Today is Nosy Crow’s third birthday. That is, it’s three years since we announced that Nosy Crow existed, though we’ve only been publishing for two years, so we are sort of two years old as well. There were just four people working at the company on February 22, 2010… and today, as it happens, partly because it’s half-term and lots of us are parents, and partly because we have flexible working arrangements (which is also pretty parent-friendly), there are only four of us in the London office today as well. None of today’s four is one of the founding members, which is perhaps why today’s cake (pictured above, with Ola, Mary and Kristina) is only shop-bought.
We got a birthday card from Benji Davies via Twitter:
We’re pretty proud of what the company has accomplished in such a short time. We’ve just been shortlisted for four IPG awards, for instance, and you can read more about our achievements in 2012, our second year of publishing, here.
But we couldn’t have done without all of the people who support Nosy Crow. So today we’d like to say a very heartfelt thank you not just to our authors and illustrators, but to the agents, retailers, sales organisations, members of the press, librarians, teachers, parents and children who’ve helped to make, sell and share our books, bought our apps, visited our website, talked to us on Twitter, and spread the word.
To really say thank you, we played a small Twitter game. We asked people to complete the sentence “My favourite @NosyCrow book/app is…” in a Tweet with the hashtag #Crowis3, and we gave three people, chosen at random, who Tweeted before the end of the UK working day a Nosy Crow mug.
Even though the competition has finished, we’d love to hear what your favourite Nosy Crow book/app is. Do please use the #Crowis3 hashtag.
As Kate mentioned yesterday in her piece looking back on 2012, we made an effort last autumn to start posting to this blog every day. It’s been great to see our audience grow as a result – not just in web traffic terms, but through more people commenting, sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes even writing their own blogposts in response.
This year we’d like to continue growing this site, which is why today we’re putting out an open invitation: we’d love to hear from anyone who’d like to contribute to this blog. We want this blog to become an even better community for anyone interested in children’s books and apps, so whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a librarian, a writer, a reader, or just a curious party, please get in touch! We’re particularly interested in hearing from people with thoughts on literacy and reading for pleasure, trends in children’s publishing, digital innovation, and case studies or anecdotes about using apps with children from any background (in the classroom, in libraries, or at home). If you’re particularly struck by a piece elsewhere or by something in the news (as Kate was yesterday, by a piece in the Daily Mail on challenging books for young readers), and want to respond, we’d also love to hear from you.
So if you have an idea for a blog post – either a one-off piece or a whole series – get in touch! We can’t promise to post absolutely everything, but we’ll always respond with feedback and suggestions if you’d like them. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if there’s something on your mind.
At the end of last year, I wrote a blog post about our first year of publishing (2011). It’s here. I thought that I’d do the same thing for 2012, our second year of publishing.
It has, once again, been a busy and full year and it’s hard, even after spending the days between Christmas and New Year like a slothful grub wrapped up in a duvet on a sofa reading books for grown ups with a cold as my only excuse, to pick out the key things from 2012 from the whirl of memories and impressions. Nevertheless, here we go…
What we published, and what we signed up:
In 2011, we published 23 books for children aged 0 to 14. In 2012 we published 35 – a 50% increase. The biggest increase was in our fiction output, and we published 19 fiction titles simultaneously as print and ebook titles. Once again, the books ranged from board books for babies to fiction titles for young teenagers (though this year we added a few ambitious novelty books like Playbook Farm).
2012’s books came from talented debut writers that we plucked from the “slush-pile”, like Helen Peters and Paula Harrison, and from established names like Axel Scheffler, Penny Dale, Jo Lodge and Philip Ardagh, and from creative talents inbetween. In 2012, we published new books by ten of the 12 authors and illustrators we’d published in 2011 (the exceptions were Benji Davies, but then we did publish two apps based on his Bizzy Bear character and we’ll publish more of Benji’s books in 2013, and Ros Beardshaw, whose paperback Just Right For Christmas was new in 2012 and from whom we also have a new book in 2013). But – and I hadn’t realised this before I totted things up – in 2012 we published 16 authors and illustrators that we hadn’t published in 2011.
We did our first bit of own-brand publishing and our first “instant” book when we published, at the very end of the year, The Snowman’s Journey, based on the John Lewis Christmas 2012 TV ad, for The John Lewis Partnership. Here’s the story behind it.
