IPG Children's Publisher of the Year

Articles tagged with: independent publishers

Life After CEO - reflecting on being fired and what happened next, after speaking on The Bottom Line with Evan Davis

Posted by Kate on Feb 21, 2014

Evan Davis in the recording studio

I’m writing this four years on from the day we announced the existence of Nosy Crow, so I hope you’ll indulge what is a very personal blog post.

I love the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Bottom Line. I think Evan Davis is a great interviewer – informal but serious, probing but not aggressive – and I really enjoy all the insights I get into different businesses and different ways of thinking.

For people who don’t know it, and who want a book- or app-related way into it, then Books with Victoria Barnsley (then at HarperCollins), Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown and Michael Tamblyn of Kobo, or The App Industry with Touch Press founder Max Whitby would be great places to start.

Anyway, as a fan of the programme, I was hugely flattered to be asked to participate, even if the subject, “Life After CEO” wasn’t necessarily one I’d have chosen, and the other guests, Lord Browne, who ran BP, and Robert Polet, who ran the Gucci Group, were seriously out of my league, having been at the very top of multi-billion pound corporations.

The programme was broadcast yesterday evening, and will be on again on Saturday 22 February.

Participating in the programme meant saying something openly that I hadn’t quite put on the record publicly before: I was fired. That’s why I stopped being a CEO. Just five months into a new role running a big adult imprint in a big publishing corporation, I lost my job. We announced the existence of Nosy Crow four-and-a-half months later. Being fired after over 20 years on the corporate ladder was as painful and humiliating and anxiety-inducing for me as it is for anyone else, even if I justified it by saying that, after just five months, it’s not about measurable performance, but about perception of fit.

Lots of people get fired (or made redundant) and lots of people fear losing their jobs, so I thought that it might be a tiny bit helpful to any of them listening if I said that, yes, it was devastating, but that it wasn’t the end of the world – that there was, indeed, “life after CEO”, or after any kind of job loss, come to that.

Recording the programme – no multiple takes, no rehearsals – required an hour and a half of studio time, from which the radio programme’s 30 minutes is filleted. The programme, rightly, gives most air-time to Lord Browne, whose very public “fall” still feels to me to have something of the Shakespearean tragedy about it.

You can hear what I have to say in the programme. But there were a few things that we talked about that didn’t make the final cut, and I thought that I would share them with you.

Lord Browne talks about “looking in the mirror” to make an honest assessment of what he thought he could do after leaving BP. My version of the same process was to look at a photograph of me as a child – Kate at eight. I thought about what I had been like back then, and what qualities I’d had that had been overlaid and maybe partly obscured by the professional roles that I’d had since. I wondered if there was anything there that might be worth excavating or getting back to. Kate at eight liked books; making things; winning; and trading (I set up a “stall” on the doorstep of our house, selling – at a profit – to other kids in the street individual sweets from packets I’d bought from the newsagent with my pocket money). Kate at eight did not much like authority (this was a bit of a schooling low-point, though things picked up later, academically). Kate at eight, brought up in a pretty hard-core Roman Catholic family, was someone with a strong sense that what you do should really be underpinned by things you believe in. Of course, I was looking back with a particular perspective, and the power we have to shape remembered events in the light of a current situation always makes me think of George Eliot’s pier-glass parable. Maybe I just saw those attributes in Kate at eight because they were the attributes I needed or wanted to see almost forty years later. They are, after all, useful attributes for an entrepreneur who wanted to be a hands-on maker of children’s books and apps that I could be proud of. But I think that these are all attributes that were and are mine, and looking at them hard and weighing them against other attributes did help me to determine my direction.

