When the John Lewis Christmas advert aired on Saturday 9 November, I, like pretty much everyone else, felt very lumpy-throaty… but the other thing I felt was relieved.
I felt relieved because, this year, we were so much further ahead than we’d been the previous year. In 2012, we’d seen the 2012 John Lewis Christmas advert, The Journey, on YouTube on Friday 9 November. We’d been pushed there by the Twitter buzz that was already building. Then I’d felt, on the morning of Saturday 10 November, that we could make a book of it… a book that we then wrote and designed that weekend. We pitched the book, The Snowman’s Journey, and got our order from John Lewis the following week. We delivered books to John Lewis in early December. You can read the story here. By contrast, this year I knew that we’d just seen and approved some pretty splendid-looking folded and gathered sheets for The Bear Who Had Never Seen Christmas, our book based on the John Lewis’s 2013 Christmas advert, from the print run that was, at that moment, on press in Italy.
And I felt relieved because, this year, working with John Lewis’s amazingly creative advertising agency, adam&eveDDB we’d had access to some pretty spectacular, specially commissioned book-friendly artwork, rather than having to use stills from the ad itself as we had to do in 2012. Having seen the folded and gathered sheets, I knew how superb the art looked combined with a text written by Louise and me on pages designed by Steph, We’d had a proper choice of paper stock too, rather than having to go for the paper that was available at such short notice. Altogether, this was a book that I knew would look great. Here’s a look inside:
This year – I’d like to think inspired by our successful translation of last year’s ad into a book! – the book’s not the only thing based on the characters and the story that lovers of the advert can buy from John Lewis.
This year’s advert has been viewed 6.3 million times – and counting – on YouTube. Our insight into the making of the advert left us astonished at the investment of time and energy into getting every detail right. You can see behind the scenes here
Craig Inglis, John Lewis’s Head of Marketing, told us, “It’s great to be working with Nosy Crow again on a new Christmas book after their hugely creative and quick work last year. Once again, the John Lewis Christmas advert seems to have captured the imagination of a wide audience so it’s great that children can now enjoy the story in such a magical and beautiful book.”
We also heard that there had been a story-time reading in the John Lewis children’s product buying department at their head office yesterday… and I’ll be being an author again this year at storytelling events in Peter Jones on 23 and 24 November.
John Lewis has, once again, been a complete joy to work with: responsive, supportive, respectful of our areas of expertise… and delighted with the lovely book we’ve made for them.
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.
A little while ago we wrote a blog about some of our favourite Christmas books. Today’s post is on a sort-of related topic: books about giving. This has been prompted by a couple of things: Ola suggested the theme with a couple of immediate nominations from our own list. And over the weekend, I read a short and very intriguing blog by Chris Blattman, a professor at Columbia University, about teaching children to share. Blattman writes about the policy of his child’s nursery:
Amara’s daycare (which, as you would expect, is the caricature of the overachieving and neurotic Manhattan nursery) doesn’t believe in sharing.
If Amara has a toy and Billy wants it, Amara is taught not to give it to Billy. Rather, Billy is told that it is Amara’s toy, and that he can have it when she’s done, whenever that may be. Amara is taught to say “mine” and fend off foul Billy.
The idea, they say, is to help a child (especially quieter ones like Amara) feel more secure, and thus share more confidently later in life.
My first thought: this is crazy.
My second thought: this is brilliant. This is the history of property rights in early human society: a set of norms that evolve to solve zero sum games, and thus promote harmony and cooperation in the absence of a coercive state.
Like Blattman, I can’t decide if this is crazy or brilliant, but it certainly made me think. Sharing and giving are very different emotional tasks for anyone to perform (I love giving books as gifts, but am very reluctant to share my own books, for instance…), although in children’s books the two activities are often treated interchangeably: celebrated as ways of teaching generosity, kindness and empathy (no bad thing).
Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter, by Axel Scheffler, is a book very much about sharing. Posy snatches Pip’s scooter and Pip is very unhappy about it. But when Posy has a nasty fall, Pip looks after her, and they learn to share together (and, in Posy’s case, say ‘sorry’) by the end.
That distinction – between sharing and giving – is probably the subject for a different blogpost, though, and for the purposes of this one, I’d like to concentrate just on giving, and on stories actually about giving – not just ones in which it features (so, no The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, which does have a great gift-giving scene, but really only as a plot device in service to a larger narrative). There is some crossover between this list and that of our favourite Christmas books, but not as much as I expected there to be, depending on how generously you interpret the idea of “giving”.
There are some lovely books about giving things other than objects, like Hug by Jez Alborough and Hugless Douglas by David Melling.
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley uses gift-giving as a means of tackling another, more difficult subject – dealing with loss – and does it superbly.
A Christmas Carol by Dickens uses giving as a way of providing redemption for Ebenezer Scrooge.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White both explore giving through acts of great sacrifice.
The volume of post arriving to the Crow’s Nest has risen rather dramatically over the past week – not because of a sudden flurry of submissions (though we’re still receiving plenty of those)… but because we’ve all been doing our Christmas shopping. I think I’m giving books to almost everyone this year – and it occurred to me today that, although we’ve written here before about different Christmastraditions, we’ve never done a proper blog post about our favourite Christmas books.
We have a fair few of our own by now. The picture at the top of this post is of The Snowman’s Journey, the rhyming picture book based on the John Lewis Christmas television advert that we made instantly (along with the knitted version of the snowman, made by Louise’s mum!)