But all the time we were publishing in 2012, we were also acquiring for 2013 publication and beyond. We’ll be increasing our output of books in 2013 to 50 titles. We’ve written about some of them here.
We are going to focus on a few, very ambitious apps this coming year, of which Little Red Riding Hood is the first. However, we have other digital plans, including, this month, the launch of our innovative audio book picture book programme, Stories Aloud.
Across our books and apps, we will add around the same number of new authors and illustrators in 2013 as we added in 2012.
Selling our books and apps:
We more than doubled our revenue compared to 2011, with sales well in excess of two million pounds.
Once again, 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. Many were selected for promotions by bigger retailers and supermarkets – we have, I think, a particularly good strike-rate in this area.
To sell our books and apps, we’ve travelled to the US (where we work closely with Candlewick Press on illustrated books), Australia (where we work exclusively with Allen & Unwin), Germany, France, Holland and Italy. We visited Apple HQ in Cupertino for the first time to talk about our apps.
Having sold our apps exclusively through Apple in 2011, we experimented with Android for the first time this year, selling a couple of our apps for use on Nook tablets. You can read about it here.
This year, we added Japanese and Turkish to the list of languages in which we’ve sold rights to our books, bringing the total number of languages in which we’ve sold rights to 18. Brazil (as a direct result of my visit in late 2011) has been the biggest new source of rights sales. We ran our first two auctions, both of which were in the US, and both of which ended in six-figure dollar deals.
We added Gottmer in Holland to Carlsen in Germany and Gallimard in France as translation partners in our apps programme.
Speaking of Nosy Crow…:
We have had another great year of reviews and mentions in traditional national press from The Wall Street Journal to The Daily Mirror, in specialist press from Kirkus and The School Library Journal to The Bookseller and in many terrific children’s book, parenting, technology and app blogs. You can see some of our most recent high-profile reviews and mentions here.
In 2012, we had 120,000 unique visitors (up 58% on 2011) to the Nosy Crow website (I wrote more about our web stats here and here). From the autumn of 2012, we decided we’d try to blog every week day (though we have had a bit of a rest over the Christmas/New Year break). Judging purely by the number of comments (though some of the comments are our responses to people who’ve commented), these were particularly popular blog posts this year:
As I write, @nosycrow has 9,740 followers on Twitter, @nosycrowapps has 3,164 followers and @nosycrowbooks, more recently introduced, has 654 followers. There’s a bit of overlap between these, but overall, that’s 13,558 followers – up 80% on last year. We’ve 2,438 likes on Facebook and we’re now active on Pinterest and Tumblr too.
Back in the real world, Nosy Crow authors were at numerous literary festivals, including Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham, and staged countless events in schools, libraries and bookshops.
We were hugely proud to win a hat-trick of awards at the Independent Publisher’s Guild Awards in March 2012, based on our first year of publishing. We won the 2012 Children’s Publisher of the Year award; the Newcomer of the Year award and the Innovation of the Year award.
Our apps continued to win and be shortlisted for multiple awards and made many “best apps” listings. Our books, authors and illustrators were shortlisted for awards too: S C Ransom was shortlisted for the Queen of Teen prize; The Baby that Roared was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize; The Secret Hen House Theatre was shortlisted for the Solihull Children’s Book Award.
I ended my 2011 retrospective with a look at what had gone wrong and here are some of the things I mentioned:
The much-investigated drainy smell in the office bathrooms. I am sorry to say that this is not completely resolved, despite plumber intervention, but either it’s less pronounced or I am just getting used to it.
The one or two important UK retailers who hadn’t stocked our books. We did manage to expand our customer base in 2012: we hadn’t sold anything to John Lewis before The Snowman’s Journey, for example.
The key countries we hadn’t managed to sell rights to, like Japan. We did, this year, sell rights in several picture book and novelty titles to Japan.
So most of the old things got better and some stayed about the same. Of course there were new problems and challenges in 2012 – we were particularly sorry to see Kate Burns leave us this summer, for example, but, on the other hand, we were delighted that Louise Bolongaro replaced her at the beginning of November as Head of Picture Books.
