Yesterday, we were looking at market share figures from Nielsen BookScan. These show, among other things, the ranking of publishers by their sales through UK retailers.
To tell you the absolute truth, we don’t normally pay a huge amount of attention to these comparative figures. In fact, though we do buy and use data from Nielsen Bookscan, we don’t buy the comprehensive data set behind these particular figures (Nielsen Bookscan just ran this report for us as a favour). Generally, company comparative figures like these don’t feel very relevant to what we do all day. They cover publishers that are very different from us: corporate giants like Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Hachette, for example. And pretty much everyone has been going for longer than us, so their position is boosted by sales of their decades’ worth of backlist titles: while they often have thousands of titles including classics from Roald Dahl to Paddington Bear, we’ll have published just over 100 print titles in total by the end of this year, all of which have come to market in the past three years.
And frankly, we are so busy publishing our own books (and, of course, our apps) that we don’t spend a lot of time looking over our shoulders at our competition. Of course, we’re aware of other publishers. We see – and often admire and buy – their books in shops. We list their books in our various “best of…” blog posts. We even talk about their books in the Nosy Crow Guardian Reading Group, but otherwise we keep our heads down, and edit, design, market, publicise and sell our own stuff.
But, yesterday, we saw that our sales of books out of bookshops for this year to the middle of August mean that we rank 19th in the UK among children’s publishers… so, right now, after publishing for just two-and-a-half-years (our first book came out in January 2011), Nosy Crow is one of the top 20 children’s book publishers by sales.
For picture books – and we’ve had a particularly strong run of picture books this year so far – we rank 13th. For fiction, we rank 16th.
The overall value of children’s book sales in the UK has dropped by 9% on the previous year to date (I imagine that inevitable Hunger Games sales drop-off could account for maybe half of that). Only six of the top 20 children’s publishers are showing any growth at all in their market share (Walker Books and Simon and Schuster are the only other mainstream publishers in the top 20 that are showing growth, and three mass-market/bargain book/licensed book publishers are too). But the value of Nosy Crow’s sales has grown by 161% – a much, much larger percentage than any of our competitors.
Of course, there’s a huge, huge gap between our sales and the sales of, say, Penguin Random House, who are at the top of the ranking. And the Nielsen Bookscan figures don’t cover all sales. And things might change between now and the end of the year: there are many highly-commercial books being published by other publishers between now and the end of the year. There are lots of provisos and caveats.
But it was a nice moment and we are very grateful to our friends at Bounce for helping us to achieve it.
We celebrated with cake sent to us (!) by forthcoming debut author Pamela Butchart, who came down from Dundee last week to visit us.
Being small and being independent is still important to us. I stand by everything I wrote I wrote 16 months ago. But we want the authors and illustrators we publish to feel that they are publishing with a publisher with a bit of market clout, and it’s good to see these Nielsen Bookscan figures corroborate that.
I am not an obsessive tracker of our website data by any means, but I was pleased to see when I looked at some stats over the weekend that some time ago we passed the milestone of one million page-views for our website.
We’re really grateful to everyone – and there 163 thousand of you, apparently, and more than half of you come to the site more than once – who spends time on the site, exploring our books and apps and, by reading this blog, getting an insight into the company and what we’re thinking about.
We’re aiming to blog every weekday just now – and not always in such a navel-gazing way as this blog post! – so do come back to find out what we’re saying about our own books and apps and about children’s literature and technology more generally.
We’re very pleased to announce that Louise Bolongaro will be joining Nosy Crow as our new Head of Picture Books! Louise will be starting in November, and is currently Editorial Director at Puffin Picture Books. She has also worked at Egmont Books and at Campbell Books on novelty titles, before moving on to picture books at Macmillan (and has, at one time or another, worked with Kate, Camilla, and Giselle).
