Monday, 3 May 2010

Interview with a Publisher: NOSY CROW

Nosy Crow, a new, independent, and very modern publisher, burst onto the publishing scene in early 2010 and between the four founders they have an inspiring 85 years worth of publishing experience under their belts (or should that be feathers).

Nosy Crow aim to publish high-quality, commercial fiction and non-fiction books for children aged from 0 to 14.

Nosy Crow’s Managing Director, Kate Wilson talks to 
tall tales & short stories.

I’ve worked for over 25 years in the publishing industry, including running Macmillan Children’s Books, Scholastic UK Ltd, and then (briefly!) Headline (an adult books publisher).
After a move into adult books, I realised my heart lay in the world of children’s publishing. I’ve always enjoyed and revelled in the hands-on role of a children’s publisher in helping to create material and books, but I wanted to take a step away from the big machine of the larger houses and, by creating an independent publisher, to focus on being hands-on like never before. I wanted to create a brand that had a distinctive and modern voice - a voice that was less formal more personal, more intimate – and a thoroughly 21st century publishing house that embraces modern technology and puts the child reader and parent choice foremost in the process.

Nosy Crow’s philosophy? We want to publish books and apps that children really will enjoy and we want parents to look at our books and apps and know they will be right for their child.
Our core acquisition principle is ‘think about the child.’ From board book to picture book to novel to app, the young reader is the main focus - the only focus - because they are who we are publishing for.

Why the name Nosy Crow? Originally, Nosy Crow was a character created by my brother and after many suggestions as to what the publishing house should be called Nosy Crow’s name was mentioned. The name felt right – irreverent, cheeky, appropriate for children, short, snappy and memorable. So Nosy Crow was born and named all in the midst of a recession but we wouldn’t let that stop us and we already have some fabulous books ready to hit the shelves in 2011.

What makes Nosy Crow different from other publishing houses? Listening to Kate speak about Nosy Crow and what inspires her to publish their books I was struck by her enthusiasm and understanding for her books’ readership. She really understands and appreciates what lies at the heart of a book for children of any age and any reading level. 

Kate explains; Well, there is of course the personal touch of a smaller company, but primarily we want to ensure all our children’s books reflects a child’s interest and experience. The books need to thrill them, entertain them, let them live in that moment. The younger reader needs to feel comfortable and confident in what they are reading, they need to be engaged and interested. They need to have fun.

But we should also ask the question – what could stop a child from engaging with this book? I’ve spent years talking to children about books, and, for example, when asked about reading books, some boys say that if a book’s too long and the text too dense the prospect of reading it can feel dull and intimidating a task. This in turn could make a child feel less confident about the whole reading process.

Sometimes pictures can help to engage a reader in a longer-length novel, and they can provide another level of interaction for the reader. Blend fiction with fun, make it non-threatening, make it stimulating, make it engage the reader from the outset.

This was the idea behind Nosy Crow’s forthcoming What If’ series – a mash-up of ideas and surreal combinations that works brilliantly.
There are short, action-packed chapters that are full of two-colour illustrations that offer readers the opportunity of interacting with books by adding their own drawings. I know lots of boys who hardly read standard-format books, but who like to draw and make their own comics, and thought that these were a perfect combination of narrative and doodling that could help turn the most reluctant reader into a more enthusiastic one.

We want to make sure the child is at the core of all our decision-making, that our books reflect a reality of children’s and parents’ perspectives. I think it’s important to imagine the child and the moment when that child reads one of our books or apps.

‘Think about the child’ - I can’t repeat this often enough.

In terms of publishing as an industry, you have a very forward-thinking approach to the technological future. What do you see on the horizon, and how are you preparing for it?

I’ve always loved novelty publishing, pop-up books etc, and I think apps is modern technology‘s extension of the way that novelty publishing brings together pictures, text and other things (revealing things by lifting flaps, moving things by pulling a tab, making things make a noise by pressing a squeaker or a sound-chip button). I’m not a techno-geek but I use technology every day, and can’t imagine being without it. If that’s true for me it’s even more true for my own and other children who are growing up as (as the saying goes) ‘digital natives’. It’s a necessary and exciting part of modern life and it offers up so many possibilities.

