Today is the cause of much celebration down Borough way (and in Las Vegas, where Kate is enjoying the bright lights). It’s the day that Scattering Like Light, the third in Sue Ransom’sSmall Blue Thing trilogy, is published. Sue Ransom was the first author to be published by Nosy Crow and it’s amazing to think that, twelve months later, she has written and published three fine teenage novels. So if you want to find out how Alex and Callum’s paranormal romance ends, today’s the day!
Here are Sue’s thoughts on the publishing process, and her trilogy’s journey from BlackBerry to bookshelf…
“It’s unbelievably exciting to have all three books on the shelf, and with such lovely covers too. They look fantastic. Just three years ago I had never given any thought to writing anything, so to have achieved so much in such a short time is astonishing. And none of it would have been possible without the support of Kate and the team at Nosy Crow. It has opened up a whole new career for me and I can’t thank them enough for that.
My daughter, Ellie, has continued to love the books, and was able to provide some important input into the final drafts of Scattering Like Light. I’m really pleased with the way the story has evolved from my initial brief conversation with Kate, and have been particularly heartened by all the feedback from the readers. So many girls from around the world are now writing to me to tell me how much they like the story, and the few comments I have had so far from girls who have read the very end have been hugely positive, which is great.
I’m looking forward to writing many more books in the future – the bug has got me now!”
Congratulations, Sue, and here’s to Scattering Like Light!
I’m dating the start of the company from our announcement of our existence, which we sent to the trade press and others on 22 February 2010. In some ways, we didn’t feel quite ready to announce, but our hand was forced by two things. The first was that I had been asked to judge the British Book Awards and had given my job title as “MD of Nosy Crow” for an announcement of the make-up of the judging panels that came out in the week of 22 February 2010. The second was that I’d been messing around with Facebook on the evening of 21 February, working out how to set up a fan page and invite people to it, when I inadvertently sent out a message to my entire address book for a profile that referred to Nosy Crow.
We had, from memory, just three projects signed at the time we announced, and a stated intention to acquire from established talent and from newcomers. We also clearly stated that we intended to create apps from scratch. There were four of us – me, co-founders Camilla Reid and Adrian Soar, and Imogen Blundell – in a single room in an office complex in a Victorian school building.
One year on…
We have three print titles published. In mid-January, we published Small Blue Thing, a debut romantic fantasy that was written by the colleague of the headhunter I consulted when I was thinking I’d get the hell out of the industry. In mid-February, we published Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on MarsMega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert, innovative two-colour combinations of fiction and doodle-book drawing on popular boy themes by a team who came to us because I’d worked with one of them at Scholastic when he was a designer there.
This year, we will publish 23 print titles for children from 0 to 14, most acquired since February 22 2010. True to our original vision, these are books that children will really enjoy reading: when we acquire a book, we do so with a strong sense of who it’s for. Our books are by established names like Axel Scheffler and Penny Dale and from newer exciting talents. The list – and we’ll be announcing the first six months of 2012 before Bologna – will grow in 2012.
We have one e-book published. Small Blue Thing is our only black-and-white book so far and was the first ebook we created with the support of Faber Factory. I decided that we’d focus our digital aspirations on illustrated publishing and apps.
This year, we will publish 5 straight ebooks.
We have one app published. Last week, we published a cutting-edge story book app, The Three Little Pigs, to quite remarkable reviews (including one from FutureBook, The Bookseller’s digital publishing blog).
This year, we will publish at least two more highly-interactive, cutting-edge, multimedia apps.
From the beginning, we were interested in using websites and social media to communicate with potential consumers – mainly parents in our case – as well as with potential suppliers in the form of authors and illustrators and customers. We launched with a lively website that has evolved over time but remains true to our original plan. We wanted to create something with real personality, that was professional but also warm, honest and informal… and that was updated constantly: we blog several times a week to provide a window into what we do. In our first year, we’ve had a over a quarter of a million page-views from over 20,000 visitors in 129 countries, and, since we’ve had books and apps on the market, visitor numbers have risen sharply. Thank you very much for visiting us.
We’ve sold in our first list via Bounce and have promotions with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ELC/Mothercare, WH Smith, WH Smith Travel, Waterstones and Foyles. Our books are in shops from museum giftshops to Toys ‘R’ Us.
