News

Children's publishing "haemorrhaging talent"

The industry is "haemorrhaging talent" as authors and illustrators are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living in the children's sector.

Agent Caroline Sheldon said that she estimated that fewer than half of the children's authors who previously made a living from writing five or 10 years ago are now doing so. She said: "The big things are getting bigger and the middle area is getting squeezed." While authors used to be able to diversify outside their main area, cutbacks in publishers' lists have made extra work scarce, she added.

Agent Laura Cecil pointed to a collapse in royalty payments for books sold, leaving authors dependent on advances for income. She said: "Prices for children's books have barely risen since the mid-1990s, and this makes it hard for children's authors to clear their advances and receive royalties." She compared this to the adult market, where many r.r.p.s are now in the region of £20.

Sheldon said authors who had written three books, for example, are finding it hard to get any more contracts, unless their books have already become bestsellers. She cited Antony Horowitz and Michael Morpurgo, who both took many years to become established. She said: "There used to be a longer maturing period when publishers would work with authors to help them break through. Now careers are being lost after book three."

Children's authors contacted by The Bookseller agreed that life is tougher. Julia Jarman said: "Royalties are down, advances are down, and publishers are offering less for new books." She said she now relies on paid visits to schools, rather than book sales, for the bulk of her income. "School visits used to represent a third of my income but is now two-thirds; it has swapped places with my income from books." However, some authors said they have seen income from school visits decline as budgets are cut.

Fiction and non-fiction author Anne Rooney said children's non-fiction has been hit hardest in the downturn.  "Over the past three years, I've gone from turning work away to a point where schools and libraries commissions are virtually zero." She said the majority of the commissions she was receiving were at a lower price than they were two years ago.

New writers are equally dispirited. Nick Green said: "I am not going to kid myself that I can support my family by writing fiction. At best it is extra pocket money. I would never give up the day job—not even if my next advance was six-figures, because another might never come again."

Author Wendy Meddour, who gave up her job to write fiction and picture books, said the gap between commission and publication, sometimes up to four years, makes it hard to make money.

Publishers' terms are also getting tougher for new authors. One author, who declined to be named, said her publisher had refused to sign her completed second book until they saw how her first book sold. She added: "I've been told that it doesn't look good to move to another publisher, but it has made my financial situation very difficult."

Agents may also become unaffordable, warned another author who preferred not to be named. "Why pay 15% and VAT when I set up most of the deals myself? It used to be nice to have someone to do the nagging for money and so on, but it's a luxury I can't afford any more."

However, Caroline Walsh at David Higham Associates said: "I believe that the caution among publishers is directly related to the recession rather than any permanent change within the industry."

Comments: Scroll down for the latest comments and to have your say

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I have just finished my first children's novel and have found it impossible to find an agent, not because I can't write but because I've been told time and time again that they 'don't have the time' to support a new writer. It's an investment that they are unwilling to make because there's no guarantee of a financial return for them. The one agent who did show an interest also rejected my work because she wanted perfection as she did not wish to spend the time helping me to improve my work at all.
The major book sellers don't appear to market new writers as much as the older, more established authors which is also part of the problem.

It sounds trite to say it - but it's true - J.K.Rowling ruined it for the rest of us. Publishers are now only interested in best sellers. The major bookstores are too greedy when it comes to charging publishers for "preferred positions" in their windows and inclusion in their "3 for 2" promotions. The whole publishing world, thanks to the massive Harry Potter franchise, has become obsessed with celebrity names rather than quality. I had two YA books published in 2007 and 2008. There was no promotion whatsoever, so the books sunk without trace - despite being nominated for several awards. Apparently, my publishers spent all the marketing budget on Geri Halliwell's Books (that she wrote herself, of course). Mind you, I think Harry Potter has probably done the same to the film industry. My local cinema is showing the latest Harry Potter film three times a day for the rest of the summer. I pity some poor beggar who directed a nice little children's/family film and it will never see the light of day because the distributors don't want to know.

Go indie! Amanda Hocking led the way. OK, so we'll never make a fortune but at least our books are out there being read by real people instead of sitting on a computer unnoticed.

Rowling ruined it for everyone, except for the impressive number of new authors taken on and effectively marketed by Bloomsbury Childrens because of the Harry Potter money, of course. Publishers *have* to be interested in bestsellers, that's what funds the new authors who take 3 or 4 books to build a following, or indeed who never build a following.

Presumably the comments in this feature were based on a questionnaire of some kind circulated by the Bookseller. I'd like to see the questions, if authors are asked their opinion then in these lean times inevitably that opinion will be less than positive! Yes it's depressing reading and much is certainly true, these are arguments we've seen before, but it may not be the entire picture.

There's a great deal of pressure on children's writers and illustrators to be innovative and to explore new digital media as well as traditional publishing. There are probably some creators who are comfortable with this media and perhaps they are surviving well. However from what I can see, whatever the media the financial incentives are just not there. It's hoped that the expansion into digital media will become a great saviour for the industry, but personally I'm not placing any bets just yet. Placing faith in technology is a dangerous thing, of course new developments are important, but far better I feel is to tackle the much more important problem of book circulation - support the libraries and independent bookshops, not the ipad. I know several illustrators who have dropped out of children's books because they simply can't survive on advances alone. One very well known colleague told me that even if their latest book sells out it's first, small, print-run they still can't make any money due to discounting, and the chances of a second print are small.

The only think that keeps the UK industry afloat is foreign rights sales. It's tempting to think that British publishers are turning into licensing agents - small domestic print-runs, fingers crossed for the crucial co-editions that will make the book viable.

Publishers are only interested in best sellers? well a book has to have a market, it doesn't need to be a best-seller, but it does need to sell, I think it's unfair to blame it entirely on the publishers, they're a business like any other. The real problem is the market, the undermining of the reading ethic, the loss of our libraries and consequent emphasis towards retail commercialism. The buying public no longer has the broad range of outlets whereby lesser known books can develop a following. Thus publishers concentrate on works they know they can sell. If it's not well known the bookshop chains won't stock it, or it will be buried and forgotten on the shelves. Books either sell or are invisible, there is no middle ground. The problem then is the book selling market, not the production company.

I had one YA novel published - a long time after the original contract was signed and at the worst time of year for a new author. (October's "super Thursday.") Despite originally telling me that a sequel would be a good idea - something I wanted to write anyway - the publisher declined to publish it because of inadequate sales of the first book. They've also rejected my third, unrelated, YA book. Undeterred, I'm now on my fourth. But I'm beginning to fear I may never get another published. It's certainly a very tough market.

John, there were no specific questions, we were just invited to share our experiences of the market. You said 'if authors are asked their opinion then in these lean times inevitably that opinion will be less than positive!' Well, we were not asked our opinions but to give factual evidence. I now earn less per book than I did ten years ago. I am also expected to do more for the money. That's not an opinion, it's a fact. It's a negative experience - I'm sure the inhouse editors, the printers and other suppliers are not paid less than they were ten years ago. It's a bit odd, isn't it, as the bit we supply is the part that is absolutely crucial and can't be replaced by something else? If paper costs to much, they can produce digitally; if editors are too expensive, they can cut corners (God forbid), but they can't publish a book that hasn't been written.

Sorry, pressed the wrong key and deleted part of my name! Shd be StroppyAuthor

The book distributors are to blame - there's something wrong with the system itself - but the publishers and their sales staff and the major daily print journalists are also. Most seem to be controlled by money people who don't think in terms of culture, new ideas and voices or art, but in terms of celebrity and sales. Books were once about higher knowledge and thought. Now they're a business. When I heard the head of an imprint at Random House call it a 'book factory' about 15 years ago, I knew writers were in BIG trouble! Everything has gone downhill since then. It's a bigger problem than Rowling and Hollywood. It's happening across all the arts - note the music industry. It's happening in education - note the high fees being charged the young, who can't depend on getting jobs after university. It's also due to increasing computerization, which we should all oppose. After all, it is unecological. But look on the bright side: Once our resources dry up, our communication system will also, then we'll need books on paper again. Maybe we'll sit around the campfire and tell each other stories again! In the meantime, the cultured are going to have a much harder time of it than they ever have before, unless they can think of some clever way to make themselves appear more valuable to the money men. Without ideas people, the money men won't make money. Remember that.

Anonymouse, I fell off my chair laughing when I read your comment. Anyone who thinks they can get their first novel published is living in cloud cuckoo land. Of course no agent or publisher is going to want to mentor you, it's up to you to learn the craft. Maybe when you have half a dozen manuscripts in your bottom drawer you might then be ready for publication.

'The whole publishing world, thanks to the massive Harry Potter franchise, has become obsessed with celebrity names rather than quality.' It is inaccurate and unfair to tar J.K. Rowling's writing with the celebrity / poor quality brush. She is a real author - one who contributed massively to the visibility and buoyancy of the children's market. And I'm not even a Potter fan.

Enough of the publisher-bashing! I challenge you to find me an editor who isn't in it purely for the love of books and getting kids reading - we are not getting any richer doing what we do than authors are. Just because a book has been written does not mean that it is worth reading, let alone publishing.

JK Rowling sold her first book for a tiny advance and received no marketing help from her publisher. Write a story that captures kids' imagination and sparks "you must read this book" word of mouth where it counts—in the playground.

Rowling and Paolini were discovered. It IS possible for children's authors to come to the attention of the publishers. That being said, the economics of the BUSINESS side, not the creative side of publishing, make it so that an author really has to show the potential to sell well to sustain themselves and everyone in the 'food chain' of publishing, from agents to bookstores.

Some writers have successfully self-published for this very reason-to cut out the middleman as much as possible. In which case, they can then afford to make the price lower, NOT because it is lower quality, but because it is digital, for example, or because it is going directly to the buyer, the shortest distance between the two points.

The other problem is not even addressed in this article, however--how many kids are actually reading a book? Or feel they need a non-fiction book when there is so much data for free online, or very cheap. This is the real problem. Fiction will remain popular because it is unique, creative. Non-fiction for kids as a highly-crafted editorial product might go the way of the Dodo simply because of the expensive involved, especially in high-production value non-fiction books.

I fear - along with all the other things I fear as an author - that Anon 3 is wrong. Since childhood is transient, the readership being renewed every ten years, and since so many books are passing out of print, it will be possible simply to rerelease old titles with new covers and appear to be publishing prolifically. Look at the number of different format versions of the sure-fire successes. Not new, just repackaged. Strictly speaking there is no need to commission another book - ever - and the smaller the number of titles the simpler the marketing budgets. After all, there are only 12 holes in a supermarket display unit. Why confuse the public with a superfluity of new and unproven books?

As a tide Wimpy Kid clones sweeps away the Twilight clones, I'm less than convinced by this crisis argument. Based on the proof copies (usually teen thrillers) that I get from publishers hunting for a cover quote, most of these books fail becasue they're poor attempts to copy somehting else. The reason authors like Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are selling more books than ever is becuase they've carved a distinctive niche and consistently produce great books.

But who's commissioning all those lame clones, Robert? All the 'business-minded' publishers and 'money people' discussed earlier who refuse to 'take a risk' on anything original or 'unproven'. Just like at least 90% of the films that come out of Hollywood. I'm at a loss for DVDs to rent anymore. I read the blurbs and see it's yet another story I've seen a hundred times before...and yes, the same is true of far too many books. I'm not bashing anyone. I know for a fact there are plenty of excellent original books and films out there that can't find a publisher or a producer, just the latter are terrified of losing their jobs if they publish or produce too many 'misses'. But the hysteria and insanity of all that IS creating a cultural wasteland. It used to be that editors and filmmakers let the highly commerical fare finance the quality fare. Books and films that have become classics were often not best-sellers at the start. But by most accounts, the decision-makers are not allowed that option anymore.

