IPG Children's Publisher of the Year

Articles tagged with: children's authors

Our first conference is taking place tomorrow!

Posted by Tom on Sep 20, 2013

Tomorrow’s going to be very busy for us: we’re hosting our first conference, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask) – a whole day of talks devoted to de-mystifying the industry. We’ve got some incredible speakers lined up from all sectors of publishing – agent Hilary Delamere, Waterstones children’s buyer Melissa Cox, social media expert Jon Reed, columnist Lucy Mangan, a number of our authors, and members of the Nosy Crow team.

And even if you can’t make it to the event itself (we’ve been sold out for some weeks), we’d love it if you take part online! You can follow all of the day’s action on Twitter with the #NCCONF hashtag – and you’ll even be able to ask questions of our panellists during some talks.

If you have a burning question for one of our editors or authors, you can put it to them on Twitter during our panel sessions and we’ll do our best to answer as many questions as possible!

At 10.45, Editorial Director Camilla Reid, Head of Picture Books Louise Bolongaro, and fiction editor Kirsty Stansfield will be answering questions about the editorial process on a panel chaired by Nosy Crow Managing Director Kate Wilson.

At 12.30, Nosy Crow debut authors Helen Peters, S. C. Ransom, and Paula Harrison will be taking part in a panel session about first-time publications.

And at 16.30, Kate and Tom Bonnick, Digital Project and Marketing Manager, will be talking about the future of reading and Nosy Crow’s innovative app programme.

You can read our full schedule for the day below (and download it, and our full list of speakers, as a PDF here).

The hashtag is #NCCONF – we hope you can join us!

Two days left!

Posted by Tom on Jul 31, 2013

There are just two days left to buy Early Bird tickets for our conference, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask) – you’ve got until midnight on Friday until the cost rises to the (still very reasonable!) ticket price of £129.

There are also only very few tickets remaining – we’ve almost COMPLETELY sold out – so if you’d like to attend, don’t delay! You can buy tickets with the form below, or at the Eventbrite page for the conference, here.

The price includes the full day of events (you can read our list of speakers and the programme here), morning and afternoon coffee breaks, lunch, and cake and a glass of wine at the end of the day (along with the opportunity to meet everyone and mingle). The event is taking place on Saturday, September 21 at St Bride Foundation on Fleet Street – if you have any questions, leave a comment below this post or send an email to tom@nosycrow.com and we’ll get back to you.

We hope you can make it!

Nosy Crow's first conference: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children's Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Posted by Tom on Jun 18, 2013

Looking for details of our latest conference? Tickets for the 2014 edition of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask) are on sale now.

On 21 September 2013, we’re running an all-day conference: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask). In the course of the day, we will cover many aspects of the publishing process, from manuscript to marketplace.

We’re doing it because we know of so many people with aspirations to write books for children and who want to be published. They use our blog and our Twitter feeds as a source of information and we think that many of them would like to know more about the industry.

We’re doing it because we know (from every time we advertise a job on our website) that there are lots of people out there who are keen to work in children’s publishing, or who think they might be, and we think that the things we’ll be discussing will be relevant to them too.

We’re doing it because we love what we do, and we want more people to understand it.

The event will take place at the St Bride Foundation on Fleet Street, and we have an INCREDIBLE line-up speakers planned for the day, including:

Lucy Mangan, author and award-winning columnist
You may know Lucy for her hilarious weekly columns in The Guardian and Stylist Magazine. She won the PPA Awards 2013 Columnist of the Year award for the latter. She’s also a children’s literature devotee, and her talk, Bookworm: What children’s books mean to me, is bound to be an inspiring one for anyone who loves reading.
Follow Lucy on Twitter

Jon Reed, social media expert
Jon Reed is a social media consultant, lecturer, speaker and trainer. He worked in publishing for a decade before becoming a writer, and is the author of “Get up to Speed with Online Marketing”. Jon’s talk – Building Your Brand: Marketing Yourself Online – will be an essential one for anyone who’s new to the world of publishing and looking for the do’s and don’ts of social media.
Follow Jon on Twitter

Melissa Cox, Waterstones Children’s New Titles Buyer
Melissa is responsible for buying new children’s titles for Waterstones. She knows exactly what sells – and what doesn’t – and from her desk on the Sixth Floor of Waterstones Picadilly she has a unique view of the landscape. She’s been on the selection committee for the Children’s Laureateship and the judging panel for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and her talk, But will it sell? Children’s books from a bookseller’s perspective, will provide invaluable insight into some of the commercial realities of children’s bookselling.
Follow Melissa on Twitter

Hilary Delamere, agent
Hilary represents a star-studded roster of authors and illustrators including Raymond Briggs, Lydia Monks, Michael Bond, the newly-appointed Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, and our very own Sarah Warburton, illustrator for The Princess and the Peas. Hilary’s talk will answer the question, What’s an agent for?
Follow Hilary on Twitter

Tracey Corderoy, author
Tracey is the author of dozens of children’s books, including the Hubble Bubble, Granny Trouble picture book series (and soon-to-be launched illustrated fiction series), Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam, and Just Right for Two. She’s well-known for her spectacular author events, and her talk, Playing to the crowd: an author’s view of the importance of live events, will draw on the lessons she’s learnt performing in front of thousands of young children.
Follow Tracey on Twitter

Helen Peters, Paula Harrison, and S.C. Ransom, authors
Helen, Paula and Sue are all authors whose debut novels Nosy Crow has had the privilege of publishing. Together they’ll be speaking on a panel, From Slushpile to Subsidiary Rights Sales: The Journey of a First-Time Author, sharing their experiences of being published for the first time.
Follow Helen, Paula, and Sue on Twitter

Kate Wilson, Nosy Crow Managing Director
Kate is the founder and Managing Director of Nosy Crow. She’ll talk about the future of reading in a time of great digital change, the international book market, and give an insight into some of the decisions that are behind the publishing deals Nosy Crow makes.
Follow Kate on Twitter

And that’s not all! There’ll also be talks from other members of Nosy Crow sharing their expertise in areas of the industry including editorial (covering books for children from 0 to 14), marketing and app creation.

The conference will take place at the St Bride Foundation (on Fleet Street, a walking distance from Blackfriars Station), and will include lunch, morning and afternoon coffee breaks, and a glass of wine (and the chance to chat with us all!) at the end of the day. It’s a jam-packed day so we’ll be starting at around 9.30am and will finish at 6.00pm.

Looking for details of our latest conference? Tickets for the 2014 edition of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask) are on sale now.

Which children's author would you most want to have lunch with?

Posted by Kate on Jun 17, 2013

I was interested to see, in Saturday’s The Guardian, that if you email family.competition@guardian.co.uk, by noon on 18 June 2013 (so you’ll have to be quick!), with Morpurgo in the subject line, and you include your name, address and telephone number in the body of the email, you could win four tickets (a minimum two of which would be for children under 16) to lunch at the Savoy hotel with Michael Morpurgo on 6 July at 12.30pm. Kids also get a signed book and chocolate. This is one of a series of literary lunches, The Guardian says: you could win lunch with Lauren Child and Judith Kerr at some point in the future.

This seems pretty great to me.

But it made me wonder which children’s author or illustrator, in an ideal dinner party sort of way, it would be great to have lunch with. In my donkey’s years in children’s publishing, I have already had the privilege of eating with lots of amazing, well-known authors and illustrators – Philip Ardagh, Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve (spot the pattern?), Sharon Creech, Axel Scheffler, Rumer Godden, Meg Cabot, Jenny Valentine, Charles Causley, Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Judy Blume… I could go on, but I sort of feel I’ve name-dropped enough. And of course I’ve also managed at least a cake or two with many of our Nosy Crow authors and illustrators.

If we’re talking living authors or illustrators, I would have to say J K Rowling and Quentin Blake would both be high on my lunch companion wishlist – the first, in particular, I know is pretty predictable. Susan Cooper and Patrick Ness would be up there too, though.

But you’re allowed to have people who are no longer alive at ideal dinner parties, and I think this is allowed here too (hey, I am making the rules). After serious consideration of Maurice Sendak, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen and A A Milne, I think I am going to go for Louisa M Alcott (pictured above – strong face, I think). But that might just be because Kirsty, Tom and I had a disagreement recently (while washing up after our first reading group meeting) about whether or not it was a terrible disappointment that Jo marries Professor Bhaer rather than Laurie.

My older child had to choose between the list she compiled of Susan Cooper, L M Montgomery, Rudyard Kipling (“for Kim”), Michael Ende or Dodie Smith. She went with L M Montgomery.

My younger child says she’d like to have lunch with Dodie Smith, Adeline Yen Mah, L M Montgomery or Esther Hauzig. But if she could choose to meet anyone who wrote a children’s book, it would be Anne Frank. She also points out that she’s said “Hello” to J K Rowling, that “Lewis Carroll’s a weirdo”, and that, of my choices, Hans Christian Andersen is the one to go for.

If you could choose a children’s author or illustrator to have lunch with, who would it be?

A personal postscript to today's blog about the appointment of Malorie Blackman as Waterstones Children's Laureate

Posted by Kate on Jun 04, 2013

The handover: Julia Donaldson presenting Malorie Blackman with her Laureate medal today in London – terrible picture, as usual, for which the usual apologies

Tom wrote about Malorie Blackman’s appointment as Waterstones Children’s Laureate earlier today, including, in his post, a couple of good links, while I was on a train to Edinburgh. I was very happy to have been at the ceremony, so thought that I would add this postscript.

I’m recently back from the Hay Festival (a report follows). I spent a week in the area with my family on a sort of mix of holiday and work (well, I say “mix”, but the balance wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for…). I have one child (aged 12) who is a bit less interested in books and reading than the other, so I am always particularly willing to take her to Hay Festival events that she’s keen to go to.

In fact, there was just one event she said she really, really wanted to go to: Malorie Blackman’s event in which she spoke about about her new novel, Noble Conflict. My daughter has read many Malorie Blackman novels, but she loves, in particular, the Noughts and Crosses sequence.

Going to the event with my daughter reminded me of what an amazing speaker Malorie is. I have, in my time as a publisher, had the privilege of publishing only one book by her (Tell Me No Lies, published when I was MD at Macmillan), and I hadn’t heard her speak for many years.

Her enthusiasm, her lack of pretension, her frankness and her warmth combined to make a stage presence that was compelling for the whole audience, regardless of age.

That enthusiasm, lack of pretension, frankness and warmth all make her a terrific ambassador for children and their reading.

But here are other things about Malorie that make her potential to make a contribution as Children’s Laureate timely and unique.

She’s technology-friendly

At Hay, Malorie talked about her career as a computer programmer. I don’t know, or know of, any other major children’s author who’s been a computer programmer. Talking in her Hay event about the big ideas behind Noughts and Crosses, she spliced video footage of the Little Rock Nine with footage from the Holy Cross Dispute, vividly emphasising, to my child, at least, the continuing presence of segregation and hatred. Today, she read her acceptance speech from an iPad. In a context in which more and more children are reading on screen and, arguably, the definition of literacy is changing, to have someone who embraces and is unafraid of screens and multimedia is exciting.

She’s black

Malorie is our eighth Children’s Laureate and the first who isn’t white. Tinie Tempah describes her, in Written in the Stars, as “just a writer from the ghetto” like himself. At her Hay event, Malorie spoke – with humour as well as recollected pain – about the abuse she’d suffered as a child (being told to go back to where she came from – “to Clapham?” wondered Malorie) and the anger she’d felt as a teenager. She spoke of her frustration at not seeing herself represented in the books she read as a child, and her commitment to doing what she can to redress that balance. Perhaps a quarter of the UK’s school children are not white, and I hope that this celebration of someone some of whose experiences and whose books may reflect some of their own realities is inspiring and exciting for them. My daughter, though, is white, and Malorie is, of course, writing for her too. My child’s understanding of race is informed primarily by her experience of being a child in ethnically diverse schools in Central London, but it’s been deepened by her reading, and by her reading of Malorie’s books. Today, in her acceptance speech, Malorie said, “Books not only helped me see through the eyes of others, they made my own vision sharper”, and that is, I think, something that she’s brought to my daughter too.