Louise has been Editorial Director at Puffin since 2004, running the picture-book list and looking after authors and illustrators such as Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury, as well as playing a crucial role in the imaginative reworking of the Puffin colour backlist, including titles such as The Snowman and books by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
“I have long admired the Nosy Crow list – I’ve been watching the company from the beginning- and I am thrilled to be joining its exciting and innovative team, several of whom I know from my previous role at Macmillan, and to working with Nosy Crow’s talented group of illustrators. Nosy Crow really buzzes with creative energy and I can’t wait to help shape the list.”
“Louise combines great visual sense with a really rigorous, sleeves-rolled-up approach to editing. She’s had 15 years’ experience of working collaboratively with authors and illustrators, both established household names and new creative talents, to create child-focused picture books and novelty books. I’m very much looking forward to working with her again, and it’s great to be able to attract someone of her calibre and with her range and depth of experience to the growing Nosy Crow team.”
Welcome to the Crow’s Nest, Louise – we can’t wait to work with you!
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, 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 (”(new-window)The Gruffalo:http://gruffalo.com/, 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.
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.
I don’t think that it’s necessary to be a parent to write, illustrate or publish great books or apps for children, but I do think that those of us at Nosy Crow who are parents draw heavily on our experience as parents to inform our publishing decisions. We think of our own children’s fascinations and fears. We remember the point at which birthdays became meaningful; when the challenge of sharing was a particularly difficult one; when our children first lost a tooth; when our children first said, “I hate you!” to us (or, in my case, left a note on my pillow saying, “I hat you”); when they were ready to play in a field on their own. I am, at the moment, particularly attuned, because of the ages of my own children, to the differences between a top-end-of-primary-school child (an 11 year- old) and a bottom-end-of-secondary-school child (a 12 year-old), and I find that this is very much influencing my response to writing for children of 10+.
Of course, we have to resist extrapolating from our own parental experience too much. Children are different, and while one may be afraid of the dark, another may be completely unaffected; one child may love dinosaurs and know all their names, while another couldn’t care less about them. In fact, I would have to admit that I did some of my least successful publishing for little babies immediately after the birth of my first child: I think I was so wrapped up in that experience that I couldn’t imagine the preferences and perspective of any baby other than my own.
But having parents as part of the Nosy Crow team is valuable and important… and we go out of our way to accommodate parents’ needs to balance their work life with parenting (five of us work flexibly, or work particular hours, or work part-time, to accommodate childcare, and we welcome children into the office when things like offset days mean that normal arrangements don’t apply). Recently, Giselle was due to start work on the day of her son’s first birthday, but (though we were getting a bit desperate for design support!) we told her to stay at home and enjoy her day with him.
We know, too, that the buyers of most children’s books and apps are parents. Though our main aim is to produce books and apps that appeal to children themselves, we are also aware of the need to appeal to parents. That means that, at least at this stage in our development, there are certain books, and certain kinds of books, that we don’t choose to publish: gritty coming-of-age fiction for young adults, or books with explicit sex or violence, for example. (I’ve previously written on the sort-of related subject of the responsibilities of being a children’s publisher.) One of the great appeals for me of Small Blue Thing, the novel we’ve published that is oldest in terms of its target audience, for example, was that it was very innocent: I couldn’t imagine any parent (or teacher for that matter) taking exception to any of the content. It’s interesting to note that S C Ransom originally wrote the first book in the sequence for her own daughter’s twelfth birthday.
So being parents, and being part of a small, entrepreneurial child- and parent-focussed business are both essential to many of us at Nosy Crow.
Please wish us luck in the next stage of the selection process. There were 720 entrants, so being a finalist is a pretty great achievement in itself!
There’s been a fair bit of speculation as to what the site will be, with at the time of writing, many thinking it’s there to announce new book, judging by the mashable.com vote. There’s been excitement too, over some images, supposedly leaked from the website, which suggest it’s an online game or a fansite.
A key question might be who has what rights… and what rights are left to exploit? This is a J K Rowling announcement and property, not one from her publishers or from Warner Bros.
Sadly, at the time of writing (an hour or so before the announcement), I don’t know what Pottermore is, so I can’t tell you, but as we (well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll be going) anticipate the release of the final film in the Harry Potter sequence, it’s good to have this reminder of the author behind this extraordinary brand. I rather liked this timeline of the rise of Potter.
The picture above is of young women who’d grown up with the Harry Potter books with their copies at the Scholastic street party in NY in 2007 for the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic publishes the books in the US, and Bloomsbury does so in the UK). It was taken within hours after the of the release of the book, but these readers had only just got to the front of the queue to get their copies. I was Group MD of Scholastic UK at the time, and lucky enough to be there. It was a very happy experience to be at a book event that drew so many people and created such palpable excitement.
Since Harry Potter, widely described as the exception that proved the rule that children were not excited about reading and that the book industry was in dire straits, we have, of course, seen another – very different – phenomenon emerge from the world of children’s and YA writing: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight sequence.
Whether these are just two black swans remarkably close together or indicative of the ability of creators – and, I would hope, publishers – to make, shape and present children’s and YA reading experiences that surprise and delight children and teenagers (and adults too) and to do so more than twice remains to be seen.
I look forward to the next phenomenon.
Well, we know what Pottermore is now. It is, essentially, a shop for digital content.
The site will be the only source of digital book versions of the seven Harry Potter titles and this is interesting in relation to her publishers and eBookselling, as it appears to establish some unusual precedents, as The Bookseller outlines here)
There’ll be audio downloads too.
There’s 18,000 new words by J K Rowling (not a huge amount, really, given that Philosopher’s stone is 77,000 words long) but perhaps there’s more to come.
There’ll be talking head video of J K Rowling.
There will be, it seems, opportunities for fans to post their own content.
This Wired article and this Guardian article give some more information, and this “Futurebook article” is more reflective: http://futurebook.net/content/pottermore-worlds-biggest-enhanced-e-book. The Bookseller reports on this UK retailer response too.
On the question of the relationship with publishers, The Bookseller spoke Pottermore c.e.o Rod Henwood. Henwood who said: “[The physical publishers] are partners in this. You will see their presence prominent in the shop when it is launched, and they are involved in marketing the site. It is a very collaborative project, all contributing to the marketing and the activity. Their interests are aligned with ours.” He added: “We won’t sell physical books directly, certainly not on the site, but we will be providing links to publishers websites and if they sell the [physical] books there, people can obviously buy them.”
Sebastian Walker founded Walker Books in 1979, aged 37. He died 12 years later, having achieved something remarkable. Walker Books was, and is, an excellent children’s book-only publishing company. He started the business in a back bedroom with a handful of colleagues and a bank loan. 12 years later, Walker Books was turning over £17 million (perhaps the equivalent of £27 million in today’s money), and publishing over 300 titles per year. In the years in which he ran the business, Walker published Where’s Wally by Martin Handford, Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Frith, Five Minute’s Peace by Jill Murphy, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, and Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale, among other great children’s illustrated books.
I never met him. I was at school when he set up Walker Books, and not many years into my publishing career when he died. I admired him from afar, though, and continue to admire his achievements and legacy. A few months ago, I read his sister, Mirabel Cecil’s, honest, detailed and touching biography, A Kind of Prospero (the title is taken from a phrase Maurice Sendak used to describe Sebastian Walker). Sebastian Walker seems to have been a mass of contradictions: gregarious but isolated; indiscreet but secretive; a gay man who struggled to sustain relationships but someone obsessed with the idea of family (who perhaps built his own “family” when he build his company); someone who, on the one hand, was devoted to his business but, on the other, someone who would nip out of the office for hours to hone his skills as a pianist; a charmer and a terrible snob; someone who demanded and provided enormous loyalty, but who sacked people in a way that was harsh and acrimonious; a publisher who spoke about the importance of literacy but someone who professed little interest in reading himself.
Julie Myerson gives her perspective in this article in The Guardian, My Hero Sebastian Walker. Altogether, he sounds fascinating and amazing… if capricious and difficult!
