IPG Children's Publisher of the Year

Articles tagged with: authors

NaNoWriMo

Posted by Tom on Nov 01, 2012

Today’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, the aim is fairly simple – write a novel (well, a first draft, anyway) in a month. The NaNoWriMo website suggests a total length of 50,000 words (or 1,666 words a day) – around the length of Twelve Minutes to Midnight.

There are plenty of NaNoWriMo naysayers who insist that it’s an unproductive or impossible exercise – that any novel written in a month can’t be any good, or that writing to an arbitrary deadline is unhelpful – but I think that anything that inspires people to try something new is a worthwhile enterprise, even if it’s not for everyone… and supposedly, Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in just three weeks, so evidently haste and literary brilliance are not entirely anathema to each other.

If you’re taking part this year and you’re writing a novel for children, why don’t you tell us about it in the comments section below? What are you writing about? How difficult are you finding it? Is this your first attempt at writing a novel?

Small publishers v large publishers - which is best?

Posted by Kate on May 28, 2012

Last Tuesday evening, I went to a CBC meeting. The title of the panel talk was “So You Want To Be A Publisher”, and I was speaking with Sarah Odedina of Hot Key Books and Barry Cunningham of Chicken House.

The meeting was held in the Penguin offices on The Strand. On the few occasions these days when I walk past the vast security desk, through the glass electronic-tag-activated gates and along the marble corridors, I always think how different an experience it would for an author to visit Penguin and to visit Nosy Crow. To get to us, you travel to Southwark, go through a cobbled courtyard past the bike racks to an old, brick tea-warehouse and then you climb up two flights of steep cast-iron external steps (past the geraniums) to get to our always-open door. Yes, Penguin and Nosy Crow are both publishers, but that’s a bit like saying that a platypus and a zebra are both mammals: they really are quite different.

So it was interesting that a member of the audience asked what we, as a panel, felt were the advantages of being published by a small publishing house.

These are some of the advantages, I think.

As an author or illustrator, you know everyone involved in the publishing process – quite possibly you know everyone in the company, in fact. I said that, to me, the publishing process should seem to the author more like a choral performance in which everyone is involved for the duration of the singing, than a relay race in which individuals hand off a book to the next person or department in the supply line and then stop running. When Lyn Gardner, author of the Olivia series dropped by on Friday evening to sign some books for a prize-winning child, Tom, whose direct involvement with the publishing of Lyn’s books is making sure that everything about them on the website is up-to-date and accurate, was one of the people who sat down for tea and almond biscuits, and they planned a trip to the theatre together before she and I confirmed our plans for her time at the Hay Festival. Her editor, Kirsty wasn’t there, and nor was her publicist, Dom. But that didn’t matter. We all knew her and what she was there for.

As an author or illustrator, if you are published by a smaller publisher, you’re almost certainly part of a smaller list (you definitely are at Nosy Crow) so you’re less likely to be lost or overshadowed by many and “bigger” books. When I ran bigger publishing lists, the publishing schedule was carefully annotated, dividing books into “superleads” and “leads” and “everything else”. That doesn’t happen at Nosy Crow.

As an author or illustrator, you should feel that it’s a matter of our own success – even of our own survival – that we do the best for the books that we publish that we possibly can. Not every book can or will be a bestseller, and we buy books based on a range of sales expectations, but we can’t lose focus on a single one of them.

As an author or illustrator, if you’re published by a privately-owned company (like Nosy Crow, but unlike Hot Key Books which is owned by Bonnier, or The Chicken House, which is now owned by Scholastic, though it was an independent company for many years), the bottom line is that people who work in the company are choosing to spend money on acquiring your books and selling and marketing your books rather than spending it on the mortgage, or their children’s shoes, or cheese in Sainsburys.
We are, quite literally, invested in your success.

As an author or illustrator, you shouldn’t feel that anything gets seriously stuck in the works. Of course there are delays, and of course we get busy, and of course some decisions are harder than others. We can’t always respond immediately, but we try to be quick and decisive whenever we can. By contrast, there’s a major publisher we do business with who hasn’t responded to the contract we sent them since September.

