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.
Yesterday Amazon announced Kindle Matchbook – a new programme (initially only in the US) that will offer customers Kindle editions of previous print book purchases for either $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free. The move is being compared to another campaign launched last month by Amazon, AutoRip, which offers free MP3 versions of previous CD purchases – but reallly it’s a much bolder step than that: for one thing, CDs are already easily digitisable, whereas there’s no straightforward way (you could scan every page, I suppose, but that’s about it) of getting a print book onto an e-reader.
As a consumer, MatchBook looks great to me – there are all sorts of reasons why having eBook editions of my print library is an appealing idea. But as a publisher, and someone interested in how Amazon run as a business, it’s hard to see what the rationale was for this programme. On the surface, I can see how it sort of makes sense: Amazon tie more people into the Kindle platform, potentially upsell a lot of people who were intending on only making one purchase into spending a couple of extra dollars, and increase eBook downloads at a stroke.
But it’s not really that straightforward. Conventional wisdom is that Amazon have been pinning their hopes on eBooks as the key area which might one day make them a profit (they’re certainly not making any money on sales of Kindle devices, which operate on absolutely wafer-thin margins). Yet MatchBook seems to fundamentally devalue that core product: it treats eBooks as commodities with no inherent worth; as products that can be given away for nothing as promotional tools. Even if the norm is for a $2.99 pricetag, rather than a straight giveaway, the inescapable conclusion is that the e-format is nothing more than an adjunct to print.
So what will this do to eBook downloads for Amazon? I’m sure that lots of people will happily bundle the two formats and pay for the print and e-editions simultaneously, but who will want to continue paying the full price for eBooks as standalone products (which they have, at long last, managed to establish themselves as being) if they’re available for little or nothing when you buy the print edition? And what will MatchBook do to the general assumption about what eBooks “ought” to cost? What will that shift in buyer behaviour do to Amazon’s bottom line, I wonder?
The only conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that this is an extension of Amazon’s attempt at playing the world’s longest-lasting game of chicken: they are willing to make a loss (and their shareholders are willing to indulge this strategy) for as long as it takes for them to outlast all of their competition – and then, perhaps, they’ll try and make some money. And, ruthless as it is, I can see how this would work. Am I more likely to buy a print book from Amazon, now that I could get the ebook edition for nothing? Yes, probably. But I’m also less likely to want to buy just an eBook now, which is what makes this a particularly aggressive move towards the competiton: Amazon are, perhaps, happy to eat into their own margins to win out in the long term.
And that means a threat to bookshops. But I think this could be a great opportunity for high street retail, rather than a death knell. If bookshops can get in on the act and start offering bundling as well, they may well be in a better position to take advantage of it. For a start, bookshops’ core products are print, rather than e-, books, and so unlike Amazon, they won’t be undermining their own health by giving away the e-format. They’re also in a great position to be able to up-sell to customers: there’s no competition between an engaged and enthusiastic bookseller and a website algorithm. And if bookshops can build the right infrastructure, they might be able to offer customers e-editions in non-proprietary formats for more than one sort of device, rather than just the Kindle edition.
What do you think? Do you think this is good for Amazon’s business? Are you more likely to buy from Amazon if you can have the two formats bundles together? Will you continue to buy eBooks separately? We’d like to know.
Today we’re very happy to be able to reveal the programme for our September conference, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing. We think it’s a truly great line-up: sure to be of interest to aspiring authors and illustrators who’d like to understand more about how publishing works, people hoping to begin a career in the industry, and anyone with a general enthusiasm for children’s books and reading. Here’s a look at what’s happening on the day (click the image to enlarge):
You can also download the full programme and list of speakers as a PDFhere.
The conference is taking place on Saturday September 21 at the St Bride Foundation on Fleet Street in London. Early bird tickets are still available for just £99 – you can order them online here, or with the simple form below.
We have some work experience placements available at Nosy Crow. If you’re in full time education, will be in London over July, and would like some experience in children’s publishing, we’d love to hear from you!
The placements we are offering will last for 1-2 weeks and will be largely based within our digital, sales and marketing teams. You don’t necessarily need any prior experience in publishing, but plenty of enthusiasm is a must, and our ideal candidate would also be comfortable using iPads and Apple computers.
If this sounds for you, please email a CV and covering letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Best of luck!
This placement has now been filled. Keep an eye on the blog for information on new opportunities.
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:
Later this year, the independent book chain Foyles will move their flagship store from its current location on Charing Cross Road to a new, purpose-built bookshop build on the site of the former premises of Central St Martins School of Art. In preparation for the move, Foyles are holding a series of workshops – called “Future Foyles” – with publishers, agents, booksellers, members of the trade and interested punters in attendance, and with the aim of producing some ideas about what the new store should “be”. You can read The Bookseller’s report of the first workshop here.
I think the project is an excellent one, not least because, in order to compete with Amazon – who will always be able to offer lower prices, particularly if they’re not under pressure to make a profit, and are focussed, instead, on building market share – bookshops need to be just as innovative in offering other things. Their core, irreplacable strengths – the things that Internet shopping can’t replicate – are things that Foyles already “do” very well: knowledgeable staff, an enjoyable, physical browsing experience, and thoughtful, intelligent content curation that’s based on human experience rather than algorithms.
But if those aspects are merely necessary – but not sufficient – what should come next? How should bookshops “evolve” to cope with the increasing pressures of online retail’s low prices and e-offerings, a concomitant shift away from high street shopping, and economic downturn? I was intrigued by HarperCollins CEO Victoria Barnsley’s suggestion to BBC Radio4 that bookshops could consider levying a browsing fee upon customers, though judging from Foyles’ CEO Sam Husain’s distinctly measured response – “It is a fairly challenging thought to take on board, but really, it is ideas like that we want to think about and have to brainstorm” – it’s probably a touch more left-field than he had in mind.