She writes and reads, and is happy to celebrate – a really wide range of genres

At Hay, Malorie talked about overcoming her own resistance to reading genres she’d prejudged as not being for her. She gave the example of a novel that was a Western (I am sorry: I don’t remember the title, though she did mention it, and I am aware of what that says about the degree to which my own mind is closed to Westerns) that she said she’d turned up her nose at initially, but then read and loved. When asked by a teenager in the audience which of her books she’d recommend they read, she said, “Well, it depends what you’re into”, and went through the diverse genres that she writes in. Today, in her acceptance speech, she told a story about having a comic that she was reading snatched out of her hands and torn up in front of her by a teacher who failed to recognise reading a comic as… reading. Malorie said, “Reading comics made my love of stories burn bigger and brighter”.

She’s not from a privileged background, and so experienced herself the unique potential of libraries to introduce children who don’t go to bookshops to books

Julia Donaldson’s work celebrating and campaigning for libraries was a big part of her laureateship, so I know that Malorie’s declaration that she was going to fight for libraries doesn’t represent a change of direction. Both at Hay and in her acceptance speech today, though, Malorie spoke about the importance of Lewisham and Deptford libraries to her as a child. At Hay, she spoke about the way she shuttled her way between these libraries at weekends, checking out as many books as possible. She said today that she hadn’t been into a bookshop until she was a teenager, so it was libraries that made her a reader, and “introduced me to the life-changing world of literature… Books inspired me and taught me to aspire.”

Today, she declared her aim: to get “more children reading more”, by “making books irresistable” and by “widening the reading gaze and horizons of every child”.

Sounds good to me.

Where I work: Helen Peters

Posted by Helen Peters on Feb 27, 2013

This is the first instalment in a new series of blogs that we have planned, in which some of our authors and illustrators share their favourite writing spots. First up is Helen Peters, author of The Secret Hen House Theatre, newly shortlisted for The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

As a full-time mum of young children, I have trained myself to write anywhere: soft play areas, park benches, tree stumps. But my favourite place to write is in my spare bedroom, when the house is empty. I love the silence and seclusion and the tranquil bareness of the room. And I love to look at the trees outside the window as they change with the seasons.

I write on a laptop but I also have three notebooks on the go all the time. The smallest is the one I take everywhere, in which I scribble random thoughts and ideas for the book and also observational notes on places, seasons and weather, which feed into the descriptions in the story.

The middle-sized notebook is where I plan out the chapter I’m working on. If the writing’s going relatively smoothly, I don’t need to use it so much. But when I’m stuck, I fill pages and pages with tortuous scribble: mind maps and lists and questions to myself that I need to answer.

The largest notebook contains the research notes and big ideas for the book: the overall plan and outline of the story and also poetry and song lyrics that capture the mood I want to create. I try to keep this notebook neat because, in those moments when it feels like the story is never going to come together, then I can at least feel slightly reassured by the fact that there is a Grand Plan. It offers a glimmer of hope that, if I just keep writing, sooner or later there will be a finished book.

You can read the first chapter of The Secret Hen House Theatre below or order the book online here.

A 'My Best Friend and Other Enemies' launch party

Posted by Kirsty on Sep 10, 2012

As you may have seen from last week’s blog posts, Thursday was a bumper Publication Day for Nosy Crow with seven new titles coming out in a blaze of glory. One of these was the completely hilarious MY BEST FRIEND AND OTHER ENEMIES by Catherine Wilkins, and what better way to celebrate than with a launch party!

So, bags clanking with fizz, Camilla and I made our way to Catherine’s house in West London, where we met her entire very lovely family and loads of her glamorous friends.

Blending seamlessly in, obvs, we got the crisps out, the music on and the celebration underway! We were thrilled that the hugely talented Sarah Horne was able to join us, and be thoroughly lauded for her beautifully funny illustrations.

It’s always great to be able to send a book on its way in style, so thank you to Catie for hosting the bash and to her mum for all the amazing pizzas. And while many publishers have said that their books are perfect for readers of eight-to-eighty, not many have the proof. We do!

My Best Friend and Other Enemies is out now. You can order it online here or read the first chapter for free below.

Writing children's apps

Posted by Kate on Jul 29, 2012

Moira Butterfield recently wrote a blog post about the “battle” between print and on-screen reading (something to which we are not strangers). She says, “I believe there could be more innovative computer/picture book mixes out there to discover, and I want publishers to call on us authors for ideas, not just on computer whizzes. I think we should get into the mix and offer our creativity.”

I haven’t spoken to Moira before writing this blog post, but, on the basis of this blog she doesn’t seem hugely excited about the apps she’s seen (perhaps she doesn’t know ours!): “We already have apps in which picture books are read out loud and pictures change when children touch the screen.” She seems to be suggesting something beyond/other than apps when she refers to “online”. She says, “I hope publishers will ask authors to help them with creative ideas for stretching their books to make wonderful new material online.”

So let’s deal with that first. A key reason that apps (and ebooks, but that’s a different subject) are attractive to publishers is that people are willing to pay for them. They are not always willing to pay a huge amount, and it’s certainly the case in our experience that you need to deliver more content more cheaply than you would in print. However, there’s evidence that people’s willingness to pay is increasing: Carly Schuler’s report for the Joan Gantz Cooney centre on children’s educational apps suggested that the average price of children’s educational apps had risen by a dollar between 2009 and 2011… and, as that represented a move from $1.13 to $2.14, that’s an 88% price increase.

By contrast, it’s proved hard for publishers to get readers to pay for online content (outside business, educational, scientific, technical and medical publishing – I am talking about “trade publishing”, and specifically children’s publishing, throughout this blog post). It will be interesting to see if initiatives, interestingly not taken by publishers themselves, like Magic Town which are based on reading and books, take off in the way that other kinds of virtual worlds like Moshi Monsters have taken off.

But maybe I am misunderstanding Moira. Maybe she is saying that she wants publishers to reach out to authors to create apps.

We’d love to find authors who are interested in working on apps.

But writing a highly interactive, multimedia children’s app that is a satisfying reading experience is not the same as writing a picture book. Here are some ways in which, in our experience, writing a children’s story app is different:

Creating an app is a highly collaborative process. More, perhaps, like writing a film-script than writing a book. Of course, picture book authors are used to being edited, but writing something truly interactive which accommodates other media does require a different level of flexibility and team-playing. Our apps are highly interactive and include illustration, animation, voice audio and music: the text is, just by virtue of the arthmetic a smaller part of that mix than it is in a picture book… which is not to say that it’s not a hugely important part of the mix.

Creating an app is a technical process. Moira writes about “teccies” and “computer whizzes”, and I think that authors who are interested in working into new media need to get to know “teccies” and “computer whizzes” and understand their kind of creativity, their sensitivities and what they regard as excellent in their fields. That’s not to say that authors need to come to publishers with a finished, coded app (we wouldn’t want that, for example: we have our own technical team, and we want to use code we’ve created), I do think that having some understanding of what does into animation and coding is helpful.

Creating an app is a new process. Authors who write picture books know their genre inside-out, and can draw on a huge experience of reading picture books themselves and, usually, of reading picture books to children. In August 2009 Winged Chariot launched Europe’s first picture book app (you can read about it here and elsewhere), so we’re looking at a genre that is just three years old. We began work on apps that we expected would be used on a screen bigger than the one we had available several months before the launch of the iPad, which turned out to be the name of the device we’d been expecting, in May 2010. So apps are new, and they’re developing fast. I think that authors who are interested in writing in this space need to keep up with developments, immerse themselves in this world and get to know the best of the apps that are out there, and, even better, spend time with children who are reading those apps to see how they use the screen and what they expect from it.

Apps are voracious: in our experience, they need more content than a picture book aimed at the same age-group. Writing a picture-book length text isn’t going to provide enough text for an app. Which is not to say that you can have even as much text on a screen at any one time as you can have on a printed page.

Apps are non-linear, or, at least, not completely linear: in our experience, understanding the balance of narrative story-telling and other non-linear elements is important.

The bottom line is that we get a lot of submissions of picture book texts that are sent into us as something that “would make a good app”. Often this is on the basis of just a couple of suggestions of interactivity: “when you touch the sky, the stars twinkle”, for example.

But, in our view, that’s just not enough.

In fact, we’ve written the texts for all of the apps we’ve published to date.

But that’s about to change. Our next app, Rounds: Franklin Frog, from which you can see an illustration at the top of this post, is written by an “outside author”: a husband-and-wife author-illustrator team came up with the concept, wrote the script and did the illustration. Even then, I think that Emma, who wrote the script, would say that there was a fair amount of team-work and back-and-forth involved in hammering out the final text. And, once we’d done that, there were final tweaks to be made in the recording studio: we use children’s voices and there were a couple of things that our narrator, Connie, just couldn’t say with the level of expression and fluency that we needed… so we changed them on the hoof. We kept the sense, and stayed true to the author’s intention, but we changed a word, or word-order, or the rhythm, to create something that sounded right, rather than read right.

We’ve done it once, and you’ll be able to see the results in a couple of weeks. We are more than willing to do it again. So, come on, authors: send us your excellent, thought-through concepts, with your vision of the multimedia and interactive elements that could be added to your brilliant text. We want to keep producing best-in-class apps, and we want to hear from you if you think you can work with us to do that.

The joys of fan mail: a guest post by Lyn Gardner, author of the Olivia books

Posted by Lyn Gardner on Jun 08, 2012

Lyn Gardner at the Hay Festival

There few things more pleasurable for a children’s author than fan mail. In my day job, as a Guardian theatre critic, the mail is more likely to bring brickbats rather than bouquets. But no child ever writes to tell an author that they hated their book. Although one little girl did take the trouble to write to tell me that I was her third favourite author. Ever. I thought third was fantastically good-going, particularly as God (cited as author of the Bible) was in the number one spot, closely followed by Jacqueline Wilson.

So when the letters arrive, via the Nosy Crow address, I always look forward to reading them. They seldom disappoint, and often they are deeply touching labours of love and invention, full of intricate drawings and brilliant suggestions for plots lines that I wish I’d come-up with myself. Not all of them have a terrific grasp of the daily realities of the life of an author. One recent missive expressed doubt that I’d reply personally on the basis that it was probably my butler who dealt with all my post.

As a child I wrote letters to my favourite writers, and I remember my daily haunting of the letter box while waiting for a reply, and the massive excitement when one came. I was hugely disappointed by E. Nesbit’s failure to write back. It was only years later that I realized she couldn’t as she was dead. I reckon answering the letters is as much part of the job of writing for children as actually writing the books. Like school visits, it’s energising and provides a wonderful insight into how children think and express themselves.

But technology is fast changing the traditional methods of communicating. Now days I’m likely to get more communication via my Guardian email address than I do via Nosy Crow. My Guardian job makes me pretty easy to find, and if the emails come without the delicious drawings, an email exchange has its advantages too: often allowing for an on-going conversation with a child over a longer period of time. Even Twitter can play its part. I’m going to a school in Yorkshire later in the month to talk about the Olivia books, a visit that was arranged entirely as a result of a Twitter exchange. That’s fantastic and I’m delighted by such approaches, but nothing quite beats the grubby envelopes addressed with rainbow pencils and covered in glitter and stars and pictures of Olivia risking life and limb on the high wire.

Lyn Gardner is author of the Olivia series. The fourth book, Olivia’s Enchanted Summer, is out this week, and you can read the first chapter here:

How publishers like us pay authors and illustrators (for beginners)

Posted by Kate on Apr 20, 2012

Book publishers pay authors and illustrators in various different ways.

But here is the way that we (with a tiny handful of exceptions) pay for books… and it’s pretty standard for publishers who publish books for the general public, regardless of their size.

We agree to pay an author/illustrator an advance against royalties. A proportion of this is paid when we sign the contract with the author/illustrator; a proportion is paid on the delivery of the work that they’ve agreed to do; and a proportion is paid on the publication of the book.

This is a bit like a “debt” that the author/illustrator owes us – a sort of “pit” that has to be filled up, which is how the “debt” is repaid.

What fills up the “pit” is royalties. We pay authors/illustrators a percentage of the money we get from any retailer (bricks and mortar and/or online). The percentage takes into account all the other things we’re paying for for print or digital publishing – editorial, publicity, marketing, design, financial management (chasing people for money etc) – and the specific costs associated with print publishing (the cost of printing and binding a book, the cost of warehousing it, the cost of transporting it, and the cost of processing – and often pulping – returns).


a book pulping machine

Another thing that fills up the “pit” is a share of the revenue we earn from selling rights that the author/illustrator may have granted to us (and, at Nosy Crow, we only buy books on the basis of having rights in all languages). So, for example, if a publisher buys rights to publish the book in German, the author’s share of that money goes into the “pit”.

The royalties and the rights revenue shares aren’t exactly the same for all publishers, but in my experience, and certainly where Nosy Crow’s concerned, there’s remarkably little variation, actually, within books that are of the same type (so there’s a difference between the royalties and rights revenue share we pay the author of a picture book (in which situation we’re paying an illustrator too) and the royalties and rights revenue share we pay the author of a novel, but not between the royalties and rights revenue share we pay to one novelist and the royalties and rights revenue share we pay to another novelist… and not, really, much variation between the royalty rate that we’d pay a novelist and any other publisher would pay a novelist). Meanwhile, we have to do the very best we can with all the books on our small, new list, regardless of how much advance we’ve paid, and we also spend money on different kinds of marketing regardless of the amount of advance we’ve paid.

When the “pit” is full, the surplus earnings are given to the authors/illustrators, usually twice-yearly.

Sometimes the money earned from royalties or rights revenue isn’t enough to fill the pit, but the advance is non-refundable, so that gap between the advance and what the author/illustrator actually earns is our problem as the publisher, not the author/illustrator’s.

We buy some books directly from authors/illustrators (we do so in the case of some of our strongest-selling authors/illustrators, in fact), and we buy other books from authors/illustrators via agents. In theory, I suppose, we could pay authors, particularly first time authors, much lower royalties than we pay to authors who are represented by tough agents. We don’t. It would, in our view, be neither fair nor, in anything but the short-term, commercially sensible. Authors/illustrators talk to each other, now, given the opportunities to connect via social media, more than ever, and there are various sources of information and advice like The Society of Authors. So you’d quickly be found out and an author/illustrator who feels cheated by their publisher isn’t a happy author. It’s worth saying, of course, that, agents take a percentage (10% – 15% of the author/illustrators earnings from publishers as a rough rule). So you have to be pretty sure you’re going to get more money going via an agent before it’s financially worth having an agent, though agents offer advice and expertise and administrative support too so you might want to take that into account.

But, as I say, actually, there’s not much variation at all in the royalties or rights revenue shares we offer.

What varies more is advances: established, and, in some cases, agented authors/illustrators often end up with larger advances than newer and unagented authors. This means that they have more money up front… but a bigger pit to fill!

Some authors/illustrators and their agents feel that a high advance on a debut book guarantees that a publisher will try particularly hard to sell a book in order to earn back the advance. But I know of books that have gone on to be bestsellers on the basis of a small advance, such as The Gruffalo, for example, or the first Harry Potter book, and there are other books that have gone for what press releases describe as “a substantial six-figure sum” that have not gone on to sell anything resembling a proportionate number of copies… which may make publishers (any publisher, because when a publisher pays a lot of money for a book, the publishing community knows about it… and we can see what the sales figures are like when we look at Nielsen Bookscan) reluctant to take a punt on the author’s subsequent books.

This year (and bear in mind that we write several of our books in house), we’re budgeting to spend 15% of our book revenue on authors/illustrators royalties/rights share, but we’ll also have to take the hit on any advances that we judge won’t earn out – i.e. where the pits are unlikely ever to be full. I can say that there are already a couple of books for which we at Nosy Crow have had to “write off” a proportion of the advance: we have acknowledged that we are unlikely ever to be able to fill up the “pit”. We’ll have to add the (small) cost of these “write-offs” to the 15%. I know of publishers (still in business because of the way that the rest of their business model works) who have overestimated the value of books when they pay advances to the point that in some years the cost of write-downs are as high, or almost as high, as the cost of authors’/illustrators’ royalties/rights revenue. Sometimes one really hefty advance combined with very low sales can push a publisher into loss. But even when publishers are not playing that kind of publishing game – and we’re not – then I don’t know of any publisher whose overall author/illustrator costs aren’t higher than the costs of the royalties and rights shares because of the cost of “written off” advance money.

There are some publishers who pay authors and illustrators on a “flat fee” basis – so they pay an amount up front, but it’s not an advance against royalties. We sometimes do this, particularly for illustrators who are providing a small number of illustrations for a novel. But it stops an author/illustrator participating in the ongoing success of a book, and we think they should, so it’s something we generally avoid.

Some publishers are experimenting with different ways of paying authors/illustrators: not paying an advance but, in return, offering higher royalties; or a profit-share model, for example (but, as an author, you’d probably want to look carefully at what the publisher is counting as “profit”, i.e. what costs have to be subtracted from the revenue before you get to the “profit” to be shared).

Some publishers are setting up subscription models, and authors/illustrators get a share of the revenue generated either from full packages of books to which they contribute, or in the block of time in which their particular books are offered.

And, of course (and this is the subject for another post), some authors are choosing to publish either digitally or in print, by themselves.

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.

S.C. Ransom and Fischer filming for Small Blue Thing [video]

Posted by S.C. Ransom on Sep 09, 2011

My first book, Small Blue Thing, has now been translated into German by Fischer Schatzinsel, a very well-respected German publishing company with a terific list. They are really enthusiastic about the book and have been working hard on the publicity and marketing ready for the launch today.

In Germany it’s being called ‘Nur ein Hauch von dir’ which roughly translates as ‘Just a Breath of You’, and they have produced an entirely different hardback cover, with a spooky, handsome face in the background over the London skyline which looks fantastic. They’ve also put a new voice-over on the video.

So when they asked if I minded helping, I was delighted. I found myself being photographed on the banks of the Thames, with St Paul’s Cathedral as a backdrop, by Maria and Caroline from Fischer. They needed a video of me speaking too, just a short one, to say hello to all the fans of the series in Germany. I really wished that I had paid a bit more attention in all those long-ago German lessons, then I might have been able to do it in German, but sadly it’s not a skill I possess.

They had a copy of the German edition for me too, and it’s great seeing the story I wrote, with all the familiar names and places, in text I can’t quite understand. My daughter Ellie (who I wrote the book for originally) has just started studying the language, and she’s very excited about taking the book into class next term. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of the series translated too.

Maria and Caroline from Fischer, photographed in front of the Tate Modern:

You can read more about the book (in German) on Fischer’s website here.

Summer Reading

Posted by Tom on Jul 29, 2011

Now that Summer is most certainly upon us (evidenced at Nosy Crow by the fact that almost everyone is on holiday), the ritual of reading round-ups has been getting its yearly airing in the press. Without wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth – we’ve been very pleased with the inclusion of our books in so many round-ups – there seems to me to be something a little… unsatisfactory about the criteria for these lists. Surely, in order to qualify as a great Summer read, a book ought to have more going for it than a recent publication date.

There is, of course, all kinds of ways one could choose to define a good Summer book. Some – like our Mega Mash-Up series – are brilliant for keeping children occupied on long journeys or during days at home. Others, like Noodle Loves the Beach and Bizzy Bear: Off We Go!, evoke Summer quite literally. And stories like Dinosaur Dig! somehow encapsulate the outdoorsy, spirit-of-adventure feeling that Summer represents when you’re young – or, as Camilla put it to me in an email from the road, “Summer is about liberation isn’t it – from school, parents and routine, and in theory, the weather.”

When I asked for everyone’s suggestions here (before they all left), we decided to restrict ourselves to books that actually take place over the Summer. Needless to say, as with every previous discussion on the subject of favourite books of one sort or another, the debate swiftly dissolved into endless one-upmanship, but out of this, I’m pleased to say, came some truly excellent suggestions.

As ever, we’d love to hear your favourites, so please leave your comments at the bottom of the page or on Twitter.

Adrian suggested some true classics – Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, as well as a long-forgotten gem, The Inviolable Sanctuary by GA Birmingham.

Dom, pipped to the post for The Wind in the Willows, chose Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, saying that, “Some of the scenes from that book were so vivid, they’ve become practically my own memories. It’s the book equivalent of Inception!”

Kirsty has nominated L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, Falconer’s Lure by Antonia Forest, and Winnie the Witch at the Seaside, by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, for “the best infinity pool ever.”

Camilla’s first suggestion is The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton – and she has exactly the measure of a lot of Blyton’s books:
“Ginger beer, doorstep sandwiches and smugglers coves – in fact the very holiday I am just embarking on, though of course it never seemed to rain and I bet they didn’t spend hours sitting in a traffic jam on the A30.”

Some of her other choices are Iggy and Me on Holiday, by Jenny Valentine and Joe Berger, and Shirley Hughes’ Lucy and Tom at the Seaside.

Kate seconded Kirsty’s nomination of The Go-Between, and has also added Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden and What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, both for older readers. Her other suggestions include Lyn Gardner’s Olivia’s Enchanted Summer, out next year, Greenwitch and Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I believe has the distinction of somehow being included in every single one of the “Best of” lists that we produce.

My choices are, for much the same reason as Camilla, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, as well as A Spoonful of Jam by Michelle Magorian and Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace, both of which have sort-of magical qualities about them. And finally, I believe I would be remiss not to mention the summer strips of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoons (pictured above), which, like all of our choices, cannot capture everything that’s wonderful about Summer, but certainly go a long way towards trying.

Now – over to you!

We’ve had some Twitter recommendations with the hashtag #summerreads:

@rogue_eight suggested The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner

Kate (@nosycrow) pointed out that S.C. Ransom’s books Small Blue Thing and Perfectly Reflected both have strong sense of a London summer.

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?

Our publicist meets Helen Peters, to talk PR for debut fiction

Posted by Kate on Jul 08, 2011

Helen Peters, debut author, children's book, The Secret Hen House Theatre

Dom Kingston recently joined us as our “attached freelance” one-stop PR man, and he’s getting to know our authors. This week, he met Helen Peters, pictured above at a cafe in Muswell Hill, author of debut novel for 8 – 12 year olds (particularly 8 – 12 year old girls) The Secret Hen House Theatre, which Nosy Crow is publishing in April 2012.

This is what he said:

“Meeting new authors is always an exciting part of a publicist’s job.

Often, especially if the book in question is their first book, meeting their publicist is an author’s first insight into life after the editorial process. And publicity is often a relative mystery to many new authors. Most aspiring writers know that they will have their book edited, but not so many think, when they’re writing, about what they’ll say about themselves, their book, and the process of writing it to a class of school children, a librarian, a bookseller, a journalist or a conference audience.

For some, the word and the idea of a ‘publicist’ has scary connotations – think Entourage. Or Ab Fab. Or the bit in Phonebooth before Colin Farrell actually gets into the phonebooth…

Luckily, publicists in the children’s publishing industry are always a four-day-drive-and-a-boat-trip away from this stereotype. Authors often seem to be relieved when you don’t arrive Gucci-ed up to the eyeballs, in a cloud of Kouros, and barking into the four mobile ‘phones permanently clamped to your ears.