As an author or illustrator, you should feel that you and your book are unique. In big companies, it’s generally necessary to establish rules and processes to which books have to conform: they may have to be printed in particular formats; the costing on the basis of which they’re acquired probably has to achieve a particular projected profit margin (or “computer says no”); if they sell fewer than x copies in a particular period of time, they may have to be allowed to go out of print… In a small company, each book – and therefore each author – can be treated on their own merits.

As an author or illustrator, you should feel that every book is being dealt with by someone with the appropriate expertise and experience. At Nosy Crow, the editors and designers are pretty much all old hands: to be honest, there just isn’t a junior editor to delegate to. Many of the senior people who choose to work in small publishing companies have made a decision not to work in big publishing companies. There are, of course, people who have huge skill and expertise in big publishing companies… and over time many of them get pushed up the ladder to become managers. Some of the profit from an author’s books goes to paying the management salaries in the various layers of the hierarchy in a big publishing company.

Which brings me to the final point: as an author, you should know that it is slightly easier for a small publisher to take some kinds of risk: it is, quite simply, easier for us to make a profit because our costs are lower than those of a big publishing company. When I walk along the marble corridors of Penguin, the other thing I think about is that our per square foot rental costs are probably about a third or less of Penguin’s… and we don’t have that many square feet in our open-plan office anyway. So it has, perhaps, been easier for us to take a gamble on “slush pile” debut authors like Paula Harrison and Helen Peters who are currently being promoted in major UK retailers and in whose books we’ve sold rights.

There are counter arguments, of course.

It could be said that a big publisher provides prestige, and there are a few big publisher names (not many) that it’s hard for a small, new publisher to compete with… but most readers and parents don’t buy on the basis of the publisher name.

It could be said that a big publisher has a bigger pot of money… but Nosy Crow pays (at least) market rate advances and royalties and we don’t hesitate to spend on appropriate marketing and retailer promotions. We tend not to spend huge sums on acquiring and marketing one or two “big books”, but that ties into the idea (above) that every single one of our books has to work to the level that we expect of it.

It could be said that a big publisher has a big infrastructure to maximise sales opportunities… but Nosy Crow has managed to get its books sold in pretty much every appropriate UK retailer, regardless of size, and has sold rights to or done distribution deals with publishing companies that are brand names in their territories. Publishing infrastructure (and this is the subject of a different post) is less relevant now than it’s ever been.

Authors and illustrators should – and, given the opportunity, will – do what feels right for them, often with the guidance of an agent. And every publisher is different: there are duff small publishers and very good big publishers. And there are publishers that look like small publishers but they’re actually part of big publishers.

But if I were an aspiring author or illustrator, I know, having worked in both kinds of organisation, what I’d choose.

What’s your view?

The Secret Hen House Theatre is out today

Posted by Kirsty on Apr 05, 2012

The Slush Pile. Every publishing house has one (unless of course it has closed its doors to submissions). And every editor dreams of plucking the Next Big Thing from it. Which is exactly what happened seventeen months and two Nosy Crow offices ago to THE SECRET HEN HOUSE THEATRE by Helen Peters , published today! (I’d love to claim credit for the plucking but can’t – step forward, Mr Adrian Soar, and take your bow.)

From first read, it was clear that this book is set to become a classic and that Helen Peters is an author with a great future ahead of her. The story, of a girl who pulls her chaotic family back from the brink through imagination, courage and a joyful commitment to secret theatres and muddy farmhouse living, is entirely engaging. It’s funny, sad, dramatic and impossible to put down. And here it is, already gracing the shelves of the Muswell Hill children’s bookshop.

A little snippet:

“The sow was charging straight towards her. Hannah turned and ran, the pig splashing and squealing behind her. Thick wet clay, heavy as concrete, clung to her boots. Dad crashed through the hedge just ahead and ran full tilt towards the enormous sow at her heels. And Hannah tripped over his boot and fell flat on her face into a gigantic puddle. She staggered to her feet, soaked to the skin. Freezing water cascaded down her back and legs. The world had gone dark. Her eyes were stuck together with mud, and she tried to wipe them but her hands and sleeves were coated with mud too. She could feel her hair plastered to her face. Through the muddy water in her ears she heard Martha’s laughter.”