The Bookseller reports that one person in attendance at yesterday’s event, Matt Finch, a freelance community outreach consultant, was interested “in how the future Foyles could appeal to people as a cultural space”, which strikes me as another of the things that the book chain has begun to do really well (last year they held events related to plays, visual art exhibitions, concerts, and more) and could expand upon easily with a dedicated space. It’s something that Rebecca Smart of the Osprey Group spoke about at Digital Book World, linking up ideas around the challenges to bookshops specifically, a Mary Portas-style vision of a revived town centre, and the closure of libraries.
I’ll be particularly interested to see how Foyles treat the children’s section of the new store, which perhaps more than any other area has the potential to be something truly imaginative and wonderful.
When I think about my favourite book shops, the elements that immediately stand out are their beauty (which can be harder to achieve for a chain – though Apple Stores often succeed), friendliness, and a more intangible quality; atmosphere – the best bookshops exude a quiet sense of calm that no other sort of shop can equal. I’m not at all averse to bookshops with cafes attached to them, but I say why stop there – why not a wine bar, or really decent food?
What do you look for in a good bookshop? How do you think current stores could improve their children’s sections? And what would you like to see in Foyles’ new headquarters? If you’d like to participate in the Future Foyles events, they’re free to anyone who’d like to attend – you can find out more here.
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?
We are very pleased that Mary has joined us today as our new Publishing Co-ordinator. Mary will be working alongside me supporting our sales, marketing, PR and production functions and being an all round office angel. She joins us from illustration agency Artful Doodlers where she has spent the last four years. Welcome to the nest, Mary!
PS – Mary has made us the most amazingly appropriate cake pops, as you can see in the photo above!
Today’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, the aim is fairly simple – write a novel (well, a first draft, anyway) in a month. The NaNoWriMo website suggests a total length of 50,000 words (or 1,666 words a day) – around the length of Twelve Minutes to Midnight.
There are plenty of NaNoWriMo naysayers who insist that it’s an unproductive or impossible exercise – that any novel written in a month can’t be any good, or that writing to an arbitrary deadline is unhelpful – but I think that anything that inspires people to try something new is a worthwhile enterprise, even if it’s not for everyone… and supposedly, Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in just three weeks, so evidently haste and literary brilliance are not entirely anathema to each other.
If you’re taking part this year and you’re writing a novel for children, why don’t you tell us about it in the comments section below? What are you writing about? How difficult are you finding it? Is this your first attempt at writing a novel?
So Penguin and Random House are going to merge, with, as I understand it, Bertelsmann having a controlling 53% stake, and Pearson, Penguin’s current owner, exiting the trade publishing market.
The company will be called Penguin Random House (not, as many of us hoped, Random Penguin – though why that’s any funnier than Random House, actually, is anyone’s guess). Of course, the proposed new company has to be approved by government regulators (the combined company would represent 27% of UK book sales, for example, and reviews would presumably have to take place in the US, Canada and Australia/New Zealand), and the transaction has to be officially closed, neither of which is expected to take place until the second half of 2013.
An important part of that marketing muscle must be the Penguin name. Penguin, Puffin and Ladybird (all part of the Penguin Group) are among the few publishing brands that the general public is aware of (as the images chosen to illustrate the coverage of the merger suggest). These are imprint names that really are brands, and that could help to facilitate Bertelsmann’s declared aim of connecting directly with consumers. Random House Group UK c.e.o. Gail Rebuck has several times emphasised the importance of “building direct relationships with readers”. In a letter to staff sent on 28th March 2012, Rebuck said further focus and investment on direct-to-consumer relationships was planned: “This time last year I spoke of the importance of building direct relationships with readers based on insight and market knowledge and this remains the case through 2012 as we continue to expand our consumer insight and data analytics teams to further embed a consumer-focused mindset throughout the company,” she said. “Relationships are at the heart of what we do and the passion and success we display in the curation, nurturing and publishing of our talented writers is being echoed in the innovation we are using in our direct-to-reader conversations. We will continue to invest in new systems and in training to ensure our direct conversations are as rich and engaging as the content we provide, and can help readers everywhere to discover the books they will love.”
Of course, it will be interesting to see if this move drives further big publisher consolidation: these things have historically gone in cycles. Philip Jones speculated that HarperCollins (owner Rupert Murdoch expressed interest in Penguin) might have a grab at Simon and Schuster or Macmillan,though both are smaller and the imprints can’t compete for brand awareness with Penguin. Jeremy Greenfield agrees with Philip Jones.
And here’s a link to John Lancester’s view, published in the London Review of Books, that “takeovers and mergers often have the effect, in the long term, of destroying value” (paragraph 9), though it’s in the context of the Royal Bank of Scotland, not in the context of publishing (I can think of many publishing examples, too, however).
I wrote about sock-puppets only a few days ago, and the subject certainly hasn’t gone away since. Today, though, I’m approaching the subject from a different angle: we have found someone trolling the Amazon book pages of one of our authors, and I would like to explain how we came to this conclusion and what it means.
Lyn Gardner is the author of our highly-acclaimed Olivia books – a fantastic series of novels set around a stage school and its pupils, perfectly suited for performance-mad 9-12 year olds. Lyn is also a theatre critic for The Guardian, so she really knows her stuff – as well as being hugely enjoyable (and I say that as someone who is most definitely not a performance-mad 9-12 year-old) the books have an immensely appealing authenticity about them. Julia Eccleshare called Olivia’s First Term, the first volume in the series, “a gripping story with a sharp eye for the power struggles within the classroom.” For The Telegraph, Dinah Hall wrote that the book has a “timeless feel … It has all the classic ingredients for nine year-olds.” And The Stage called the book “A hugely enjoyable, escapist, quite traditional series of children’s books.” Earlier this year, Olivia’s First Term was also selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club.
Now, I don’t mean by all this that because The Telegraph and The Stage like Lyn’s books other people aren’t allowed to dislike them. But they have been well-reviewed and well-received, and I think that is important context for what is to follow.