We’ve been active internationally too. In May, Allen and Unwin begins distributing our books in Australia and New Zealand. So far, we’ve sold rights in our books to Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, China, Korea and Israel with more good news lined up for announcement over the next few weeks.
There are 11 of us now. We’ve been able to attract the most extraordinary talent to work with us, from games coding genius, Will Bryan, to picture book supremo, Kate Burns. Most of us are parents; several of us work part-time; and several of us work from home and only come into our (slightly bigger) open-plan office occasionally.
There have been challenges and disappointments, and there will undoubtedly be more ahead! There has been constant, grinding, sometimes dull hard work.
We worry – of course we do – about the book market and our place in the print and digital future that is unfolding. But it’s been fun.
It’s been a good year!
Things we haven’t loved so much about this year:
Queuing at the post-office.
Being responsible for all the boring stuff like printer maintenance.
Cold-calling people without a big name behind us.
Things we’ve loved:
Being able to buy great books from authors and illustrators we want to work with as they develop.
Being able to act quickly and decisively.
Selling our books!
The conversations that have opened up online between us and readers, parents, creators and sellers.
Working with great colleagues in a relaxed and fun environment fuelled by cake.
We worked with the wonderful team (David, Ed and Jade) at Fancy. Their brief was to pull together something that felt truly cinematic – the book itself feels very filmable! – instead of the nice-but-basic “slideshow of stills” approach that we see more usually.
Our key visual starting points were flowing water and flowing hair: the Thames river and the Fleet river play a key part in the book, and her long, blond hair is one of Alex’s defining features.
On a December afternoon, the team, who’d shot another forthcoming video for us in the morning (stay tuned!), filmed in London and then went back to Somerset, where they supplemented the footage, by, for example, dropping the bracelet that we had made to feature on the book covers into water.
For regular readers of this blog it’s no surprise that our first book is Small Blue Thing by S C Ransom. It’s a paranormal romance set, unusually, in the UK, about the love between seventeen year-old schoolgirl Alex and the ghostly but gorgeous Callum, who drowned in the Fleet river, and is condemned to a half-life of stealing memories.
We have a very, very respectable 21,000 copies of the book in print, with promotions in Sainsbury’s, WHS, WHS Travel and Foyles as well as strong support from other bookshops and from Scholastic, Travelling Book Fairs and Red House. Allen and Unwin will release our edition of the book book in Australia in May, and we’ve sold rights to Fischer in Germany and Amber in Poland.
Looking back through the email trail, I see that I made the offer to publish the book a year ago yesterday, and we’re publishing the book just ten months after announcing that we were launching Nosy Crow.
This is a really exciting moment, for Nosy Crow, and I’m happy that Small Blue Thing is our first book. It’s the kind of reader-focused publishing that’s at the heart of Nosy Crow: as soon as I read the manuscript, I immediately felt I knew readers who’d love it. I read the manuscript at a point when I was thinking I might leave publishing altogether, but reading it made me realise that I know and love this business too much. Essentially, I decided to set up a publishing company to publish this book, so it’s particularly appropriate that this is Nosy Crow’s first title.
Deb has been working on the digital marketing for the book. She says, “For several weeks, Sue and Nosy Crow have been talking about the book on Twitter so our followers know all about it, and we’ve just launched a dedicated microsite. We’ll be focusing our efforts in places where teen readers spend their screen time, particularly Facebook, where the book’s fans are discussing friendship and pop culture, chatting with S C Ransom, participating in contests and swapping insights about the series.”
Sue says, “I’m thrilled that my debut novel is being published this week. It’s such a privilege to be able to share the story I wrote as a present for my daughter with so many other girls. I hope they enjoy it as much as she did! Nosy Crow has acted as the best of midwives, helping me shape and edit the story and putting in place a fantastic marketing plan with press pieces in publications as diverse as Bliss and Good Housekeeping! I really look forward to our continuing collaboration as we publish the rest of the trilogy.”
We’re publishing Perfectly Reflected, the second book in the trilogy, in June 2011 and Scattering Like Light, the third book in the trilogy, is published in January 2012.
Nosy Crow staff are having a fizzy wine brunch today in the office to celebrate a milestone in Nosy Crow’s journey (here we are in the picture), and we’re having dinner with Sue at my house in the evening.
