If there’s one thing everyone is certain of for 2013, it’s that it will be a year of change. What will it all mean to those in the children’s book world, what’s worrying people, and what are they looking forward to? Books for Keeps takes a new year snapshot.
Hard work, collaboration and impact: School libraries in 2013.
‘You could be excused for thinking that the world of school libraries and librarians is all doom and gloom’, says Adam Lancaster, School Librarian of the Year. ‘After all, in many cases you’d be completely and utterly correct. School Library Services across the country are being threatened with drastic cuts or even closure – a fate that has been very real in my area where Hertfordshire SLS, a beacon service not so long ago, was closed nearly a year ago.
‘But no matter how bad a position librarians find themselves in, we’ve never had such an opportunity to demonstrate our worth.
‘Literacy is the order of the day. Basic skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – are not just on the government and Ofsted’s agendas, they are the glue holding everything together. With recent changes to professional teacher appraisal systems, Ofsted success criteria and the possible introduction of performance-related pay, anything linked to student attainment is going to have a school’s senior staff concerned. Literacy is the bedrock of progress and schools are crying out for a saviour, someone to show how literacy is valued throughout the school, how reading skills are embedded in learning and that there is someone in the school focusing on those students who fall short.
‘”Hang on!” I hear you say. “Haven’t you just described a librarian?” Exactly! Schools needn’t look further than the only room in the school that has the ability to affect every single classroom and to impact on the learning of all students.
‘In libraries we have been doing all these things that schools are so desperate to see for a very long time. We are the saviours that schools are looking for.
‘That’s why 2013 is going to be both a hard year for school libraries, and one of unparalleled opportunity. And librarians are already beginning to show their colours. Communities of librarians are collaborating and sharing best practice. They are beginning to a make a difference on a whole school scale. Unfortunately this isn’t happening everywhere, but for every librarian that achieves this in their school it brings us one step closer, as a profession, to being recognised for what we can do.
‘2013 could actually be a very good year for school libraries and librarians.’
Sian Williams of The Children’s Bookshow is also looking forward to the opportunities 2013 will bring, and in particular a new project for children’s literature in spring.
‘Buoyed with the success of our 10th Birthday tour in 2012, when we had 95% plus capacity audiences in twelve theatre venues around the country, and newly supported by a generous grant from the Unwin Charitable Trust, Kate Tull, my co-director at the Children’s Bookshow, is working with the Devon Library Service to take writers and illustrators Alexis Deacon, Jessica Souhami, Daniel Morden, Michael Rosen, Berlie Doherty and Elizabeth Laird to libraries across the county in March. After readings at each venue, there will be the opportunity to buy books at bookstalls organised with local booksellers and signing sessions.
‘If the project is a success, and the huge enthusiasm of the Devon librarians is a good portent, then we plan to run similar tours in the future in areas of deprivation across the country. ‘
‘Seven Stories rides on the crest of a wave encircled by choppy waters,’ says Kate Edwards, Chief Executive of Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books. ‘2012 was one of our best years yet. We saw the highest number of visitors since we opened in 2005, and our schools programme goes from strength to strength. Late last year we were awarded national status through Arts Council England’s accreditation scheme, recognising the national significance of our collection, our excellent programmes and audience engagement.
‘Set in the wider economic context though, the picture is bleaker. We are in the midst of the worst economic times that communities have known for decades. Public sector cuts will have a detrimental impact on the lives of children, young people and families here, especially the vulnerable. Seven Stories isn’t unaffected; 13% of our funding is grant aid from Newcastle City Council and is under threat.
‘A good measure of our 2012 success was the result of our exhibitions and events programme, along with our commitment to tailoring it to our audiences’ interests and motivations. Undoubtedly, a run of blockbusters with Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson and Cressida Cowell captured our visitors’ imaginations.
‘There is a lot to look forward to in 2013. Ask any visitor what they would like to see at Seven Stories, and for many an Enid Blyton exhibition is top of their list. In 2010 we purchased a collection of original Blyton typescripts, including some Famous Five, Malory Towers and Noddy, resulting in our custodianship of one the largest Enid Blyton collections in the world. This will go on show from 4th May 2013 in a code-cracking extravaganza. Our celebrated Judith Kerr exhibition will return later in the year, back to honour her 90th birthday. Our audience reach is increased three-fold through our national touring exhibition programme.