As publicists, we just want to get to know and understand… The Author. It’s important that an author is totally comfortable with any promotional activity they’ll be doing.

So… how was Helen?

Well, she’s an English and drama teacher, so she’s totally at home when she’s talking to a room full of children and engaging them creatively with a subject.

Music to my ears!

She also kicks off our meeting with some excellent event ideas that will work beautifully for the age-group that she writes for.

A natural!

The icing on the cake is that Helen’s obviously going to be a dream interviewee. She’s eloquent, focused, funny and charming. And she has a story to tell. Couple these qualities with the autobiographical, made-with-love aspects of her novel (the farm setting, the characters drawn from her own family), and we’re soon bandying around possible feature ideas for both adult and children’s media.

Fabulous!

She’s also connected to, or connecting with, with lots of our world’s brilliant – and deliciously vocal – bloggers and tweeters. (Kate says, “speaking of this, you can read about Helen’s experiences as a first time author in this terrific blog post.”)

By this time I’m practically pinching myself.

So… Helen Peters – a lovely person, author of a lovely book and a publicist’s lovely dream . I CANNOT WAIT for curtain-up at The Secret Hen House Theatre

ENCORE!!”

As Father's Day approaches, a look at dads in books for children

Posted by Tom on Jun 14, 2011

It may well be true that Father’s Day is without a jot of authentic tradition to its name, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to celebrate. At Nosy Crow we’ve been listing our favourite dads in children’s literature all week, and what started out as a harmless pub game between Kate, Camilla and me has spiralled rather dramatically into a mammoth collection of categories, sub-categories and clauses.

Being a bit of a purist about these things, I initially protested to Kate that our list should be comprised only of nice dads, and that bad dads would go against the spirit of the exercise somewhat – this is for father’s day after all! – but we all realised pretty quickly that a lot of the best characters are really awful fathers.

This initial concession led to a proliferation of different categories.

Here are our best categories and our strongest nominations, with, where I felt it necessary, some context or justification. Please add your own categories or nominations in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #kidsbookdads or Facebook!

Good dads:

William from Danny, the Champion of the World (written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, see the picture above). This is a pretty uncomplicated one – I think we can all agree that William is an amazing and exciting dad (even if he does lead his son into a life of crime). The opening chapter is a really lovely and quite moving tribute to the relationship between father and son.

The dad in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming is another good example of an exciting dad.

The dad in Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a favourite of Kate’s.

Big Nutbrown Hare from Guess How Much I Love You (written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram). Big Nutbrown Hare is never specifically referred to as Little Nutbrown Hare’s father, but I think we’re invited to assume as much.

Gorilla from Gorilla and the dad in My Dad by Anthony Browne are pretty good entries from the outgoing Children’s Laureate…

… And we have two from the incoming one: Stick Man from Stick Man whose quest is to get back to his family tree, and the gruffalo, from The Gruffalo’s Child, who tries to warn his adventurous child against the mouse. Both are written by Julie Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

John Arable from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, is an inspired choice by Camilla – the true story of the two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin together.

Two excellent suggestions by Kate B were Mr. Brown from Paddington (by Michael Bond) and Pongo from 101 Dalmations (by Dodie Smith).

Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird (by Harper Lee). I have had to lobby quite hard for inclusion of Atticus Finch: on the one hand, he is, of course, the greatest father in any book, but is To Kill A Mockingbird really children’s literature? Well, it was treated as such on its release in 1960, and it’s taught all over the world in schools, so I think that makes it not not children’s literature.

Kate made the very interesting suggestion of Anne Frank’s father, “especially in contrast to how she portrayed her mother”.

My contribution to the sub-category of real-life good dads is Michael Rosen in his poems about his son Eddie, which reach their heartbreaking conclusion in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.

Kate B also suggested James Potter from the Harry Potter books, which to begin with seemed like a silly suggestion to me; certainly not worthy of the Pongo/ Mr. Brown company in which it stood – James isn’t even alive in the books! – but it is, of course, actually an excellent choice. James dies protecting his family from Voldemort – a powerful symbol of fatherly love, and he’s there in Harry’s mind throughout the books.

James Potter segues seamlessly into our next category…

Absent dads:.

There are quite a lot of these in children’s books, ranging from dads who’ve abandoned their children to dads who are absent through no fault of their own.

The father in The Railway Children. I can’t remember his name, but it doesn’t matter – he’ll always be “Daddy, my daddy!” to me, in the manner of Dead Poets Society and “Captain, my captain”.

The fathers in Jacqueline Wilson’s The Illustrated Mum and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women were both examples of Kate’s category of “Absent Dads who are the Deus Ex Machina, resolving things at the end or making the ending happy”, as is the dad in The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr.

Bad dads:

Interestingly, a lot of bad fathers are defined in terms of their absence (in another blog post I’m sure there’d be a lot to say about that…) Some literary dads, however, would leave their offspring a lot better off if they did disappear.

Surely the absolute worst dad ever is Huck Finn’s; the violent town drunk who locks his son in a cabin and leaves him to starve. If we can have To Kill A Mockingbird then we can probably sneak in Huck Finn.

An excellent contender for the same title must be Matilda’s dad (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda)

Kate B points out that many fairy tale dads, such as the fathers in Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Cinderella, behave shockingly badly towards their offsping, though they’re often under the influence of wicked stepmothers.

Bad dads who become good:

This is a more heartwarming category and it seems to be an popular archetype in children’s books:

The father in our very own Olivia’s First Term, by Lyn Gardner is viewed by some of us as a bit of a bad dad, but others of us felt this was harsh, and that he really was doing his best in difficult circumstances.

Other complicated and difficult dads who are more or less redeemed at the end of the book or books include Lord Asriel, from the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman; Mortmain, from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Mr. Darling from Peter Pan; and Colin’s dad in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden

Surrogate dads:

Adrian thought up the “surrogate dads” category:

Ben from Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy.

Tom Oakley from Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian.

