the artwork style and age-group, and worry away at paper finishes, board weight, foil, spot-UV and matt lamination to ensure that, within financially viable limits, we have a physical product that is as attractive as we can make it.

It’s maybe worth saying at this point that sometimes we not only make books better… we quite simply make them. In our first year of publishing (2011), we wrote almost half of the illustrated books we published ourselves, working with illustrators and paper engineers to create the books. We often suggest ideas for series, for format and for sequels to authors and illustrators. We work hard to earn our own seat at the creative table.

ACCESS TO CUSTOMERS

The lowest-risk way to self-publish is to self-epublish. Of course ebooks are important, but last year in the UK children’s market they accounted for about 2% of the market by volume and 1% by value. And many of those ebooks are being read by adults (cult titles like The Hunger Games trilogy count as children’s books and are heavily read by adults).

To access the vast bulk of the children’s market, you still need printed books.

Our ebooks are sold by etailers.

Our print books are stocked and sold by etailers, supermarkets, bookstore chains, independent bookshops, toy stores, and gift and museum shops, book clubs, book fairs, display marketing companies and catalogue companies. We have, or have access to, an infrastructure that supports selling to them, supplying them, invoicing them and collecting money from them. We have a critical mass of titles and a reputation that means it’s worthwhile to them to deal with us.

We also have an international presence. We have relationships with Candlewick (on illustrated books) in the US and Canada and with Allen and Unwin in Australia. We have sold rights to our books in 18 languages so far, and we have close relationships with several continental European publishers who publish many of our books in translation.

We sell rights to books in other media and formats too: yesterday I was negotiating a deal with an educational publisher for educational rights in one of our titles, and with a theatre company for stage rights in another.

We’ve had great coverage in the trade press in the UK and the US, and in France and Germany too, and have had industry recognition in the form of our Independent Publishers Guild awards for Children’s Publisher of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Innovation of the Year.

We think up, design and, where necessary, print marketing material including catalogues, rights brochures, point-of-sale material; posters, badges, and packs to enable bookshops to run children’s events themed round our books.

We secure (and pay for – see below) promotions with relevant retailers.

ACCESS TO CONSUMERS

Before you can access consumers, you have to understand them. When we take on a book at Nosy Crow, we have an idea of the child – age, gender, interests – that we believe is the core reader of that book. If we don’t know who a book is for, we don’t take it on. We then try to make sure that everything about that book – the cover, the title, the type-size, the word-count – “speaks to” that core reader. We know that there are children who are not our vision of the core reader who might enjoy that book, but I think we have to get it right for that core reader. Of course, because we’re a children’s book publisher, and because the number of books that children buy for themselves is, in the context of the overall market, negligible, we are also trying to appeal to gatekeepers – parents and other relatives, mums buying a birthday present for the child whose party their own child has been invited to, teachers and librarians.

We use social media to raise awareness of our books among adult buyers. We have over 11,000 followers on Twitter and 1,800 or so likes on Facebook. Of course some of these people are people in the industry but many are parents, grandparents, librarians and teachers and, of course, authors and illustrators, any of whom might want to buy our books. We also have a lively website (as you may know, if you’re reading this blog). In the last 12 months, we’ve had over 100,000 unique visitors viewing over half a million pages. We are connected to a network of bloggers, who raise awareness of our books for their often highly specialised audiences.

We also have access to traditional media – and we certainly still think that traditional media is important, and see the impact on sales of really favourable reviews. Our books and apps have been reviewed and featured in national broadsheets (like, recently, The New York Times and The Guardian) in mass-market papers, in parenting magazines, and on radio.

We arrange for authors to attend literary festivals and other events to meet their readers and potential readers (you can find out what the next ones are at the bottom of our home page in the “Come and Meet Us” section).

EXPERTISE

All of this takes skill and expertise. We think we are good at judging, good at shaping, good at marketing and publicising and good at selling. Many of us at Nosy Crow have been doing this for years. When we assess a book for publication; change the positioning of the eyes on a rabbit by less than a millimetre; review the match between typography and artwork on a cover; or negotiate a rights deal we are drawing on years of knowledge and experience (over quarter of a century in my case alone).