Ebooks and Ereading are important, iphones, ipads and touch-screen technology are increasingly commonplace. There are over 50 million iphones in the world, extraordinary numbers! I think people – parents – are already used to thinking of their phones as reading devices: just think about all the texts sent each minute of each day. So to use an app on your touch-screen device comes naturally. An app that is interactive and helps your child to read can be fun, educational and available at, quite literally, a touch of a screen. Nosy Crow believes this technology can deliver a really interesting reading experience. There are so many possibilities; audio, text, pictures and animation all working together to create an inclusive, fun, educational reading experience for the younger reader.

Animal SnApp: Farm is the first of three interactive games with embedded interactive stories created by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson.

Who can submit to Nosy Crow and what are you looking for?

Nosy Crow accepts submissions from agents and published writers, unagented, unpublished writers, illustrators and app creators.
Check the website for submission details.

Bear in mind the cut-off age is about 14, so we may consider a book with an older character in it, but only if it has a certain level of innocence. We’ve chosen not to publish books with, say, sex or drugs use in them. We want to be able to publish excerpts on the website and we want it to be a site that parents won’t mind their younger children visiting. The most apt analogy would be to think of us as PG publishers with a responsibility to all our younger readers.

What does Nosy Crow look for in new writers?

We are looking for original, exciting and engaging work that will really appeal to a child reader.

We want to know that the writer has a clear sense of who they’re writing for. Who is the child/ who is the reader?

What advice do you have for writers interested in submitting to Nosy Crow?

Know your audience. Know who you are writing for.

For example, if we look at Nosy Crow’s forthcoming Dinosaur Dig, the author Penny Dale’s inspiration was her experience with her grandson.

His obsession with construction vehicles led to a book that included these vehicles in all their grimy, heavy, noisy glory and who better to drive the vehicles but huge, heavy dinosaurs? Dinosaurs and diggers! So much for young boys, and, of course, some girls, to love!

Know children. Really know children. What are they reading? What do they like? What do they like outside the world of books?

Read. Read. Read. Read a lot of books. Read different kinds of books.

What particular aspect of a manuscript, more than anything else, really appeals and why? Voice? Characterisation? Plot?

To be honest, all of the above. The three of them make for the most powerful work and all are as important as the other. Get the triumvirate and chances are you’re onto a winner.

Would you take a risk on a manuscript that showed lots of promise but needed a lot of work?

Yes, and I have done. I think it’s important to work with authors to help them improve the work. However, if we’re looking at the triumvirate that we’ve already talked about, I think that you can work with an author on two, but the third presents much more of an editorial challenge. An editor can work with an author and support the development of characterisation and plot … but voice, well, that’s the hardest to impact upon. Voice is so personal to the author, while, to a degree plot and characterisation are more external. Voice comes from within the author, it’s what makes an author unique, it’s what makes their work theirs. So any improvement needs to come from within. An editor can make suggestions, but you can’t risk the author losing their unique voice.

One of our books, Small Blue Thing, is a case in point. I worked closely with the author Sue Ransom and we did lots of editorial work. She’d written the book originally as on a BlackBerry during her commute as a very personal (and brilliant!) birthday present for her daughter. But however much work we did, the important thing was to hold onto the heart of the book – it has a great concept and she has a great voice.

Of course, to invest a lot of time and energy into a promising manuscript from a debut novelist, means that I really do have to believe in the book’s potential and its appeal to the child reader.

When reading submissions what would you say are the most common mistakes made by aspiring writers?

They don’t think about who their reader is! They write for themselves, or based on a hazy sense of what they liked reading when they were a child.

And it’s important to communicate a sense of what the book is about quickly in the pitch. Like all publishers we get a lot of submissions and the short, punchy pitch is an attention-grabber.