You can order Olivia’s Winter Wonderland online here.
I asked everyone here for some of their all-time favourite Christmas books as well, and here were some of the suggestions:
Imogen nominated The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
Louise suggested The Box of Delights by John Masefield.
For very young readers, Camilla suggested The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna.
Adrian is adamant that the ONLY possible candidate for the title of Best Christmas Book Ever is The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden.
There were lots of votes for both The Snowman and Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs.
And I think my pick is A Christmas Carol by Dickens – though some of my favourite festive stories aren’t books, and when I think of Christmas, I also think of The Nutcracker, It’s A Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
What are your favourite Christmas stories? What have we left off our list? Do let us know on Twitter or in the comments!
The response to the story has been phenomenal – you can read coverage from The Guardian here, The Telegraph here, and The Bookseller here – and thank you to everyone who commented on our announcement blog or wrote to us on Facebook, Twitter or email.
And we’re very happy to say that the book is now on sale! You can buy The Snowman’s Journey exclusively at John Lewis Partnership stores and online, here – while stocks last!
We’d love to know what you make of the book – please do leave your comments underneath this blog, or drop us an email at [email protected]. You can take a look inside below:
We’ve teamed up with John Lewis to create an exclusive picture book for them called The Snowman’s Journey. It’s based on their new Christmas advert, The Journey, which they released on 9 November 2012 and which has had over 2 million YouTube views. Books will be on sale on 1 December 2012.
John Lewis’s Christmas advert, The Journey
The book is a hardback picture book, telling the story of the snowman’s journey to get the perfect present for his snowgirl. It’s written in rhyme by Birdie Black (which is the pseudonym I used for another Christmas story we publish, Just Right for Christmas), and illustrated with stills from the advert.
The book will also include a Stories Aloud QR code on the front endpaper. You can scan the code to hear a digital audio reading by Freya Wilson (who played Princess Elizabeth in The King’s Speech) enhanced with sound effects and music by BAFTA-winning composer, Robin Beanland.
So how did we get a full-colour book from idea to shop in three weeks?
Well, here’s the story.
The advert, called The Journey, was released shortly after 9.00 am on Friday 9 November. There was a flurry of comment on Twitter which we picked up within an hour or so, and I remember we all watched the ad in the office together, and talked about its emotional power. But it was a normal, busy day. I was off to the ASCEL conference of school librarians in Leicestershire that afternoon and thought no more about it.
But the next morning, I just… felt like looking at the advert again, so I switched on my computer. There were already 400,000 YouTube views recorded, and it was on this second viewing that the idea for the book dawned. It was such a simple story of an adventurous and dangerous journey with an emotional core that was clearly resonating with hundreds of thousands of people. While I’d been enormously impressed with other John Lewis adverts, this one really felt book-like and child-like and the snowman protagonist felt like a picture book character. I thought that the idea of a perfectly chosen but relatively modest gift was one that all of us who are being careful with our budgets this Christmas would respond to.
By 10.00 am, I’d written the first few verses and discussed it with Adrian, Camilla, Tom and Stephanie. It was Louise’s first weekend, so I let her off the hook, but she quickly became involved in the week that followed. The idea was that we’d assemble a small team in the office on Sunday to create a dummy that we could get in front of John Lewis within a couple of days. This was a completely speculative thing, of course: we had no idea who had rights and we had no idea if John Lewis would be interested in the project at all, or would be interested in acting as quickly as we needed them to act.
Our team working on the book
I was speaking at an IBBY conference on Saturday, but, still, the unedited text was complete by 10.00 am on Sunday 11 November, when Stephanie, Tom and I met in the Nosy Crow office. Tom provided a series of low-resolution screen-grabs from the YouTube advert and Stephanie started weaving the text and the images together into a much more sophisticated and “picture-booky” design than I’d envisaged. She decided, for example, that she wanted to use design on the wrapping paper from the snowman’s present as the endpapers, so Adrian went off to John Lewis in Oxford Street to get it. Tom started work on adding this book to our programme of Stories Aloud titles, and we did a very basic, lo-tech recording with Freya at 6.00 pm. Camilla, who’d been away for the weekend with her family, came in to dummy up the book… which was when we discovered we’d run out of toner, so we had to do the final print-outs with the help of an all-night printer in Mayfair. But by midnight on Sunday 11 November, we had a dummy book.
The wrapping paper from John Lewis
I went with Bounce’s Catherine Stokes to see Baker and Taylor in Bicester on the morning of Monday 12 November. They loved it, and by Wednesday 14 November, we were in front of John Lewis, who signed off the project on the afternoon of Friday 16 November and provided us with higher-resolution images.
One of the Snowman models (and me) at John Lewis
Stephanie, Louise and I worked to prepare print-ready files over the weekend of 17 and 18 November.
Louise giving the book a last edit
The book was on press in Italy on Tuesday 19 November. We received advance copies today. Bulk stock will be delivered to Baker and Taylor at 8.00am on Thursday 29 November, and books will be on sale at £9.99 in John Lewis and Waitrose stores on Saturday 1 December.
The Snowman display in the window of Peter Jones
Craig Inglis, Marketing Director at John Lewis, said, “I was thrilled to find out that Nosy Crow liked our Christmas advert enough to publish a book based on its story. Our snowman seems to have captured the imagination of a wide audience, so it’s great that children can now enjoy his epic journey in such a magical book.”
You can read our full press release here, and take a look inside below: