The Insider: Kate Wilson, Nosy Crow

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Bright Group’s blog series, The Insider, is one where we interview influential people in the publishing industry. These interviews will give everyone great insight into the industry for all readers, authors, illustrators, agents and publishers! (All of the images below are from the Internet, and are not Bright’s self-promotion. They are solely for visual references.)

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This week we interviewed Managing Director Kate Wilson, who works at Nosy Crow. Continue reading below to learn all about Kate, Nosy Crow and the world of children’s publishing!

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Talk us through your career in publishing, including key milestones and your current position as Managing Director at Nosy Crow?

I’ve been in the publishing business for more than quarter of a century. I started selling rights, for Faber and Faber and then for a company that later became Egmont. Moving to Egmont was the first children’s specialist role I’d moved into, and childen’s publishing has been at the core of pretty much my whole career. In 1994, I became publisher, and then Managing Director, of Macmillan Children’s Books, and had a great decade building that business. By the time I left, sales were six times the level they’d been when I started, and we’d published some great books, including, most notably, perhaps, The Gruffalo.

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I then moved to Scholastic, where I was Group Managing Director for around 5 years. I worked on the Clubs and Fairs and educational businesses, as well as the children’s books list. After a very brief diversion into adult publishing, I set up Nosy Crow in 2010. Nosy Crow is an independent company based in Southwark. We’ve won many awards in our first three years of publishing, including the Independent Publishers Guild Children’s Publisher of the Year award. It’s funny to think that our sales, this year, which is our third year of publishing, will be at the same level that Macmillan Children’s was when I took it over, by which time Macmillan had been publishing children’s books for over 100 years!

How has publishing changed for you in this digital revolution? What are the most obvious differences from then and now?

The “digital revolution” impacts on us in four ways, I think. First: more and more of the artwork we publish is created digitally – to the point that artwork involving pen or paint or collage is a real and rather exciting novelty. Second: all of our design is digital. When I started at Macmillan, designers would spend four hours creating a jacket mock up … and a further two hours if you asked for the type to be changed, or even just reduced in size! Third: opportunities to market and sell digitally are extraordinary. We use social media and blogging a lot, and are really pleased by the loyalty and connection with our audience that we’ve been able to build up. Just over a year after we’d started publishing, I was so delighted to see this story from a mum whose child recognised our logo: http://nosycrow.com/blog/building-a-nosy-crow-brand-that-orla-can-recognise. And, of course, fourth: we have been able to create genuinely new kinds of reading experiences in our award-winning, multimedia, highly-interative apps.

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As a large publisher in the digital markets, have you seen any new developments on how children read using tablets versus books? 

It’s so early to say anything definite. The iPad was launched just 3.5 years ago! I think that this link to a piece in today’s The Guardian is interesting: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/dec/06/should-i-get-my-child-ereader-christmas-kindle-kobo-nook?et_mid=651664&rid=240993789.

How does developing stories for apps change your approach for books?

Developing stories for apps, and exploring the possibilities of on-screen story-telling makes me very aware of the things that print does well: the drama of the page-turn or the flap-lift, the scale of the picture book page, the texture and the look of different kinds of paper, the impact of foil or glitter. In one book, Open Very Carefully, we cut a hole in the last page and the back cover … and you can’t do that to a tablet screen!

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Are there any specific content, subject matters that writers and illustrators of children’s books should concentrate on? Are there subjects that are not well received and best avoided, or is every story a possibility?

Gosh, that’s such a hard question! On the one hand, there are great subjects for younger children – pirates, princesses, fairies – that seem pretty perennial. But, then, there’s a lot of them about, so it pays to be original! It is seldom the case that publishers have an absolutely sure sense of how something will perform. I remember printing just 1,500 copies of The Gruffalo in hardback … and now, of course, it’s sold millions of copies throughout the world. That reference to “throughout the world” is important. There are some subjects – and some artwork styles – that are “too British” to sell well to other countries, and it’s important, for four-colour books to be financially viable, that they sell internationally. I’ve written about it: HERE. And, though I said I’d printed 1,500 copies of The Gruffalo for the UK market, I printed several foreign language editions at the same time.

 

Selling co-editions is as important as ever, are there any tips for authors or artists to make sure their book has the best chance to co-edition? 

We all have opportunities to travel nowadays, whether in real life or, through the internet, virtually. Being aware of what houses look like in different countries, for example, or of the fact that hedgehogs aren’t native to North America is useful! Whenever authors and illustrators travel, they should make sure they spend time in children’s book shops to get a sense of the artwork styles and themes that are being explored by authors and illustrators from the country they’re visiting … and to see which books – which stories and which art – they recognise from the UK is being translated for that country’s market.

 

What has been one of your favourite projects  to work on so far? 

It’s so hard to choose! I love them all! Doing the John Lewis book recently (http://nosycrow.com/news-and-reviews/nosy-crow-partners-with-john-lewis-to-create-a-picture-book-of-the-john-lewis-christmas-television-advert-the-bear-and-the-hare) has been fun, because it’s so different!

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Are there any current projects you can tell us about – even little snippets of details?

We’re hard at work finishing our next app, Jack and the Beanstalk, which will take its place in our 3D Fairy Tales collection early next year. And we’re concentrating on getting the books we hope to show at the Bologna Book Fair 2014 to production, so that we have gorgeous books to sell from.

 

What do you look for in an illustrator?

A distinctive and consistent “voice”. And, often, for me, at least, a combination of warmth and wit.

What makes a great children’s book character?

If I could bottle that, I’d be rich! I’ve said warmth and wit and originality are things I look for in an illustrator. I look for them in characters too.

 

What are your favourite children’s books, and why?

There are too many to choose from! Just from the picture book pantheon alone I’d choose The Gruffalo, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Alfie Gets in First, Harry the Dirty Dog, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where The Wild Things Are. All classics! All great stories. All great art. And my kids loved them too!

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How important do you think it is that a book’s illustrations and story text match? Give us an example of when this succeeds and an example of when it struggles.

Sometimes it’s interesting when they don’t exactly match: when there’s a gap between the story told by the text and the story told by the art. A good example would be Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back.

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What do you like about working with Bright’s artists?

They’re professional and creative … like us!