The Mirabel Cecil biography is also – and this was one of the reasons I wanted to read it – the only book I have found that is in large part about doing what I am spending my time doing: building a children’s book publishing company, beginning at a time of recession, with a clear sense of its own purpose and identity. Mirabel Cecil gives information about turnover, staff numbers, office moves and title count over the years in a way that is useful – and inspiring – to the founder of a business that has been publishing for exactly five months!
The other reason that I read the book is that Nosy Crow has its own connection with Walker Books: Candlewick Press, who will begin publishing books under a Nosy Crow imprint in two months, is the US division of Walker Books. Sebastian Walker made the decision to start up in America, and the company was set up in the year he died. Candlewick Press is a substantial – and the fastest-growing independent – US children’s pulbishing company. It publishes some great books originated by Walker UK (like Lucy Cousin’s Maisy Mouse Books, and Guess How Much I Love You) and is the original publisher of books by best-selling and award-winning authors like Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Desperaux),Megan McDonald (the Judy Moody and Stink books) and M T Anderson (the Octavian Nothing books).
In his twelve years at the helm of Walker Books, Sebastian Walker built a business and a brand; impacted on the standards of picture book production and design internationally; made the UK children’s publishing business more international as publishers sought to emulate his success with co-edition publishing (I wrote about this in my post about this year’s Bologna Book Fair); and challenged bookselling conventions (he struck a deal with Sainsbury’s to publish children’s books under the Sainsbury’s brand, for example). He changed children’s publishing in the UK. Who knows what else he’d have achieved and what new directions he’d have taken had he lived another 20 years?
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.
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:
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.
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.
Yesterday, the Nosy Crows had a bit of a lunch-time knees-up to celebrate (nearly) 15 months of existence and (nearly) 5 months of publishing. It was a non-birthday party, because we hadn’t been able to get ourselves organised enough to celebrate earlier. We’d love to have a photograph to show you what it was like, but our usual Nosy Crow photographic incompetence precludes this.
I wrote about our real birthday in our blog post of 22 February.
Adrian cooked, mainly Ottolenghi stuff as we have some vegetarians/borderline vegetarians in our group, and, besides, the recipes are great. I wheeled out the old pavlova trick. We ate like hogs, and staggered off into the early evening.
Because of how we work – three of us work from home, and some of us work part-time – and because we have as few formal meetings as possible, we don’t spend much time round a table, so it was great to have us all (well, nearly all: Deb’s in Rome but we couldn’t bear to postpone any further) in one room just to talk.
And it was a welcome moment to stop (because we hardly ever have time to stop) and think about what we’d achieved so far.
The first few are also published in Australia /New Zealand via Allen and Unwin, and many will be published in the second half of the year in the USA/Canada by Candlewick Press under the Nosy Crow imprint. So far, we’ve sold rights to translate these books to publishers in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Germany, France, Israel, Korea and China.
We have one app, The Three Little Pigs, available in the App Stores throughout the world, which has been named as one of the top 10 children’s book apps by the New York Times, and been extensively reviewed and praised by people who’ve bought it, bloggers specialising in apps and some of the increasing number of children’s book reviewers who are turning their attention to children’s reading experiences on the iPad (you can see most of the reviews on our The Three Little Pigs page of the Media Kit section of our website. The app will be published in German by Carlsen and in French by Gallimard Jeunesse.
We feel lucky to have pulled together the team we have – people with the best possible experience in fields as diverse as computer games coding, picture book design and children’s fiction commissioning (you can find out more about each of us in the Who Are We? section in the About As part of our website.
It’s not all cakes and ale: these are exceptionally tough times to be a print publisher, and the apps market is in its infancy, but, 15 months on, we reckon that we’ve made the best possible start and are toddling along nicely.
The London Book Fair, which has less of a rights focus and more of an export focus and is a general (as opposed to a children’s books) book fair, is very much secondary in importance to the Bologna Book Fair for Nosy Crow. It was particularly tough to focus on it this year as it came so hard on the heels of the Bologna Book Fair. It’s a fair at which, this year and last, we haven’t taken a stand, though I think we may have to rethink that for next year, given the number of messages left for us with the kind people of the Independent Publishers Guild stand.