I’ve read THE SECRET HEN HOUSE THEATRE many times now and it still makes me laugh. And I’ll admit, get a bit choked more than once. And it always makes me glad I don’t keep pigs. Congratulations, Helen, on writing a brilliant novel that everyone loves and happy publication day!

Looking back at 2011, our first year of publishing

Posted by Kate on Dec 31, 2011

2011 was Nosy Crow’s first year of publishing. We published our first book in January.

It’s been an incredibly busy and full year, and I find it hard to sort through the events and impressions of the past twelve months to write anything coherent.

But here goes…

The books and apps we published… and signed up

In 2011, we published 23 books for children aged 0 to 14. 8 were board books. 7 were picture books. 8 were fiction titles for children aged 6 to 14. Here they are in reverse publication order finishing, at the time of writing but this will update as publication dates pass, in December 2011.

We published 3 apps: The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella and, just days before Christmas, Bizzy Bear on the Farm.

We signed up a further 38 books and 8 apps for 2012, and already have projects scheduled for publication in 2013 and beyond. You can already find out about some of the forthcoming books (in publication order starting, at the time of writing but this will update as publication dates pass, in January 2012) and about some of the apps.

Selling at home and abroad

Working with Bounce, we had books sold and promoted in a huge range of UK sales outlets from independent booksellers through bookshop chains and online book retailers to supermarkets and toy shops.

We’ve travelled on Nosy Crow business and/or to speak at conferences to the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Mexico and Brazil.

We launched partnership deals with Allen and Unwin for book distribution in Australia; with Candlewick Press for illustrated book publishing in the US and Canada; with Carlsen for apps in German and with Gallimard for apps in French.

We sold rights to books in the following languages: French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Hebrew, Chinese, Norwegian, Greek and Korean.

Nosy Crow authors on the road

Nosy Crow authors were at numerous literary festivals, including Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham, and staged countless events in schools, libraries and bookshops.

Nosy Crow on the move

We moved offices from our second office in Lambeth to our third office in Southwark (it’s always cheaper south of the river) as our staff grew from 8 to January 2012’s 19, including part-time people and “attached freelancers”. We’ve lost members of staff too (which is a real rite of passage). Two were only with us on a temporary basis and went on to roles that they had planned before they joined us, but Deb Gaffin has just left us to take on a marketing and partnership strategy role at Mindshapes. We are very grateful to her for helping us shape our first apps and the thinking behind them. Andi Silverman Meyer who has known Deb since they were at school together, and who has been fantastic at getting us US coverage for our apps, is joining Mindshapes too.

Spreading the word

We have reached a lot of people with Nosy Crow news of various kinds.

Nosy Crow as a company or Nosy Crow books or apps have been in the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Gadgetwise Blog of The New York Times, Wired Magazine, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Scotsman, Prima, Junior, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Melbourne Age, The Australian, The Huffington Post and many great children’s book, parenting, technology and app blogs. We’ve had terrific coverage in trade press and websites including Publisher’s Weekly, The Bookseller, FutureBook, BookBrunch and The Literary Platform. The quickest look at the first few pages of a Google search result for Nosy Crow gives a sense of the range of coverage – and, where it’s third-party coverage, how positive it’s been. We’ve had more than our fair share of TV and radio coverage too, and coverage, through our Gallimard and Carlsen links in Figaro, Marie Claire and Buchreport.

This year, we had over 74,000 unique visitors from 161 countries to the Nosy Crow website and almost half a million page views. Over half of our visitors have returned to the site. The site’s got information on everything from our commitment to paper-sourcing standards to our latest app reviews, and we’ve used the blog section of the site to write about subjects as diverse as library closures, Martin Amis, the thinking behind our apps, chocolate cake, the formation of the child reader, Steve Jobs, Charles Dickens, the role of supermarkets in bookselling and Wilson household New Year traditions.

From around 1,300 Twitter followers for @nosycrow (bit of a guess, this, but based on the numbers we had in September 2010) this time last year, we’ve built our @nosycrow following to over 5,700 and our @nosycrowapps Twitter following grew from 0 to over 1,800. I wrote about Twitter here. We’ve 1,250 Facebook fans.