I got my very first manuscript accepted for publication - by Simon & Schuster no less. It's out on August 4th and foreign rights have already been sold too and an optioning deal is on the tabl. So it IS possible for a first time writer with their first ms to get published - I'm living proof!

It is a tough industry to break into for sure, and an even tougher one to stay in, given the pressure on sales and the difficulty in earning out your advance. I could never have quit my job to write full time if I'd stayed in London. My solution was to upsticks and move from London to Bali - one way of making your advance go further for sure. It's not cloud cuckoo land but it is close!

Sadly it's partly down to the shops too...I don't have the space to hold stock of the thrid or fourth book of a writer that only sold a very small amount. Don't get me wrong if I love the book I will go hell for leather for it!

Every title on the shelf HAS to earn it's keep that's just a fact, even if I love a book and it doesn't sell there will come a point where we stop stocking it.

What happened to the publishers giving us POS to use and proof copies to give the new writers the exposure?

I think kids book could go up in price by a small amount..but it would have to be done very carefully...after all parents are willing to pay £50 for a computer game.

No, come on. This rant about the 'bean-counters' or whatever being in charge of publishing has been around for longer than I've been alive. You're being wilfully blind if you can't see that we've been living in a golden age of children's literature for some time now. Look at the stuff on the shortlists. There's absolutely brilliant, original, literary stuff out there, often from new authors. And yes, as always, a lot of that is being cross-subsidised by commercial children's fiction, but even that is generally slicker and better than anything I remember from my own childhood.

(Film is another matter, but it's not like there aren't extraordinary stories being told on screen at the moment - just look at TV. We're box-set consumers much more than we are cineastes these days, and the fact that TV often gets 20-odd one hour episodes to tell stories is allowing writers to produce some incredible work.)

I have just finished my first children's novel and have found it impossible to find an agent, not because I can't write but because I've been told time and time again that they 'don't have the time' to support a new writer. It's an investment that they are unwilling to make because there's no guarantee of a financial return for them. The one agent who did show an interest also rejected my work because she wanted perfection as she did not wish to spend the time helping me to improve my work at all.
The major book sellers don't appear to market new writers as much as the older, more established authors which is also part of the problem.

Anonymouse, I fell off my chair laughing when I read your comment. Anyone who thinks they can get their first novel published is living in cloud cuckoo land. Of course no agent or publisher is going to want to mentor you, it's up to you to learn the craft. Maybe when you have half a dozen manuscripts in your bottom drawer you might then be ready for publication.

I got my very first manuscript accepted for publication - by Simon & Schuster no less. It's out on August 4th and foreign rights have already been sold too and an optioning deal is on the tabl. So it IS possible for a first time writer with their first ms to get published - I'm living proof!

It is a tough industry to break into for sure, and an even tougher one to stay in, given the pressure on sales and the difficulty in earning out your advance. I could never have quit my job to write full time if I'd stayed in London. My solution was to upsticks and move from London to Bali - one way of making your advance go further for sure. It's not cloud cuckoo land but it is close!

Poppy:

1. If no one ever gets their first novel published, where did today's authors come from?

2. What evidence do you have that Anonymouse doesn't 'know the craft', and doesn't have 'half a dozen manuscripts' in their bottom drawer?

You are to be be congratulated for producing a comment that is not only extraordinarily mean-spirited but largely nonsensical.

To be fair to Poppy, I think you are misinterpreting that statement. Saying nobody gets their first novel published means that nobody sells their first attempt at a novel. It is often the case that people who are published for the first time have written previous, unpublished novels - the proverbial bottom drawer full of manuscripts.

