Thursday, 24 May 2012

So you want to be a publisher?

On Tuesday Night I went along to a Childrens Book Circle event held in the Penguin Offices and featuring three independant and inspirational pubishers.
Sarah Odedina who runs the new Hot Key imprint from Bonnier.
Barry Cunningham who set up Chicken House.
Kate Wilson who owns Nosy Crow.

Sarah began her career  as an associate literary agent and then moved into rights, she moved to orchard and found a love for childrens books which continued when she moved to Bloomsbury, taking over from Barry Cunningham and working with authors like Celia Reys, Neil Gaiman and J.K Rowling.
Having been asked to run Hot Key books, a new imprint of Bonnier looking at books for children and teens between 9 and 19 years old, she's now running a team of twelve with great optimism and belief that people want good stories, just as they always have.
With 9 titles launching this year and 30 titles next year Sarah described their ethos as being author led with regard to the books but marketing led with regard to sales.

Barry Cunningham started his career in the music business running a punk music label called "Stiff" before moving into publishing with Penguin and Puffin. He found that adult authors had more dissapointing relationships with their readers than childrens authors like Roald Dahl. Barry believes that children see the author as almost another character in the book and just as important.
He moved to Bloomsbury, started a childrens list and rather famously discovered Harry Potter. Starting up Chicken house he wanted a synergie between the authors and the list.
Chicken House is part of the Scholastic family and now has links with germany and holland also.
 They have always wanted to publish new authors as they have no baggage and  it usually results in more rights being available for the publisher. He believes that now is the perfect time to start publishing from home.

Kate Wilson started in the rights department which gave her a global understanding of the business and she enjoyed the freedom she was given as she travelled the world selling books. She moved to Macmillan for ten years, got married, had two kids and realised she'd missed most of their childhood.
Deciding she wanted to run her own business she set up an adult publishing company which didn't work and only lasted five months.
Eventually she and her husband set up Nosy Crow using their own money, looking for the best authors and illustrators and connecting with mums to offer them suitable books for their children. They publish books and apps for babies up to 12ish. They don't do Y.A or anything with swearing, drugs or controversial issues.
Kate is enjoying creating and commissioning work and although she claims to be not good with authors as she's not very nice she was certainly very direct and funny. As she said every penny she spends on marketing or publicity she has to decide if she'd rather be spending it on cheese in Sainsburys!

This was a different event to the usual ones I attend, aimed primarily at the publishing industry, (many attendees were from Penguin itself) rather then wannabe writers like myself.
This gave a rather interesting perspective, perhaps more honest then the ones I usually hear and looking at the way publishing is changing in a digital age. As it's so easy for anyone to publish their own books Kate said it was important to look at what a traditional publisher could actually offer.

However for my fellow writers I did ask the question  - why should a debut author choose a smaller publisher over a large one? The answers were as follows;

1. A better, closer relationship .
2. Meeting everyone in the team.
3. More committed to making your book a success because it really matters to the publisher that it does well.
4.Good cake! (V. important obviously!)

If you would like to submit your work to any of these publishers, Hot Key and Nosy Crow are currently looking at unagented submissions whereas Chicken House run their annual competition. Good Luck!


  1. Thank you. This was useful. I'm a fellow Scooby member who occasionally goes to Children's Book Circle events but couldn't go to this one.

    1. This was my first Cbc event and it was really good. Glad you found it useful.

  2. Hi Lorraine, obviously I'm biased as I'm published by Nosy Crow, but the answers about publishing with a small publisher are all true (especially the cake!).

    1. How lucky are you Paula, you get published and get great cake! Very jealous!

  3. Thanks Lorraine, I couldn't make this, so your blog update was very helpful.