Friday 7 April 2006

The Picture Book Markets Warms Up - as a Buzz Grows Around Another Kind of Picture Book

The picture book market has been tough – as can be attested to by anyone who’s spent the last few years licking stamps and sending off picture book manuscripts only to have them returned to their letterboxes with a thump.

But at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair last month, there was a glimmer of something good about the picture book market.

“Picture Books are doing a little bit better, easing up a little,” Barry Goldblatt told aspiring authors at SCBWI’s Before-Bologna agents panel. (Read Barry's blog).

Now Graham Marks of Publishing News reports (cautiously, I might add) it might be better than a glimmer. If you caught this early you can read the whole report. But since Publishing News wipes its web pages regularly, anyone who catches this too late will be interested in the key passage from Graham’s report:

By Wednesday there was a definite feeling of consensus amongst publishers. It will, of course, take a few more weeks before everything has been sifted to see what gold remains in the pan, but it does look as if at least some of the bright, shiny bits are going to be picture books, and that the market may have turned a corner at long last.
Bloomsbury’s Sarah Odedina (who edited Witch Child by Celia Rees and that wonderful book A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly) is quoted as saying that “the most exciting thing is how strong colour is – co-editions are back for us”.
Co-editions are what make picture books worth publishing for many publishers. For those who haven’t heard of co-editions before, co-editions are re-publishings of books in other countries.

Without co-editions, smaller markets like the United Kingdom would not be able to make a profit on expensive-to-print picture books. "Picture books are expensive to originate and, unless the publisher can find international co-edition partners, impossible to publish successfully," explains the Writers Services report from Bologna. Unlike Publishing News, the Writers Services report is less optimistic about the prospects of picture books:

The focus at the world’s biggest children’s book fair has shifted from co-editions to fiction and film deals, with film scouts much in evidence. Barry Cunningham of Chicken House said: ‘The market is still very good for fiction and still extremely sticky for picture books. Although the right picture book still does OK in the US and Australia, it’s curtains on the co-edition front.’ Perhaps this is because of international publishers focusing more on home-grown material which they hope to sell to the co-edition market, rather than buying in as they have done in the past.
But the Publishing News coverage lists picture book successes that suggest things might be getting better.

Odedina was happy about pan-European co-edition sales of The Mysterious Parcel by Francesca Chessa and Milo Mouse and the Scary Monster by Louis Baum and Sue Hellard.

Oxford University Press’s Liz Cross was thrilled by coedition sales of I Love My Cloth by Amber Stewardt and Laya Marlow. And Walker’s Jane Winterbotham reported “huge co-edition interest” for Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes.

Hodder had The Story of Everything and Scholastic had Tiddler by Julia ‘Gruffalo’ Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

It could, noted Graham Marks in his Publishing News report, be the “tipping point” – “the unexpected does happen, because, two weeks ago, no one had any expectations at all for picture books.”

Speaking of picture books, the other picture book that has been attracting a lot of attention is the graphic novel.

Graphic Novels have come a long way from when the only successful graphic novels had to have heroes wearing their underpants over brightly coloured tights. These days, the graphic novel is closer to the YA novel, except its storyboard style is closer to film than to the printed word – makes a lot of sense when you think that the modern teenager is brought up on cinematic storytelling (some people might see this as more bad news about young people, but hey, it just goes to show nothing can beat a good story).

Goldblatt has already sold six of them this year and Scholastic is about to relaunch the popular Babysitter Club as graphic novel books. “Graphic novels are the hottest buzzword at the moment. A lot of stuff is going to come out in the next year. A lot of it is going to be great and a lot of it is going to be crap,” he said. “Graphic novels have the excitement of a picture book but they are full novels. It is a wholly new and different thing.”

Graphic novels are such new territory in the United States (Europe’s had a small but loyal market for ages, and of course there’s Japan’s manga comic books) that “there are no fixed rules yet”, says Goldblatt. “We agents are not sure how far to push and publishers are not sure how much to offer!”

Like picture books graphic novels trigger a sense of unease in publishers because of the time and effort that go into producing one. But for kids raised on TV and rock and roll, it makes perfect sense.

Here's a relevant news item on manga graphic novels sales in the UK from Publishing News (posted 14 April 2006:)

OTTAKAR'S HAS DOUBLED its manga sales in the past month with the Manga Collector’s Club and manga-themed evenings in some of its stores. Loughborough store Manager Melanie Ball told PN: “Manga is doing fantastically well. It’s just been climbing and climbing, and the events also do brilliantly.” The chain’s Fiction Manager Janine Cook added: “It’s looking very good. We’re at least 100% up on the month before. It might be even more, but that’s the minimum impact.”

At the chain’s manga evenings attendees are offered giveaways, discounts, and the chance to watch Japanese anime films. The Manga Collector’s Club allows customers to get a special card stamped every time they buy a title from either Gollancz Manga or Tokyopop, and be given a free manga title once they have three stamps


  1. Thanks much for your always insightful reporting.

  2. This is really interesting Candy. Lots of useful info. If you don't mind I'm going to post a link here from my blog, as I think yours is really worth a read.

  3. thank you both! by the way, jude, i like your style of asking questions at the end of every blog - it's a great way to keep your blog interactive. i shall follow your lead


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