I sold my first attempt at a novel to a huge publisher (and sold foreign rights and had offers on film rights before publication)! All those aspiring writers out there it IS possible. It really, really is, so don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Anonymouse - keep trying to get an agent. There are some that take on new writers. I found one. And it's not true about publishers only championing existing authors either. Simon & Schuster have invested hugely in me, even though I'm a debut author. They've been fantastic. And I know that the odds are slim and I'm exceedingly lucky but I hope you draw some hope from my story and don't let others put you off!

I have to agree with Sarah. I too had my first attempt at a novel accepted (although not by such a major publisher. Congrats!). Even though it sold reasonably well and got good reviews, getting a second one published is actually proving more difficult. The publishers admitted that they're having to be more cautious and are only taking chances on books with the potential for huge commercial success. They told me that books like mine, which are likely to only make a small profit, can only be considered if they receive of Arts subsidies and grants, etc, to minimise the chance of losing money. The recession is really hurting those of us who aren't writing the next Percy Jackson or Harry Potter.

It sounds trite to say it - but it's true - J.K.Rowling ruined it for the rest of us. Publishers are now only interested in best sellers. The major bookstores are too greedy when it comes to charging publishers for "preferred positions" in their windows and inclusion in their "3 for 2" promotions. The whole publishing world, thanks to the massive Harry Potter franchise, has become obsessed with celebrity names rather than quality. I had two YA books published in 2007 and 2008. There was no promotion whatsoever, so the books sunk without trace - despite being nominated for several awards. Apparently, my publishers spent all the marketing budget on Geri Halliwell's Books (that she wrote herself, of course). Mind you, I think Harry Potter has probably done the same to the film industry. My local cinema is showing the latest Harry Potter film three times a day for the rest of the summer. I pity some poor beggar who directed a nice little children's/family film and it will never see the light of day because the distributors don't want to know.

Rowling ruined it for everyone, except for the impressive number of new authors taken on and effectively marketed by Bloomsbury Childrens because of the Harry Potter money, of course. Publishers *have* to be interested in bestsellers, that's what funds the new authors who take 3 or 4 books to build a following, or indeed who never build a following.

'The whole publishing world, thanks to the massive Harry Potter franchise, has become obsessed with celebrity names rather than quality.' It is inaccurate and unfair to tar J.K. Rowling's writing with the celebrity / poor quality brush. She is a real author - one who contributed massively to the visibility and buoyancy of the children's market. And I'm not even a Potter fan.

JK Rowling sold her first book for a tiny advance and received no marketing help from her publisher. Write a story that captures kids' imagination and sparks "you must read this book" word of mouth where it counts—in the playground.

Go indie! Amanda Hocking led the way. OK, so we'll never make a fortune but at least our books are out there being read by real people instead of sitting on a computer unnoticed.

Presumably the comments in this feature were based on a questionnaire of some kind circulated by the Bookseller. I'd like to see the questions, if authors are asked their opinion then in these lean times inevitably that opinion will be less than positive! Yes it's depressing reading and much is certainly true, these are arguments we've seen before, but it may not be the entire picture.

There's a great deal of pressure on children's writers and illustrators to be innovative and to explore new digital media as well as traditional publishing. There are probably some creators who are comfortable with this media and perhaps they are surviving well. However from what I can see, whatever the media the financial incentives are just not there. It's hoped that the expansion into digital media will become a great saviour for the industry, but personally I'm not placing any bets just yet. Placing faith in technology is a dangerous thing, of course new developments are important, but far better I feel is to tackle the much more important problem of book circulation - support the libraries and independent bookshops, not the ipad. I know several illustrators who have dropped out of children's books because they simply can't survive on advances alone. One very well known colleague told me that even if their latest book sells out it's first, small, print-run they still can't make any money due to discounting, and the chances of a second print are small.

The only think that keeps the UK industry afloat is foreign rights sales. It's tempting to think that British publishers are turning into licensing agents - small domestic print-runs, fingers crossed for the crucial co-editions that will make the book viable.