It’s the first week of 2011 and we’ve just launched our first website for our debut publication, Small Blue Thing, which is S.C. Ransom’s first novel and the first book in the Small Blue Thing trilogy. Lots of firsts!
From the moment I saw a touch-screen device – an iPod Touch – I was excited about the potential for apps to become reading experiences for children.
The first thing that struck me was the immediacy of the experience relative to other screen experiences: when you touch the screen, something happens. As adults, we have learned that we can make something happen on a screen by fiddling around with a mouse or a keyboard or a remote control. But if you showed a computer to someone from Shakespeare’s time, she wouldn’t touch the keyboard, but (when she’d got over her fear) would, I think, try to make something happen by touching the screen. If you type “toddler using an iPad” into google, you’ll see two year-olds using that device for the first time instinctively.
The second thing that struck me was how portable the devices were. I am a mother, and, when my children were little, I carried a huge bag that contained, as well as snacks and wet-wipes and a change of clothes, toys and at least five board or picture books. I realised that you could store hundreds of books in this tiny thing: an iPhone is approximately12 centimetres by 6 centimetres by 1 centimetre.
The third thing that struck me was how lovely the screen looked, and how beautiful colours looked on it. The backlighting that many people find annoying when they read texts on screen meant that colour images were lit up like little stained-glass windows.
And the fourth thing that struck me was that, now these things were in the world, they are unlikely to go away.
At The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference in September 2010, Justine Abbott, from Aardvark Research shared some of her research about young children’s engagement with digital media.
She talked about the fact that 28% of children under six have a television in their own rooms.
She said that pre-schoolers in her survey were watching television for over two hours per day.
She said that the youngest iPad user she’d met was four months old.
She quoted the mother of her 20 month-old son, “he’ll probably learn to read from the computer”.
She said that parents welcomed iPhones as “electronic Mary Poppinses”, providing interactive and engaging entertainment for their children without their intervention.
She concluded by saying that families were increasingly embracing screen-based technology as entertainment for their child, saying it was “portable, personal and (importantly) permissible”.
I know that many people involved in the world of children’s books shake their heads in sorrow or horror at Justine Abbott’s statements, and would, I know, recoil from the other statistical evidence that children are spending less time with print and more with screens and that their parents and teachers are letting them or encouraging them to do so.
But what are we to do? We could turn our back on the evidence, and say it is nothing to do with us, and keep our focus exclusively on print. Or we could try to ensure that some of that screen-time is reading time.
At Nosy Crow, we love books. We love the smell of them. We love the feel of them. We love the way that everything changes when you turn a page. Some of the books we will publish really have to happen on the printed page: they are very physical things. There are touch-and-feel elements throughout the Noodle books illustrated by Marion Billet that we will publish in May 2011. There are illustrations for the reader to complete with their own pens and pencils in the Mega Mash-up books by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson that we publish in February 2001. And there are good, “old-fashioned” (in format, not content) paperbacks like S C Ransom’s romantic fantasy Small Blue Thing, published in January 2011, and beautifully produced picture books like Axel Scheffler’sPip and Posy titles that are published in April 2011.
But, while we love books, we love reading more. And we profoundly believe in the potential for literacy and, specifically, reading for pleasure, to transform lives. We know that reading for pleasure correlates with increased attainment in reading and writing; that reading for pleasure fosters creativity and imagination; that reading for pleasure develops good social attitudes; that reading for pleasure contributes to knowledge and understanding of the world and that reading for pleasure contributes to self-esteem. We don’t just make this stuff up. These are the conclusions of decades of research: PIRLS 2007; Cox and Guthrie 2001; Meek, 1987; Allen et al 2005; Bus et al, 1995; Stanovich and Cunningham, 1993; Hatton and Marsh, 2005; Pressley 2000.
I’ve just come back from speaking at a children’s publishing conference in Munich: Wie digital wird das Kinderbuch?(How digital will children’s books become?). There the statistics presented about German children’s embrace of technology were just as overwhelming, but several publishers there were advocating a softly-softly approach: let’s make apps, but let’s not make them too different from books. Let’s keep the book, but have it appear on the screen. Let’s not get into competition with computer games and animated films.
That’s not what I think we, as publishers, should do.