2012 was another very good year for Nosy Crow.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us or worked with us in 2012, or who, in 2012, agreed to work with us in 2013 and beyond. One of the pleasures of being a small publishing company is that many of us will be able to show our appreciation for you in person if you’re an author, illustrator or some other kind of creator, if you’re an agent, or a bookseller or a foreign publisher. But we can’t thank, other than in this blog post, the ever-increasing number of people who choose to buy our apps and our books and share them with children, without whom we don’t have a business.
Last week we announced a brand new digital reading initiative for 2013, Stories Aloud. We’ve been absolutely thrilled by the response, so today I thought I’d explain a little bit about how Stories Aloud was born (and exactly how it works).
The idea of bundling together digital audio with our print books in this way came out of a conversation between Kate and me earlier this year: Kate had seen other technologies which gave her the idea of linking digital audio to print in quite similar ways, but then I suggested using QR codes.
For a long time, though, I was really not a fan of QR codes at all, having only seen them being used in what seemed to me to be pretty thoughtless or kneejerk ways (on the other side of an underground train platform, for instance, where they (a) can’t be reached, and (b) until very recently, wouldn’t have achieved anything even if they could be got at, as they rely on an Internet connection) and quite often with nothing to offer the person scanning (why would I scan the code on a piece of cheese?).
But for Stories Aloud, though, they struck me as being quite attractive for a number of reasons.
First, the fact that they are becoming so commonplace – as opposed to being a whizz-bang new piece of technology – was actually appealing: we wanted something that would be accessible and familiar to people.
Second, they’re free… and Stories Aloud is about offering free content, so we didn’t want people to have to spend money to get access to that free content
Third, they’re a generic technology, and although you do have to download a QR code reader app to your phone, you can download any QR code reader app and it will still work – it’s not a proprietary thing that relies on a specific app.
And fourth, because we were offering real content (rather than just a sales pitch) at the other end of the code, it seemed as if it was something people might actually want to do.
We’ve deliberately made the whole process as simple, straightforward and non-intrusive as possible. We didn’t want Stories Aloud to be technology for technology’s sake, or something that would distract from the enjoyment of a book – we wanted it to be something that would genuinely empower children to enjoy books, while also having an appeal to retailers and librarians who wanted an easy way of being able to offer digital content.
If you’d like to see quite how simple it is, you can watch the video below, of Kate introducing the project:
And here are the step-by-step instructions, taken from our Stories Aloud page:
★ Download a QR code reader (they’re free) to your smart phone, iPod Touch or tablet by searching on your device’s app store.
★ Scan the code on the inside front cover of each Nosy Crow paperback picture book with your smart phone or tablet.
★ Hear the story! Once the webpage has loaded, press play to hear the story – with sound effects and original music – streamed to your phone or tablet. You need a 3G or WiFi connection to do this: you can listen to it whenever and where you are connected to the internet.
And if that hasn’t satisfied your curiosity, why not try it yourself? Scan the QR code below on your smart phone or tablet for the audio reading for Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter by Axel Scheffler (one of our launch titles, publishing in January), and then take a look inside the book with the preview below (you’ll need to do that on a PC or laptop).
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this project: do you think it’s a good or bad idea? Is the idea of getting digital content with a physical book an important or appealing one to you? Would you do it differently?
Alice and Shelly, with the second (maybe third?) cake of the day. Apologies for the typically lacking photograph…
It’s the end of my first week at Nosy Crow and I have loved every minute. Of course, you all know this already but the Crow’s Nest is an extremely good, creative and fun place to be. And in amongst reading all my lovely new books, talking to all my lovely new authors and artists (THANKYOU for making me feel so welcome) and keeping my wits about me in my first scheduling meeting, I have learnt many, many things.
1. There is an awful lot of cake.
2. There is an awfully large expectation of cake baking. I have pointed out this wasn’t in the job description. I cannot bake. This might be a problem.
3. Kate does NOT like Lady Grey tea. She particularly doesn’t like it when the Lady Grey tea bags accidentally get mixed in with the Earl Grey ones. Please note that this is a bad, BAD thing.
4. There is something called “Dropbox”. I have never heard of this before but apparently it’s a server and file management system. “Pah!” I thought. “How hard can it be?” Until Adrian said, “are you aware of the DANGERS of Dropbox?” And by the way he said it, I just knew that he was talking in capitals. Quite frankly, I’m terrified. If anything goes missing or is in the wrong place, I would just like to say right now that it wasn’t me. I wasn’t even there. Honest.