Kate at eight, though maybe there’s a bit of selective memory going on here

Lord Browne surprised me by speaking of business achievements as “ephemeral” – and in fact I challenged him on it in the programme. He did clarify that he didn’t mean that BP was ephemeral, but something struck me when he contrasted his work at BP with the work he says does for The Tate Galleries. Art, he said, is not ephemeral. And one of the remarkable things about publishing as a business is that there’s a chance that what you make, or what you help others make, won’t be ephemeral either. I’ve just referred to a George Eliot quote from Middlemarch, published 140 years ago. Last year’s Nosy Crow publication, The Princess and the Peas, was as successful as it was partly because of its echoes of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea, published 180 years earlier. And one of my inspirations when I was working on our award-winning Little Red Riding Hood app, with its branching narrative pathways, was that there are centuries-old versions of the story in which the wolf asks Little Red Riding Hood what path she’s going to take through the woods. Books written long before my birth shaped my mind as an early reader – Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables – and are books I read to my own children. Books published centuries ago are still read and continue to influence new writing, or to be adapted into new stories or new media. I believe that books that are being published today will be read decades, even centuries, after their publication – not all of them, of course, but some of them. And you can’t always tell which ones will become the classics: I often say that I printed 1,500 copies of The Gruffalo in hardback, because, at that point in its history, that was a perfectly sensible estimate of the number of copies it would sell. Publishing, at its best, is about doing things that make a difference, and doing things that last.

Robert Polet and Lord Browne both talked about waiting for several months before they took on new roles after their final corporate CEO jobs. I spoke about knowing that I wanted to start a children’s publishing company within 12 hours of being fired. But I also said that I hadn’t absolutely managed to hold onto that certainty through the next few months. I spent a bit of time exploring whether there were alternative jobs for me either inside or outside the book industry. Because the truth is that, even if it’s tempting to think you could do it, it is pretty scary to set up a company and to be an entrepreneur. I knew how it felt as a corporate employer to have people depending on me for to pay for the supermarket shop and the kids’ shoes, and was fearful of letting people down. I knew how it felt, even as a successful corporate employee, to sometimes make mistakes and to lose money, and was anxious about losing not just corporate funds but money that belonged to individuals, including me. I was afraid of failing – and like everyone else, I knew that the stats on new business survival weren’t great. But the idea – the dream, really – of being the boss of an independent children’s publishing company was one that I’d pushed to the back of my mind for years and wouldn’t go away. At the same time that I was trying to create a shape for my shapeless days, and meeting up with publishers and headhunters, I was also planning Nosy Crow, and quite soon, that plan took over. I suppose that I what I am trying to say is that, in my experience, finding out what you want to be and do next is sometimes not a linear process, either practically or psychologically.

Evan Davis asked about looking back at the companies you’ve left. I don’t think much about my brief time in adult publishing – can’t remember much of it, to be honest (which is not to say that I didn’t meet, and keep in contact with, great individuals from that time) – but I do think back with affection and some pride to Macmillan Children’s Books and Scholastic UK. Evan Davis asked if there was a part of each of us that wanted companies we’d left to do worse without us. I didn’t and don’t. I have friends (staff, authors, illustrators) still at each of those companies who I like to see safe and happy. Besides, in the case of Macmillan and Scholastic, the next person to run the company was someone from my management team that I’d worked closely with and really rated. And it’s also true that the length of time it takes from contracting a book to its publication meant, in the case of both companies, that there were books that were acquired on my watch but that weren’t published until ages afterwards: if you remember the excitement of reading a proof of The Hunger Games on a plane back from New York and deciding to publish it, you can’t feel blase about what happens to the series afterwards. So I think I clapped as hard as anyone on the Scholastic table when Scholastic UK won the Book Industry Award for Children’s Publisher of the Year last year. The thing about businesses is that your success is partly determined by whether they’d be OK without you. It’s a bit like being a parent: they depend on you completely when they are little and new, but the bigger and older they get, the more proud you are, and the more necessary it is, that they are independent of you. I think that the thing that made me lumpy-throatiest about our recent IPG award shortlistings was that we had not one but two people on the Young Independent Publisher of the Year Award shortlist. I’m not planning on going anywhere, but being able to develop the independence and skills of talented people is, for me, one of the best – most fulfilling and fun – things about being a boss, and it’s essential to the future success of Nosy Crow. I talked about making things in relation to making books, but I like making companies too.