I think that this route risks making reading less exciting to children. If games and books exist in the same screen space, the comparison between the two will be made. If something happens – a noise, a movement – when you touch the iPad screen when you are playing a game, won’t you feel disappointed if nothing much happens when you are reading a book?
I think that, as publishers, we shouldn’t be trying to squash the books that already exist onto a phone. We should, I think, be creating reading experiences for touch-screen devices. The devices have the capacity for sound, animation and interactivity built into them, and we should use those capacities to tell stories in a new and engaging way.
We’re trying to do just that. If you go onto YouTube and search Nosy Crow, you will find a video of the first of our 3-D Fairy Tales: The Three Little Pigs. It has text and it has illustrations, but it also has an audio track, and animation. When you touch the characters, they move, and you get additional comments. You can make the wolf blow down the house. You can explore the picture, and, when you tip the device backwards and forwards, the images look as if they are in 3-D. Here’s the link.
Making this app, and working on the others that we are developing has used many of the skills we already had: shaping text, determining pacing and choosing illustrations. We have had to learn new skills too, some of them purely technical, but many of them about how to tell a story in this new medium.
We think that, for us and for the people we have worked with, the process has been exciting. But what is important is that we’ve ended up with a reading experience that is engaging, fun, scary, funny, worthy of repeating – in the same way that a good book is all those things.
We shouldn’t turn our back. We shouldn’t go a little way down the digital path or do it half-heartedly and with reluctance. We should, I think, go to where our readers are going, and make sure that they read along the way.
(This is an edited version of an article that Kate has written for Books For Keeps, published in 2011)
Since the beginning of October, Kate has been to Germany three times (OK, once it was for the Frankfurt Book Fair, but still…), has been to France and Holland once each and has been round the world in 11 days, flying from London to the East Coast of America and then on to Sydney (a trip that involved two 21 hour flights in 3 days).
The purpose of all this travel? She’s trying to find homes for Nosy Crow’s titles in different countries and languages. There’s lots of interest from lots of people in lots of things. Kate (with Adrian) saw 120 people in Frankfurt and 30+ publishers or imprints of publishers in the USA over 5 days (it was like speed-dating, really: her most remarkable day involved 11 appointments in 14 hours).
We’re following all the expressions of interest up diligently,and will have more to announce soon, but one important big deal has come out of all the travelling so far: we’ve appointed our Australian distributor, Allen and Unwin. As well as being Australia’s biggest and best Australian publisher (they’ve won the Publisher of the Year award nine times), they’re independent and… very nice, being enthusiastic and easy to deal with. And they’re based in Crows Nest, which is a bit of Sydney. How good an omen is that?
As well as distributing Nosy Crow, they distribute a handful of important UK publishers like Faber, Profile and Bloomsbury. It is, really, a privilege to have been added to their portfolio, because they don’t say “yes” to just anyone.
As Robert Corman, who is the CEO of Allen and Unwin, said in a press release:
“At Allen and Unwin we love partnering with clever independent publishers. That is why we are delighted to be representing Nosy Crow in Australia and New Zealand. We greatly look forward to helping them grow their business in the ANZ market.”
And Liz Bray, Children’s Book Director of Allen and Unwin, says:
“We’ve been following Nosy Crow’s activities with great interest since they announced their establishment in the UK earlier this year and admired the energy, savvy and passion of their team as well as the books they’re producing. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them in Australia and New Zealand on books from much-loved creators like Axel Scheffler as well as new stars including S.C. Ransom. Nosy Crow’s innovative, child-focused books have great potential in our markets and will be a fantastic complement to our own publishing and the wonderful children’s lists we distribute.”
So that’s another important part of Nosy Crow’s jigsaw in place, and we are very chuffed.
Exactly a year ago today, on the 18th November 2009, I sat at my computer, took a deep breath, and pressed “send”.
The email was addressed to Kate Wilson, a contact of a colleague, who I had been told would be happy to give me a view on whether the book I had written for my daughter’s 12th birthday was anywhere near publishable. I had already submitted to one agent but not yet heard anything. By return, I got a nice response from Kate approving the Suzanne Vega reference in the title. That was was encouraging. Then on the 20th (I keep a note of these things!) I got an email back asking for the full manuscript and suggesting that we meet up.