Publishers are only interested in best sellers? well a book has to have a market, it doesn't need to be a best-seller, but it does need to sell, I think it's unfair to blame it entirely on the publishers, they're a business like any other. The real problem is the market, the undermining of the reading ethic, the loss of our libraries and consequent emphasis towards retail commercialism. The buying public no longer has the broad range of outlets whereby lesser known books can develop a following. Thus publishers concentrate on works they know they can sell. If it's not well known the bookshop chains won't stock it, or it will be buried and forgotten on the shelves. Books either sell or are invisible, there is no middle ground. The problem then is the book selling market, not the production company.

I had one YA novel published - a long time after the original contract was signed and at the worst time of year for a new author. (October's "super Thursday.") Despite originally telling me that a sequel would be a good idea - something I wanted to write anyway - the publisher declined to publish it because of inadequate sales of the first book. They've also rejected my third, unrelated, YA book. Undeterred, I'm now on my fourth. But I'm beginning to fear I may never get another published. It's certainly a very tough market.

John, there were no specific questions, we were just invited to share our experiences of the market. You said 'if authors are asked their opinion then in these lean times inevitably that opinion will be less than positive!' Well, we were not asked our opinions but to give factual evidence. I now earn less per book than I did ten years ago. I am also expected to do more for the money. That's not an opinion, it's a fact. It's a negative experience - I'm sure the inhouse editors, the printers and other suppliers are not paid less than they were ten years ago. It's a bit odd, isn't it, as the bit we supply is the part that is absolutely crucial and can't be replaced by something else? If paper costs to much, they can produce digitally; if editors are too expensive, they can cut corners (God forbid), but they can't publish a book that hasn't been written.

Sorry, pressed the wrong key and deleted part of my name! Shd be StroppyAuthor

The book distributors are to blame - there's something wrong with the system itself - but the publishers and their sales staff and the major daily print journalists are also. Most seem to be controlled by money people who don't think in terms of culture, new ideas and voices or art, but in terms of celebrity and sales. Books were once about higher knowledge and thought. Now they're a business. When I heard the head of an imprint at Random House call it a 'book factory' about 15 years ago, I knew writers were in BIG trouble! Everything has gone downhill since then. It's a bigger problem than Rowling and Hollywood. It's happening across all the arts - note the music industry. It's happening in education - note the high fees being charged the young, who can't depend on getting jobs after university. It's also due to increasing computerization, which we should all oppose. After all, it is unecological. But look on the bright side: Once our resources dry up, our communication system will also, then we'll need books on paper again. Maybe we'll sit around the campfire and tell each other stories again! In the meantime, the cultured are going to have a much harder time of it than they ever have before, unless they can think of some clever way to make themselves appear more valuable to the money men. Without ideas people, the money men won't make money. Remember that.

Tales around campfires? Yes, I like that - we could go back to the oral tale and travel the country as bards - hmm I will have to buy an ass to ride about on though. However if writing for children - then write for children and not for money. Hopefully someone will pick it up or other groups will form to form alternative publishing houses to publish it - if any good.

Enough of the publisher-bashing! I challenge you to find me an editor who isn't in it purely for the love of books and getting kids reading - we are not getting any richer doing what we do than authors are. Just because a book has been written does not mean that it is worth reading, let alone publishing.

Rowling and Paolini were discovered. It IS possible for children's authors to come to the attention of the publishers. That being said, the economics of the BUSINESS side, not the creative side of publishing, make it so that an author really has to show the potential to sell well to sustain themselves and everyone in the 'food chain' of publishing, from agents to bookstores.

Some writers have successfully self-published for this very reason-to cut out the middleman as much as possible. In which case, they can then afford to make the price lower, NOT because it is lower quality, but because it is digital, for example, or because it is going directly to the buyer, the shortest distance between the two points.

The other problem is not even addressed in this article, however--how many kids are actually reading a book? Or feel they need a non-fiction book when there is so much data for free online, or very cheap. This is the real problem. Fiction will remain popular because it is unique, creative. Non-fiction for kids as a highly-crafted editorial product might go the way of the Dodo simply because of the expensive involved, especially in high-production value non-fiction books.

