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Author: Adrian

Fifty years of selling books around the world

On Saturday we were delighted to announce that we had received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.  We were surprised that no other publisher had received one in the last five years and were proud to be a winner.

The UK book publishing industry is a great exporter and I’ve been involved in being part of that for longer than I care to remember. I’ve been selling books outside the UK ever since I started in publishing 50 years ago; selling books to a tiny independent bookseller; starting publishing companies in countries as diverse as Hungary, Japan and Mexico; building publishing companies; sitting in a minister of education’s outer office for what seemed like days in searing heat; arriving in a tropical suit for an urgent meeting in Chicago in sub zero temperatures; meeting world figures like Indira Gandhi and Deng Xiao Ping; drinking tequila, Mai Tai, Bloody Marys on the aeroplanes; eating huitlacoche, hundred-year eggs, kusaya; calculating margins on a slide rule; fixing the fax machine; shivering in Outer Mongolia with a hot water bottle and six quilts.

And what stands out is the joy – the joy of meeting new people from different cultures, establishing bonds with them, and talking about a product whose virtues you can really believe in – the book.  Then the thrill, the realisation that they have bought in to it too, and that together you will sell one copy, or 200,000, of something that will educate, entertain or inform.

Selling internationally isn’t easy – you do need to have empathy and you do need to have precision, particularly when you are dealing with people whose language isn’t yours and in which you can only manage a couple of words. You need to understand when yes means no. And you do need to follow through on what you have promised.  But if you can do that, there is nothing more pleasurable and rewarding.

So I was particularly pleased when Nosy Crow received the Queen’s Award for International Trade. It’s been the fastest export growth rate of any company I’ve been involved with.  We are still small, but the Nosy Crow brand has become internationally recognised and we can be proud of the products we produce. We love our partners outside the UK and look forward to establishing more partnerships.

And we look forward to the next Queen’s Award!

Publishing Little Bits of Sky

I’ve been in the publishing industry for a long time (this is, in fact, my 50th year), but it’s been rare to read a manuscript I really felt I had to publish, not for commercial reasons (or not solely for commercial reasons), but because, quite simply, I loved it.

Actually, there are only four manuscripts that I can immediately call to mind.

As a novice in the publishing industry while working at Macmillan, I read a book called Watership Down which had been published in hardcover by Rex Collings, a tiny publisher, and I took it to Marnie Hodgkin, then head of Macmillan’s Children’s Books, to beg her to buy the paperback rights. She wouldn’t!

The next, a long time later, was Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things – my second failure! I had just moved from academic and educational publishing to run Pan Macmillan, and I didn’t quite have the credibility or courage of my convictions to bid another £100,000 in the fierce auction for the book, so it went to Harper Collins.

The one after that was Last Orders by Graham Swift, which I DID buy, and which went on to win the Booker prize: finally, a result!

And now, at Nosy Crow, we are publishing Little Bits of Sky by S E Durrant. We first read it seventeen months ago, and in the office there were more tears than cups of tea (and we really like our cups of tea). We were determined to publish the book, and worked hard to persuade the author and her agent that we were the right publishers for her.

It didn’t need heavy editing, but Kirsty and S E Durrant polished it beautifully. But then we met a problem – we couldn’t think of the right image for the cover. It’s a quiet book, with an abundance of both sadness and joy. The cover couldn’t shout, but it needed to make people want to pick the book up. That took six months of trial and error, until at last we arrived at a cover and a physical book that, we believe, looks and feels the way it reads.

And now, finally, it’s published, and the Sunday Times review yesterday goes a long way to justifying all that effort.

In the review, Nicolette Jones says:

“This remarkable debut novel reads as if written by an experienced children’s author at the height of her powers. The story of looked-after siblings of 9 and 11, it is reminiscent of Jacqueline Wilson in its subject, and Sharon Creech in its style and generosity of spirit … this is an uplifting and convincing evocation of time and place, of two vivid young lives and of the hope that kindness can offer. It is a gentle story, though sad things happen (expect tears) and it tells us clearly how the feelings of adults and children can be complicated.”

And, so far, we have sold translation rights to France, Germany, Japan, Israel, Holland, Poland and China. We hope it reaches its audiences not just here in the UK, but throughout the world.

If you haven’t discovered Little Bits of Sky, you can read the book’s opening below:

Buy the book online.

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