On Tuesday and on Wednesday (when Axel was, with Julia Donaldson, combined “author of the day”), Kate had a series of rights appointments. Some were with publishers who, for one reason or another, we were unable to see at Bologna, and some were follow-ups to Bologna apointments. We also had the chance to meet up with a few UK bookshop and other buyers.
Nosy Crow had been invited to participate in a Publishers Association presentation of key titles for the second half of the year to independent booksellers. We were the last of 12 publishers, and, the session was, perhaps inevitably, a bit of a “death-by-powerpoint” kind of thing, so we entirely abandoned our powerpoint, and spoke about just four things we’re publishing in the second half of this year, which I felt (on the hoof) gave some sense of the age-range and kind of books we cover: Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster ; Mega Mash-ups: Pirates and Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum ; Olivia Flies High ; and our Christmas picture book, Just Right. Realistically, after seeing 70-odd titles, I thought that there wasn’t a chance of anyone remembering much about individual books, but I hoped that, by taking the less conventional approach, the independent booksellers would remember Nosy Crow, so that, when their Bounce rep came calling, they’d feel positively disposed towards the books.
The photo above, which is as unflattering as it is grainy, was taken by Tom Bonnick, who’s interning with us. We wanted to check that his standards of photography are on the same level as our own if he is to continue to intern for us, and I am happy to say that they are! He did just take it with a phone, though, and from a long way away.
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…)
For those of you who’ve been following the Nosy Crow story – and thank you if you have – you’ll know that we first entered into an agreement with Bounce to sell our books in the UK and Ireland and in most export markets. Then we announced that our partners for Australian and New Zealand distribution were Allen and Unwin. Now we are really pleased to be able to say that we’ve entered into a partnership with Candlewick Press, who are the US’s best-known independent US children’s publisher. Boston-based Candlewick Press will co-publish the majority of Nosy Crow’s full-colour and illustrated titles in the US and Canada and Nosy Crow will become a new imprint of Candlewick Press.
Candlewick Press will publish ten Nosy Crow titles in 2011.
Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Candlewick publishes outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators such as M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Laura Amy Schlitz, and David Ezra Stein; the widely acclaimed Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, and the -‘Ology_ series; and favorites such as Guess How Much I Love You, Where’s Waldo?, and the Maisy books. Candlewick’s parent company is London-based Walker Books Ltd.
Choosing a US partner is a huge step for our fledgling company, but the match between Nosy Crow and Candlewick on illustrated publishing felt right from the start of our discussions. Though our lists are complementary, we share the culture and liberties of independent publishers, and we share our exclusive focus on – and passion for – creating great things for children to read. As someone who began their career selling rights in UK books to US publishers, I’ve known and respected Karen Lotz, who’s the president and publisher of Candlewick Press, for many years, so I have watched Candlewick grow and prosper with huge admiration. We’re very proud to be associated with Candlewick.
Karen, said very nice things about – ahem – me and about Nosy Crow: “Kate Wilson’s exceptional depth of experience in global children’s publishing and her innovative vision for our industry’s future both shine through the launch of Nosy Crow. At Candlewick, we are thrilled to be able to offer these fantastic books for young children to the US and Canadian audiences through our joint imprint.”
The photo above shows the Candlewick team with Karen on the left and with me standing when they visited the Nosy Crow offices very recently.
If you want to know more about this from Nosy Crow’s perspective, email me on email@example.com
If you want to know more about this from Candlewick’s perspective, you could email firstname.lastname@example.org
“People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book. I say, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book’, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.”
These are the words of Martin Amis (pictured above), interviewed on Radio 4 by Sebastian Faulks.
Amis went on to say, “I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.”