Recognition

Our apps were included in so many “best apps” listings in the US, UK, France and Germany that it’s difficult to list them here. They won several awards, including, most recently a KAPi award for best ebook and a FutureBook Award for best children’s app which were both won by our Cinderella app. Our ratings in the iTunes app stores are excellent.


Our KAPi award

We won the Mumpreneur Inspiring Business Mum of the Year award, and have just been named in The Independent as one of the six book people or organisations who wrote glorious chapters in 2011

A measure of success

We invoiced over a million pounds in sales.

What went wrong?

It would be ridiculous to pretend it was a year without disappointments or irritations. The much-investigated drainy smell in the bathrooms at 10a Lant Street continues to baffle. The many cakes we make and eat continue to contain a lot of calories. Camilla had her bag stolen and we had to have all the office locks changed. There are one or two important UK retailers who still haven’t stocked our books. There are several countries to which we’d hoped to sell rights but haven’t yet managed to do so – Japan for example, but there are good reasons for that. We didn’t always (though we did generally) agree what books we wanted to publish and how much we wanted to publish them. We offered for some books that we didn’t manage to buy, a couple of which I still feel sad about. One or two books (and I mean “one or two”: our strike rate has been good) didn’t sell quite as well as we thought they would. We had to cancel a couple of projects because they just weren’t working out the way that we’d planned.

Thank you

But it’s been a very good year.

Whatever we achieved in this first year, we did it in partnership with our many authors and illustrators, new and established, and with other artistic collaborators, such as composers, audio experts and paper engineers. Without them, we have nothing to publish. We threw a party to say thank you. You can see the pictures at the top of our Facebook page.


Our author party in The Crow’s Nest in Lant Street a few weeks ago

And whatever we’ve achieved in this first year, we did it thanks to the support of publishers abroad; booksellers of many kinds; librarians; reviewers; bloggers; literacy organisations; literary and illustrators agents; printers and print managers; talented freelancers; and, of course, the parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, teachers and librarians who have bought and read our books and apps to, with and for children.

Penny Dale at Art in Action

Posted by Penny Dale on Jul 27, 2011

Art in Action is a four day event held at Waterperry House and Gardens in Oxfordshire. Every year around 25,000 visitors come to observe hundreds of artists demonstrating how they work.

This was my second year demonstrating in the illustration and calligraphy marquee. Along with four other illustrators and five calligraphers we drew and talked and painted as well as selling some prints and originals and lots of books.

I was showing how I am working on sketch layouts for my next book, Dinosaur Zoom, using an iPad, alongside examples of the layouts for Dinosaur Dig! (which were done on paper).

I showed how rather than sticking lots of layers of paper one on top of the other when working up plans for illustrations, and ending up with a very bumpy paper sandwich, I could work the layers separately and smoothly on the iPad. People were amazed at the degree of subtlety that can be achieved drawing directly on the screen with a capacitive stylus. Some children had a go at drawing a dinosaur on the iPad themselves, and loved the way the brushes app we use would replay their drawing step by step. Pure ‘Art in Action’! (You can see a video of how the process works here.

I did reassure people that I would still produce the actual artwork for DINOSAUR ZOOM using watercolour and pencil crayons on real paper, but the iPad is certainly great for roughs.

While this was going on some very hardworking friends were also talking to people and selling books – lots of books! Ten in the Bed and Once There Were Giants were favorites and Dinosaur Dig went so fast we started to run out on the first day with Friday and the weekend still to come! Imogen was brilliant at Nosy Crow HQ, and managed to send another load which arrived the next day. All of those went too! Here’s the last copy being sold!

It was lovely to see the range of ages who liked Dinosaur Dig. A rather hot and tired 6 month old baby in a facing out sling carrier stopped crying and laughed when he saw the cover – excitedly shouting and flapping his arms and legs! Bigger children liked reading it and asked lots of questions about making the book – some even said “Cool!” when they got to the end. Many nursery and infant teachers said how it was just the thing for reading AND number work with their children. We were really delighted with all the reactions.

I want to say a huge thank you to the organisers of Art in Action and all the volunteers for making it such a unique and wonderful event! Now it’s time to unpack everything back into the studio and start on the actual artwork for Dinosaur Zoom… so which box did I put the drawing board in?