TIME

Did I say I was on holiday? Spelling doesn’t get corrected; books don’t get printed and reprinted; ebook files don’t get made; bibliographic data doesn’t get communicated; Frankfurt book fair brochures don’t get written and designed; review copies don’t get sent out; rights sales don’t happen and get recorded; authors don’t get booked for literary feestivals; tweets and blog posts don’t get posted without the expenditure of a lot of administrative and other time. Some of this work is pretty dull, actually. We don’t mind. It’s our job. And we love what we do. But it takes time, and time is something that many authors don’t have, even if they have the inclination to take on these tasks. What time they do have, they want to spend writing or illustrating: it’s probably what they do best.

MONEY

As publishers, we take the financial risk. We pay our authors and illustrators advances up-front. We pay for covers to be designed. We pay printers for proofs and stock. We pay for the promotional slots that retailers offer us. We pay our own staff to make books the best they can be and to market and publicise our books. We pay for print and online marketing. We pay for stands, accommodation and travel to international book fairs.

And we pay for all of this before a single copy has been sold.

Then we pay to have our books in a warehouse. We pay to have our books sent out from the warehouse, to be invoiced, and for the debt to be collected. We pay to send authors to literary festivals. We pay to post copies to reviewers.

The financial risk, as I say, is ours. And we often take it on authors and illustrators with no track-record whatsovever – authors like Helen Peters and Paula Harrison, both published within the last few months; both of whom were “slush-pile” finds; and both of whom have been promoted by major UK retailers and sold internationally.

If we sell no copies, or fewer copies than we thought we would, we still bear many of those costs.

I know that epublishing eliminates some of these costs (the print and distribution element) but (a) that is a small part of the whole set of costs (around 9% of the cover price in the example of a typical children’s paperback fiction example I’ve just been working on) and (b) as I have said, just 2% of the children’s books sold last year in the UK were ebooks.

As an independent company, incidentally, we have an even more acute sense than perhaps is the case in the corporate world that the money we spend on acquiring and publishing books is money the shareholders could otherwise spend on cheese or cake or shoes for our kids.

As a publisher, we believe we use our brand, skills, knowledge, time and money to enable an author or illustrator to sell the best possible product in more places to more people than the author or illustrator would be able to do if they were working alone. We do this, we think, to the greater financial benefit of the author or illustrator than they would achieve should they choose to self-publish, while allowing the author and illustrator to focus on the thing they set out to do: to create a book.

Nosy Crow's Australian/New Zealand distributor, Allen and Unwin, triumphs at the Australian Book Industry Awards

Posted by Kate on Jul 26, 2011

I woke up this morning to an email from the lovely Liz Bray, who heads up Allen and Unwin’s children’s team, sharing news of the company’s triumphs at the Australian Book Industry awards.

For the tenth time in their twenty-year history, they won the Publisher of the Year Award. I have to say that, among other things (their focus on cake in the Alien Onion blog ; the fact that they’re based in Crow’s Nest in Sydney; their all-round niceness and decency; and their excellent sales team), the fact that they’d won this nine times was one of the reasons that I was keen for Allen and Unwin to be our distributor. So for them to win again in the first year of our association is a terrific validation of that decision – not that any was needed, frankly: they’re a joy to work with and sales are great.

Alison Lester won Book of the Year for Younger Children for Noni the Pony (pictured below). This is a simple rhyming picture book that’s really charming by an established Australian talent.

Ahn Do won three awards: 2011 Book of the Year for The Happiest Refugee ; 2011 Biography of the Year (jointly with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy); and 2011 Newcomer of the Year. The Happiest Refugee had, the previous night, won the 2011 Bookseller’s Choice Award. A retelling of the early part of his autobiography – his escape from war-torn Vietnam and arrival in Australia – will be published in picture book form for children as The Little Refugee.

Kate Morton, who’s an international bestseller, won 2011 General Fiction Book of The Year for The Distant Hours.

