Sunday 22 May 2011

Publisher Kate Wilson: As The Nosy Crow Flies!

By Addy Farmer

Kate Wilson, founder and MD of Nosy Crow, landed at the Lincoln Book Festival on Saturday 14th May.

Refusing all offers of food and rest, Kate flew up the stairs and perched on her seat to talk about what Nosy Crow was all about.

Update! View the trailer for Nosy Crow's new app - Cinderella

Enough with the bird analogies and down to the Nosy Crow business and Kate's passion for children's stories. A Scot with a peculiar accent and a mean side (she said it, not me, and she meant careful with money rather than vindictive), Kate started her publishing career in rights with Faber and Faber which was a good thing as she began to learn if a book worked by showing it to experienced editors buying translation rights at book fiars.

The first stirrings of the fledgling publisher came when Kate observed potential buyers turning a page and then turning back before going on. Okay if this happens once, she says, but when it happens time after time, you know that maybe something's not quite working with the way the story is working. She moved on to publishing and business roles as MD of Macmillan and Scholastic and decided after 23 years of publishing books for other people that she’d like to publish some of her own.

This drive to create and get children reading for pleasure through story making is the wind beneath the wings of Nosy Crow (sorry). These ideals are backed by some sharp analysis of what does and does not work in children's publishing and how she could make Nosy Crow the publisher that flies.

Kate works with a small team in a smallish office but within polite cake-eating distance of one another. Nosy Crow produces children's fiction (including board books, novelty books and picture books) for 0 – 12, and highly-interactive apps for children from 2 – 7. They’ll publish 23 print books books this year and 5 apps.

The first baby out of the nest was Small Blue Thing, a supernatural romance for 11 plus with NO VAMPIRES. Amongst her impressive aviary of authors is Philip Ardagh with The Grunts and Axel Scheffler's Pip and Posy books.

Some work is produced in house, board books like the Noodle series of touch-and-feel board books with furry ears and sparkly bits. The apps are likewise produced in house but the ideas and story lines could well come from a writer well-versed in this product. Nosy Crow’s first app, The Three Little Pigs, has been published to wide acclaim.

So what's Nosy Crow about?

THE BIG QUESTION is always 'who's it for?' Nosy Crow doesn’t publish a book or an app unless they have a clear sense of the core readership. Kate's not thinking London, literature and reviews, she's thinking Wigan, literacy and real children.

Selecting the good from the bad using a set of consistent standards and values so that the Nosy Crow brand has real meaning. Kate also stressed the publisher’s role in protecting authors’ and illustrators’ rights in a digital environment in which piracy is rife.

Kate thinks that the internet brings to publishers – and to authors – an opportunity to engage with readers in a way that’s never been possible before. Instead of publisher PR being about SHOUTING at an unseen audience, social media provides a way to engage audiences in a two way conversation, and Nosy Crow is active on its website, on Twitter and on Facebook. It's an exciting map of interconnecting participants in the publishing process – the author, the publisher, the bookseller, the critic (everyone's a critic now) – all connecting with one another online. Nosy Crow will go where other publishers fear to tread! Kate wants her company to be an informed voice in children’s books and will talk about books published by other publishers too. A recent Easter and Spring booklist contained just two Nosy Crow books amongst the many others suggested by Kate and her Twitter followers.

Kate (right) poses with groupie and leading stalker.

Speaking at the SCBWI event.
In the world of social media, communication is personal, and Kate believes that being a small, personal company is an advantage in this environment; so she's just as likely to tweet about checking her kids’ hair for headlice as well as her excitement about her latest book.

Kate Wilson's t-shirt says it all!
Kate thinks that publishers have to “earn their seat at the creative table”. Hers is an active role. Not for her the sitting in a big chair in her own office waiting for offerings! This MD and her team:
a. Commission authors and illustrators to make Nosy Crow’s ideas a reality
b. Are willing to do some heavy-duty editorial shaping
For novels and texts, really good writing is key, and if Kate and if the team see the potential in a submission they will sometimes work with the writer to refine the story. Similarly, if Kate and the team see the potential in even a single character sketch from an illustrator, they’ll work with that illustrator to develop a project.

