Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Children’s Publishing (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Celia Anderson and Anne Neild

Saturday 21st September was a day of sparkling wit and fascinating revelations for all of us who like to hang around in the world of writers, agents and publishers. It was the first ever Nosy Crow conference, held in the atmospheric St Bride’s Foundation just off Fleet Street. There was wine (but only at the end, or drunken clapping might have spoiled the event) there were home-made cakes and there were speakers who were able to keep the buzz going all day long – even when the PA system took an unseemly nosedive. 

Lucy Mangan, Guardian columnist and champion of the magic of language, began her wryly entertaining talk by telling us how books had provided an enjoyable childhood for a small girl who didn’t enjoy school (a place which turned out to be annoyingly full of children) giving her a dry run at life by letting her experience several more exciting lives at once. She explained that books are the way in which children make sense of their own worlds and begin to understand that life isn’t just a series of random things happening. Reading sets you free – raw power that you can use to improve your life. 

The conference kicks off!
The Editors’ Panel - Camilla Reid, Louise Bolongaro, and Kirsty Stansfield – led by MD Kate Wilson then gave a whistle-stop tour of ways in which your editor – also the midwife of your brainchild - can help you to see your work more clearly; to make it the very best it can be. Kate expertly fielded questions from the audience, as the panel covered topics such as writing an outstanding letter to a publisher/agent, being specific about who you’re writing for and how an editor divides their time fairly and develops an instinctive knowledge for acquisition along the way. 

Whizzing along after a brief break, agent Hilary Delamere gave an eye-opening run through an agent’s day, detailing how a long and happy author/agent relationship can be the key to an equally long and productive writing career. Orchestrating from behind the scenes, an agent can help with an author’s public presence, decision making, facing unexpected challenges, and hopefully bring in huge deals along the way! 

Debut NC authors Paula Harrison, Helen Peters and Sue Ransom came next, and it was heart-warming and hugely encouraging to hear how their highly successful books were discovered on the slushpile. They outlined their individual routes to publication, making it all seem much more accessible to the novice writer – Paula said that the best thing about being published is doing just what you want to do for a living, and all agreed that even when an author hates to admit it, the editor is often right. 

Tracey Corderoy's display
Tracey Corderoy’s talk on live events was full of warmth and hilarity. Ex-teacher Corderoy is now a best-selling author but shows no signs of distancing herself from the coalface - she has undertaken over seventy-five live events in the last year. Corderoy’s view is that these events are about much more than promotion. They offer an opportunity to bring colour and wonder to children, some of whom will have little of either in their lives. At the heart of her visits is the desire to engage every child. The lengths she goes to making story sacks, costumes and craft packs drew gasps from the audience! 

Tracey Corderoy’s tips for authors facing a live event:

  • Be prepared 
  • Live the story 
  • Use puppets 
  • Have realistic expectations 
  • Always say ‘yes’ - then make a plan! 

Social media guru Jon Reed has a background in publishing so proved well-placed to advise authors/ illustrators on how to build their brand online. Reed emphasised the importance of a unique voice and a consistent hook ie. the brief blurb you use to describe yourself. 

Reed’s top tip: don’t wait for publication – get blogging now.

Writers are in a strong position since building a brand online is all about generating content. Your ‘product’ - your book(s) - should sit at the heart of your brand, with your website and email the first line of promotion. You can signpost people to your podcasts, blogs, videos and photos through what he describes as ‘outreach tools’ – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest etc. Reed’s top tip: don’t wait for publication – get blogging now. 

The cakes went down well!
Melissa Cox, Waterstones Children’s New Titles Buyer, gave a fascinating insight into how she chooses what the chain stocks and where. The average children’s section in Waterstones contains 4,500 titles, 35% of which are new. 6,000 new titles were presented to the children’s buying team in 2013 alone. 

...a strong new male voice in the UK market was hard to find.

Cox takes great care to buy and place the books she thinks will sell. She explained that a large part of her role is trying to strike a balance between what children like and what adults think children ought to be reading. Picture books and 5-8 series reads remain highly competitive areas, with established household names making it hard, though not impossible, for new writers to break through. Although YA still tends to be dominated by US authors, Cox said a strong new male voice in the UK market was hard to find. Unsurprisingly, an award always provides a boost. Sales of Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog increased by 900% after he won the Kate Greenaway this year. 

Nosy Crow’s Kate Wilson wrapped up with a look at future trends. Social media has had a huge impact; Wilson acknowledged the shift in the relationship between the reader, author, librarian and publisher. 

The use of QR codes to allow consumers to access audio versions of books is likely to increase...

There is much more of an open dialogue now and publishers have an opportunity to engage with consumers in a way that was not previously possible. Wilson felt the ease with which anyone could publish a book had resulted in a cluttered, more amateur market. The use of QR codes to allow consumers to access audio versions of books is likely to increase, as are the options for personalisation. Interactivity and ‘gameification’ are also areas likely to see significant growth with publishers like Nosy Crow beginning to produce apps for the smartphone and tablet market that allow interactive reading and learning.

When she’s not marking children’s work, or writing stories involving pants, Celia spends far too much time on Facebook and does a lot of walking to counteract the cooking, eating and drinking which form another of her hobbies. She's a Romaniac  and you can also find her on her own website. Usually sea-starved in the depths of the Midlands, she can often be found wandering happily around Brighton visiting her two daughters pretending to collect ideas for her next book.

Annie Neild is an unpublished picture book author. She joined SCBWI in 2012 and is a member/moderator of their online picture book critique group, EUREKA! Annie has also been part of the Cambridge Writers writing for children group since 2010.


  1. I missed this event, so this round-up is very helpful. Glad to see you've followed Jon Reed's advice and got blogging now!

  2. Thanks for a brilliant summary!

  3. It was an amazing day - thanks for commenting, both!

    Incidentally, I'm having problems viewing the W&P blog; it won't scroll down properly and commenting usually takes about 5 goes! Any advice?

    Celia x

    1. Sorry for delay in replying, Celia, Is it still a problem? Is it a problem for anyone else?

  4. This is a brilliant report Celia and Annie - so many useful gems!
    Thank you


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