I fear - along with all the other things I fear as an author - that Anon 3 is wrong. Since childhood is transient, the readership being renewed every ten years, and since so many books are passing out of print, it will be possible simply to rerelease old titles with new covers and appear to be publishing prolifically. Look at the number of different format versions of the sure-fire successes. Not new, just repackaged. Strictly speaking there is no need to commission another book - ever - and the smaller the number of titles the simpler the marketing budgets. After all, there are only 12 holes in a supermarket display unit. Why confuse the public with a superfluity of new and unproven books?

As a tide Wimpy Kid clones sweeps away the Twilight clones, I'm less than convinced by this crisis argument. Based on the proof copies (usually teen thrillers) that I get from publishers hunting for a cover quote, most of these books fail becasue they're poor attempts to copy somehting else. The reason authors like Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are selling more books than ever is becuase they've carved a distinctive niche and consistently produce great books.

But who's commissioning all those lame clones, Robert? All the 'business-minded' publishers and 'money people' discussed earlier who refuse to 'take a risk' on anything original or 'unproven'. Just like at least 90% of the films that come out of Hollywood. I'm at a loss for DVDs to rent anymore. I read the blurbs and see it's yet another story I've seen a hundred times before...and yes, the same is true of far too many books. I'm not bashing anyone. I know for a fact there are plenty of excellent original books and films out there that can't find a publisher or a producer, just the latter are terrified of losing their jobs if they publish or produce too many 'misses'. But the hysteria and insanity of all that IS creating a cultural wasteland. It used to be that editors and filmmakers let the highly commerical fare finance the quality fare. Books and films that have become classics were often not best-sellers at the start. But by most accounts, the decision-makers are not allowed that option anymore.

No, come on. This rant about the 'bean-counters' or whatever being in charge of publishing has been around for longer than I've been alive. You're being wilfully blind if you can't see that we've been living in a golden age of children's literature for some time now. Look at the stuff on the shortlists. There's absolutely brilliant, original, literary stuff out there, often from new authors. And yes, as always, a lot of that is being cross-subsidised by commercial children's fiction, but even that is generally slicker and better than anything I remember from my own childhood.

(Film is another matter, but it's not like there aren't extraordinary stories being told on screen at the moment - just look at TV. We're box-set consumers much more than we are cineastes these days, and the fact that TV often gets 20-odd one hour episodes to tell stories is allowing writers to produce some incredible work.)

Sadly it's partly down to the shops too...I don't have the space to hold stock of the thrid or fourth book of a writer that only sold a very small amount. Don't get me wrong if I love the book I will go hell for leather for it!

Every title on the shelf HAS to earn it's keep that's just a fact, even if I love a book and it doesn't sell there will come a point where we stop stocking it.

What happened to the publishers giving us POS to use and proof copies to give the new writers the exposure?

I think kids book could go up in price by a small amount..but it would have to be done very carefully...after all parents are willing to pay £50 for a computer game.

"I think kids book could go up in price by a small amount..but it would have to be done very carefully...after all parents are willing to pay £50 for a computer game".

That last bit is sad but true. We used to have a fantastic range of kid's and adult titles at 3 For £10. I lost count of the number of times a family would come in, spend half an hour browsing through the thousands of books on offer across a range of subjects/genres, for one of the adults (usually Mum) to declare "Come along, we don't need any more books and anyway this shop is very expensive. We will go to the Library later".

They would then cross the road to the games shop where Dad and the kids would emerge with a bag each, bulging with games.

One Saturday, fed up with this response, I went and asked the owner how much the latests Library bound family had spent with him. I very nearly needed medical assistance when he told me they had spent £120. I'd have been happy with a tenner.

Lynn wrote: 'I had two YA books published in 2007 and 2008. There was no promotion whatsoever, so the books sunk without trace - despite being nominated for several awards.'