Why it was fine that Sainsbury's won The General or Chain Bookseller of the Year Award

Posted by Kate on Jun 08, 2011

Children’s and YA author Nicola Morgan has written a funny and interesting blog post about Sainsbury’s and the injustice of it winning the Martina Cole General or Chain Bookseller of the Year Award at the Bookseller Industry Awards this year.

This was, I’m pretty sure, the first time that the award had gone to a supermarket chain, and even in the course of the award event there was scorn being poured on the judging panel’s decision by various people on Twitter. The most cursory Googling reveals that the controversy continued the next day and beyond, and The Bookseller felt it had to justify the decision of the judging panel. But while I admire Nicola Morgan’s books and idealism, I have to disagree with her. I think Sainsbury’s, who managed to create a really big jump in book sales in a very challenging market, was a worthy winner of this particular award (and there are other awards that go to other, and other kinds of booksellers, in the same awards ceremony).

Don’t get me wrong. At Nosy Crow, we love all our retail customers and recognise and celebrate daily the role they play in the complicated and expensive business of getting physical copies of our books in front of parents and children. And we love an independent bookstore and a specialist bookselling chain at least as much as the next person.

However, it is undeniably impressive that Sainsbury’s achieved a significant increase in physical book sales predominantly from bricks-and-mortar shops at a time in which print sales are falling; one in every four books (and one in every five children’s books) is bought online in the UK; and ebook sales are growing rapidly and appearing to displace print sales.

Being a chain bookseller is exceptionally tough at the moment. Waterstones was, at the time the prize was awarded, for sale. Foyles (who won last year) and WHS (whose corporate goal is to be the nation’s most popular newsagent and stationer as well as bookshop, so isn’t quite as specialist as the other book retailers in this paragraph) are, of course, real contenders. Happily (very happily) for the book industry in the UK, Waterstones looks likely to be a powerful contender for the future as the acquisition of the chain progresses. Ottakars, Borders/Books Etc and British Bookshops and Stationers are no longer with us. Other book specialist alternatives might have been Book Warehouse (who sell mainly but not exclusively remainder books) or Oxfam Bookshops (who sell mainly but not exclusively second-hand books), but I can’t imagine that Nicola Morgan would have celebrated either of those chains winning.

And the challenges to chain bookselling are not unique to the UK: Barnes & Noble is changing hands and Borders filed for bankruptcy in the US, and the Red Group (owners of Angus and Robertson and Borders) is in administration in Australia.

Just to remind ourselves of what the bookselling landscape is looking like at the moment (and the importance of supermarkets), here’s the graph of books purchased in the UK by source of purchase (with thanks to Books and Consumers):

This graph also points up the relative strength of Sainsbury’s bookselling performance relative to the performance of supermarkets in general between 2009 and 2010.

In this context, the growing role of Sainsbury in the UK bookselling market is an important one. The decision by Sainsbury – or any other supermarket – to back a book can entirely transform the financial fortunes of a book. At Nosy Crow, we were really delighted and excited when the small team of dedicated children’s book buyers at Sainsbury’s backed several of our first titles, including risky ones: a debut novel (Small Blue Thing) and a series that is an innovative mix of fiction and doodling from an author/illustrator team with a limited track-record (Mega Mash-up). We’ll make more money on these books and so will the authors: we committed to more Mega
Mash-ups on the basis of retailer response to the first titles and Sainsbury’s was part of that.

Yes, the discounts to supermarkets are deep, but the volumes are high. The advances paid to adult blockbuster authors in particular are entirely predicated on strong supermarket sales. As a very rough estimate, I’d say that children’s authors/illustrators are earning perhaps 30p on most books sold via Sainsbury’s, so a sale of 3,000 copies might represent £900 in royalty earnings – which has to be seen in the context of the ALCS’s finding that the median annual author wage is £4,000 (and less, I would think, for children’s authors). This compares with 45p per book if the same book were sold via an independent, so the same author would have to sell 2,000 through that channel to make the same £900.

Sainsbury’s doesn’t make any claims to be promoting literacy or increasing access to books on its website statement of its goals (though, for the record it sponsored Book Start at a point when the scheme was under threat before the government funded it). From my perspective, though, anything that increases access to books (and I am writing this in the context of the recent report that three in ten households don’t contain a book, and one in three London children doesn’t own a book) and that makes buying books as easy and as unintimidating as buying bread, is a good thing.