Both Lord Browne and Robert Polet talked about the freedom they were enjoying since leaving their big CEO jobs. Robert Polet spoke about calling his wife as he exited Gucci HQ to say “this is the final step” in their walk to freedom. I don’t think I felt unbearably trammelled by my most of my corporate jobs… and I certainly learned a lot while I was doing them. At Macmillan and Scholastic, in particular, I worked for people (including Adrian, but that’s another story) who were, generally, pretty supportive of me and of my ideas, though I doubt I was the easiest report that they had. But, still, I certainly feel more free at Nosy Crow. There’s no question that it’s easier for us, as an independent company, to make our highly experimental digital products – which we started making before the device on which they are used even existed – than it would be if they had to fight their way for approval through a traditional large-scale publishing machine. There’s no question that it was easier for us, as an independent company, to make our first John Lewis Christmas advertisement book quickly and without fuss than it would have been to make it as a big corporate. I’ve written more about the advantages of small-scale, independent publishing here. As I said at the end of the programme, I love the freedom we have, even if it comes at a cost: as a company wholly owned by five individuals, we have more aspiration than cash funds. Of course, we could “sell” our freedom, raising money by selling shares and reducing our independence, but, right now, we value our freedom even more than what we could do with the extra dosh.

Nosy Crow wins two Independent Publisher's Guild Awards (and is awfully surprised)

Posted by Kate on Mar 08, 2013

Against the odds, and in the face of competition that we honestly couldn’t admire more (Walker Books and Usborne Publishing), Nosy Crow won the Independent Publishers Guild Children’s Publisher of the Year Award at the Independent Publishers Awards for the second year running. We are still reeling in delighted surprise.

Part of the Nosy Crow team this afternoon, each with one of our five IPG awards from 2012 and 2013… and cake

This is what the judges said:

“Nosy Crow wins for the second year in a row, having triumphed in 2012 after its first full year in publishing. Twelve months on, it is honoured again after even stronger commercial success and particularly impressive export, rights and co-edition business. Judges admired its innovative products, marketing and can-do attitude. “From a standing start Nosy Crow has had an exceptional couple of years. It has bags of energy.”

Receiving one of our two awards

And, at the same awards ceremony at the Independent Publishers Guild conference, we won the London Book Fair International Achievement Award for our sales abroad, including our sales via Candlewick Press, who publish many of our illustrated books under a Nosy Crow imprint in the USA and Canada, Allen & Unwin, who distribute all of our books in Australia and New Zealand, Gallimard Jeunesse, Gottmer, Carlsen Verlag and our rights and co-edition sales to other foreign-language publishers. We are very pleased.

This is what the judges said:

“Nosy Crow picks up this award for substantial export, co-edition and rights sales. Deals in dozens of territories reflect its ambition, and good partnerships in territories including the US and Australia have positioned it in key markets. Judges also liked the way apps were developed with international potential firmly in mind. “The breadth of the global strategy is very impressive. Nosy Crow is very quickly establishing itself as a brand to follow around the world.”

Ola, our Rights Assistant, behind the International Achievement award, which she helped us win

We were also shortlisted for the Digital Marketing Award and the Digital Publishing Award, and, given the competition, we were very happy to have made it that far.

Delegates at the Independent Publishers Guild Conference before the award dinner

Frankly, our (OK, my) acceptance speeches were ill-prepared: we didn’t think we had any prospect of winning any of the four awards for which we were shortlisted, but, if we’d had our wits about us, we would have liked to thank…

  • The judges and the Independent Publishers Guild
  • Our authors and illustrators, established and new, and the other hugely creative people with whom we work, from composers to paper engineers, without whom we wouldn’t have anything to publish
  • Bounce, who sell our books into shops (and who were themselves shortlisted for the award for Services to Independent Publishers)
  • GBS, who make sure that, when the books are sold into the shop, they get delivered (and who invited Tom as a guest at their table)
  • Our rights and distribution partners and customers internationally
  • Every shop that sold a Nosy Crow book to a customer in 2012
  • Apple, for making the devices that make our multimedia, interactive apps possible
  • Every customer who bought a Nosy Crow book or app in 2012
  • Every journalist or blogger who wrote positively about Nosy Crow or a Nosy Crow book or app in 2012
  • Our Facebook and Twitter friends and our blog readers whose interest and enthusiasm support us daily

Getting a book or an app from the brain of an author (or illustrator, or animator) into the hands of a child reader is a complicated and collaborative business. We are really grateful to everyone who is involved.