This is an awards-haul that points up the degree to which Australia is a separate book market, with its own tastes, celebrities, history and heroes.

So big congratulations to Allen and Unwin and a big “hooray” for the Australian book market.

Toddling along nicely

Posted by Kate on May 12, 2011

Yesterday, the Nosy Crows had a bit of a lunch-time knees-up to celebrate (nearly) 15 months of existence and (nearly) 5 months of publishing. It was a non-birthday party, because we hadn’t been able to get ourselves organised enough to celebrate earlier. We’d love to have a photograph to show you what it was like, but our usual Nosy Crow photographic incompetence precludes this.

I wrote about our real birthday in our blog post of 22 February.

Adrian cooked, mainly Ottolenghi stuff as we have some vegetarians/borderline vegetarians in our group, and, besides, the recipes are great. I wheeled out the old pavlova trick. We ate like hogs, and staggered off into the early evening.

Because of how we work – three of us work from home, and some of us work part-time – and because we have as few formal meetings as possible, we don’t spend much time round a table, so it was great to have us all (well, nearly all: Deb’s in Rome but we couldn’t bear to postpone any further) in one room just to talk.

And it was a welcome moment to stop (because we hardly ever have time to stop) and think about what we’d achieved so far.

We now have nine books published in the UK:

Small Blue Thing

Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars

Mega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert

Bizzy Bear: Fun on the Farm

Bizzy Bear: Let’s Go and Play

Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter

Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle

Dinosaur Dig!

Noodle Loves to Cuddle

Noodle Loves the Beach

The first few are also published in Australia /New Zealand via Allen and Unwin, and many will be published in the second half of the year in the USA/Canada by Candlewick Press under the Nosy Crow imprint. So far, we’ve sold rights to translate these books to publishers in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Germany, France, Israel, Korea and China.

We have one app, The Three Little Pigs, available in the App Stores throughout the world, which has been named as one of the top 10 children’s book apps by the New York Times, and been extensively reviewed and praised by people who’ve bought it, bloggers specialising in apps and some of the increasing number of children’s book reviewers who are turning their attention to children’s reading experiences on the iPad (you can see most of the reviews on our The Three Little Pigs page of the Media Kit section of our website. The app will be published in German by Carlsen and in French by Gallimard Jeunesse.

We feel lucky to have pulled together the team we have – people with the best possible experience in fields as diverse as computer games coding, picture book design and children’s fiction commissioning (you can find out more about each of us in the Who Are We? section in the About As part of our website.

It’s not all cakes and ale: these are exceptionally tough times to be a print publisher, and the apps market is in its infancy, but, 15 months on, we reckon that we’ve made the best possible start and are toddling along nicely.

Kate's Australian trip

Posted by Kate on May 10, 2011

Well, that was fun. Tiring, of course, but fun.

I mean my trip to Australia last week, from which I am still recovering (thank you, British Airways economy class… though a total of 46 hours in the air out of 156 hours takes it out of you however you travel, probably).

The main event was the Allen and Unwin sales conference. It was great to spend time with the people at Allen and Unwin, not least because I wouldn’t have been able to pick any of them out of a line-up just six short months ago, and now we’re in touch almost every day. The picture above shows, from left to right, Kristy Rogerson (Children’s Product Asst); me (it’s an unflattering angle or an unflattering blouse – what can I say?!); Kate Justelius-Wright (Marketing Coordinator – Schools & Libraries); Liz Bray (Children’s Books Director); and Jyy-Wei Ip (Marketing Coordinator – Trade).

It was also good to see Robert Gorman, last seen after the London Book Fair, and who, as MD of Allen and Unwin, is head of the whole show:

Allen and Unwin starts to distribute Nosy Crow’s books this month, and some of them are already in Australian bookshops.

It was, as always when I travel abroad, interesting to look at differences (from my home territory in the UK) in the bookselling landscape and to reflect on how these impact on publishing.

