Nosy Crow Conference 2014: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing, But Were Afraid to Ask

Travelled down from Nottingham to London for the Nosy Crow Conference (getting up at 5am to do so!). Worth every penny. Lots of great speakers, and plenty of food for thought for me.

My position is that I’m a writer, mostly of children’s picture books, but am a little overawed by the industry – no obvious contacts to exploit, or ways in. I didn’t even have a blog! My plan was to write and create a body of work that I was happy with, editing and whittling along the way, and then when a critical mass had been reached (ie my wife kicking me up the backside and telling me to get on with it), I would start submitting manuscripts to publishers and agents. This gave me time to develop my craft, work on a few different stories, and build up confidence in my own mind that I’m not just wasting everyone’s time.

I guess that’s where we are now… (apart from maybe the confidence bit – am I just the cliche of the needy writer??)

So, for the benefit of those fellow writers on a similar journey, here are my notes from the Conference yesterday. These are in no way comprehensive, but were the key elements that I found useful. I hope you do too.

Children’s Publishing Today (Charlotte Eyre, Bookseller’s Children’s Editor)

The overall children’s book market in 2014 has seen growth from 2013, and is expecting its best year since 1998. Worth over £300m a year. Minecraft and Julia Donaldson are two of the big contributors to that. Julia Donaldson (God bless ‘er) was the UK’s most valuable author to booksellers in 2013, and is likely to be this year too.

Popular books in the picture book market were ABC/123 types, dinosaurs, and princesses. Decreasing in popularity were books about pirates and fairies. No mention of pirate fairies though.


How to write a picture book (Louise Bolongaro)

This session lasted 45 minutes. I honestly could have sat through a whole day on this one alone. The detail was incredible, using examples from a range of picture books (not all NC titles) to illustrate each point.

NC publish 2-3 picture book titles per month, and are the 8th largest publisher in terms of sales. (Not bad for a company that’s only a few years old!)

Key questions for the author to consider before submission:

– Does your PB work on different levels, ie for both parent and child?

– What is your one-liner to explain the book?

– Start at the end and work backwards – what’s the payoff?

– Consider pacing – how do you keep the pages turning?


Top tips:

– Make sure your story isn’t too UK-centric (no red telephone boxes, or hedgehogs)

– Plot first, then add the lovely words

– Look for an original treatment of familiar themes, and then add the funny

– Beware fractured fairytales – very common at present

– Believe in your characters. If you don’t, who will?

– Reported speech works well. A first person narrator can seem too “adult”

– Always attribute speech in dialogue, ie “said Mum”, “said bear”

– Make a dummy book, with 12 double page spreads (typically) – make sure your story works in this format, with a narrative arc


What’s an Agent for? (Hilary Delamere)

Partnerships are key in getting you published, and building your profile

Make sure you pitch yourself to the agent: about you, about your story, about your approach

Do you have any other ideas? Are they achievable?

Submission letter should be short, pithy, with a one-liner pitch

Most important question: is the agent right for you? Are they a good fit for you?


The Journey of a First Time Author (Helen Peters)

Helen (author of The Secret Hen House Theatre) explained in a Q&A session how her story came to be published. Expect it to take years (and years), with multiple revisions! Also emphasised the importance of using whatever contacts you can to help you in your journey (although it helps if your neighbour is a screenwriter).


Playing to the crowd: the importance of live events (Tracey Corderoy)

Tracey was such a bundle of loveliness and energy – if she had done a live event at my school when I was growing up, my relationship with books may have been very different! She does about 75 or so live events per year at the moment.

I ended up making pages of notes on this one, but the key themes were:

1) Be prepared – use “story sacks” to get their focus and attention, inc dressing-up outfits and props

2) Live the story – use props and craft – present it in an enthusiastic and lively way

3) Be brave. Leave your comfort zone.

4) Use puppets! They’re a great icebreaker

5) Have realistic expectations of your event – there may be more/fewer children at the event than you’d planned; expect “loo moments”; children may be older/younger at the event than you’d planned

6) Mix it up a bit, to keep them engaged and to keep it fun

7) Be super-organised – leave nothing to chance (Tracey showed the 2-page, small font plan for a live event. The level of detail was impressive)

8) Always say “Yes!”, then make a plan for it after


I’ll leave it there for tonight. My wife’s experimenting with chocolate orange vodka, and needs a willing test subject!




Part Two:


3 thoughts on “Nosy Crow Conference 2014: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing, But Were Afraid to Ask

  1. Pingback: Quick Overview of Nosy Crow’s Children’s Writing Conference

  2. Pingback: The Story So Far (blog post) | Al The Author's blog

  3. Pingback: 12 Days of Christmas for Writers – Days 1-4 | Al The Author's blog

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