Earlier this week, in the course of a school assembly in which I talked about the process of making books, I was asked by a year 5 child who it was that inspired me to do the job I do. I had to think for a moment, but then I said that I am inspired – Nosy Crow is inspired – by the thought of the child who will read the book or app that we have made, who will enjoy it, and who will be, however fractionally, shaped and changed by a positive reading experience. I hope that it’s keeping that inspiration in mind that makes us award-winning publishers.

We were pleased that, having won Newcomer of the Year last year ourselves, another children’s publisher that Bounce represents, Phoenix Yard, won Newcomer of the Year this year.

A shockingly bad photograph of Emma Langley of Phoenix Yard, Catherine Stokes of Bounce, Tom, me and Robert Snuggs of Bounce feeling cheerful after the awards ceremony

And we were pleased, too, that the GBS Services to Independent Publishers Award went to Faber Factory, because they do our fiction ebooks for us.

The full list of awards and winners is here and is summarised below:

IPG Children’s Publisher of the Year – Nosy Crow

The London Book Fair International Achievement Award – Nosy Crow

IPG Trade Publisher of the Year – Constable & Robinson

Frankfurt Book Fair Academic & Professional Publisher of the Year – Bloomsbury Publishing, Academic and Professional Division

IPG Education Publisher of the Year – Crown House Publishing

PrintOnDemand Worldwide Specialist Consumer Publisher of the Year – Accent Press

IPG Newcomer Award – Phoenix Yard

Ingram Content Group Digital Publishing Award – Constable & Robinson

Nielsen Digital Marketing Award – The History Press

IPG Diversity Award – Saqi Books

IPG Young Independent Publisher of the Year – Vicky Blunden, Myriad Editions

GBS Services to Independent Publishers Award – Faber Factory

IPG [Overall] Publisher of the Year – Bloomsbury Publishing, Academic and Professional division

Congratulations to all the other winners and shortlisted publishers.

Oh, and in case anyone thinks that we’re too big for our boots, we crashed back to reality this morning: here we are outside the office, in the rain, loading the van that goes to the Bologna Book Fair with the books, proofs, rights guides and the tools that we need to build the stand:

Loading the Bologna Book Fair van in the rain

Nosy Crow is shortlisted for four 2013 Independent Publishers Guild Awards

Posted by Kate on Feb 11, 2013

We’re very chipper!

We’ve just found out this evening that, at the end of our second year of publishing, we’ve been shortlisted for four Independent Publishers Guild Awards Children’s Publisher of the Year, International Achievement, Digital Publishing and Digital Marketing.

With four slots, we’re on more shortlists than any other publisher.

This is pretty great, we think.

Last year, in March 2012 and after our first year of publishing, we were amazed (really!) to win three Independent Publishers Guild awards. We won Children’s Publisher of the Year, Innovation of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.

You can read about the 2013 shortlists in full here, but this is what the judges said about us in each category:

Independent Publishers Guild Children’s Publisher of the Year

“Nosy Crow is seeking to win this category for the second time in a row, having triumphed in 2012 after its first full year in publishing. Twelve months on it has been shortlisted again after even stronger commercial success and particularly impressive export, rights and coedition business. Judges admired its innovative products, marketing and can-do attitude. “From a standing start Nosy Crow has had an exceptional couple of years. It has bags of energy.”

We’re up against serious, heavy-duty competition, though, in the form of lists we could hardly admire more: Usborne Publishing and Walker Books.