Hugely excited, I sent off the vast file and sat back to wait. And wait. And then wait some more. I didn’t want to approach any more agents as I was hoping that Kate (who hadn’t even started up Nosy Crow at this point) would give me an ‘in’ which might short-circuit the slushpile. But Kate was busy (very busy, I discovered later), and I heard nothing more for a while. I got a rejection from the first agent. It seemed that my novel was destined to be a family affair, not an international bestseller.
In the New Year, I gave Kate a gentle prompt, and – hurrah! – we finally arranged to have that coffee. We met in Café Valerie near Sloane Square on the 12th January. Sizing each other up, we decided we liked what we saw, and by the end of the meeting I had an offer for the book which was to be Nosy Crow’s launch publication. On the 27th January, I met with Kate and Camilla at the Nosy Crow “North London Office” – the Wellcome Trust Cafe on Euston Road – and signed a contract for not just Small Blue Thing, but for a trilogy of books. (The photograph is of Kate and me, with Kate signing the contract.)
This post is a few days after the event (mainly due to technical problems with the camera), but Wednesday was an important day in Nosy Crow’s evolution. It was the day that the first book we’ll publish, Small Blue Thing, came off the press!
It was such a momentous day that Imogen visited the Clays factory with the author Sue Ransom and her family to see the first finished copies come off the binding line. This was very exciting for everyone: for Sue it was the first book she’s ever had printed and published: and for Imogen it was the first book she’s ever put into production.
Whilse we were at Clays, we were fantastically well looked after by Andrew Cochrane and Max Roche who showed us round, answered our questions, and provided a lovely lunch (although one sadly lacking in cake, which is pretty essential to all Nosy Crow celebrations). So thank you Clays, and everyone else (copy editor, proof-reader, jacket designer, photographer) who was involved in this big day.
Kate went to Nosy Crow’s first Bounce conference: 18 sales reps and marketeers in a room who wanted to hear about Nosy Crow’s first seven books so that they could sell them to their customers. (Bounce is our sales agency for UK and export as we announced in our recent blog post.
Oh, and, the truth is that Kate loves an audience, and it is perhaps the only disadvantage of being a small, independent publisher that she doesn’t get one as often as she used to. And while she’s stood in front of reps and talked about books before, they’ve never been her very own company’s books. So all in all, it was a Big Day for Nosy Crow.
Sue Ransom joined us for a lunch that featured chips and ice-cream (top lunch in Kate’s books), and at least one of the reps was able to give her excellent feedback from real, live bookshop people based on their reading of proof copies of Small Blue Thing.
Some of you have been following the story of the creation of the bracelet that will feature on the cover of the debut novel that’s Nosy Crow’s first print publication, Small Blue Thing. You know that we’ve biked across London with bags of opals, chosen between alternative designs, experimented with dangling bracelets on fishing line in water to see if we can get a bracelet-under-water look working…
The bracelet in question is a “real” version of the one that author Sue Ransom imagines heroine Alex finding buried deep in the mud of the Thames, that turns out to be the means of communicating with the drowned, including the incredibly gorgeous Callum, who wears an identical bracelet himself.
And it’s been made! Zoe Harding has managed to create something lovely that tallies incredibly well with the bracelet as Sue imagined it.
So we took it along one evening to Waterloo station to meet Sue after work to show it to her. Here she is wearing it.
the great response (on the website and directly) to March 8’s post of the results of the “What boys really like”
the fact that the neighbours were having a wall demolished brick by ear-splitting brick with a drill
a first-ever (really: there are advantages to always being at work) visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses
Kate spent a day at home – another first! – editing Small Blue Thing. She realises that she could not work from home because there is too much of interest in the fridge. Well, she could work from home, but she’d have to be winched out.
Small Blue Thing is a joy to work on, and Sue a joy to work with. In editing terms, we’re just over half-way through the book. Callum’s sister Catherine – a ghostly Dirge, like her brother – has persuaded Alex that Callum has been lying to her: all he wants is to drain Alex of her memories and move on to his next victim. Alex can’t bear to believe she’s been betrayed, but she knows, too, that Callum has been evasive. Alex has ripped the amulet that lets her see Callum from her wrist, though he begs her not to, and she’s devastated. Ooooh, it’s good!