CBI | CLÉ Children’s Books Forum

I know I promised notes from the Arts Council Conference, but instead here are some notes from yesterday’s One-Day Children’s Book Forum. There were a lot of who-be-whats-its there, including the panel: Eoin Purcell, Conor Kostick, Mary Esther Judy, Seosamh Ó Murchú, Ivan O’Brien and led by Seamus Cashman. The gist of what I picked up included:

  • Irish Publishers exist outside of London to produce books for reading audiences that have no interest in The Famous Five.
  • There is a strong push to de-Irish books to make them more accessible to wider audiences.
  • Ivan O’Brien and Seosamh Ó Murchú agreed that digital books are no relevant or immediate threat to children’s publishing. Eoin Purcell disagreed, along with Síobhan Parkinson and Oisín McGann. According to Eoin, publishers should be Platform Agnostic (yeah, I like that, stolen and all as it is) and that they should be far more open to publishing in as many areas as possible.
  • Eoin explained that Mercier Press are pushing to develop their children’s list (8-12yrs) and his experience of a new, strong association of children’s authors appearing online in Ireland.
  • Mercier bought The Children’s Press Imprint with a back catalogoue of Irish authors and have plans to develop it.
  • Mary Esther Judy notes that 5% of children’s books sales are by Irish publishers on a good day in Dubray books, Galway.
  • Top sellers are: Irish Myths and Legends, Artemis Fowl, the Alice series by O’Brien Press and Marita Conlon McKenna’s Under the Hawthorn Tree.
  • Dubray segregate Irish children’s books from international titles - but not young adult fiction.
  • There is a lot of scope for a mechanism of communication between booksellers and Irish publishers.
  • Conor Kostick noted that - despite the tax exemption, the upcoming lending rights agreement and the massive support of five arts organisations - Irish authors and illustrators cannot survive on writing alone.
  • Ivan O’Brien added that, though good sales in Ireland were not enough, foreign rights sales added up and helped support authors.
  • Children’s Irish language publshing is predominantly in education or for younger readers according to Seosamh Ó Murchú. Once readers begin choosing their own books they mostly stop reading in Irish.

The conference had speakers from the floor too - including Sam Holman, Sarah Bannan, and Penguin Ireland - who announced potential plans to launch Puffin Ireland later next year. There was an interesting shift in attitude from everyone I spoke to - a much greater level of optimism and a more unified push for development in Irish children’s publishing. The announcement of Mercier’s commitment and development to their 8-12 list, as well as the continued work from O’Brien Press all points toward very positive changes. Plans are already afoot for at least one more forum early next year and I’m sure that the discussion will go on - hopefully so will the passion for publishing good books.

Update: The Very Hungry Caterpillar mentioned one very important point that I had completely forgotten. The forum all seemed to agree that a children’s laureate - similar to the role Michael Rosen is playing in England right now - could be a huge hook to raise media awareness. There are so many authors who could do incredible work as laureate.

Conor Kostick expands on his alternative models of publishing.
Eoin Purcell has some notes on the Forum
Sinead Keogh gives her own plea for books and reading

And if you really like what we’re talking about - click here to see if you can help.

Written by david. in: childrens books | Tags:


  • Celine

    T’is indeed very difficult to earn a living from writing and illustration alone.

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • Hi Celine - there was a very strong agreement on that yesterday. What I found interesting was how everyone agreed that it should change.

    It won’t happen over night - but fingers crossed things might get easier!

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • Celine

    Can’t really see how it can change though. Publishing is such slow process and such a gamble for all involved, the money moves slowly if ever at all, and there’s not much that can be done about that.

    Critical acclaim or not, I’ll be donning my hairnet and name tag purty soon if things don’t speed up a bit LOL!

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • One thing every writer should be thinking about is developing their web presence and talking about writing and the books that are reading - can only help! Blog, video, podcast - what ever you’re comfortable with.

    For now, the rest is up to school visits, translations and other projects. Long term though - there is room for larger advances to authors/illustrators and increased bursaries to publishers. I think Sarah Webb said yesterday - her reason for approaching an English publisher was because they could offer her 10 times more than an Irish house. That is probably true of every Irish writer publish in the UK.

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • Children’s laureate here and there « very hungry caterpillar’s Weblog

    [...] recently including some arts council consultation meetings and yesterday’s CBI Cle forum (David has some good notes on this, there will be a record of it online on CBI’s site in coming [...]

    Pingback | November 28, 2008
  • VeryHungryCaterpillar

    One other key things that has emerged recently is that Irish children’s writers and illustrators are not applying for bursary funding from the Arts Council.

    There is up to €15,000 a year available to writers and illustrators who are successful in their application.

    Children’s writers and artists are totally underrepresented in those applying. I can’t really put my finger on why it just seems the community doesn’t consider the Bursary Grants would ever be relevant to them.

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • Celine

    Certainly the key to everything is promotional work. After all, people can’t buy your work if they’ve never heard of it! A strong publisher is a must in this, because an author can only do so much slog alone.

    I totally understand where Sarah Webb is coming from. The temptation to make your initial approach to UK publishers is huge, considering the fact that they have greater financial resources and better distribution in the larger UK markets. O’Brien Press are pretty on the ball when it comes to getting their authors international recognition though.

    Working the net any further then simply putting up a website or simple blog is a million times harder when there’s no broadband. Honestly, its like living in the stone age in some areas of this country! I want my broadband!

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • Celine

    RE The bursary. I think most Children’s/Young Adult’s writers don’t consider themselves ‘literary’ At best we seem to consider ourselves genre fiction, and so are slow to apply for the grants which we might mistakenly believe are available only for works of ‘literary merit’

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • @ Celine: Not good news on the broadband front - but certainly there is room to work around that with publishers etc sponsoring/supporting the sites.

    @ VHC: It’s not only authors/illustrators that are not applying for Arts Council grants. Publishers don’t seem to apply for the AC commission grant - where the money goes directly to the illustrator to develop a particular title. (Saving the publisher commission fees if nothing else)

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • [...] reading here then the chances are you are already interested in Irish publishing. At the Children’s Book Forum yesterday the who-be-whats-its mentioned a new generation of active and talented writers/illustrators online [...]

    Pingback | November 28, 2008
  • Hi, 2 comments
    - yes, why not have a Children’s Laureate for Ireland. Great Idea. Let’s have a Poet Laureate too while we’re about it.
    - How do you know children’s writers are not applying for grants? The applications are not released. Only those who were awarded the grants.

    Comment | November 28, 2008
  • Conor Kostick

    Hi David, good report of an interesting and constructive meeting. The point I was making was not that Irish authors can’t survive on writing alone (a small minority do), but that in order to devote yourself to writing you need sales in other markets than Ireland. Hence the pattern of the more successful Irish children’s writers signing agreements with multi-nationals. But there are other models that allow for a sustained relationship with Irish publishers. We didn’t really get to discuss those.

    Comment | November 29, 2008
  • Celine

    What do you recommend for that, Conor? A lot of authors get thier break from the more adventurous Irish publishers and it feels terrible to run off into the sunset at the first sign of success. Would it be possible for a more successful author to always offer the first print run of subsequent work to their favourite Irish publisher without annoying the more financially advantageous multi-national publishers?

    Comment | November 29, 2008
  • VeryHungryCaterpillar

    @ emerging writer
    The Arts Council are mid way through developing a children’s literature policy and they have mentioned several times recently at consultation meetings the very low level of applications from children’s writers and illustrators.

    Several established writers I have spoken to about it since simply hadn’t considered it- there have been some light bulb moments in recent weeks!

    Comment | November 29, 2008
  • @Celine - that isn’t too likely. UK publishers know that Irish readers buy more books and they want to get that catchment.

    Comment | November 29, 2008
  • Celine

    That’s what I suspected, David. Though it has been possible to sell uk/aus/irish/usa rights separately, it feels like it’s a very rare thing to achieve.

    The successful author who wants to keep Irish publishers in the loop can find themselves at a bit of a loss to know what to do.

    Comment | November 29, 2008
  • Good summary, David.
    One small point: my comment about de-Irishing was with respect to non-Irish publishers. Of course, we don’t ONLY exist to do books that foreigners would not be interested in/treat with enough respect/whatever: we do GOOD books, as borne out by our record in securing translations and foreign rights deals. It just happens that a decent proportion of these have an Irish sensibility, given where we are based.
    Also, I am looking forward to reading the report on author incomes from the UK which was flagged up, saying that 10% of writers get over 90% of the revenue — the vast majority of children’s writers in any territory can’t make a living on it: Ireland is not unusual in that.
    Finally, I’d like to re-emphasise that Britain DOES NOT EQUAL the rest of the world, and is far from the only territory that matters.
    The main thing that came through to me is that as an industry, we need to learn to lobby effectively, and find a single voice to use to make our case to those who matter.

    Comment | December 1, 2008
  • Hi Ivan - apologies for the rudimentary notes, there was a lot going on at the meeting. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with ‘we do good books’ - and that is integral to any publishing success.

    The UK report will be interesting - and might dispel some myths about the UK market.

    A single lobby voice seemed to be one of the more unanimous ideas that the forum agreed. I think it should be literature based, not just publishers but organisations, writers unions, policy makers, booksellers and other interested parties. (I know that could be very large but I like the Theatre Forum model that has been hugely successful)

    ps - Thanks for reading!