The London Book Fair International Achievement Award

“Nosy Crow’s selection follows substantial export, coedition and rights sales. Deals in dozens of territories reflect its ambition, and good partnerships in territories including the US and Australia have positioned it in key markets. Judges also liked the way apps were developed with international potential firmly in mind. ‘The breadth of the global strategy is very impressive. Nosy Crow is very quickly establishing itself as a brand to follow around the world.’”

We’re up against Top That! Publishing and Advance Materials.

Ingram Content Group Digital Publishing Award

“Nosy Crow makes the shortlist for a raft of apps and total integration of digital. Judges liked its strategy of keeping technology work in-house while many others outsource, and the way it has reworked print-digital links by reversing paper books out of app content. ‘Nosy Crow has produced a succession of well-crafted and beautiful digital products, and achieved impressive commercial success in a very short space of time.’”

We’re up against Bloomsbury Publishing, Constable & Robinson and Faber & Faber.

Nielsen Digital Marketing Award

“Nosy Crow joins Faber in being nominated for both the digital publishing and marketing awards. Judges noted its rich website, frequent blogging, smart use of social media and brand building among online communities, and particularly liked the way it has used apps for marketing as well as publishing. ‘Nosy Crow does everything a modern publisher should. A company reaching out to people in so many ways feels new and exciting.’”

We’re up against Faber & Faber and The History Press.

We were also really pleased to see that Bounce Sales and Marketing was shortlisted for the GBS Services to Independent Publishers Award. Bounce sells Nosy Crow’s books throughout the UK. They also carry books by Phoenix Yard, a children’s publisher shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year award.

And Faber and Faber was shortlisted for the same award, which was great too: we distribute our fiction ebooks via Faber Factory.

The IPG announcement says, “The shortlists were compiled over two days of rigorous judging by industry experts sharing vast experience in publishing.

“Between them, the publishing companies span the broad and diverse range of independent publishing in the UK, and blend companies large and small, old and new. Nosy Crow leads the pack of shortlisted publishers with four nominations, while Faber & Faber has three and Advance Materials, Bloomsbury, Constable & Robinson and Phonic Books two apiece… Competition for this year’s IPG Independent Publishing Awards has been exceptionally strong.”

The winners will receive their Awards during the IPG’s Annual Conference on Thursday 7 March 2013.

Wish us luck!

Small publishers v large publishers - which is best?

Posted by Kate on May 28, 2012

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

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

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

These are some of the advantages, I think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are counter arguments, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your view?

Nosy Crow hat-trick at the Independent Publishing Awards after just a year of publishing

Posted by Kate on Mar 09, 2012

Well, you could knock us down with a feather.

At the end of our first year of publishing and second of existence, we’ve won in not one, not two, but three categories of the Independent Publishing Awards.

We won the IPG Children’s Publisher of the Year, the IPG Newcomer Award, and The Nielsen Innovation of the Year Award.

Me with Nosy Crow’s three awards

We were also shortlisted in an additional three categories (IPG Independent Publisher of the Year, Frankfurt Book Fair International Achievement Award and The London Book Fair International Achievement Award).

Given that just 14 awards are given (and some of them are for things we couldn’t win, like being the Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year), this was a pretty remarkable strike rate. To be honest, we were pretty chuffed when we received the news that we were shortlisted for several awards at the end of last week and this exceeds all our expectations.

The awards are run by the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG), in association with The Bookseller and The London Book Fair, and the winners were announced at the Annual Conference of the IPG.

The sixth annual IPG awards featured 21 companies and four individuals, shortlisted across 14 categories.

Nosy Crow was recognized as IPG Children’s Publisher of the Year for its books and apps that “bring reading alive for children and parents”. The judges said that, “What Nosy Crow has achieved in just two years is phenomenal. Its marketing has been faultless and its publishing is full of energy.” The judges especially liked the high production values of our books and apps and our use of web and social media to build and maintain close relationships with customers and suppliers.