Now, where did I put that Mary Berry book for beginners . . . ?
As my time at Nosy Crow comes to an end, I thought I would share some of the rare and coveted insights into publishing that is has been my pleasure to acquire over the past two months.
1. It won’t happen overnight… Whilst I didn’t think that books magically appeared in a ready-for-publishing form, I certainly had no idea of the huge efforts the designers and editors put in to create the wonderful children’s books here at Nosy Crow.
2. You can never be too organised. This is perhaps common sense, but a publishing company must tread a very fine line to ensure that every title is released at the optimum time, with no clashes, and in a complimentary season.
3. The printer is god! Whilst at Nosy Crow, it has been my own personal battle to get our lovely, stubborn, petulant Xerox working again. This has meant many phone calls and much hair pulling on my account as we all realised that a printer with off-colour and black that prints nowhere where it should is a curse in any publishing company. Particularly a children’s one.
4. It’s always time for a round of tea – even if someone has just done a round, in a London office you can always have more. I thought I was a tea drinker before I started here – how naïve I was. I feel one step closer to saying ‘I live in London’ now that I have consumed numerous cups of English Breakfast each day.
5. I love picture books! I am a bibliophile. This has been well documented – however, the joy I felt when I first read Elys Dolan’sWeasels (publishing April 2013) is something that comes only rarely in a reader’s life. I feel this same buzz every time I read a Nosy Crow title and wish there were more small children in my family to lavish these upon.
So as I say farewell, what I really want to say is thank you. To all the Crows, you’ve taught me so much and I’ve had such a great time – this Aussie gal will always remember her first month in London’s crows nest with fondness.
Shelly has been with us for two months and will be very sorely missed – if anyone in publishing is looking to hire someone, look no further! Drop us an email and we will put you in touch with her.
The Nosy Crow nest is an absolute hive of activity (apologies for the mixed metaphor…) today. Our new Head of Picture Books, Louise Bolongaro, has joined us and we’re thrilled to have here, ready to get to work on our fantastic illustrated list.
“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.”
It’s (relatively) quiet in the office this week, with one contingent of crows in Frankfurt for the book fair and another taking well-earned rests after all the preparations leading up to it, which means, among other side-effects, that I find myself listening to more Radio 4, and that there’s less to talk about here on the blog. So, in the time-honoured fashion of the sitcom struggling for ideas one week, we thought we’d do a clip show post!
This is actually, if I may be a little more serious for a moment, a blog we have been meaning to post for some time, and now seemed like a good opportunity. Intrepid explorers of this website may have uncovered our blog archive, but for everyone else, this might be a good place to start for posts on certain subjects: a curated space with some useful, interesting (we hope!) writing, mostly from the last year.
Phew! Looking back on all this, it strikes me once again how fantastic a resource this blog has been for us: a great place to begin conversations with readers, parents, authors and illustrators, and all sorts of other interested parties. Thank you to everyone who’s joined in with the many discussions we’ve started here – we hope you stick around!
It was Victoria’s last day yesterday (commemorated with – what else! – a Victoria Sponge). She’s got a new job at Mills and Boon as an Editorial Assistant – and so we’re looking for someone to join our team as a Publishing Co-ordinator.
This is a great opportunity for a hardworking, capable, self-starting and enthusiastic person to join Nosy Crow on a full-time basis, starting in October 2012.
You’ll need to be able to demonstrate your strong organisational and administrative skills, and ideally you’ll have experience in a publishing environment, and a strong interest in children’s books.
You’ll have excellent written and spoken communication skills in English combined with a good grasp of arithmetic. You’ll need to be able to communicate well with a range of people including authors, illustrators and suppliers.
The main role of the Publishing Co-ordinator is to work with the Head of Operations providing support in sales, marketing, PR and production. You’ll provide the administrative back-up to enable us to publish, market and sell our books as well as we possibly can. You’ll prepare sales material, co-ordinate the production of marketing material, work with PR to get great reviews, and manage the production of our e-books and reprints. As is the norm in a small company the boundaries of your role won’t always be clearly defined so you will need to be willing to muck in and have a go at things that aren’t necessarily familiar. You’ll need to be able to juggle multiple priorites; and use your initiative to do this.