The relative strength of the independent bookshop sector as a source of publishers’ sales is one thing that is striking about the Australian market, and the independent bookselling sector seems to be holding its own while chain booksellers in Australia are no more immune from the challenges of chain bookselling than other comparable operations in the US and the UK. Book Marketing Limited’s Books and the Consumer survey suggested that the UK had seen a reduction of the volume of books sold through independent bookshops to 5.4% of the UK book market by value and 15% of the market by volume (I know that’s an extraordinary disparity, but I have looked at the graphs carefully and done the sums more than once). I don’t know the comparable figures for Australia – do please tell me if you know by writing a comment – but I do know that, for example, Allen and Unwin is still producing point-of-sale display material and dumpbins in a way that UK publishers really don’t do any more… because, in our market, there aren’t enough customers able to take generic book display material to make it economically viable to produce it.

I went to some terrific independent book shops while I was in Australia, several of which had a skew towards children’s books. The first was The Children’s Bookshop and Capella Bookshop in Beecroft, a suburb of Sydney, which is run by the immensely energetic and likeable Paul Macdonald: a man as interested in talking about digital publishing and apps as he was in talking about the highly impressive list of UK authors and illustrators who have done events in the converted two bedroom flat above his shop – a group that included Jacqueline Wilson, Julia Donaldson and Anthony Browne.

Here’s Paul in the children’s section of his shop:

I dropped into The Lindfield Bookshop, in Lindfield, another Sydney suburb. I chatted to Scott Whitmont, who took time out from an Olivia Newton John dinner he was running that evening to find out a bit about Nosy Crow.

Here’s Scott in the children’s section of his shop:

I also got to meet Galina Marinov of Leading Edge, which works to amplify the marketing and buying power of Australia’s independent bookstores.

I visited other kinds of shops too (and Allen and Unwin had arranged a pretty impressive tour last time I was in Australia). I went to department stores like Myer and discount department stores like Big W. The discount department store is not something we have in the UK, and it’s interesting to see what books – UK and Australia – are in each of these different environments… and, of course, to try to picture Nosy Crow’s children’s books in them and to work out where they might fit best.

I went out to Scholastic Australia and to an extraordinary bit of Scholastic’s Australian business, Australian Standing Orders, which supplies copies of (mainly) Australian books every month to Australian school libraries. In the Scholastic Australia office in Sydney, there was a really impressive collection of framed John Winch envelopes (something that made me feel a bit squirmy about my world-class collection of Axel Scheffler envelopes, which are not so beautifully displayed):

Oh, and there were interviews with, among others, Susanne Gervay for Reading Time and for The Little Big Book Club.

In between, there were great conversations. I think my favourite was with Liz Bray about the challenges and rewards of her work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which I found inspiring, humbling and illuminating – not bad for a car journey to a shopping mall in the suburbs of Sydney.

Of course, there were fun-‘n’-games too. Here’s Allen and Unwin’s dapper publishing legend, Paul Donovan, at a dinner (in a German restaurant) to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Australian Merridy Eastman’s gentle and funny memoir of her time spent as a German wife and mother in Munich after a whirlwind romance:

After a presentation at the Allen and Unwin sales conference, in which one rep requested either a video version of the session or a Kate Wilson/Nosy Crow Road Show, I felt I had peaked, and so consigned myself to the tender mercies of British Airways once again.

Kate's off to visit our Australia/New Zealand book distribution partner, Allen and Unwin

Posted by Kate on Apr 30, 2011

I’m leaving today for an action-packed trip to Australia.

The main purpose of the trip is to meet the sales and marketing teams at Allen and Unwin and present our books to them. The cockatoo in the picture above is part of their logo. The bird looks to me a lot like a sulphur-crested cockatoo – but correct me if I’m wrong, as I am not an expert in the family Cacatuidae. It’s found in wooded habitats in Australia and New Guinea, an is a very intelligent bird with a distinctive raucous call. On an ornithological basis alone, Allen and Unwin would, therefore be compatible with Nosy Crow. Their Sydney office is in a part of the city called Crow’s Nest; they are independent, friendly, and committed to publishing great books; and they like cake. Sometimes I think this partnership was written in the stars.

I would very much recommend their blog, The Alien Onion, and they have up, at the moment, a very nice blog post about princess books inspired by the Royal Wedding (about which we blogged too).

Anyway, they start selling Nosy Crow’s books next month – by which I mean May, and I am going there to present Nosy Crow’s autumn 2011 titles and to talk about how our titles for 2012 are shaping up. I’m also meeting several customers and doing a number of interviews.

So, unflattering flight-socks at the ready, off I go, so wish me luck!

Bonkers-busy before the Bologna Children's Book Fair

Posted by Kate on Mar 26, 2011

Today we’re off to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

This is big bananas for us, and we have been working flat-out to get ready for it.

It is one of two weeks in the year – the other is the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, but Bologna’s the big one – when we meet the non-UK publishers we’ll do business with for the rest of the year. At Bologna, we have just 30 minutes (20 if they have to queue for the loo before the appointment) to impress a foreign publisher with our books. The aim of the game is to sell, or at least interest them in buying, the right to publish our books in translation.

For the last few months, Anne-Marie’s been putting together the schedule of selling appointments for me and for Adrian. We have appointments every half-hour from 9.00am to 5.30pm without breaks for three-and-a-half days.

For the last month, since the launch of The Three Little Pigs app, Ed and Will have been working with Deb on our next app in the 3D Fairy Tale series, Cinderella.

For the last month, too, Imogen’s been collecting together final print and freight prices for books of many different sizes and kinds – board books and pop-up books and picture books, and working out how much we have to sell them for in order to stay in business. This is a hard task: we always want our books to be the best they can be – to have the heaviest paper, the most spectacular pop-ups the most unusual touch-and-feels – and it’s tough to compromise!

For the past few weeks we’ve been receiving artwork from illustrators. Some of it arrived in time for us to proof it, but most of it, because we are still new and building our list and publishing sooner after artwork delivery than is ideal, did not, so we’ve had to make dummies using photocopies of the art stuck into blank books. This is an unbelievably time-consuming, tricky, painstaking and monotonous task, and Steph and Nia, in addition to doing lots of last-minute designing, have been working on this tirelessly with Camilla. Nia finished the very last one at 10.30pm yesterday evening.

And for the past few weeks we’ve also been pulling together words and pictures to add to the books section of our website to announce some of the books we’ll be taking to Bologna, including The Grunts, the acquisition of which we announced to a great response on Wednesday.

For the past day or so, we’ve had a steady stream of meetings with people who are in the UK before they go to the book fair – our Japanese agent, Noriko Hasagawa, for example – who I mentioned in a recent post – and Liz Bray from our Australian distributors, Allen and Unwin. They have gamely picked their way through the chaos of the office, and brushed scraps of paper and fur-fabric (for touch-and-feel books) from chairs before sitting down at a table that is slightly sticky with glue.

For the past day or so, too, I have finally been getting down to working on the slides for the first Tools of Change Conference to happen in Bologna, at which I am – eek! – the first keynote speaker on Sunday.

And yesterday, as if we didn’t have enough to do, we bought (or at least confirmed the deals on) three picture book texts, illustrations for two picture books and a debut novel.

Next week is the most important week of our year.

Wish us luck!

Nosy Crow announces a partnership with Candlewick Press in the US for illustrated books

Posted by Imogen on Mar 10, 2011

Kate writes:

For those of you who’ve been following the Nosy Crow story – and thank you if you have – you’ll know that we first entered into an agreement with Bounce to sell our books in the UK and Ireland and in most export markets. Then we announced that our partners for Australian and New Zealand distribution were Allen and Unwin. Now we are really pleased to be able to say that we’ve entered into a partnership with Candlewick Press, who are the US’s best-known independent US children’s publisher. Boston-based Candlewick Press will co-publish the majority of Nosy Crow’s full-colour and illustrated titles in the US and Canada and Nosy Crow will become a new imprint of Candlewick Press.

Candlewick Press will publish ten Nosy Crow titles in 2011.
Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Candlewick publishes outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators such as M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Laura Amy Schlitz, and David Ezra Stein; the widely acclaimed Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, and the -‘Ology_ series; and favorites such as Guess How Much I Love You, Where’s Waldo?, and the Maisy books. Candlewick’s parent company is London-based Walker Books Ltd.

Choosing a US partner is a huge step for our fledgling company, but the match between Nosy Crow and Candlewick on illustrated publishing felt right from the start of our discussions. Though our lists are complementary, we share the culture and liberties of independent publishers, and we share our exclusive focus on – and passion for – creating great things for children to read. As someone who began their career selling rights in UK books to US publishers, I’ve known and respected Karen Lotz, who’s the president and publisher of Candlewick Press, for many years, so I have watched Candlewick grow and prosper with huge admiration. We’re very proud to be associated with Candlewick.

Karen, said very nice things about – ahem – me and about Nosy Crow: “Kate Wilson’s exceptional depth of experience in global children’s publishing and her innovative vision for our industry’s future both shine through the launch of Nosy Crow. At Candlewick, we are thrilled to be able to offer these fantastic books for young children to the US and Canadian audiences through our joint imprint.”

The photo above shows the Candlewick team with Karen on the left and with me standing when they visited the Nosy Crow offices very recently.

If you want to know more about this from Nosy Crow’s perspective, email me on kate@nosycrow.com

If you want to know more about this from Candlewick’s perspective, you could email laura.rivas@candlewick.com

It's Nosy Crow's first birthday!

Posted by Kate on Feb 22, 2011

We are one today.

I’ve written about it about it for The Bookseller online, but you can read about it here too:

I’m dating the start of the company from our announcement of our existence, which we sent to the trade press and others on 22 February 2010. In some ways, we didn’t feel quite ready to announce, but our hand was forced by two things. The first was that I had been asked to judge the British Book Awards and had given my job title as “MD of Nosy Crow” for an announcement of the make-up of the judging panels that came out in the week of 22 February 2010. The second was that I’d been messing around with Facebook on the evening of 21 February, working out how to set up a fan page and invite people to it, when I inadvertently sent out a message to my entire address book for a profile that referred to Nosy Crow.

We had, from memory, just three projects signed at the time we announced, and a stated intention to acquire from established talent and from newcomers. We also clearly stated that we intended to create apps from scratch. There were four of us – me, co-founders Camilla Reid and Adrian Soar, and Imogen Blundell – in a single room in an office complex in a Victorian school building.

One year on…

We have three print titles published. In mid-January, we published Small Blue Thing, a debut romantic fantasy that was written by the colleague of the headhunter I consulted when I was thinking I’d get the hell out of the industry. In mid-February, we published Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars Mega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert, innovative two-colour combinations of fiction and doodle-book drawing on popular themes by a team who came to us because I’d worked with one of them at Scholastic when he was a designer there.

This year, we will publish 23 print titles for children from 0 to 14, most acquired since February 22 2010. True to our original vision, these are books that children will really enjoy reading: when we acquire a book, we do so with a strong sense of who it’s for. Our books are by established names like Axel Scheffler and Penny Dale and from newer exciting talents. The list – and we’ll be announcing the first six months of 2012 before Bologna – will grow in 2012.

We have one e-book published. Small Blue Thing is our only black-and-white book so far and was the first ebook we created with the support of Faber Factory. I decided that we’d focus our digital aspirations on illustrated publishing and apps.

This year, we will publish 5 straight ebooks.

We have one app published. Last week, we published a cutting-edge story book app, The Three Little Pigs, to quite remarkable reviews (including one from FutureBook, The Bookseller’s digital publishing blog).

This year, we will publish at least two more highly-interactive, cutting-edge, multimedia apps.

From the beginning, we were interested in using websites and social media to communicate with potential consumers – mainly parents in our case – as well as with potential suppliers in the form of authors and illustrators and customers. We launched with a lively website that has evolved over time but remains true to our original plan. We wanted to create something with real personality, that was professional but also warm, honest and informal… and that was updated constantly: we blog several times a week to provide a window into what we do. In our first year, we’ve had a over a quarter of a million page-views from over 20,000 visitors in 129 countries, and, since we’ve had books and apps on the market, visitor numbers have risen sharply. Thank you very much for visiting us.