‘Seven Stories was purposefully founded in the North-East where financial and aspirational poverty are greater – a place where it could make a real difference. Our 2013 challenge is to sail perilous seas, finding solutions to the cuts that we must bear, and working in solidarity with others to campaign against their disproportional and long-term impact.
‘Readers can help by joining our Friends Scheme and by lending their voice to our campaign about the impact of cuts. Find out more at www.sevenstories.org.uk’.
The publisher’s perspective
‘2013 looks set to be another challenging year for children’s publishers.’ says Ingrid Selberg Managing Director at Simon and Schuster, ‘S&S UK had our best year ever in 2012 but we had to work very hard to achieve that in the current retail climate. The rate of change, both at retail and in terms of our actual publishing with the growth of digital, is faster than I have ever experienced it.
‘We can expect the trend of big author “brands” driving sales to continue to grow. Fewer brands are commanding more sales as most retailers are supporting slimmer ranges. This has been great for us in terms of growing sales of our big authors – Darren Shan, Philippa Gregory, Becca Fitzpatrick, Sophie McKenzie, Dork Diaries in fiction and the Aliens Love Underpants brand and Sue Hendra in picture books – but it has become harder to get attention for debut authors, and for those we are working hard to increase awareness and visibility with a combination of old-fashioned hand-selling and using social networking and digital promotion, such as ebook samplers.
‘The sale of ebooks grew four-fold for us in 2012 and this is largely driven by YA titles. A new area for us is a strong list of “New adult” titles which were self-published in the US but which we are bringing to a wider audience both online and as physical books. These “hot romances”, which are proving very popular, feature characters in the 17-22 age group and deal honestly with the issues and concerns of their lives. I am sure we will see a lot more of this in 2013 as well as more original publishing in ebook formats first.’
Meanwhile, Ruth Knowles, Editorial Director, Fiction at Random House Children’s Publishers, predicts a crime wave! ‘Crime levels have increased sharply in the last year or two! Adult authors like Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell continue to dominate, and authors like SJ Watson and Gillian Flynn are taking the charts by storm. We’re very excited about publishing into this area for teenagers during 2013, and are delighted to welcome successful adult crime novelist Jane Casey to the list with her first YA thriller, How To Fall. We have fresh novels from Niall Leonard and Helen Grant, and with a ghostly take on detective matters, the inimitable Jonathan Stroud returns with an eagerly anticipated new series Lockwood & Co., the hero of the title playing a more supernatural Sherlock.
‘Fantasy is, of course, a perennial favourite – and we’re constantly impressed by readers’ voracious appetite for more. We’re seeing a real buzz around Rachael Hartman’s Seraphina and its sequel Drachomacia, as well as Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s series – with Jeff Bridges starring in the movie adaptation, set to be one of the biggest films of the year.
‘The developments in the digital publishing world continue to be incredibly exciting, particularly as online self-published authors are breaking through into the mainstream. The talent in the self-publishing charts and on online story forums is staggering, particularly in the case of Beth Reekles and Liz Reinhart, who we’re publishing in both ebook and physical formats this year.’
Kate Wilson’s Nosy Crow will publish 50 print and ebook titles in 2013 – twice as many as in their first year. ‘We’ll continue to release highly interactive, multimedia apps. We’ve just launched Stories Aloud, our innovative programme of free digital audio readings that you can access using a QR code, read with a smartphone, tablet or iPod Touch, for all of our paperback picture books. The first three titles in the programme have already reprinted.
‘As for the industry at large, the completion of the proposed Penguin/Random House merger may well be the first of several mergers, widening the gap between large and small publishers, and, perhaps, the experience for authors and illustrators of being published by one or the other of them. Like other publishers, Nosy Crow is always – through blogging and social media – working to build our brand and our community. We are pleased and proud to have the loyalty of a number of advocates with whom we communicate digitally in a way that would have been unimaginable a few years back. As for bookselling, we expect that the UK will mirror recent US growth in ebook sales of novels for children and young adults and it seems inevitable that more bookselling, whether of ebooks or print books will happen online. If physical bookshop space shrinks, that will have an impact on children’s bookshop sales which have so far been more resilient than bookshop sales of other kinds of books: bookshops remain an important place of discovery, and it will be interesting to see how bookshop chains and independents rise to the challenge of making a book shopping experience more of an event.’