If you’d like to apply, please send Imogen your CV and a covering letter as soon as possible via email (email@example.com) – the closing date is Friday, 28 September, and I’m afraid we can only consider candidates who have the right to live and work in the UK.
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 BESTFRIENDANDOTHERENEMIES 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.
I think some people may have been surprised to see yesterday’s blog post about self-publishing on the Nosy Crow site.
We are, after all, a publisher (and I am going to concentrate on Nosy Crow as a publisher of “straight books”, whether ebooks or print books, in this post, by the way, not as a publisher of multimedia, interactive apps, which, of course, as many readers of this blog know, we also make).
I had several reasons for asking M G Harris to contribute.
The first was that it was a topical response to a Guardian article about social media as a means of marketing books. Given the experience of the author, the focus was on self-publishing, but the points made seemed pretty relevant to any author, whether self-published or traditionally published, or any publisher trying to use social media to connect with potential readers or advocates. The original article had generated a bit of discussion on Twitter, and M G Harris suggested that she had more to say on the topic than the 140 characters allowed.
The second was that I know her and like her. I have, as she said in the blog post, published her. She’s a shrewd, entrepreneurial business woman as well as an author, and I thought she’d have interesting things things to say.
I knew, though, that she’d be talking about her experience of self-publishing. But I think it is pretty pointless for publishers to pretend self-publishing doesn’t exist. M G Harris one of several authors I know who have tried it with modest success, though as she acknowledges in her blog post, she already had a platform and digital assets like the game that were available because the books to which her self-published book was connected were published “traditionally” by Scholastic.
There are people who think publishers are doomed: sad old dinosaurs lumbering around the end-game landscape of a Jurassic industry.
Of course, I believe in our role as a publisher. But, when self-publishing, particularly self-epublishing is cheap and easy and has lost so much of its stigma, I think that publishers need to be able to answer the question: what is a publisher for? To paraphrase Lytton Strachey, I think that every publisher has to be able to answer how we have a right to “interpose” ourselves between the author and the reader.
I believe that Nosy Crow brings several things as a publisher, and that, because of them, we have earned that right to “interpose”:
We select what we publish. Yesterday (I am on holiday – see the picture above of me and Adrian working), I immediately rejected three books sent to me by agents. I’ve no idea how many books were rejected by people back at the office. If yesterday was like any other day, we’ll have received between 10 and 20 unsolicited manuscripts. We are asked to consider for publication perhaps 6,000 books per year. This year, we will publish just over 30: we publish around half a per cent of what we are offered. But selection is only valuable if your selection is credible. At Nosy Crow, we believe in the judgments we make. Of course, we get things wrong: maybe we don’t like books that go on to be successes (though actually I can’t think of any right now); maybe we think things are promising that don’t then quite shape up the way we hope they would or sell the way we hoped they would; maybe we aren’t quite fast enough in our response to unsolicited manuscripts and they go elsewhere… I am not saying we’re perfect, but we set out to create a list of high-quality, child-focussed and parent-friendly books and apps. I think we’ve done that, and are increasingly recognised for doing so. We are building a brand that has meaning and reputation, and each book we publish benefits from that brand.
The idea that publishers sit twiddling their thumbs, waiting for a book to appear so that they can slap a cover on it and sell it is, in my experience, not one that reflects reality (though it’s one that I know that some people have). Nosy Crow, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the kind of book and the nature of the material we receive, intervenes in the content of the book. In my own experience, children’s publishers do this more than adult publishers, and perhaps Nosy Crow does it more than many publishers. I’m not talking about correcting punctuation and spelling mistakes here, though we do that too. I am talking about suggesting rewrites and restructures; suggesting changes to, or the elimination or addition of, plot-lines and characters and pieces of artwork; work on scansion and rhyme and the register of the language used; work on making sure that the page-turns in a picture book work with the sense of the story, so that each spread is a reveal. I am talking about making the book as good as it can be. This can be a frustrating and challenging process on both sides: we are pretty demanding, and if we really don’t think something’s working, we will ask the author or illustrator to do it again (and again and sometimes again) until we feel it is right. Sometimes we work on things directly ourselves, rewriting for authors with their agreement and doing detailed Photoshop work on artwork. We respect our authors and illustrators and their creative integrity, but we roll our sleeves up and change, or help them to change, their work in ways that we think make it better and more likely to be commercially successful.