There are five Olivia books on Amazon, and four of them have received a single negative review each. These four reviews are written under different names, and none of the profiles associated with the reviews have written anything else. They’re all of roughly equal length (a single paragraph) and, to my mind, are written in a generic style of all-purpose negativity – but we’ll come to that in a moment. The really interesting thing is that two of the reviews were written before the books had even been published. One of them (Olivia’s Winter Wonderland, the fifth book in the series) won’t be available for another month – it hasn’t even been printed yet – and already there’s a sniping review. It is categorically impossible for anyone to have read that book yet (we don’t tend to print uncorrected proofs for reviewers and booksellers beyond the first volume in a series). So the reviews on Amazon aren’t by someone who has seen the book. In theory, Amazon users should not be allowed to review books before they have been published, but because of a glitch in the system from which Amazon pulls its data, Olivia’s Winter Wonderland appears on their site to be available now (in fact, it will publish on October 4th).
Here is a review for Olivia’s First Term:
I don’t find anything about the book to be dull and self-important, but there we are. On its own there’s nothing to find suspicious in this.
Now, granted, this book is not Trainspotting, but “Middle Class” strikes me as a very odd complaint (almost – ha! – as if it has been made by someone who is only trying to be rude). The speculation that the other reviews were “left by friends” also seems strange.
You will notice that this review was posted on the same day as the first one, for Olivia’s First Term. It was also posted before Olivia’s Enchanted Summer was available (the book was not published for another week). Again, it’s written in a way that seems to me to be gratuitously negative without engaging with the book itself. Of course Lyn is not Roald Dahl. Her books are nothing like his. It’s a criticism which doesn’t reveal anything other than a general negativity.
Finally, here is a review for Olivia’s Winter Wonderland:
This is certainly the oddest review of them all. Whoever wrote this has absolutely not read the book. I’ve not read the book. It doesn’t exist yet. This review is totally without merit, and whoever wrote it has been caught in their lie.
I will concede that the evidence that all of these reviews are by the same person is circumstantial: they’re the only bad review for each book, written to a similar length and style (two of them not only use the word “embarrassing”, which stands out as a choice of adjective because it is so weirdly applied, but also do so in the context of forced analogies comparing the books to dancing), by people who haven’t reviewed anything else, and the names are generic. But there is cast-iron evidence that at least some of them have been posted by someone who hasn’t read the books.
I find this intensely irritating for several reasons. Firstly, because Lyn is a friend, and this is petty, malicious and totally inexcusable behaviour, directed at her. And secondly, as her publisher, this is potentially harmful to the success of her books. If these were genuine reviews, then that would be fine – that’s what happens. Lyn knows that better than anyone: she’s a critic by profession. But these are not genuine reviews, and this person is not practising criticism.
So we return to the question – what to do to fix this? As I said, the review for Winter Wonderland should not have been allowed and only was through an error in the metadata. But all that means is that we were able to spot the falseness of the review with greater ease: if it had appeared once the book had been published, it would be far harder to prove it to be fake.
If you’ve read the Olivia books, we’d love it if you would consider leaving reviews for them on Amazon. And if you haven’t read them yet, you can read the first chapter of each on every book’s page of our website.
Over the weekend, all four of the negative reviews have disappeared from Amazon.
Philip Reevetoday posted this picture of a “sock puppet” on Twitter, ostensibly reviewing his own thoroughly excellentMortal Engines.
Many of you will already have read the recent news of authors who have been caught “sock-puppeting” (that is, posting reviews of their own books under pseudonyms and, in some cases, negative reviews of other authors’ books). If you haven’t heard about this, the writer Jeremy Duns, moonlighting as a sort of Hercule Poirot figure, has caught some rascals at it, notably the crime writers Stephen Leather (who had alluded to taking part in some of this activity at last month’s Harrogate Crime Festival) and RJ Ellory. You can read fuller accounts of Duns’ investigation here and here.
Although the story has generated a great deal of coverage, publishers have been been pretty quiet about it so far (particularly those who publish the authors in question). And as of yet, there hasn’t been any report of this activity leaking into the world of children’s publishing (which isn’t to say it hasn’t gone on, of course). But we think it’s important that publishers don’t remain silent on the issue, which is sort of the reason for this blog post.
The first and most obvious thing to say about sock-puppeting is that it’s clearly wrong: it’s dishonest, a bit sleazy, and often (as in the cases of one author anonymously trashing the work of another) quite cruel. Some people have countered that what Ellory and Leather have done is no different or worse to the authors who provide blurbs for each other’s books when perhaps they didn’t read them first, but I don’t think this is the case: in those instances, they are a reviewing a book under their own name, and that provides a lot of valuable context that readers are deprived of when the same person leaves an anonymous review on Amazon and gives the impression that they have no stake in a book’s success when they actually wrote it.
And the other thing that ought to be said is that sock-puppeting is a totally counter-productive exercise. Doing it (and getting caught, which as this episode goes to show is far from impossible) simply means that the system of reviewing and recommending books on Amazon or Good Reads becomes fatally undermined – if readers can’t trust reviews, they’re worthless – and then nobody benefits.
What this means to us as a publisher is that genuine reviews are all the more valuable: honest recommendations, blogs and word-of-mouth are some of the most important means of widening the audience for our books and apps, and if the integrity of the practice is to remain intact, sincere reviews are more necessary now than ever – so if you like (or dislike) a book, write about it!
I think there’s a significant difference between what Ellory and Leather have done and, for instance, asking your friends to review your book on Amazon (or your app on iTunes), or leaving a negative review openly – the question is, where should the line be drawn? And what can be done to prevent dishonesty? What do you think? Has this story changed your opinions of reviews? What would you do to fix the problem?
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.
What are we to make of the vertiginous new environment of publishing? It’s difficult enough to analyse the impact of change when it happens one factor at a time. When you’ve got change on almost every possible level – technology, platform, market, producers, suppliers – it begins to resemble a biological system. And as a former biochemist I can tell you: natural systems are hideously difficult to understand or predict.