Nosy Crow has already spread its wings and collaborates with international partners: Allen and Unwin in Australia, Candlewick Press in the US, Carlsen in Germany and Gallimard Jeunesse in France.

So What is Nosy Crow Looking For?
ALWAYS REMEMBER – Who's it for? Nosy Crow will want to know!

Print books:
  • Fiction for 0 – 12 but a lot of the youngest book texts are produced in-house and NOT YA. “Mum-friendly” books – no drugs, sex or gritty or gratuitous violence
  • Strong commercial concept or character-led series novels and picture books
  • Brilliantly-written stand-alone novels and picture books
  • Great illustration with child and parental appeal – nothing too dark and arty

While some of their future apps (and at the moment, Nosy Crow is developing only for Apple devices) may be based on books, Nosy Crow is also commissioning stories that start as apps, rather than start as books, so is interested in working with authors and illustrators who are excited by, and understand how touch-screen devices can enhance and extend the story-telling experience. Nosy Crow doesn’t want coders, at this stage: they have their own, so they are not expecting to see a ready-made app. They want to see really great ideas and really great art (and want art created digitally in layers for this medium)

Nosy Crow's acclaimed Three Little Pigs app. If you can't see the video, you can view it on YouTube.

There are submissions guidelines on the site, but Kate recommended online submissions, suggesting that illustrators send link to their digital portfolio

Kate has given up the slower flapping wings of big traditional publishing for the zippy repsonsiveness of the smaller bird. She's in touch, creative and passionate about story. Kate wants Nosy Crow to be different and to make a difference. I'm sure it will.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Authors United ... the rise and rise of the group blog

By Candy Gourlay

According to the New York Times, blogging has had its moment - young people are turning to the social networks for their fix of news and community. Indeed, after years of mastering website Search Engine Optimization (while doing my day job as a web designer), my internet gurus are now suddenly spouting Social Media Optimization.

Interestingly though, SMO is all about creating quality content - SHAREABLE content - the stuff that everyone wants to forward to one another over Facebook and Twitter.  And though individuals may now prefer the ease of Facebook and Twitter over creating their own content, the blog continues to be a fantastic (and usually free) way by which authors can serve quality content to their demanding fans.

Group blogs have been around for some time - witness the hardworking, book reviewing Chicklish Blog, started by author Luisa Plaja ...

Chicklish was one of the first group blogs I followed. It must five or six years old now.

And of course the hugely successful ABBA (An Awfully Big Blog Adventure) set up by the Scattered Authors Society ...

An Awfully Big Blog Adventure 

Crime Central
Of late, there has been a real sharpening of focus amongst group blogs, as authors realize that they can band together to grow their readerships. Crime Central brings together crime-writing teen authors Anne Cassidy, Keren David, Andrew Lane, Anthony McGowan, Catherine Macphail, Gillian Philip, Linda Strachan and Malcolm Rose. Keren David, who also maintains her own blog, explains:
At a time when paranormal romance was swamping teen sections in bookshops, award-winning author Anne Cassidy had the idea of setting up a blog celebrating crime writing for teens. After all, crime dominates the adult bestseller lists, so why not highlight crime books for younger readers?
Since we launched in January we've run interviews, reviews, competitions and posts discussing everything from poisons to pickpocketing. Writers including Keith Gray, Malcolm Rose, Ellen Renner and Simon Cheshire have written guest posts. We hope to get lots of teen readers following the blog, and also librarians, booksellers, publicists and editors.

Inspired by blogs like Crime Central and the Chainsaw Gang - a coming together of horror writers not just blogging but organizing horror-themed events, a group of debuting teen authors got together to create The Edge. Says Dave Cousins, whose book Fifteen Days Without a Head is out next year:
There are so many author and book blogs out there, all doing similar things, we thought that by co-ordinating our efforts we might be able to create a focus point for readers and writers interested in edgy, dare I say 'issue' based, fiction – plus it's nice to be part of a gang. 
The Edge

The Edge blog has only been live for a month, so it's still early days for us. We hope to provide a focus for discussion by readers, writers, librarians, teachers, booksellers etc. and will be inviting guest bloggers. We are also planning to take The Edge on tour towards the end of the year, and want the blog to serve as contact and reference point for anybody interested in booking us for an event.
Members of The Edge include: Dave Cousins, Katie Dale, Keren David, Sara Grant, Miriam Halahmy, Savita Kalhan, Bryony Pearce and Paula Rawsthorne.
Jo Cotteril of Girls Heart Books

Last month witnessed the astonishing group blog launch of Girls Heart Books - the brainchild of Jo Cotterill of Sweet Hearts fame,  Susie Day ("Funny books for funny girls") and Keris Stainton (Jessie Heart NYC), Girls Heart Books.

Narrowly targetted at 8 to 13 year olds, it launched with no less than 31 author contributors ... a blog post a day from a different girly author!!!  Less than a month old and the blog posts are clocking up comments in stunning numbers!

I asked Jo what gave her the idea for this blog:
It struck me that there were many fans of this type of fiction 'out there' and that they would love to connect with their favourite authors.

Meeting people at an event is all very well, but you don't get much time with them and what if your favourite isn't coming anywhere near you? So an online blog is a great way to get readers and authors connecting. Secondly, it's a great way to 'share' our audiences - someone who's hooked on Cathy Hopkins' Mates, Dates series might not have come across Fiona Dunbar's Silk Sisters - or fans of Linda Chapman may not have realised she's got a new series out this year. Information like that is hard to come by if you're not sure where to look - this way, readers can 'discover' authors that are new to them.

Content-wise, we are looking to provide one blog post every single day (including weekends and holidays) and each author can write about anything they like, which means we should have a lot of variety!

We also have publishers lining up to give books away to our readers, so there will be lots of competitions! All content will be carefully targeted to our readers, who range from 8 to 14 years old, so parents can be reassured that their daughters won't be reading anything inappropriate.
The blog targets girls eight to 14. Will they come?
I hope so, but it's early days and that age group is hard to contact online because there are so many child protection issues. However, we are thinking of producing some promotional materials that could be send to school librarians so that they can check out the site with their pupils. And word of mouth helps, of course!
And pooling resources means Authors share the joy of blogging without the pain and the time suck!!!
Blogging and maintaining websites and keeping up with networking all takes TIME and blogs are only really successful if they are updated regularly. So the idea of getting authors together on one blog (so that they have less individual work to do and can 'big up' each others' books as well as their own) is pretty much a no-brainer. In some ways, it's rather surprising that it's taken so long for these group blogs to get off the ground.
Girls Heart Books Store

The blog is unique in the number of blogging authors it has attracted!
I have been quite astonished by the number of people who have wanted to join. At the beginning I thought it would be nice to have 31 authors so that we only had to blog once a month (surely not too time-consuming for anyone) but I wasn't convinced we'd have that number to start with.

By the time the blog went live, we not only had 31 confirmed contributors, we also had a waiting list of ten further authors! I have had to say no to people, which I don't like doing - and some of these authors are extremely successful - but I don't think a larger number is manageable at the moment. 
The fact is, authors aren't in competition. Because the more a reader reads, the more books he or she will devour.
I would love it if the readers of Cathy Cassidy, Louise Rennison, Karen McCombie, Jacqueline Wilson et al came to see Girls ♥ Books as their first port of call when looking for the latest news about girls' books ... Who knows, in the future maybe we could even have Girls ♥ Books events, in which the bloggers all turn up to do talks and sign books. I would love that!
Authors United. It's the wave of the future.