Martin Amis is, perhaps, nowadays more remarkable for his controversial comments – about women and about Islam as well as about writing for children – than for his novels. Maybe comments like this are as much about keeping him in the public eye as making a serious point, but there are, I think, four separate but connected thoughts in this particular sound bite.
The first, and the simplest, is the crassness of the “brain injury” reference. Inevitably, the implication that writing for children is for those with diminished intellectual capacity has angered children’s authors, including Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz.
Katherine Langrish pointed out, “People who make shoes or clothes, or who prepare food for children, aren’t generally considered less skilful than those who do the same things for adults – why is the opposite so often assumed to be true of books?”
Jane Stemp, whose book The Secret Songs was shortlisted for the 1998 Guardian children’s fiction award, and who has cerebral palsy, said: “I have brain damage … So Amis couldn’t have insulted me harder if he’d sat down and thought about it for a year.”
The “brain injury” reference caught the headlines – I used it myself – but, I think, the other points are much more interesting, and I find that I agree with the essence of what Amis is talking about.
Amis claims that “the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me”. Let’s leave aside whether Amis is being disingenuous in saying that he does not write with a sense of what will appeal to his readers. I think that most good children’s authors do write with a clear sense of their audience. This doesn’t mean that all children’s authors do: in her angry response to Amis’s comments, Lucy Coats says she doesn’t, as a writer for children, write in a way that is prescribed by a sense of her audience: “When I write fiction, I research and plan just as (I assume) Amis does. Then I sit down and let what comes, come. The story generally tells itself without any inner voice saying, ‘Oh, but you’re writing for children – you mustn’t say this, or – goodness, certainly not that!’”
Certainly, as a publisher, with a commercial imperative, I judge children’s writing by whether I think it will appeal to a child reader. Are there characters with whom the child reader will empathise? Is the subject matter likely to interest the child? At Nosy Crow we’re publishing books for “children” from babies to teenagers, and, I hope, making carefully calibrated decisions for every book we choose. We aim to have a sense of the core readership for every book we publish: we always ask ourselves, “who is this book for?” Of course, if the appeal of a book goes beyond that target readership, so much the better. And, in children’s book publishing, there’s an additional complication: the person who will ultimately read your book is not the person who will buy your book. The person who will buy your book will be, in the vast majority of cases, an adult. So you also, as a publisher, have to find ways of signposting to an adult the ways in which a book might appeal to the child for whom they are buying.
Amis goes on to say, “Fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.” I think that authors and publishers of children’s books do impose restraints on themselves. Earlier today, I decided against zombies, albeit unthreatening comedy zombies, appearing in a book that I judged would have a core audience of 6 to 9 year-old boys. Some of the younger readers were too young for zombies, I decided: the undead were just too scary. I don’t think that I’m alone as a children’s book publisher in confessing to having a kind of moral (or, maybe, better, an “appropriateness”) compass – an individual one, a fallible one – that operates in my head when I am choosing children’s books for publication. I think that many writers have it in their heads when they are writing children’s books. As a publisher, I do think hard about the “messages” in the books we publish. I would find it hard to publish a children’s book in which violence or cruelty triumphed over gentleness and kindness. I wouldn’t publish a novel that celebrated or justified racism, sexism or homophobia. I spent a few months working in adult publishing and it was interesting to be free from this compunction – and I did, really, feel the difference. I know, of course, that many children face violence, cruelty, injustice and chaos every day in their lives. I am aware that children’s books need to reflect a world that contemporary children recognise. But I think that children’s books have a role in shaping children’s world views, and I, for one, think that it is important to offer them narratives and characters that are exemplars of hope, justice, tolerance, generosity and redemption.
Finally, Amis said that he “would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.” The Ernie Wise-like syntactic inelegance is amusing in the context, though it was just a spoken aside in a radio interview. But the question he raises (at least, I think this is what he’s talking about) is a real one: does writing for children require an author to limit their vocabulary? As a publisher, I’d say that, honestly, the answer is “yes”. I am the first to acknowledge that children often discover new language through books, and I think it’s great that they do. But I would strongly advise an author to edit swearing out of a novel with a core audience of 8 year-olds even though I know that most children are familiar with those words in the playground and, often, at home. Nor can I imagine publishing a picture book with the words “recondite” and “meretricious” in it. In fact, unless the point was that a character spoke in an unusually orotund way, I’d advise the avoidance of those words in a novel aimed at children younger than 12. And books for babies, I’d say, should have simple texts that reflect babies’ evolving language skills.
So, on the whole, I think we should leave “recondite” and “meretricious” to Amis, but acknowledge that, while the “brain injury” comment is both glib and offensive, there is some truth in the other things that Amis said: children’s publishers and, I think, many successful and loved children’s authors are aware of their audience, and, free from solipsism and with a sense of responsibility, they pitch their stories, their characters and their language to that audience. I think we should be proud to do so.
Here’s a picture of lovely Luton airport as Kate returned after yet another trip to Germany. Since October, she’s been in Germany four times and to the US and Australia. Nosy Crow is not proud of its carbon footprint.
Getting to Germany and back this time round was a reminder of the way that we take the privilege of speedy travel for granted. Kate spent just a handful of hours in the city she’d intended to go to and many more hours travelling there and back, with nail-biting cancellations, delays and overbookings.
But Nosy Crow sees itself as an international business, and creating partnerships with other publishers who share Nosy Crow’s tastes and values is important to us.
‘Tis the season to be jolly and the crows got off to a good start at The Bright Agency Christmas party, a cheery affair attended by the great and the good, including Klaus Flugge of Andersen Press (who, pictured above with Kate B, Camilla and a cunningly placed Christmas wreath has something of the Angel Gabriel about him!)
Emily Bolam, Nicola O’ Byrne, Benji Davies and Ben Mantle were among the many illustrators who raised a glass to Vicki Wilden-Lebrecht and her team. Vicki, in turn, gave an eloquent and heart-felt speech in which she paid tribute to the agency’s artists and staff.
Since the move last weekend, we’ve had a busy time at Nosy Crow.
Kate Burns (KB) and Stephanie Amster (Steph) joined us on Monday and quickly fitted into the team in our new, rather lovely space.
Since then, Kate’s been working on the update of the books pages: by Frankfurt, we wanted to get all of the 2011 programme (well, Kate supposes that a really exceptional book could just be squeezed into the second half of the year) loaded up onto the website, and to give people an opportunity to search the list in different ways – by series, or age, or type, or author/illustrator or publication month.
We will publish 27 books in 2011, and they cover a really wide range of titles, from board books to young teen fiction. Given that we announced the formation of Nosy Crow at the end of February, we think this is pretty good going!
We really hope that you enjoy exploring the books pages. We’re certainly enjoying working with authors and illustrators to put the books together.
It is now over a week since Kate came back from Editech, where she was a speaker, representing the UK, on a panel, and she’s failed to post about it. Editech’s the Italian Publisher’s Association’s digital publishing conference.
Italy’s another country: they do things differently there. They do conferences differently for starters. This did not work out well for Kate, who’d understood that she was there for a jolly chat about exciting digital topics with a chairman and questions from the audience rather than to do a slide presentation. How wrong she was. Hey ho.
But she ended up talking saying the following things:
The UK had better watch out: the digital market is a global market, and, while UK print looks and feels different from US print, she often can’t tell whether she’s on a UK website or a US website, and people won’t care. The UK’s print publishing industry depends on (1) the international use of English and (2) us seeing the world as our market (we publish more per capita than any other country and we can only do so because we sell outside our own market, while US publishers have such a huge market of consumers themselves that they haven’t had to focus on international selling as much). But much digital innovation is coming from the US, and without the hassle, time-lag, cost and stock-management issues of print publishing, they may eat our European lunch.
And the people who eat UK publishers’ lunch may be US publishers, but they may be people we’ve never heard of before, and certainly people who haven’t been around long. Traditional publishers will have to prove their competence and innovative skills in this new world.