In the category of IPG Newcomer, Nosy Crow was celebrated for its impressive commercial success after just two years in existence. The judges admired the twin focus on books and apps, and our “sense of ambition”. They said, “Nosy Crow has produced a string of beautiful books and apps in a very short space of time. It has picked up impressive sales from a standing start.”

Nosy Crow was awarded the Nielsen Innovation of the Year Award (for which no shortlist was announced) for its creative and interactive apps including ‘The Three Little Pigs’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Bizzy Bear on the Farm’. The judges were impressed by its adoption of digital technology right from its launch, by its in-house development of apps, and by strong marketing, PR and sales. “Nosy Crow has adapted to change and embraced it with some terrific work. It is easy to produce apps for the sake of it, but Nosy Crow has done something very innovative and special.”

It’s just amazing to see Nosy Crow honoured in three categories at the end of its first year of publishing. It’s such a tribute to the whole Nosy Crow team who have worked so hard and with such commitment to build a list from scratch, and it’s a particular honour for our completely brilliant in-house app team. It’s also a great tribute to the authors, illustrators and other creative talents who entrusted us with their work from the beginning of our journey. We’re grateful to the shops, librarians, reviewers, international publishing partners, and, above all, mums, dads and other grown-ups who bought and appreciated our books and apps over the course of the last year. Being recognized in this way by the IPG, a community of publishers who exhibit such professionalism, focus and sense of their readers, is particularly inspiring for us. To paraphrase Adele at the Grammys, ‘the Crows done good’.

Because it’s not, you know, cheap to go to conferences like this and Nosy Crow is careful with its cash, and, more importantly, because we’ve only got a few days to go until the Bologna Book Fair, I was the only Crow at the awards ceremony, though I feel rather sad that more of us weren’t there to celebrate.

Still, there’ll be cake later today, you mark my words.

Of course, it wasn’t all about Nosy Crow. Here’s the full list of Independent Publishing Awards winners:

The Bookseller Trade Publisher of the Year: Constable and Robinson
IPG Children’s Publisher of the Year: Nosy Crow
IPG Academic & Professional Publisher of the Year: SAGE
IPG Children’s Publisher of the Year: Nosy Crow
IPG Education Publisher of the Year: Jolly Phonics
IPG Specialist Consumer Publisher of the Year: Osprey
IPG Newcomer Award: Nosy Crow
Neilsen Innovation of the Year Award: Nosy Crow
The London Book Fair International Achievement Award: Woodhead Publishing
Ingram Digital Publishing Award: Constable and Robinson
The Frankfurt Book Fair Digital Marketing Award: TopThat!
IPG Young Independent Publisher of the Year: Andrew Furlow, Icon Books
GBS Services to Independent Publishers Award: Adrian Driscoll
IPG Diversity Award: Barefoot Books
IPG Independent Publisher of the Year Award: Constable and Robinson

Nosy Crow has been shortlisted for four Independent Publishing Awards

Posted by Kate on Mar 02, 2012

We were already feeling a bit giddy from World Book Day – terrific app sales following our one-day World Book Day promotion (sorry if you missed it: they are jolly good value at full-price too) and, of course, arguing about what children’s book character we should be.

And today we’ve had great news. We’ve been shortlisted for four Independent Publishing Awards. And these are concise shortlists – some with only two publishers on them!


We are shortlisted for THE IPG CHILDREN’S PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR AWARD. The judges said, “Nosy Crow, a new arrival in children’s publishing, is shortlisted for its books and apps that bring reading alive for children and parents. Judges especially liked its high production values and close customer engagement. What Nosy Crow has achieved in just two years is phenomenal. Its marketing has been faultless and its publishing is full of energy.”

We are shortlisted for THE IPG NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR AWARD. The judges said, “Nosy Crow is in contention in this category after demonstrating impressive commercial success after just two years in existence. Judges liked its twin focus on books and apps and admired its sense of ambition. Nosy Crow has produced a string of beautiful books and apps in a very short space of time. It has picked up impressive sales from a standing start.”