    Comment | December 1, 2008
  • I think it HAS to be literature-based: sure there aren’t enough publishers to have a sensible lobby in this area, and we are far from the only people concerned. After all, we DO make a living from the books (current economic climate notwithstanding!) whereas the authors don’t. Government support is available for theatre, dance, opera, singing, music etc on the basis that people have to survive based on their work which would not justify the effort based on simple commercial models. Support is not available to writers on the same basis, pure and simple.
    The tricky bit is to get enough of us to agree about enough stuff for long enough to make a coherent case!

    Comment | December 1, 2008
  • [...] the Children’s Books Forum last week - and the ensuing comments - Conor Kostick mentioned he never had a chance to discuss [...]

    Pingback | December 1, 2008
  • Hi All,

    Interesting comments. I should be writing but got caught up reading them.

    Just to clarify - yes, my UK children’s publisher (Walker Books) offered me a very good deal for my Amy Green, Teen Agony Queen series.

    But I picked Walker for various reasons:

    1/ They are fantastic at what they do - I adore their picture books and they’ve done a fine job with their fiction list too. Think of Patrick Ness and Anthony Horowitz.
    2/ Their editorial standards are second to none. I’ve never been edited so well - my editors are amazing! (thanks Gill and Annalie)
    3/ Their sales rep in Ireland, Conor, is an old book friend of mine from my Poolbeg days and a very decent, witty, clever guy indeed - I knew it would be a pleasure to work with him. (I was right, it is!)
    4/ Their sales and marketing is in excellent hands - the lovely Jane Harris who used to work for Harper Collins and who used to sell to me when I worked in Eason.
    5/ They were just so darned excited and had such great plans for the series that I couldn’t say no.
    Plus 6/ I get to go to the Walker parties and meet Anthony Browne and Helen Oxenbury - how cool is that?
    I could go on . . .

    So you see, the decision was not purely a financial one at all.

    And I also look forward to publishing with Mercier and O’Brien when the right projects come along.

    Thanks for the notes, David.

    X Sarah

    Comment | December 2, 2008
  • @Ivan - The crux of that is getting any sort of agreement. There can’t be any formal lobby until everyone agrees on at least one subject.

    @Sarah - sorry for the misquote! So tell me about these Walker parties, more than a little jealous.

    Comment | December 2, 2008
  • No problem at all, my dear.

    The last Walker party was brill - summer sales conference party - not a zippy name I know but a very zippy event. I chatted to Polly Dunbar, our own Jane Mitchell, Helen Oxenbury (I blushed, I’m such a mega fan - most mortifying. I think I also said ‘I love your work’), John Birmingham and loads of other very cool bods indeed.

    And there was a chocolate fountain!!!!

    And a jazz band.

    I’d better do some work now - but isn’t it fun to have bloggey colleagues? I do miss my real work colleagues, but virtual ones are great too.

    Keep up the great work, David. I always learn something interesting from your blog.


    Comment | December 2, 2008
  • [...] I was going to write a post in the CBI Seminar on Children’s Publishing, but I think, David has it covered and rather than split the discussion I thought I’d direct people to it from [...]

    Pingback | December 3, 2008
  • @ Sarah:

    “They are fantastic at what they do - I adore their picture books and they’ve done a fine job with their fiction list too. Think of Patrick Ness and Anthony Horowitz”

    We’d like to think we have a little to do with Anthony’s success on the web too!!! : )

    @ David:

    “One thing every writer should be thinking about is developing their web presence and talking about writing and the books that are reading - can only help! Blog, video, podcast - what ever you’re comfortable with.”

    I couldn’t agree more. However, Irish people seem to be split into two camps, those who “get” the web and those who don’t. This runs through the gamut of Irish business, author’s and regular humans alike.

    We’re obviously biased, but there are 2 Irish author’s that do get it, Darren Shan and Eoin Colfer both have the considerable marketing weight of their publishing houses behind them but still choose to engage with readers through their own websites.

    There are huge opportunities for viral publicity through a mix of social media and community development that are just as accessible to new authors as well as established writers.

    Comment | December 17, 2008
  • From Bath to Cork with Baby Grace :: What should a writer do now? :: December :: 2008

    [...] This I lift from David Maybury’s very interesting blog. [...]

    Pingback | December 17, 2008
  • Children’s Publishing in Ireland Forum Notes now available « very hungry caterpillar’s Weblog

    [...] forget to re-read the brilliant discussion that followed the event over on Sir David Maybury’s [...]

    Pingback | January 9, 2009
  • [...] CBI and Clé held a forum to discuss current issues in children’s book publishing in Ireland, my notes, and many others, are here. Now CBI and CLÉ want to continue the discussion that was started - and to develop it into an [...]

    Pingback | March 4, 2009
  • [...] from the last forum are here - or you can read the twitter thread from this morning - and I will upload the updated [...]

    Pingback | March 6, 2009
  • very intresting

    Comment | March 20, 2009

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress | Content is copyright David Maybury, unless otherwise stated.