We also want books to look and feel as good as they can, and spend time, money and effort on creating what we think are arresting covers that communicate to their audience of potential buyers. We choose formats for board books and picture books that we think suit the artwork style and age-group, and worry away at paper finishes, board weight, foil, spot-UV and matt lamination to ensure that, within financially viable limits, we have a physical product that is as attractive as we can make it.
It’s maybe worth saying at this point that sometimes we not only make books better… we quite simply make them. In our first year of publishing (2011), we wrote almost half of the illustrated books we published ourselves, working with illustrators and paper engineers to create the books. We often suggest ideas for series, for format and for sequels to authors and illustrators. We work hard to earn our own seat at the creative table.
ACCESS TO CUSTOMERS
The lowest-risk way to self-publish is to self-epublish. Of course ebooks are important, but last year in the UK children’s market they accounted for about 2% of the market by volume and 1% by value. And many of those ebooks are being read by adults (cult titles like The Hunger Games trilogy count as children’s books and are heavily read by adults).
To access the vast bulk of the children’s market, you still need printed books.
Our ebooks are sold by etailers.
Our print books are stocked and sold by etailers, supermarkets, bookstore chains, independent bookshops, toy stores, and gift and museum shops, book clubs, book fairs, display marketing companies and catalogue companies. We have, or have access to, an infrastructure that supports selling to them, supplying them, invoicing them and collecting money from them. We have a critical mass of titles and a reputation that means it’s worthwhile to them to deal with us.
We also have an international presence. We have relationships with Candlewick (on illustrated books) in the US and Canada and with Allen and Unwin in Australia. We have sold rights to our books in 18 languages so far, and we have close relationships with several continental European publishers who publish many of our books in translation.
We sell rights to books in other media and formats too: yesterday I was negotiating a deal with an educational publisher for educational rights in one of our titles, and with a theatre company for stage rights in another.
We’ve had great coverage in the trade press in the UK and the US, and in France and Germany too, and have had industry recognition in the form of our Independent Publishers Guild awards for Children’s Publisher of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Innovation of the Year.
We think up, design and, where necessary, print marketing material including catalogues, rights brochures, point-of-sale material; posters, badges, and packs to enable bookshops to run children’s events themed round our books.
We secure (and pay for – see below) promotions with relevant retailers.
ACCESS TO CONSUMERS
Before you can access consumers, you have to understand them. When we take on a book at Nosy Crow, we have an idea of the child – age, gender, interests – that we believe is the core reader of that book. If we don’t know who a book is for, we don’t take it on. We then try to make sure that everything about that book – the cover, the title, the type-size, the word-count – “speaks to” that core reader. We know that there are children who are not our vision of the core reader who might enjoy that book, but I think we have to get it right for that core reader. Of course, because we’re a children’s book publisher, and because the number of books that children buy for themselves is, in the context of the overall market, negligible, we are also trying to appeal to gatekeepers – parents and other relatives, mums buying a birthday present for the child whose party their own child has been invited to, teachers and librarians.
We use social media to raise awareness of our books among adult buyers. We have over 11,000 followers on Twitter and 1,800 or so likes on Facebook. Of course some of these people are people in the industry but many are parents, grandparents, librarians and teachers and, of course, authors and illustrators, any of whom might want to buy our books. We also have a lively website (as you may know, if you’re reading this blog). In the last 12 months, we’ve had over 100,000 unique visitors viewing over half a million pages. We are connected to a network of bloggers, who raise awareness of our books for their often highly specialised audiences.
We also have access to traditional media – and we certainly still think that traditional media is important, and see the impact on sales of really favourable reviews. Our books and apps have been reviewed and featured in national broadsheets (like, recently, The New York Times and The Guardian) in mass-market papers, in parenting magazines, and on radio.
We arrange for authors to attend literary festivals and other events to meet their readers and potential readers (you can find out what the next ones are at the bottom of our home page in the “Come and Meet Us” section).