Let’s take a relatively simple hypothesis: the increased importance of social media will mean that publishers need no longer spend any time or money on offline or print marketing.
“At the Hay festival last month, I heard Scott Pack – self-described ‘blogger, publisher and author of moderately successful toilet books’ – declare that mainstream media, papers and TV ‘no longer function in selling books’; that the net is now the only way for authors to – you’ve heard it before – ‘build a platform’.”
It’s not quite the message you hear elsewhere, which is that online promotion is at least an order of magnitude less effective than offline.
But ultimately these are comparisons between apples and oranges. Both methodologies can be effective. A poorly executed offline campaign may appear to result in fewer sales than a brilliantly executed online campaign. And anyway, who is tracking the sales? And how?
As LouieStowell tweeted me: “My issue is how to get stats about buying behaviour…”
Earlier this year I had a go at self-publishing. My series of thrillers for teens, The Joshua Files (originally commissioned for Scholastic Children’s Books UK when Kate Wilson was Group M.D. there), had come to a conclusion. But one story remained untold: the unpublished manuscript which gave me the idea for the entire series. It was a hard-sciencey technothriller for a different market – not one my publisher sells into. So I asked a former Joshua Files editor to work on it with me, hired a young designer (Gareth Stranks) and published The Descendant. As much as anything, I wanted the chance to have some actual sales and marketing data, even if it was from just one project. On my blog, I described our entire publishing process and have started sharing the results.
With that experience behind me, I found Morrison’s article struck many familiar chords.
At first reading, I’d agree that social media doesn’t work for self-epublishers anymore. In fact most of the online initiatives we tried for The Descendant didn’t do much. The book only began to move once we did an Amazon free promotion. Since then it is usually in the top 20,000, often in the top 10,000, and perhaps tellingly, has been my best-selling book on Amazon since then (about 6 weeks ago).
You could draw the simplistic conclusion that NOTHING worked expect the giveaway.
However, the answer is more complex. The giveaway was definitely successful because of the widespread retweeting of my (annoyingly?) frequent tweets about the promotion. For which, heartfelt thanks to about a dozen fellow authors and readers.
So giving ebooks away can work – but you’ll probably rely on social media to make it happen.
In addition, before we did the giveaway we prepared the landscape. There was a website, a video trailer, an Alternate Reality Game (it pre-existed publication, having been used to promote The Joshua Files), a handful of five-star reviews on Amazon. Individually, none of these factors led to any kind of spike in sales. Collectively however, it would be tough to deny that they had a positive influence.
From my sample of one project, the evidence suggests that social media DID help. But as a final layer on top of a LOT of basic marketing groundwork.
However, so far I’ve sold only about 600 books – almost all in the week following the giveaway. It’s going to take a lot more to cover the cost of publication. Compared to the majority of self-published “unknown” authors, I have a strong platform. If sales continue at the current rate I’ll break even in about six months. And it ain’t a living.
So… does that mean that Ewan Morrison is right?
Sam Missingham (samatlounge) tweeted: “Quite irritated by MrEwanMorrison piece … don’t get why crap social media results = end of self pub bubble.”
My own impression is that his conclusions drawn are understandable. For any individual author entering into the arena, having a less-than-stellar experience. self-publishing looks like a bubble. You try it once, it doesn’t work, you leave well alone and return to your day job or go back to a traditional publisher.
No. If business worked that way then here are a bunch of business activities that would have dried up long ago.
1. Multi-level marketing. Hello AMWAY! Hands up if you have a friend who forked out a grand or so on a bunch of garbage to sell to neighbours… Granted, it isn’t as profitable as it used to be but somewhere, even now, there will be a seminar on how to make a million selling household cleaning devices and persuading your friends to do the same.
2. Business coaching. If these seminars by people like Tony Robbins etc were as transformative as they purport to be, all their alumni would now be rich/happy/fit. Mainly, they aren’t. Yet the word hasn’t got out. The ‘coaching bubble’ has yet to burst.
3. Crime. A fair proportion of criminals end up in jail. Many of them re-offend. Why doesn’t the ‘crime bubble’ burst?
4. Publishing! Guess how many new authors are as successful as JK Rowling? (none) Guess how much this puts them off writing? (hardly at all) Why doesn’t the ‘publishing bubble’ burst?
The world is full of optimists, people willing to try something new, hoping for the best. When ‘the best’ isn’t the outcome, what do they do? Well they generally don’t boast about it. They go away, or quietly adjust to whatever level of success they’ve achieved.
But when someone hits the jackpot, everybody hears about it.
New technology platforms have made it technically possible for self-publishers to get their words out. But marketing still takes money and connections. Publishers have them and most self-publishers don’t. In fact, far from competing with traditional publishers, self-publishers are helping them! Would E.L. James have made so many millions without the muscle of trade publishing, distribution and a forceful publicity machine? No. Yet neither would the publisher have been in anything like such a strong position to pump up the platform had one not already existed.
The self-publishing bubble won’t burst, because it is founded on three strong pillars: money (for Amazon et al); opportunity for money (traditional publishers just found a terrific new way to spot talent); and hope.
The most important of these is hope. Hope is what drives people. Things have to get very bad before you kill hope. The consequences of failure need to be terrifying before people won’t risk a punt. And one punt is all that Amazon et al need.
One punt, per person. You know, the new ‘sucker’ that PT Barnum claims ‘is born every minute’.
I might even try twice; I’m that much of an optimist.
It’s a sort of truth universally acknowledged that, with a few exceptions (Penguin, for example), consumers (which is shorthand for bookbuyers, readers and the parents of readers when we’re talking about children’s books), don’t recognise trade publisher brands (as opposed to academic or educational publisher brands, whose consumers do have more publisher brand loyalty). Instead, consumers care about authors and illustrators and their names and visual identities are what matter.
But this way of thinking was particularly relevant to an environment where books were sold in real bricks-and-mortar shops. Today, when increasing numbers of print books are sold digitally, and when, increasingly, publishers’ products themselves are digital (ebooks and apps, for example) the question of the publisher’s brand comes under new scrutiny. It seems to me that it is increasingly important that a publisher’s brand does need to have meaning now. As the route to self-publishing becomes ever easier, part of what a publisher must be able to offer authors and illustrators is an association with clearly articulated brand values, and the ability to communicate those brand values to consumers, to build communities of readers, and to find and foster advocates for the list.
So, one year into our publishing journey, I was interested to find this tweet from @anne_jackson:
“Glad I did come home. Orla told me she’d been waiting for me. We read Pip & Posy: The Scary Monster. She recognised @NosyCrow. Sleeping now.”
Anne, who I don’t know, describes herself on Twitter as the “mum of one funny little girl” who “loves bread, science and football”. She lives in Scotland.
Via Twitter, I asked for the story behind the tweet, and she emailed me and gave me permission to use this in a blog post:
“We recently bought Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs app for our daughter, Orla, aged three-and-a-half. Three Little Pigs is her favourite story and she absolutely loves the app, especially touches like the Big Bad Wolf lurking outside the Little Pigs’ living room window! Even a technologically-adept child like Orla still loves books though, and we make regular trips to the library. She’s very insistent on choosing her own books. On our last trip she chose Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster. Being a huge Gruffalo fan, she was probably first drawn to it by Axel Scheffler’s illustrations; however when she picked it up and opened it she saw the Nosy Crow logo on the first page. “Look Mum, the Three Little Pigs”, she said. With that, she handed me the book and continued her search, satisfied that Nosy Crow was guaranteeing her a good story. Thanks Nosy Crow!”
The picture at the top of this blog post is of Orla with iPad and with a book.
It’s exciting to think that after only a year of publishing we are starting to have a brand that is recognised by the people who matter – children and their parents.
To celebrate, true to Nosy Crow form, there was cake: Claudia Roden’s orange cake, made by me, though it’s actually a Tom signature cake.
It’s essentially, as far as I can see, a sort of custard held upright by ground almonds:
6 nice eggs, beaten with
250 grams of caster sugar to which you add
2 tablespoons of orange blossom water and
250 grams of ground almonds and
1 teaspoon of baking powder and
2 whole unwaxed oranges (or an orange and a couple of satsumas, or the equivalent in any orange-coloured citrus fruit that you happen to have waiting for the kids’ lunchboxes) that you’ve boiled for 90 mins and then whizzed up (without the water) in a food processor.
Cook in a buttered-and-floured tin at 175 degrees centigrade for an hour.
Actually, there was another cake (chocolate and raspberry), brought by Michelle from Imago that she got in the Borough Market branch of Konditor and Cook. We had that with prosecco at the very decadent hour of 4.15pm, because Giselle goes then on a Wednesday to pick up her little boy (because that’s the kind of family-friendly company we are).
Anyway, we had a happy birthday, and it was sort of great to look back on the 2 years of our existence. Thanks so much to those of you who regularly come to the Nosy Crow site.
This is a moody picture (thank you, Leen and Instagram) of Dom and Joanne Owen, who does freelance marketing for us, with the cake as we gathered for the publishing meeting that day:
And this is a less moody, less competent picture, taken by me, of the office feeling rather bigger and buzzier than it was when the four of us gathered for our first day of public existence two years ago:
Michael Thorn is the founder of Achuka, a children’s book, and now more general book website begun in 1997. Achuka has been a review and news website, but Michael wants to be a digital publisher and so created ACHUKAbooks. Just last week, he published his first book: a digital edition of The Field Bill Nagelkerke. A writer and reviewer, Michael tweeted about how different the experience of being a publisher was from his other book-connected roles, and I asked him to do a guest blog about the experience of being a first-time publisher.
I should probably make it clear that Nosy Crow doesn’t have any connection at all with Achuka or ACHUKAbooks, but one of the good things about being a small independent publisher is that it is somehow easier to talk about the work of your “competitors” in the field than it is in a larger, more corporate organisation, and anyway, I rate Michael and thought his perspective could be interesting.
You can download The Field for free if you are quick!
Well, it’s only three weeks into being (albeit in a limited sense at present) a publisher, but already I’m feeling the difference in my relationship to the books I’m dealing with, compared with the way I relate to them as a mere reviewer and website commenter.
When I’m reading submissions for ACHUKAbooks, I continue to read with a reviewer’s eye and heart (I’m not after all going to publish something that I would review highly negatively), but I’m aware that there is another, and sometimes conflicting, dynamic going on.
I’ll be thinking, “Yes, not my kind of book, but definitely well put together and on a theme that I can see would be popular. Can I like this book sufficiently, as well as admire the way it’s been created, to shout out loudly and convincingly enough on its behalf?”
It all comes down to the question, “Do I want a list confined to just my own personal taste in reading?”.
Definitely not, and besides which it would be commercial folly, since the books I tend to love are not often bestsellers. On the other hand, I do have to be passionate about wanting to get the book out to readers, so in a sense I’m finding, with one or two titles under consideration, that the book itself is having to persuade me in the direction of acceptance based on the potential audience to which I can perceive it being pitched.
As a digital publisher with low production and overhead costs, it will be easier to have a multi-faceted list than in the print world, but there still needs to be coherence and an evident consistency of quality and standard, just as you would hope to develop with any brand.
Most interesting to me has been my relationship to our first published title, The Field by New Zealand author Bill Nagelkerke.
I predicted that publishing would be exciting and nerve-racking. I was not so prepared for how emotional it is. I’m anxiously watching The Field make its way in the world, almost as a parent looks out for their own child. I’m hoping people pay my first publishing child due attention, that they speak well of it, that it reaches an audience and achieves the success it deserves.
The first review on Amazon was lukewarm, but my internal response to it was anything but tepid. How could the reviewer not be more passionate about the book? It is not a book to be dismissed as a quick interesting read.
Once further ACHUKAbooks titles have been released, and The Field is no longer an only child, and I have to share my affections and attention with others in the brood, I imagine my publisher watchfulness and nurturing will feel just as parental, but more evenly-spread and less intense.
I hope so. Excuse me, it’s been a while since I checked how Bill was doing. It’s still early days, and I mustn’t leave him unattended for too long…
Last year, loyal readers of this blog may remember a personal blog-post about re-reading books at Christmas.
This year, perhaps because there were more of us in one place and so more preparation to be done, there was little time for re-reading in the run-up to Christmas (though this morning I did squish in a speed-read of The Woman in Black, with a view to recommending it to one of my children).
And given the number of books we received between us – you can see them all in the picture above – we’ll be pretty occupied with first-time reading for a while. There were eight of us spending Christmas day together, ranging in age from 11 to 71, and we brought with us presents from friends and family elsewhere. We received 31 print books. In fact, several of us received hardly anything else.
We are, I know, not a typical family (as a glance at this summer’s blog post covering our holiday reading might suggest). We are, as was said of Christie in Work: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott, perhaps “too fond of books”.
But we’re not alone in keeping alive the tradition of the printed book as a Christmas gift, however much we love digital reading too. As any trade publisher or bookseller will tell you, books bought for Christmas are currently fundamental to the UK book industry. According to BML’s Books and The Consumers study, 13% of all adult books and 26% of all children’s books bought in 2010 were bought as Christmas presents (though you have to hope that they get a better reception than that of this 3-year old who seemed to have modified his view by the following year. Sadly, we don’t know how he responded this year).
Undoubtedly this year, as in our house, a lot of book-lovers will have got ereaders. As @LaceyPR, a UK publishing professional, commented on Twitter, “Last year [at Christmas] my Twitter (industry) was filled with ereader recipients. This year it’s my Facebook (ordinary folk)”.
You can spot a new Kindle fifth from the left on the bottom row in the photo above. It was a 12 year-old’s main – and requested – present, and was preloaded with a number of free titles.
In fact, it was only the committed ebook reader in the family who didn’t receive or give any print books this year… and she didn’t give ebooks either, which potentially poses a real issue for the book industry as digital reading increases. Right now, the fact that many people are receiving new hardware means that publishers and certain retailers can enjoy a sort of “double Christmas”, as described by Scott Pack.
But still… printed books are affordable (the cheapest book here cost 20 pence from a second-hand shop), personal, durable and very easy to transport and to wrap or put in a stocking. They don’t give you a hangover. They don’t make you fat (well, the cookery books sort of do, but only indirectly). They take longer to consume than chocolates. A well-chosen book – one that taps into an enthusiasm or interest of a reader, one that communicates meaning or emotion from the giver to the receiver, one that introduces a reader to a new subject or author that they go on to love – is a great present.
Under our tree, there was a lot of lavishly-illustrated non-fiction, from The Magic of Reality (two copies, but not given twice to the same person) to 40 Years of Queen, and including a lot of cookery books. There were a lot of children’s books, at least one of which was given to an adult: the pop-up edition of L’Homme Qui Plantait des Arbres. There wasn’t a lot of adult fiction – only one adult fiction title was given to an adult. 18 of the 31 books we opened were hardbacks, from the £30 RRP40 Years of Queen to the £1.50 second-hand edition of Persuasion.
Many of the gifts of books we opened were on our family Christmas wish lists… though Justice for Hedgehogs kind of came out of the blue.
A while ago, I was asked to compile a Nosy Crow Christmas wish list as a guest blog post. I didn’t have the opportunity to consult widely, but I thought that you might like to know what some of the other crows later said was on our professional wish lists for Christmas and beyond.
Kirsty said that she, too, wanted to find a brilliant fantasy series for 8-12 year olds (it’s always cheering when we find out we would like the same thing…).
Dom said he wanted great review coverage for Just Right… and he pretty much got that, actually, as you’ll see if you look at the reviews section on the page.
Giselle is hoping for a great, innovative novelty idea to cross her path soon. I think Camilla would like one of those too.
Ed, Will and I wish for great, well-thought-through apps proposals that really use the features of touchscreen devices to tell stories to children in a new way.
Kate B always wants picture book texts that are original, emotionally compelling (which means they could be funny or sad or anywhere in between) and full of child-appeal.
And, of course, we’d all like bags of support for our books and apps from reviewers, librarians and from retailers whether they’re independent bookshops, chainstores, supermarkets or online retailers like Apple’s iTunes store and Amazon.
I know I missed Christmas Day for this blog, but I hope everyone else is enjoying Boxing Day as much as I am.
What books – print or ebook – did you get? What books did you want, but didn;t get? What books did you give? What was the best (or the worst!) reaction to your choice?
Dom Kingston recently joined us as our “attached freelance” one-stop PR man, and he’s getting to know our authors. This week, he met Helen Peters, pictured above at a cafe in Muswell Hill, author of debut novel for 8 – 12 year olds (particularly 8 – 12 year old girls) The Secret Hen House Theatre, which Nosy Crow is publishing in April 2012.
This is what he said:
“Meeting new authors is always an exciting part of a publicist’s job.
Often, especially if the book in question is their first book, meeting their publicist is an author’s first insight into life after the editorial process. And publicity is often a relative mystery to many new authors. Most aspiring writers know that they will have their book edited, but not so many think, when they’re writing, about what they’ll say about themselves, their book, and the process of writing it to a class of school children, a librarian, a bookseller, a journalist or a conference audience.
For some, the word and the idea of a ‘publicist’ has scary connotations – think Entourage. Or Ab Fab. Or the bit in Phonebooth before Colin Farrell actually gets into the phonebooth…
Luckily, publicists in the children’s publishing industry are always a four-day-drive-and-a-boat-trip away from this stereotype. Authors often seem to be relieved when you don’t arrive Gucci-ed up to the eyeballs, in a cloud of Kouros, and barking into the four mobile ‘phones permanently clamped to your ears.
As publicists, we just want to get to know and understand… The Author. It’s important that an author is totally comfortable with any promotional activity they’ll be doing.
So… how was Helen?
Well, she’s an English and drama teacher, so she’s totally at home when she’s talking to a room full of children and engaging them creatively with a subject.
Music to my ears!
She also kicks off our meeting with some excellent event ideas that will work beautifully for the age-group that she writes for.
The icing on the cake is that Helen’s obviously going to be a dream interviewee. She’s eloquent, focused, funny and charming. And she has a story to tell. Couple these qualities with the autobiographical, made-with-love aspects of her novel (the farm setting, the characters drawn from her own family), and we’re soon bandying around possible feature ideas for both adult and children’s media.
She’s also connected to, or connecting with, with lots of our world’s brilliant – and deliciously vocal – bloggers and tweeters. (Kate says, “speaking of this, you can read about Helen’s experiences as a first time author in this terrific blog post.”)
By this time I’m practically pinching myself.
So… Helen Peters – a lovely person, author of a lovely book and a publicist’s lovely dream . I CANNOTWAIT for curtain-up at The Secret Hen House Theatre…
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?
I went up to Lincoln on Saturday to talk to a group of children’s authors and illustrators (and agent Elizabeth Roy, many of them aspiring to be published. The event was organised by writer and blogger Addy Farmer (pictured here with me) for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
It was hard to know what to cover (and Kate had a scary 90 minutes to fill), other than pointing people in the direction of our “submissions guidelines” and to telling them we prefer to receive submissions digitally, which is the work of a minute. But I talked about how Nosy Crow got started, and what’s important to us: identifying the core audience for each book or app that we do and trying to ensure that every aspect of that book or app is right for that audience; bringing our own creative energies and skill to projects as we work with authors and illustrators to shape and make books and apps; embracing digital technology both as a means of creating new reading experiences and communicating with people about them; and thinking internationally, and accessing international markets through our partners in key countries.
Of course, most of the people there really wanted to know what Nosy Crow was “looking for” and that’s a hugely difficult thing to define.
But here’s a shot at it:
Fiction for 0 – 12, bearing in mind that a lot of the texts for board and novelty books are are produced in-house.
“Mum-friendly” books – no drugs, sex or gritty or gratuitous violence.
Strong commercial concept-driven or character-led series novels and picture books.
Brilliantly-written stand-alone novels and picture books, but nothing too intensely high-brow.
Great illustration with child and parental appeal – nothing too dark and arty.
While some of our future apps may be based on our books, Nosy Crow is currently focused on commissioning apps that start as apps, not as books. We are interested in working with authors and illustrators who are excited by, and really understand how, touch-screen devices can enhance and extend the story experience. As we have engineers on staff, we don’t need people who can code apps, and we don’t need to see a ready-made app. Instead, we want to see really great ideas and really great art (and need art that is created digitally in layers for this medium).
I got to visit glorious Lincoln Cathedral:
And I even saw a little of the top part of the city (here are Addy and Elizabeth Roy in front of something lovely and half timbered) before leaving.
I got a couple of nice comments on Twitter, and Addy blogged about it.
S C Ransom, who, as the author of Nosy Crow’s first book, and therefore our inaugural book with Clays gets rather special treatment from them, blogs about visting the printer for a second time:
I recently went to Clays in Suffolk to watch the first printing of my new novel, Perfectly Reflected. It was a specific request on my part as I had so enjoyed watching the first book in the series, Small Blue Thing, being printed last Autumn. I had never seen books being printed before, and the guys at Clays had given us a comprehensive tour and explained all the processes that the book goes through. But for that book there had been bound proofs before there were finished copies, so I had held it in my hand before, albeit without the beautiful, shiny cover.
This time it was different. Before I went to Clays, Perfectly Reflected existed only in my laptop and on great wodges of A4 paper bristling with sticky notes and covered in pencil marks. It had never looked anything like a ‘real’ printed book. I was also particularly interested in seeing the first books coming off the line, as that was something I had missed on the previous occasion. When Andrew and Rebekah gave me the tour, they explained that the operators prefer to show the process when it’s up and running – once all the start-up wrinkles have been ironed out. But they smiled at my excitement, and, as the first bound double book came shooting around the line, someone deftly lifted it off and handed it to me. The next ones went through the process of being sliced into two separate books and then trimmed. At the far end of the line they were sorted into piles, shrink-wrapped and loaded onto pallets. The machines were very loud and very efficient, and wastage was almost nil. At the end of the process I saw just two of my books in the recycling bin; one had a ripped cover and the other had a slightly dented cover. (I couldn’t resist rescuing the dented one, and it has now gone to a good home!)
With incredible speed, the line was running at its usual speed of 12,000 double books per hour, and from where I was standing in the middle, there were copies of my book on every conveyor belt I could see. From never having seen or held one, there were suddenly thousands and thousands of them. My vision and all those months of hard work hunched over the laptop were suddenly transformed into a real live book, bound in a glistening, foiled blue cover.
Everyone from Clays was lovely, answering all of my dumb questions and cheerfully explaining all the various processes. Perhaps having an author there was a novelty, though they must have had to make time to treat me so well.
As we walked around I looked at the monitor listing all the print runs for that particular production line (one of many they have at Clays). The next book up was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. How’s that for being in exalted company?
This is a series of four books by award-winning author Philip Ardagh. The books, which feature the eponymous and disgusting Grunt family, will be illustrated in black and white by Axel Scheffler and the first book, The Grunts in Trouble, will be published in May 2012.
Philip makes me laugh – as a person and as an author. Always has done, always will. His combination of professionalism and irreverence make him the perfect Nosy Crow author, and we are pleased and flattered that he’s chosen to publish with us. Pairing him with Axel Scheffler is going to make this an utterly irresistible series for children of 9 and up.
“I’m delighted that The Grunts, my latest series of (very silly) novels, is to be published by Nosy Crow with the crow so fresh from the egg, and still slightly yolky. For Axel Scheffler to have agreed to illustrate it — without my having to resort to threats of any kind — is the real icing on the metaphorical cake. I very much look forward to working with him, Kate Wilson, and the rest of the Nosy Crow team on what I hope will be some of my most outrageous books to date. These are exciting times! FUN just doesn’t express it.
And Axel says:
“It’s been several years since I’ve illustrated fiction, but there was an anarchy and humour in the outrageous Grunt characters that really appealed to me, and I look forward to working with Philip on his series with Nosy Crow.”
This is the most high-profile of several recent great fiction acquisitions, including a series of four titles by best-seller Holly Webb, that make it clear how serious Nosy Crow is about fiction publishing as well as full-colour publishing. We’ve got world rights in all languages for all of them, so there’ll be lots to talk about at the Bologna Book Fair next week.
Today, as well as announcing this acquisition, we have added our 2012 titles to the Books section of our website. We will publish 25 new titles this year, and at least 35 next year. This year we’ll launch 5 apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and we’re planning to make at least 8 new apps in 2012.
For those of you who’ve been following the Nosy Crow story – and thank you if you have – you’ll know that we first entered into an agreement with Bounce to sell our books in the UK and Ireland and in most export markets. Then we announced that our partners for Australian and New Zealand distribution were Allen and Unwin. Now we are really pleased to be able to say that we’ve entered into a partnership with Candlewick Press, who are the US’s best-known independent US children’s publisher. Boston-based Candlewick Press will co-publish the majority of Nosy Crow’s full-colour and illustrated titles in the US and Canada and Nosy Crow will become a new imprint of Candlewick Press.
Candlewick Press will publish ten Nosy Crow titles in 2011.
Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Candlewick publishes outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators such as M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Laura Amy Schlitz, and David Ezra Stein; the widely acclaimed Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, and the -‘Ology_ series; and favorites such as Guess How Much I Love You, Where’s Waldo?, and the Maisy books. Candlewick’s parent company is London-based Walker Books Ltd.
Choosing a US partner is a huge step for our fledgling company, but the match between Nosy Crow and Candlewick on illustrated publishing felt right from the start of our discussions. Though our lists are complementary, we share the culture and liberties of independent publishers, and we share our exclusive focus on – and passion for – creating great things for children to read. As someone who began their career selling rights in UK books to US publishers, I’ve known and respected Karen Lotz, who’s the president and publisher of Candlewick Press, for many years, so I have watched Candlewick grow and prosper with huge admiration. We’re very proud to be associated with Candlewick.
Karen, said very nice things about – ahem – me and about Nosy Crow: “Kate Wilson’s exceptional depth of experience in global children’s publishing and her innovative vision for our industry’s future both shine through the launch of Nosy Crow. At Candlewick, we are thrilled to be able to offer these fantastic books for young children to the US and Canadian audiences through our joint imprint.”
The photo above shows the Candlewick team with Karen on the left and with me standing when they visited the Nosy Crow offices very recently.
If you want to know more about this from Nosy Crow’s perspective, email me on email@example.com
If you want to know more about this from Candlewick’s perspective, you could email firstname.lastname@example.org
In this case, we had planned the book, but when the roughs were done and the text in place, we felt that the pacing wasn’t spot-on. The pacing of a picture book, particularly what is revealed when you turn a page (as opposed to what you can see already see on the right-hand side of a page when you are reading the left-hand side of a page), is tremendously important, and one of those things that makes creating a really good picture book such a challenge and a skill.
Anyway, we got to work with photocopies of Axel’s rough sketches, bits of paper with the text on it, a pencil and some really big scissors to redesign how the book worked. I know it’s not hi-tech, but for us, it’s the best way.
Here’s Camilla, hand sketching so fast that the camera couldn’t catch it, at work.
The reworked roughs went back to Axel, who redrew some of the images, and we’ll have a full book of art to take to the Bologna Book Fair at the end of March.
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.
On Monday, we had a pre-launch lunch for Nosy Crow. Adrian cooked up a storm (Indian food – a speciality of his), and we invited journalists and other influencial people in the world of children’s books to talk to them about our 2011 programme of books and apps. For some of them, the lunch was the first time they’d seen a children’s app.
Here’s Damian Kelleher talking to Nicholas Tucker of The Independent and Nicki Marsh of Book Trust talking to Abigail Moss of The National Literacy Trust.
It was a sort of celebration for the Nosy Crows too, as we have finished copies of our first two books and proofs of many others, so we are in the final run-up to publication.
Graeme Neill from The Bookseller came, and wrote a short article in yesterday’s electronic edition of The Bookseller.
One of the things we love about illustrated children’s books is that they are very much physical things (I mean, we have digital plans, but you’re not going to find out about them in this post). The way books look, the size they are, the way the pages feel (how smooth, how thick, how absorbent of ink)… these are such important factors in a book’s success. A publisher of illustrated books for children has a lot of fairly daunting responsibilities to an author and to an illustrator. We often pair them up, and we almost always shape their text and their illustrations and determine how these fall on the page, but we also decide what the book will feel like in a child’s hands (and a parent’s hands, and a teacher’s hands).
This is a pile of white dummies sent to us by Imago before the Bologna Book Fair. Today we met Erik and Michelle from Imago to make final decisions on the formats and materials for some of the books we took in their early forms to Bologna. We also discussed formats for books that are just – at this stage – ideas. Sometimes, our reach must exceed our grasp, and today Michelle and Erik showed us at least one really lovely book dummy that we ooh-ed and aah-ed over but we couldn’t begin to imagine how to make work financially.
Of course, it’s not always the showiest things that are the most interesting: we never think that novelty for the sake of novelty is particularly gripping. What we think matters is how you make paper (or card, or other material) and what it can do really relevant to the story that you are telling or the fact that you’re communicating.