So you want to be a publisher?

Last night I was lucky enough to see three of the hottest names in children’s publishing come together to talk about their experiences of staring up a new company. The Children’s Book Circle event, So you want to be a publisher? was very well attended – obviously the lure of the sunshine was not strong enough to eclipse what would prove to be a fascinating talk . Our very own Sarah Odedina was joined by Barry Cunningham of Chicken House and Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow to give a run down on their journey to publishing success, and their experiences of managing a start-up.

Hearing about the journeys that the panel have experienced was fascinating, taking in work with rights, marketing, adult books, punk music – a love of children’s literature was the uniting theme – all three panellists having ended up with three very  different, but equally exciting companies.

There were a few differences between the three new imprints, notably Nosy Crow is going it alone where Hot Key Books and Chicken House have the support of bigger companies (Bonnier and Scholastic) but fundamentally it seemed that it was shared experiences that were most evident. The positivity of lovely bloggers, booksellers, librarians and authors towards these new ventures suggests that the industry is keen to find ‘the next big thing’ and there is a cheering optimism that it might come from anywhere, and anyplace, not just from the big names with the big money.

Interestingly the freedom of running a start-up is something that is common to children’s publishers across the board, whatever bigger house they are attached to. There is something unique about working with children’s books, where publishers are left to their own devices and are therefore able to come up with projects which are often more original, challenging or innovative than is possible in adult imprints.

My experiences have been in both huge companies and tiny indies, and I so I can see from within that there are inevitable differences. Whilst there is something thrilling about working with the giants of the literary world that are often attached to larger publishers, as an employee I feel that working for start ups is a  unique and valuable experience. I know that my input in both meetings and day-to-day discussions is highly valued, and often makes a direct impact on the end product. There is much more room for an opinion on the direction of authors and titles – and your voice is more easily heard in a smaller office!

It was very interesting to hear an opinion from the top however. Discussion ranged across a number of topics, from escaping the red tape of large companies, to dispensing with meetings altogether, from the joys of working in tiny offices, sharing cake and editorial tips, to scouting the best of the best to work on the books, to convincing sellers to take a punt on a quirky title. The overriding theme however was passion. Sarah, Barry and Kate all spoke with an undaunted passion about their projects. Whether working for the big, or the small, the new or the old it is clear that success is not dictated by money or corporate clout – it comes with belief – having faith in your authors and illustrators, your team and your product.


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