This summer sees the launch of Otter-Barry Books, a new publisher set up by Janetta Otter Barry, long-time publisher at Frances Lincoln. Janetta answered our questions about her new list and her aims for it.
Tell us about Otter-Barry Books, the kind of books you will be publishing and why?
Otter-Barry Books will publish picture story books, picture information books, poetry and graphic novels, for children 0-12. Our list aims to be diverse, inclusive and exciting, with the highest quality writing and illustration to appeal to children across the world. We will be selling our books under the Otter-Barry Books imprint in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other English language markets worldwide, and also as international co-editions to publishers throughout the world.
What will be the main challenges you face?
In acquiring books we face competition from larger publishers with bigger budgets, so we need to position ourselves as a publisher who cares passionately about quality and integrity, who nurtures its authors and illustrators, and who is looking to build up a strong backlist and keep books in print as long as possible.
In selling our books we face challenges from other media, so excellence and innovation in concept, design and presentation are going to be of huge importance.
What are the aims of Otter-Barry Books?
We aim to become a publisher with a reputation for producing books that are not afraid to push boundaries, but which also have a high entertainment value.
We aim to be one of the top children’s poetry publishers in the UK, as we build our list of four poetry collections per year.
We want Otter-Barry Books to become a hallmark of quality, an imprint that is trusted by our customers worldwide, as well as by authors, illustrators and agents.
What has your experience at Frances Lincoln Books taught you, and how will it help the new company?
My time at Frances Lincoln taught me the inestimable value of backlist sales. Frances Lincoln built a reputation for nurturing backlist, with impressive results for turnover – and happy authors.
Frances Lincoln also taught me that diverse and inclusive titles can be high-selling titles.
And my time there showed me how a small publisher can grow and thrive, with a carefully targeted list and a team of talented colleagues who believe in the company’s USP.
Describe the current state of publishing for children?
There are undoubted challenges in terms of competition from TV and electronic media and other alternatives to reading, but children’s books have remained remarkably buoyant and there is some really exciting publishing happening, from both large and small publishers.
Cuts in school and library budgets continue to challenge a publisher like Otter-Barry Books, whose titles have particularly strong appeal to the institutional markets, and the international market is also highly competitive. But foreign publishers ARE buying when they recognise real quality, the school and library suppliers are supportive, and booksellers continue to do a heroic job of bringing families and books together, showing just how exciting physical books are.
And I believe we’re lucky to have so many organisations supporting our sales efforts Booktrust, CILIP and the CLPE, of course, but many others too and lots of online enterprises backing up children’s publishers with recommended book lists, promotions, conferences, book festivals, awards… all these things raising the profile of children’s publishing and helping customers make informed choices. And more authors than ever before are out there, promoting their books through live events and performances.
All in all, I think it’s an exciting time for children’s publishing.
It’s great to see that poetry is such an important part of the list. Why do you think so few poetry books for children are published? Can you see that changing in the future?
There is more poetry being published in 2016 than there was five years ago, and that’s really encouraging. But poetry is still a hard sell in bookshops. Parents are quite nervous about poetry, and teachers remain wary of bringing it into the classroom. We need to get the message out there that poetry is something children love and respond to, that it has massive cross-curricular value, and that it is as much fun as any story book. And that there are very many poets who are brilliant at performing, ready to go to schools and book events nationwide to demonstrate the power of poetry.
The Poetry Summit Group, which includes UK poetry publishers and poets plus all the fantastic organisations supporting children’s poetry, has been a real force for change, bringing us all together in a co-operative spirit. And the CLIPPA poetry prize, run by the CLPE, has become one of the most highly anticipated prizes of the children’s publishing year.
So yes, I think things are changing for the better!
Which new authors and illustrators are you most excited about and why?
I’m excited about Nandana Dev Sen, debut author of Kangaroo Kisses. She has a really strong feel for writing for younger children, with a lovely sense of fantasy – and she’s a great performer of her work, with a sell-out show at Hay Festival this year.
I also love the work of Nicola Colton, the young Irish illustrator we paired with James Carter on his wonderful young poetry collection, Zim Zam Zoom. Nicola’s illustrations are quirky and funny, yet with a timeless quality. It was a perfect match!
John Dougherty, known for his young fiction, is our debut poet for 2016. He has a remarkable instinct for how to address big issues in a way that children will respond to, and a mischievous sense of humour with it. He’s a great performer of his work as well.
What do you hope people will say about the Otter-Barry Books list?
That we make a difference, that children love our books. And that we create books with integrity that will sell for many years!