Sarah Odedina MD at Hot Key Books agrees that the market has changed completely. ‘While I am sure it will continue to change over time, it is our relationships with booksellers and readers that has been most excitingly transformed. 2013 will see more effective communication between publishers and the end readers of our books. We will be much more positive and creative in terms of communicating on the books we will be publishing and authors too will find that their roles in the wider marketing of their books will be more crucial than ever before. Fleur Hitchcock’s online interactive writing thestoryadventure.com is an example of how well it can work when an author engages with her audience.
‘We have all been talking about digital publishing for sometime but it seems to me that we are finally becoming clear on what it means to us as publishers both in terms of a usable and saleable format as well as a predictable revenue stream. 2013 will see us consolidate on all we have learnt from the last three or four years of rapid growth in digital sales and also allow us to be more focused in marketing our digital books to readers. Having said this, I do think that this will be particularly relevant for books for older readers and that books for younger readers will still pose a challenge in the digital format.’
Like Ingrid Selberg, she predicts a big growth in the ‘new adult’ genre both in terms of print and digital sales. ‘The Vincent Boys and The Vincent Brothers by American author Abbi Glines is a perfect example of the blending of publishing print and digital editions and marketing. We published a new edition with extra content first as an ebook and then in paperback to capitalise on Abbi’s exisiting fans online. The campaign started at the end of 2012 and will build over the coming months.
‘But without a doubt my firm conviction is that story will “rule”. As ever in the world of publishing, if we have good books, by talented authors, with strong and compelling stories and we use the new landscape creatively, we will enjoy the business of publishing in 2013.’
The rise of the ebook won’t see the end of beautifully produced printed books, in fact, on the contrary Ben Norland Art Director at Walker Books predicts, ‘the steady rise of very high-end paper books grow as a counter balance to electronic editions. Plus, every year sees an increase in the awareness of the importance of comic and graphic novels and I look forward to that trend continuing. One day perhaps, a graphic novel will win the Carnegie medal, though probably not in 2013! I am looking forward to yet more exciting and innovative apps for children being produced for mobile devices. Last year, I saw one or two really interesting examples – I am sure this year will turn up more than that. Over the last few years, long form fiction and illustration have been brought together with some fantastic results. I look forward to that trend continuing.’
Over at the ever innovative Templar, Amanda Wood, Templar’s Creative Director and Mike Jolley, Art Director, are excited about the launch of a new imprint, Big Picture Press, which they say, ‘is all about our belief in the need for beautiful, physical books – maybe not the most commercial but books for those people who want to hold a really beautiful object in their hands, books that you can sniff (!), that you want to hug to your chest and keep forever.’
They add,‘It’s our abiding hope that, whatever else happens on the high street, there will always be a place for really good independent bookshops selling high quality books to real book lovers. It may become more of a niche market perhaps but it’s one that we want to support fully since it allows us to publish the less obvious titles, such as the story of Jemmy Button – a gorgeous picture book illustrated in a mixture of collage and gouache by illustrators Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali.
‘At the other end of things, the rise of all things digital means more illustrators having the ability to reach out through the web direct to consumers, selling their prints online and creating their own digital picture books – great news for diversity of art styles being given an airing. And lastly we think we might be nearing the end of the fifties/sixties retro trend and about to see the emergence of all things seventies as the next design influence!’
Last word goes to Barry Cunningham OBE, founder and MD of The Chicken House. ‘2013? Well, the death of the high street, huge online retailers and vast publishing companies – the future? Easy, just read Melvin Burgess’ The Hit for what happens next! My other predictions are bards on every corner – storytelling start-ups and writing classes free on the National Health.
‘Seriously, the lesson from history is that now is the time for small, clever, targeted and personal publishing. Because readers, not retailers, have the power now. Exciting, isn’t it?’