Of course, I’d be delighted if Sainsbury’s took up Nicola Morgan’s author-touring book bus idea. I doubt they will. Sainsbury’s is a business. It allocates shelf-space and prominence to books (and everything else) on the basis of how well they sell in a particular shop. It doesn’t owe publishers or authors a living: its purpose as a business is to maximise shareholder value. If it can do that by selling books as well as bacon, I for one think that’s great. And if giving Sainsbury a particular prize for bookselling makes other retailers for whom it’s relevant think about what they might do to earn the award next time around, so much the better.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event at the Lincoln Book Festival

Posted by Kate on May 16, 2011

I went up to Lincoln on Saturday to talk to a group of children’s authors and illustrators (and agent Elizabeth Roy, many of them aspiring to be published. The event was organised by writer and blogger Addy Farmer (pictured here with me) for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

It was hard to know what to cover (and Kate had a scary 90 minutes to fill), other than pointing people in the direction of our “submissions guidelines” and to telling them we prefer to receive submissions digitally, which is the work of a minute. But I talked about how Nosy Crow got started, and what’s important to us: identifying the core audience for each book or app that we do and trying to ensure that every aspect of that book or app is right for that audience; bringing our own creative energies and skill to projects as we work with authors and illustrators to shape and make books and apps; embracing digital technology both as a means of creating new reading experiences and communicating with people about them; and thinking internationally, and accessing international markets through our partners in key countries.

Of course, most of the people there really wanted to know what Nosy Crow was “looking for” and that’s a hugely difficult thing to define.

But here’s a shot at it:

Print books:

Fiction for 0 – 12, bearing in mind that a lot of the texts for board and novelty books are are produced in-house.
“Mum-friendly” books – no drugs, sex or gritty or gratuitous violence.
Strong commercial concept-driven or character-led series novels and picture books.
Brilliantly-written stand-alone novels and picture books, but nothing too intensely high-brow.
Great illustration with child and parental appeal – nothing too dark and arty.

Apps:

While some of our future apps may be based on our books, Nosy Crow is currently focused on commissioning apps that start as apps, not as books. We are interested in working with authors and illustrators who are excited by, and really understand how, touch-screen devices can enhance and extend the story experience. As we have engineers on staff, we don’t need people who can code apps, and we don’t need to see a ready-made app. Instead, we want to see really great ideas and really great art (and need art that is created digitally in layers for this medium).

I got to visit glorious Lincoln Cathedral:

And I even saw a little of the top part of the city (here are Addy and Elizabeth Roy in front of something lovely and half timbered) before leaving.

I got a couple of nice comments on Twitter, and Addy blogged about it.

An author's view of the printing process: Perfectly Reflected gets real

Posted by Kate on May 14, 2011

S C Ransom, who, as the author of Nosy Crow’s first book, and therefore our inaugural book with Clays gets rather special treatment from them, blogs about visting the printer for a second time:

I recently went to Clays in Suffolk to watch the first printing of my new novel, Perfectly Reflected. It was a specific request on my part as I had so enjoyed watching the first book in the series, Small Blue Thing, being printed last Autumn. I had never seen books being printed before, and the guys at Clays had given us a comprehensive tour and explained all the processes that the book goes through. But for that book there had been bound proofs before there were finished copies, so I had held it in my hand before, albeit without the beautiful, shiny cover.

This time it was different. Before I went to Clays, Perfectly Reflected existed only in my laptop and on great wodges of A4 paper bristling with sticky notes and covered in pencil marks. It had never looked anything like a ‘real’ printed book. I was also particularly interested in seeing the first books coming off the line, as that was something I had missed on the previous occasion. When Andrew and Rebekah gave me the tour, they explained that the operators prefer to show the process when it’s up and running – once all the start-up wrinkles have been ironed out. But they smiled at my excitement, and, as the first bound double book came shooting around the line, someone deftly lifted it off and handed it to me. The next ones went through the process of being sliced into two separate books and then trimmed. At the far end of the line they were sorted into piles, shrink-wrapped and loaded onto pallets. The machines were very loud and very efficient, and wastage was almost nil. At the end of the process I saw just two of my books in the recycling bin; one had a ripped cover and the other had a slightly dented cover. (I couldn’t resist rescuing the dented one, and it has now gone to a good home!)

