I went to my first Society of Authors event last night. I know, I know, how very grand and grown up. In fact, it was a Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group Meeting, the group’s very first Independents Day. No, not Independence – there weren’t any aliens in attendance – or at least I think not. You can never be too sure with writers.
Instead it was a gathering of five of the most exciting independent children’s publishers in the UK. In no particular order the panel included:
- Mairi Kidd of Barrington Stoke.
- Liz Bankes of Catnip Publishing.
- Simon Mason of David Fickling Books.
- Janet Thomas of Firefly Press.
- Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow.
It all kicked off with a lively debate on the benefits of writing with an independent, lead by author Mal Peet.
Mal kicked things off by asking the panelists why they decided to become an independent publisher in the first place, as opposed to going along the corporate route. Kate Wilson, who came from a corporate background, said it was because she got into publishing not to manage things but to create things, and being independent gives her the chance to do exactly that. Mairi Kidd pointed out that it also means you can do things you wouldn’t be able to in larger, more corporate, publishing houses; to follow niches. Barrington Stoke, for example, focuses on children who struggle with reading, especially those who are dyslexic. As she said, it was set up for kids who don’t want to read! Talk about giving yourself a challenge.
Liz Bankes talked about the ability to form more of a partnership with their authors, getting the authors involved in every aspect of their book – if they want to, of course. This is because independents didn’t produce so many books – David Fickling Books for example only aim to publish 20 to 30 books a year – and as Kate Wilson said, you’ve already chosen to spend your money on these books, money that could otherwise be spent on wine and chocolate!
Another benefit the panel highlighted was that independents can move more quickly than bigger houses. Nosy Crow, for example, managed to get a book based on last year’s John Lewis Christmas advert in the shops just three weeks from first seeing the ad. There is also a large focus on reaching the reader, which in the 0-12 year old market is usually via parents or librarians.
It was also highlighted that the children’s market is still predominately print, with only 3% digital, an interesting stat for those who want to go down the self-publishing route. There was discussion of how e-books just don’t fit some area of children’s publishing, such as picture books, especially when the text forms an integral part of the art itself. The ability to resize text in epub format, for example, can be disastrous. That was something I had never considered before. Barrington Stoke has other challenges as their books use very specific fonts and shaded paper to make their titles more accessible to dyslexic readers – so much so that they are now developing their own app to allow them to duplicate the same look and feel on a tablet.
All in all, a fascinating conversation, and also a brilliant chance to catch up with a number of people, most of who I’d only ever ‘met’ online. Yes, Jackie Marchant, Peter Ward and John Dougherty I’m talking about you! I also had a great chat with Janet Thomas of Firefly Press. Firefly are one of the newest publishers on the block, with their first book coming out next week. Janet told me some fantastic news about one of my favourite writers than had me bouncing up and down with glee. My lips are sealed, but it’s fab!
And so that was it, my first Society of Authors meet. Must admit, I was a little nervous walking in as a newbie but was made instantly welcome, especially by organiser Jo McCrum who instantly spotted me and introduced me to people. What a wonderful way of making sure people feel like they belong. Thanks Jo!
Oh, and before I sign off, can I give the Porcini restaurant on North End Road a shout out? Popped in there for a pizza after the meeting and their tiramisu was the best I’ve tasted in ages. Well, you didn’t think this was all going to be about books did you?