Sunday 8 May 2011

SCBWI Revision Masterclass: Sara Grant is Born Again

On Saturday I attended a SCBWI Masterclass: Sara Grant's Revision Game. Sara is a writer and senior commissioning editor at Working Partners. Her first YA novel Dark Parties will be published in the US (Little, Brown), UK (Orion) and Germany (Droemer) in 2011. At Working Partners she has helped plot, write and revise more than fifty books for children of all ages, and she is a founder and editor of the amazing Undiscovered Voices.

So there I was: all set for a nice relaxing lunch, a pub, a little learning and conversation, right? I was feeling a bit fragile after a legendary garden party with the neighbours the previous evening, but it isn't like I've never revised a novel before - though my answer to problems has generally been to write the next novel better, rather than go over and over and over the same ground. And I'd even done my homework, so figured I should coast through the day quite okay.

Wrong! This was boldly revising where I have never revised before.

Sara set us straight right from the beginning:

'I'm a born again revisionist, and I'm here to convert: so watch out!' - Sara Grant.

I stuck with one of my Slushpile resolutions: I took a camera, and actually used it. But although I tried to photograph Sara many times, most came out like one of those cartoons where the superhero zooms so fast all you see are an outline and a vapour trail.

A Born Again Revisionist: Sara in Motion

Hard at work!

Revising can be colourful

My top five take-away points for the day:
  • revision is all about knowing the difference between what you thought you've put on the page, and what is actually on the page;
  • don't do micro-editing to avoid macro-editing! Fix the big stuff - plot, POV, tense, characters - before you worry about the picky details;
  • I love word cloud: you can paste your whole novel in, and see your most used words; you can display them in lots of colours and patterns and fonts! Pretty, but it also lets you see if the things you think are important are there, and if the things that aren't, are (I am embarrassed to admit how prominent the word 'just' is in all of my novels. Not that I've been compulsively checking them. All day. I just can't help myself....);
  • read Robert McKee's Story! It has been sitting on my shelf, beckoning, for quite some time, but I have resolved to dust it off very soon;
  • finally, for me, the thing that resonated the most was the homework Sara set. I'll go into this in some detail, below.
When Sara sent the email with our homework around in advance of the masterclass, I must confess: I GROANED when I saw what we were asked to do. I protested; I wailed; I procrastinated. Then, I did it.

I'll paraphrase what we were to do to my own understanding, with a little help from Robert McKee. We were asked to look at our novel, and come up with the following. The heart of our story: why we were writing it, why it is important to us, why it is our story. Then, the story's premise: the 'what if', the idea that inspired the story. Next, the controlling idea: a concept from McKee's Story: 'the story's ultimate meaning expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act's climax.' Finally, the pitches: a one line pitch, a paragraph pitch, and movie style pitch.

For me this was a seriously valuable exercise. Even though it was painful, I felt I had a much clearer vision of my story, where it was going, and why it should reach that destination.

Thanks, Sara!

Sara slows to normal human speed at the pub afterwards,
her superhero tasks done for the day

We all survived! Me and Mo

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Tall Story wins first Crystal Kite Member's Choice Award!

... for EUROPE!

It's the inaugural outing of this award, in which members vote for titles from out of their domestic or continental (not America) region.

SCBWI says it's the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers ...which makes it even dearer to me because I've been a devotee of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for ten years now.

All I can say is —

Thank you, thank you, thank you, my fellow SCBWI members. This means a lot to me.

You have the enviable treat of checking out the luscious winners from other continental regions and US domestic regions on the SCBWI website.

And here are the brilliant finalists for my region, Europe:

Castle of Shadows Ellen Renner

Gilbert the Hero by Jane Clarke

Petit Escargot written and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo

Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin

The Boneshaker  Illustrated by Andrea Offermann

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

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