We’ve also used Twitter (@nosycrow and @NosyCrowApps) and Nosy Crow on Facebook to connect to the rest of the world. And we built two websites for our first two publications: www.smallbluething.com, featuring a cinema-style trailer and www.megamash-up.com, featuring videos and book-linked activities.

We’ve sold in our first list via Bounce and have promotions with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ELC/Mothercare, WH Smith, WH Smith Travel, Waterstones and Foyles. Our books are in shops from museum giftshops to Toys ‘R’ Us.
We’ve been active internationally too. In May, Allen and Unwin begins distributing our books in Australia and New Zealand. So far, we’ve sold rights in our books to Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, China, Korea and Israel with more good news lined up for announcement over the next few weeks.

There are 11 of us now. We’ve been able to attract the most extraordinary talent to work with us, from games coding genius, Will Bryan, to picture book supremo, Kate Burns. Most of us are parents; several of us work part-time; and several of us work from home and only come into our (slightly bigger) open-plan office occasionally.

There have been challenges and disappointments, and there will undoubtedly be more ahead! There has been constant, grinding, sometimes dull hard work.

We worry – of course we do – about the book market and our place in the print and digital future that is unfolding. But it’s been fun.

It’s been a good year!

Things we haven’t loved so much about this year:

  • Queuing at the post-office.
  • Being responsible for all the boring stuff like printer maintenance.
  • Cold-calling people without a big name behind us.

Things we’ve loved:

  • Being able to buy great books from authors and illustrators we want to work with as they develop.
  • Being able to act quickly and decisively.
  • Selling our books!
  • The conversations that have opened up online between us and readers, parents, creators and sellers.
  • Working with great colleagues in a relaxed and fun environment fuelled by cake.

Imogen gets promoted

Posted by Kate on Jan 06, 2011

Imogen got promoted today. She’s now Head of Operations. She will do exactly what she does now, but the thing is that this title felt like a much better description of what she’s ended up doing.

She’s just nipped off to see Bounce so we can’t get a quote from her, but we know that Imogen would say that this has been the most extraordinary year in which her role has changed and grown very significantly. She’s runs all of Nosy Crow’s book production, liaising with Clays and with Imago. She is our main point of connection with Bounce, with Allen and Unwin and with Grantham Book Services. She reminds us of all the things we haven’t done, and of all the things we haven’t yet realised we have to do.

Actually, she does loads more stuff even than that, and we don’t even know what all of it is.

But she’s not grand about it. At lunchtime, she picked up a copy of Bliss, because there’s a “This month we’re reading…” feature in it for Small Blue Thing.

We think we’ve achieved a lot in the last 10 months since we launched. It would have been impossible without Imogen.

Apps and conferences

Posted by Kate on Dec 15, 2010

Yesterday, Kate met up with Neal Hoskins (pictured) of Winged Chariot in the Crow’s Nest to talk about the opportunities for collaboration amongst apps publishers, and, specifically, children’s apps publishers. For all of us involved in apps publishing, the challenge is how people – parents in our case – find good apps among the ever-growing sea of apps on the store.

They also talked about the Bologna Tools of Change Conference 2011, which Neal is heavily involved in, and at which Kate will be a keynote speaker.

Then Kate and Imogen left for the Bounce Marketing sales conference for April to August titles in Islington, wrapping fizzy wine in the back of the car to give to the Bounce reps so they could drink to Nosy Crow’s first book (Small Blue Thing) being published on 13 January 2011. Kate presented to an enthusiastic audience of 18, and it was great to see how many of the reps had already read many of the titles: Bizzy Bear and Pip and Posy were being enthusiastically read by one sales manager’s two year-old. The six year-old “reluctant artist” son of one of the reps had loved completing his first Mega Mash-up book. And one of the reps told everyone how much she’d LOVED Olivia’s First Term.