We are shortlisted for THE LONDON BOOK FAIR INTERNATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. The judges said, “Nosy Crow impressed judges with its ambition to sell its books and apps around the world right from its launch rather than relying on the UK. They admired its imaginative efforts both to promote export and co-edition sales and to sell its apps in north America. It is a great example of a company looking at a changing market and adapting itself very quickly to it.”

We are shortlisted for the THE FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR DIGITAL MARKETING AWARD. The judges said, “Nosy Crow impressed for its efforts to establish the Nosy Crow brand among readers, suppliers and other partners, making full use of websites, microsites, email, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube among other platforms. Nosy Crow has made very good use of technology and has wholeheartedly embraced the digital market.”

In some way, entering for these awards is startlingly dull: there’s a lot of envelope stuffing involved in entering for four awards! But in other ways, explaining, to tight criteria, what we feel we’ve achieved over our first year of publishing is both useful and cheering.

The awards are made at the Independent Publishers Guild Annual conference next week. The competition’s stiff, so wish us luck!

Sebastian Walker died 20 years ago today

Posted by Kate on Jun 16, 2011

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?

Is there a place on UK publishers' lists for new British illustration talent?

Posted by Kate on Jun 13, 2011

Young British illustrator Frann Preston-Gannon has said that new British illustration talent is being forced to go abroad in search of work as the UK picture book market becomes increasingly conservative.

Comments on The Bookseller article reporting Frann Preston-Gannon’s remarks point out that library cutbacks and the shrinking of the independent bookshop sector are a factor in this increased conservatism in the UK market, and I do think that both libraries and independent bookshops have, historically, been particularly strong and important supporters of more experimental illustration styles in the UK.

However, from the point of view of an independent children’s book pulbisher, I’d say a couple of things:

The first is that the UK has always looked outside the UK to launch new artists. Selling co-editions (i.e. co-ordinating a single printing of full-colour books in several different languages for different countries so that some of the costs of the printing are spread across many copies, and each country benefits from a sort of “bulk discount” with the printer) has been at the heart of the picture book’s financial viability for over two decades. If opportunities for artists exist outside the UK, even if the UK market itself might not be a big market for a particular artist, UK publishers are often keen to find them, and to support new talent with international sales. So a book originating in the UK may sell better abroad. At Nosy Crow, and at other UK publishers, the UK print-run can be just a tenth of the total print-run – the rest is made up of co-editions.

Second, there are many illustrators who, initially, frightened the UK retail horses at the early stages of their career, but who are now well and truly part of the illustration establishment. Axel Scheffler is a good example. When I first published Axel, I was told his work was looked “too continental European”; that the eyes were too goggly and the noses too big. The first UK print run of The Gruffalo was very small – perhaps 1,500 or 2,000 copies, I seem to remember, and, whatever it was, UK sales were smaller! We persisted (as did Axel, of course) and great, distinctive, witty illustration won through.

Third, at Nosy Crow, we’re always looking for new illustrators. We’ve a small picture book list, but over the next 18 months it will include, among other new illustrators:

Nadia Shireen who graduated in 2010, and whose art complements a dark and funny text (involving characters being eaten) called The Baby That Roared by Simon Puttock publishing in January 2012 (her first book, Good Little Wolf, published by Random House, is out now);

Nicola O’Byrne who graduates this summer and whose book, Open Very Carefully is a witty celebration of the printed book that publishes in autumn 2012.

Of course there are some publishers who play very safe, and there are others who are a bit more edgy. Not being part of their decision-making process, I can’t speak for them. But I can speak for Nosy Crow. We’re somewhere in the middle, I’d say. We need to feel that an artists work will appeal to a child (rather than appeal just to an adult), and that’s really our starting point. we have to feel that there’s a market for an illustrator’s work somewhere in the world, especially if we think that the UK market won’t rush to embrace a particular style. We don’t always agree: as in so many areas of publishing, we’re making subjective judgements based on a complicated mix of taste, experience and knowledge.