Joe Gargery in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

The magnificent Akela from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Finally (!), here are a few that didn’t quite fit anywhere:

Kirsty called the dad in Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging “the best comedy dad”, and nominated the dads in Big Red Bath and Peepo“ for the title of “Best at giving baths dad”. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory demonstrates the “Dad upstaged by grandfather” genre rather well…

As you can see, once you’ve started, it is hard to stop.

Over to you…

Julia Donaldson: Waterstone's Children's Laureate

Posted by Kate on Jun 10, 2011

On Tuesday it was announced that Julia Donaldson is the UK’s new Children’s Laureate.

Julia writes fiction for older children (The Princess Mirror-belle books, The Giants and the Joneses and Dinosaur Diary) and has written a dark and challenging novel for teenagers (Running on the Cracks), but she is best known for her rhyming (though not always rhyming: The Smartest Giant doesn’t rhyme except at the end) picture book texts, of which the best known is The Gruffalo, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has been the illustrator of her most successful picture books.

I felt, vicariously, very proud: I’ve been responsible for publishing over twenty of Julia’s books over the years. I first got to know Julia’s work in the early 1990s. She sent the lyrics of a song to Methuen (which has been absorbed into Egmont) where I was working as a rights director. An editor there, Elke Lacey, liked it. I suggested that a friend, who I’d met when he was illustrating a couple of fiction titles for Faber and Faber when I was selling rights there, might be the man to do the pictures. He was Axel Scheffler. The book was A Squash and a Squeeze. Elke was a fiction editor, and hadn’t worked on picture books and she and I worked on A Squash and a Squeeze together. But then she got ill and died, ridiculously young, just before the book was published.

A little later, I moved to Macmillan as a publisher, and Alison Green came with me as editorial director of picture books. One day soon after we’d started, Julia sent Axel the text of The Gruffalo, and, we decided to publish it. It was the resumption of what became a truly astonishingly successful partnership, though Julia’s texts were also wonderfully illustrated by other illustrators including Nick Sharratt, Julia Monks and David Roberts. After ten years, Alison and I moved to Scholastic, and Axel and Julia’s new books were published under the Alison Green Books imprint there, though Julia continued to publish other picture books with Macmillan and has had some books published by other publishers too. The first of several Scholastic Julia-and-Axel books was Tiddler, and the most recent one, The Highway Rat, comes out this autumn.

Julia is many things. She has a command of the combination of rhyme and story that is unparalleled, and that she produces excellent book after excellent book is breathtaking. She’s passionate about her work and a true perfectionist. She’s an absolutely brilliant and indefatigable performer with as much of an affinity with music (she introduced me to this, which is one of the many reasons I am eternally grateful to her) and drama as she has with words. She’s honest, outspoken (even if it’s sometimes about subjects on which we don’t entirely agree!) and approachable. She is, quite properly, famous.

I think Julia will be a highly-visible and committed advocate for reading, for printed books and – at this time of real need – for libraries, and, I am sure, for other things too, as her Laureateship evolves. She’ll be great.

Sarah Massini's Zac and Zeb come to life at Nosy Crow

Posted by Kate Burns on Jun 03, 2011

As soon as Sarah’s agent showed me these loveable pre-school characters, I knew I wanted to publish them. Lucky for me then that the rest of the Nosy Crows shared my enthusiasm! And, since having met up again with Sarah to see how she is getting on with our first Zac and Zeb book, my enthusiasm has gone into overdrive, as has Steph’s. So much so, I thought I’d better become a true Nosy Crowite, and learn how to blog. Help, Tom, is this right?

Sarah Massini and I had crafted the first story together, and then it was down to her to think about how the story might work illustratively and graphically on the page. She rocked up with a sketch book simply overflowing with thumbnail sketches for the whole book – about three times over. Suddenly, these two characters were coming to life in front of our eyes – it was so exciting! The great thing about working with an artist like Sarah is that she is simply overflowing with creative ideas and vision, as well as having a fantastic sense of graphic design and how a story should work as a visual narrative for young children. It’s so wonderful to be picking out the best ideas from a whole wealth of ideas, and I do believe that the best picture books come out of these kind of meetings. It’s often tempting to cram every single good idea into one book but that might lead to a lack of visual clarity, and Sarah was fantastically open to us cherry picking through her thumbnails. Thank you, Sarah, and at least we know the second Zac and Zeb book will also be a visual delight.

Axel Scheffler's Pip and Posy report from the Hay Festival

Posted by Pip and Posy on May 31, 2011

Hello, everyone. Pip and Posy here, posting from the Hay-on-Wye festival. It’s fantastic here – there are millions of books, quite a few clever grown-up people talking about books, and loads of wet other people wearing wellies. We even saw a royal Duchess (Camilla – no crown, but no wellies either).

The first thing we did when we arrived was run down to Penny Dale’s Dinosaur Dig! event. Here’s Penny reading the story:

It was brilliant fun. We didn’t have to sit still, or behave ourselves properly or anything. Penny showed us how she drew the pictures which was really interesting – how do you get a T-rex’s tail in a dumper truck cab? But the best bit was when she got us all to stamp and stomp, and to roar a lot, just like in the book!

We had such a good time that Pip very nearly had a little accident, but we got to the (really nice) toilets just in time, so it was ok.

After that it was time to meet up with Axel Scheffler, for our very own show. He and Kate were on a big stage, with bright lights and loads of people watching. They told our stories, Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle and Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter. Axel did lots of pictures of us doing funny things, and Kate made everyone laugh by talking about wee and sick and things.

Axel even drew a picture of us meeting the gruffalo, because, of course, even though people were very pleased to meet us, they all love the gruffalo:

At the very end, we were allowed to come in and say hello to all the children:

It was lovely because absolutely everyone wanted to give us a cuddle:

Afterward, in the bookshop, Axel signed and signed copies of our books. And then he signed and signed some more. He was signing for an hour!

Then we all went back to the house where we were staying for dinner cooked by Adrian. With gooseberry fool for pudding – Hooray!

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.