All of this takes skill and expertise. We think we are good at judging, good at shaping, good at marketing and publicising and good at selling. Many of us at Nosy Crow have been doing this for years. When we assess a book for publication; change the positioning of the eyes on a rabbit by less than a millimetre; review the match between typography and artwork on a cover; or negotiate a rights deal we are drawing on years of knowledge and experience (over quarter of a century in my case alone).
Did I say I was on holiday? Spelling doesn’t get corrected; books don’t get printed and reprinted; ebook files don’t get made; bibliographic data doesn’t get communicated; Frankfurt book fair brochures don’t get written and designed; review copies don’t get sent out; rights sales don’t happen and get recorded; authors don’t get booked for literary feestivals; tweets and blog posts don’t get posted without the expenditure of a lot of administrative and other time. Some of this work is pretty dull, actually. We don’t mind. It’s our job. And we love what we do. But it takes time, and time is something that many authors don’t have, even if they have the inclination to take on these tasks. What time they do have, they want to spend writing or illustrating: it’s probably what they do best.
As publishers, we take the financial risk. We pay our authors and illustrators advances up-front. We pay for covers to be designed. We pay printers for proofs and stock. We pay for the promotional slots that retailers offer us. We pay our own staff to make books the best they can be and to market and publicise our books. We pay for print and online marketing. We pay for stands, accommodation and travel to international book fairs.
And we pay for all of this before a single copy has been sold.
Then we pay to have our books in a warehouse. We pay to have our books sent out from the warehouse, to be invoiced, and for the debt to be collected. We pay to send authors to literary festivals. We pay to post copies to reviewers.
The financial risk, as I say, is ours. And we often take it on authors and illustrators with no track-record whatsovever – authors like Helen Peters and Paula Harrison, both published within the last few months; both of whom were “slush-pile” finds; and both of whom have been promoted by major UK retailers and sold internationally.
If we sell no copies, or fewer copies than we thought we would, we still bear many of those costs.
I know that epublishing eliminates some of these costs (the print and distribution element) but (a) that is a small part of the whole set of costs (around 9% of the cover price in the example of a typical children’s paperback fiction example I’ve just been working on) and (b) as I have said, just 2% of the children’s books sold last year in the UK were ebooks.
As an independent company, incidentally, we have an even more acute sense than perhaps is the case in the corporate world that the money we spend on acquiring and publishing books is money the shareholders could otherwise spend on cheese or cake or shoes for our kids.
As a publisher, we believe we use our brand, skills, knowledge, time and money to enable an author or illustrator to sell the best possible product in more places to more people than the author or illustrator would be able to do if they were working alone. We do this, we think, to the greater financial benefit of the author or illustrator than they would achieve should they choose to self-publish, while allowing the author and illustrator to focus on the thing they set out to do: to create a book.
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 (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.
These are just two of many, many instances when I, or others of us at Nosy Crow, have defended digital, as opposed to print, reading for children.
So we were interested to see this article in the New York Times last weekend which suggests that adults who have discarded print in favour of their Kindles or Nooks still prefer traditional print books for their children.
We don’t see the choice between digital and print reading as an either/or scenario. Instead, we think that some reading experiences suit the page, while others are right for digital devices.
We aren’t very interested in creating digital reading experiences that are simply squashing an existing illustrated book onto a phone or a tablet.
Like some of the parents in the article, we agree that there is something special about paper – the touch and feel of it, the heft and three-dimensionality of it, and the size of the page – that means that reading a picture book, or a pop-up book, a lift-the-flap or a touch-and-feel book is a great experience. And there are many print picture books, pop-up books, lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books in our existing and forthcoming book publishing plans
But we are also very aware that children spend increasing amounts of time using screens. We would like some of the time that they spend using those screens to be reading time. But that means, I think, that the reading experience we offer on screen needs to be as multimedia and interactive as the gaming experiences they will encounter in the same space.
I take our responsibility as people with decades – in my case 25 years – of experience of telling stories on paper very seriously. I think that we should be bringing that experience – and adapting it and building on it too, of course, as we learn new skills and bring new skills, such as games devising and programming skills into publishing – to screen-based story-telling. If we don’t create really engaging reading experiences for children who will spend increasing amounts of their leisure time on screen, I think we are failing them.
And it’s that wish to create really engaging, multimedia, interactive iPad experiences that are also, crucially, reading experiences, that is behind apps such as The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.
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!