With incredible speed, the line was running at its usual speed of 12,000 double books per hour, and from where I was standing in the middle, there were copies of my book on every conveyor belt I could see. From never having seen or held one, there were suddenly thousands and thousands of them. My vision and all those months of hard work hunched over the laptop were suddenly transformed into a real live book, bound in a glistening, foiled blue cover.

Everyone from Clays was lovely, answering all of my dumb questions and cheerfully explaining all the various processes. Perhaps having an author there was a novelty, though they must have had to make time to treat me so well.

As we walked around I looked at the monitor listing all the print runs for that particular production line (one of many they have at Clays). The next book up was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. How’s that for being in exalted company?

Selling books at the Bologna Book Fair

Posted by Kate on Apr 05, 2011

The Bologna Book Fair is many things, but the main thing it is is a market for rights and co-edition selling.

As a publisher, you have a grant of rights from an author and an illustrator, including the right to publish their work as a book. Sometimes – always if you’re Nosy Crow – you have rights that you do not want to use yourself, but are able to sell to someone else. So Nosy Crow doesn’t itself publish in Finnish, but we know several Finnish publishers who like the books we do and who would like to publish them in Finnish. So we negotiate a deal with them, and the author/illustrator gets a share of the money we make when we sell the rights.

If you are publishing illustrated books – and over half of Nosy Crow’s list is illustrated in full-colour – there is another element to rights selling: building a co-edition run. There are certain costs associated with printing a book which are the same whether you print one copy or 100,000 copies, and it makes sense to spread those costs over as many books as possible. So the aim of the game is to say to the Finnish publisher that not only will you sell them the rights to publish the book in Finnish, but you will print the books for them in Finnish too.

This makes perfect sense, because the pictures in, for example, a picture book are printed first, and then the text of the picture book is printed on top of the pictures, so you can print a whole quantity of pictures and then put the UK text on a quarter of that quantity, the French text on a quarter of them, the German text on a quarter of them, and, let’s say, the Finnish text on a quarter of them (of course, the quantity doesn’t divide into quarters because different language markets are of different sizes – Germany’s bigger than Finland – but you get the idea). Each country’s version of the book is called a co-edition.

So, in the course of the fair, two of us Nosy Crows – Adrian and me – were hard at it selling for three-and-a-half days. Between us, we had 90 pre-booked appointments with 90 different publishers from 20 countries… and a few appointments with film companies and other people too.

We were able to finalise a number of rights deals on books that had been in discussion in the course of the weeks leading up to the fair, and we have lots of interest to follow up for newer books that we had been working on in the weeks and months before the book fair that we’ll publish in 2012.

It’s bizarre to think that a queue for the loo (and the queue for the women’s loos at Bologna is always long) might make the difference between having an appointment that lasts 30 minutes and one that lasts 20 minutes… and that therefore, because you lost 10 minutes of an appointment, you might fail to make a deal that would have worked for both of you.

The skill of selling is, therefore, to cut to the chase and not waste time talking about books – however much you love them yourself – that are failing to ignite the enthusiasm of the person opposite you.

Of course, the longer you’ve been selling rights, the better you know markets, publishing companies within those markets and individuals within those publishing companies, so it’s easier to know what books to show to whom. And it’s certainly the case that there are people that I meet at fairs that I would count as friends, with whom I have been talking about children’s books for almost a quarter of a century. There are people whose reaction I can predict before I show them a book, and many people with whose own tastes and views of publishing I feel real affinity, despite the fact that we operate in different companies and countries. (And since we are nothing if not honest in this blog, there are people I have absolutely failed to connect with over years of book fair meetings. It’s a joy of being an independent company that I just don’t book an appointment to see them any more…)

So, as well as all the excitement of speaking at the Tools of Change Conference and as well as our apps deal with Gallimard and Carlsen, we got on with the solid, unflashy, necessary and very satisfying thing we do every day: we sold print books.