Many years ago, I went to the US and I was telling someone - a bit long-windedly - about a book and he said to me, ‘Kate, what is the real handle?’ Actually, he didn’t say ‘real’. He used much more colourful language, but essentially he was asking me for a short, punchy pitch – what I understand is called in Hollywood the ‘elevator pitch’, the one you can give in a lift between two floors. Can the writer tell a publisher or an agent what the book’s about in two sentences? Can they explain in these two sentences what makes their book so special and who it’s for?

Another interesting angle could be taking a leaf out of Chickenhouse’s book, so to speak. On the back cover of Chickenhouse’s books, they always give an example of a page to try - ‘Read it! Try page 35.’ - to showcase the book. I think that’s clever and that authors could try it too.

Does Nosy Crow hope to work with a writer to develop their career?

Yes, definitely and I hope that relationship will work both ways – that a writer will want to develop a career with us.

What advice do you have for authors/creators of app ideas interested in presenting their idea to Nosy Crow?

Know the device – really understand what it can do - and (again) know your audience. In this rapidly evolving market, we have had to be really clear what our market is, so we’re looking to create apps for ages 2-6. We want ideas that use what the devices can do and that make the reading experience fun, but we’re not interested in games: there must be a reading component.

Texts and pictures are essential but we don’t want people to send in ‘straight’ picture books telling us that they’d make a great app. We are interested in creating apps with the capabilities of the device in mind from the beginning.

A pitch from an author or an illustrator who already has a partnership with a coder and presents a worked-up idea is particularly attractive, but it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, and we’ve commissioned apps both ways (as a package complete with coding and as a thought-through idea without the code).

tall tales & short stories recommends 

I was fortunate to be given the chance of reading an ARC of Small Blue Thing and it certainly didn't disappoint.  Author Sue Ransom's debut novel is a wonderfully original twist on a paranormal romance.  She captures the power of first love and combines it with a great premise full of mystery and intrigue. 
The story starts with 17 year old Alex trying to rescue a swan on the bank of the Thames.  Buried deep in the mud is an amulet - an amulet with strange powers that will change Alex's life forever.
As the story unfolds so does Alex's relationship with Callum, a mysterious boy, who along with his sinister sister, is locked in the half-life of the Dirge.  The strangeness of Callum's situation makes for a page-turning read as we discover, along with Alex, the truth of Callum's existence.
With it's themes of first love, combined with intriguing supernatural elements could this be a contender for the Twilight crown?
A life-threatening climax and a cliff-hanger ending that opens up so many possibilities - certainly made me want to know what will happen in book two.

Small Blue Thing will be published by Nosy Crow in January 2011.
You can read the opening chapter by going to the Small Blue Thing book page and clicking the Look Inside link.


Gordy's Blog said...

Great interview, I love the sound of Nosy Crow! Good luck with it all!

Stroppy Author said...

Fantastic to know there is a publisher with solid paper-publishing experience that is taking on app development from the ground up, not starting with a top-heavy traditional publishing framework to support. Very best of luck to Nosy Crow, and thank you for the interview!

kathryn evans said...

Stroppy Author said it, and how good to have such forward thinking during and coming out of recession - good luck Nosy Crow!

Sue Eves said...

I like the sound of Animal SnApp and can't wait to read Nosy Crow's moving picture books. Mmm interesting challenges ahead for picture book makers. Thanks Tracy and good luck Nosy Crow - we're watching and learning!

Jackie said...

This a great blog, Tracy! Good luck to Nosy Crow!

Kate Wilson said...

Thank you, Tracy, for great interview. I hugely enjoyed talking to you. And thanks to all who've left positive comments. Nosy Crow is a bold thing to be setting up at this point in publishing history for all sorts of reasons, and it's great to have a sense that there's support out there.

Tracy said...

Thank you, Kate, for allowing me to interview you.
And thank you readers for all the lovely comments both on and off blog.
Tracy :)

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