After a meeting at the Publisher’s Association about World Book Day 2012 (which’ll be the subject of another post), Kate met up with Imogen and Kirsty at Bounce’s Christmas Party, and Kirsty and Kate had to be asked to leave as the pub was closing. A fine time was had by all.

It's not all cake and candles

Posted by Kate on Dec 13, 2010

Just to point out to any of you who think that it’s all party, party, party at Nosy Crow, that ordinary – indeed, dull – stuff goes on all the time.

And, sometimes, we even have more than one man in the office.

Here are Adrian and Ian (who provides accounting and finance support to us, having worked with Adrian, Kate and Camilla at Macmillan) working on a review of next year’s budget. The budget for 2011 is our first year’s sales budget: we’ve only spent money since we started up at the end of February this year.

Book publishing decisions are always a balance of information and hunch. If you’re an established publishing house, you may have a lot of historical data on the performance of your established authors. But many of the authors and illustrators that Nosy Crow will publish are new or are doing something different from what they’ve done before. While we have, between us, many decades of experience of sales patterns to draw on, we don’t have a lot of concrete information, so we are, at the moment, more reliant than we’d like to be on our instincts. We are very careful to pull together whatever information we have, and, of course, we can draw on data that Bounce and Allen and Unwin can provided based on their sales of several lists.

App publishing decisions are even harder: there’s so little concrete information about a market that is changing very rapidly.

For Nosy Crow, all the signs for next year are good. We think we have really good, child-orientated books and highly original, rich apps. We have a good line-up of promotions in the UK trade; good sales representation from Bounce and Allen and Unwin; some rights sales under our belts; and lots of other interest in rights in our titles.

Our hunches are informed by all the information we can pull together.

But publishing’s still a risk business.

It’s one of the things that makes it excitiing.

Round the world in 11 days

Posted by Kate on Nov 29, 2010

Since the beginning of October, Kate has been to Germany three times (OK, once it was for the Frankfurt Book Fair, but still…), has been to France and Holland once each and has been round the world in 11 days, flying from London to the East Coast of America and then on to Sydney (a trip that involved two 21 hour flights in 3 days).

The purpose of all this travel? She’s trying to find homes for Nosy Crow’s titles in different countries and languages. There’s lots of interest from lots of people in lots of things. Kate (with Adrian) saw 120 people in Frankfurt and 30+ publishers or imprints of publishers in the USA over 5 days (it was like speed-dating, really: her most remarkable day involved 11 appointments in 14 hours).

We’re following all the expressions of interest up diligently,and will have more to announce soon, but one important big deal has come out of all the travelling so far: we’ve appointed our Australian distributor, Allen and Unwin. As well as being Australia’s biggest and best Australian publisher (they’ve won the Publisher of the Year award nine times), they’re independent and… very nice, being enthusiastic and easy to deal with. And they’re based in Crows Nest, which is a bit of Sydney. How good an omen is that?

As well as distributing Nosy Crow, they distribute a handful of important UK publishers like Faber, Profile and Bloomsbury. It is, really, a privilege to have been added to their portfolio, because they don’t say “yes” to just anyone.

As Robert Corman, who is the CEO of Allen and Unwin, said in a press release:

“At Allen and Unwin we love partnering with clever independent publishers. That is why we are delighted to be representing Nosy Crow in Australia and New Zealand. We greatly look forward to helping them grow their business in the ANZ market.”

And Liz Bray, Children’s Book Director of Allen and Unwin, says:

“We’ve been following Nosy Crow’s activities with great interest since they announced their establishment in the UK earlier this year and admired the energy, savvy and passion of their team as well as the books they’re producing. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them in Australia and New Zealand on books from much-loved creators like Axel Scheffler as well as new stars including S.C. Ransom. Nosy Crow’s innovative, child-focused books have great potential in our markets and will be a fantastic complement to our own publishing and the wonderful children’s lists we distribute.”

So that’s another important part of Nosy Crow’s jigsaw in place, and we are very chuffed.