From a children’s publishing perspective, particularly, she sees the smartphone and the iPad and other tablet devices as game-changers. There are over 100 million Apple touch-screen devices out there. She talked about the need to commission material for the device, rather than squashing existing intellectual property onto the phone. That’s what we’re doing at Nosy Crow: we think about what the device does, and think how we can use that to create or enhance a reading experience.
She said that the publishing industry has traditionally given away its relationship with readers to other people – to retailers. We need to build brands and to have relationships with our readers.
Finally, and, she thinks, most importantly, she said that she thinks that publishers need to decide what they are for. In the supply chain between author and reader, no-one has a place by right. As publishers, we have to earn our place. Publishers have historically earned their place by providing creators with up-front payments (advances) and investing in stock and distribution infrastructures. If stock becomes irrelevant, and distribution infrastructures become less expensive (no need for big cross-docked warehouses in digital land), what are publishers bringing to the party. We have to bring
Credibility: publishers need to have brands that consumers trust, so that they believe that the fact that something’s been published by an organisation means that it’s worth looking at or buying because it’s been sieved,
Creativity: publishers need to shape material, and bring together different kinds of intellectual property, including, increasingly, kinds we’re not used to such as animation, video and music.
Consumers: we need to know how to reach readers through intelligent, innovative and trustworthy marketing, and to facilitate readers telling other readers about their experience of us.
Oh, she could bang on about this for hours, and probably will expand on some of this in later posts, but enough for now.
If you want to know what everyone else said, and there were interesting things said and interesting information provided (did you know, eg, that 65% of households in Italy have no broadband, and that 50% have no internet access?), Kate as @nosycrow put a fair old bit of it on Twitter with the hashtag (which she used pretty religiously) #editech10.
Other highlights were a nice saffron risotto and meeting other speakers, including Peter Balis (now, there’s a clever man) digital guru of John Wiley (now, there’s a savvy publisher), here showing off his iPad in a restaurant.
On Friday, Kate had a meeting with an Italian publisher at Nosy Crow’s Lambeth offices. This woman is clever, energetic and has good market knowledge as she is married to, and works alongside, a successful Bolognese children’s book seller. She has an international business background.
She wanted to show Nosy Crow books that she is publishing, because she wanted to know if Nosy Crow would be interested in buying UK rights in them.
Now, it’s always interesting to see other people’s books, and always interesting to see books from other cultures, but this meeting was never going to end in a deal.
The first reason is that Nosy Crow is interested in acquiring world rights in all languages to all the books it publishes, and buying a limited portfolio of rights – say English language rights for the traditional British market – will be the exception rather than the rule for Nosy Crow.
But the second reason is perhaps more interesting. This woman (as we’ve said, clever, with market knowledge) approached publishing children’s books completely differently from Kate.
The Italian publisher’s starting point was the product. She was interested in looking at where there were gaps in product available for the market and in filling those gaps. Now, in Kate’s view, sometimes there are product gaps for very good reasons: there aren’t enough people interested in what might fill those gaps for them to be economically viable, or, at least for it to be economically viable to reach them through our traditional bookselling channels.
Kate’s starting point – and Nosy Crow’s starting point – is the reader, and we will not publish anything whose reader we don’t think we can identify. While of course we recognise that children and readers don’t fit into neat and discrete groups, we do try to identify a core market – a sense of who the book (or app) is for. If it appeals to others beyond this group, so much the better. But we have to believe that there are children for whom what we are publishing will be perfect: will make them laugh, will make them excited, will surprise or shock or move them, will make them think or ask questions, or talk about it to their friends… and will encourage them to read more.
Of course, Kate’s exaggerating a bit: there are sometimes books we just fall in love with and hope will find their audience, but we hope that that idea of the child reader remains at the heart of all we do.
And, while Kate and the Italian woman had a great chat, Kate ended up staring in bemusement at a beautiful touch-and-feel book about the history of costume and fashion, while the Italian woman was baffled by Nosy Crow’s Dinosaur Dig.