The book market – UK and international – doesn’t owe us (or any particular artist for that matter), a living: we have to publish books that are commercially viable, but, at Nosy Crow, we’re always looking for new talent, and we’re willing to take risks on it.

And we congratulate Frann Preston-Gannon and wish her the best of luck, wherever she publishes.

It's not all cake and candles

Posted by Kate on Dec 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But publishing’s still a risk business.

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

All things Bright and beautiful

Posted by Camilla on Dec 09, 2010

‘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.

Round the world in 11 days

Posted by Kate on Nov 29, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted by Kate on Mar 03, 2010

Today, we had our first internal meeting. Kate’s spent most of her last few years in meetings, so to have held out until our fifth week in these offices before having an internal meeting is a cheering reminder of the advantages of not being corporate. Camilla’s on the left and Imogen’s on the right and the one in the middle is that nice and capable Michelle Draycott from Imago .

Another reminder of the advantages of our scale and independence came from an agent today, who said in an email about something we are working on with him, “Also can I say how invigorating it is to deal with a quick, small, responsive, enthusiastic publisher. Life elsewhere can be wading through treacle.”

There’s no treacle with the Crow, we say.

Party, party!

Posted by Kate on Feb 25, 2010

Yesterday evening Kate went to the Quayle Munro party, a champagney affair at the Reform Club. This necessitated a stop-off at home to change into a serious dress and real heels – very unlike what she wears to work these days. She talked briefly to her hosts including the spectacularly chic and charming Kit van Tulleken and to various familiar and cheerful people who wave the flag of independence like Andrea Carr of Rising Stars and Klaus Flugge of Andersen Press.

They all welcomed Nosy Crow to the independent fold. Though she didn’t have a clue who most of the suited men in the room were, she found out that Nigel Newton, head honcho at Bloomsbury, is very impressively learning Arabic – not at the party, obviously, but in what passes for spare time in Publishing Land. Brilliant ex-colleague and chum Denise Cripps from Scholastic was there and so was Peter Mayer (on whom Kate has always had a bit of a crush since he helped her carry her own weight in children’s book dummies at a Bologna book fair about 25 years ago), but he was so surrounded by devotees that she didn’t have a chance to get at him.

Then on, on a bit late and through the rain and wind in silly shoes to the lovely Osokool Gallery in Blackheath, above the Handmade Food Cafe and Deli which is run by Ferg and Vicki (that’s Vicki with Axel in the picture), for the opening of an exhibition of Axel’s Hand Made Food Drawings which runs from February 25 to March 27. Lots of art featuring food by Axel, most of it for sale and all proceeds to one of several charities (you get to chose which one). What are you waiting for?

Up and Away

Posted by Kate on Feb 23, 2010

Up and away

Here are the flowers that we got yesterday. Sorry we can only share them photographically! 27 cheering messages on the comments page (do please leave one!) and more encouraging emails than Kate could count. People love the logo/name/website, and, more importantly, really welcome a new independent children’s publisher with an interest in apps as well as print.

Speaking of apps, here’s an interesting piece about the impact of the iPod on music, which could give those of us interested in book/book-ish/book-based apps pause for thought:


The crow takes flight

Posted by Kate on Feb 22, 2010

Nosy launch

Press release out. Emails sent. Imogen started at Nosy Crow today. If you’re reading this, everything went according to plan.

We know that there are people who will think that we are mad to be starting a publishing company at a point where many of the traditional channels to the book consumer are suffering especially in the UK and the US. But we think this is a good time to start. First, because we feel that we are on the cusp of extraordinary technological change which may alter the way that readers engage with the written word; second, because we are heartened by the flowering of independent publishing in the UK, from Profile through Canongate to Chickenhouse, and this feels like a moment when, for all sorts of reasons, being smaller than the big corporates is in many ways an advantage; and third, because we feel that the skills we have – to shape stories in words, pictures and more in a way that works for the reader, and to market those stories well – are skills that will always be in demand. People have always wanted beginnings, middles and endings, and they always will however they are delivered. And this is the beginning of the Nosy Crow story.