There has never been more opportunities for authors to promote themselves without spending any money on traditional marketing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging - all tools for promoting yourself. It's a tough market, so you have to make a bit of your own luck, and it's good to show your publisher that you understand the need to market yourself too.
Quite a few publishers didn't think there would be a market for my first book When I Was Joe. Luckily a smaller independent publisher, Frances Lincoln, had the imagination to take a risk on me. I've won three awards for When I Was Joe, it's sold to Germany and Brazil, and it's doing fine. I see writing books as a long game - you can't expect to get loads of money right away. With luck and hard work it should be possible to build up an income - that's what I hope anyway.

"There has never been more opportunities for authors to promote themselves without spending any money on traditional marketing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging - all tools for promoting yourself."

And so many folks are doing this such promotion becomes deluge - established authors, new authors, self-published authors. Not an every couple of weeks packet from a publishing house, just an incessant barrage of individual marketing, often poorly done and poorly targeted.

Publisher's are putting too much on the author I fear - I'd rather have them writing. That is what they do, yes? Publishers that don't promote authors will eventually lose the ability to do it at all.

I think small publishers with fewer books per house are better - better editing, better promotion, better knowledge of what has longevity.

Lynn wrote: 'I had two YA books published in 2007 and 2008. There was no promotion whatsoever, so the books sunk without trace - despite being nominated for several awards.'

There has never been more opportunities for authors to promote themselves without spending any money on traditional marketing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging - all tools for promoting yourself. It's a tough market, so you have to make a bit of your own luck, and it's good to show your publisher that you understand the need to market yourself too.
Quite a few publishers didn't think there would be a market for my first book When I Was Joe. Luckily a smaller independent publisher, Frances Lincoln, had the imagination to take a risk on me. I've won three awards for When I Was Joe, it's sold to Germany and Brazil, and it's doing fine. I see writing books as a long game - you can't expect to get loads of money right away. With luck and hard work it should be possible to build up an income - that's what I hope anyway.

What makes me sad is that, even with the problems, some really brilliant books are being published; but at least in the pre-school category there is still some absolute dross being put out (not just the self-published stuff) which is wasting time and resources that could be put to better use.

Few writers have ever made even a decent living writing full time. Think back to Willa Cather, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald who had best sellers in their time but still had to have other jobs (magazine publisher, journalist, screen writer, in that order).

Harry Potter showed that it could be done. Rather than a threat that is a shining example of what is possible.

As a publisher we can tell you how glorious it is to see a worthy book in the slush pile. We love the slush pile. Don't know why more publishers don't hire interns to read them as a first cut. No work an intern turned down in our slush pile (we are no Harper Collins so don't get first class work, but we get some) was ever published.

However, some work seen by interns, and recommended to authors as great work--that wasn't right for us--was published elsewhere (exciting too).

We may be too enthusiastic about all this but we think some enthusiasm to identify great new authors would be a tonic for the big tired publishing houses. Easy to say; hard to do.

We're getting to the point where there really aren't that many more stories to tell... the market, both adult and childrens, has been flooded with titles over recent years and it is nigh on impossible to generate interest for a new author unless they are championed by a Tv show or celebrity via something like Twitter.

Reading all of your comments, I was struck by how passionately you are all speaking about this, and, as an editor and a writer, I can understand many of the views expressed here.

I think it's easy for us to blame publishers and say that they won't give new writers a chance, but this is not true! If an editor reads a manuscript and sees potential in it, they will do all they can to commission it. For authors who are as yet unpublished, persevere - if you can't get through to an agent, then attend writers' workshops, they are a hugely supportive and creative environment for writers, and you will receive great structural criticism.

If you are constantly being rejected by publishers, then you do need to stop and consider why this is. Every author must be willing to adapt - find out what publishers want, and use this to your own advantage.

A lot of people chose to blame authors like JK Rowling, but, as already pointed out, the truth is that without bestsellers, publishers would be unable to take chances on unknown writers and/or illustrators. I also disagree that if paper prices are high then a publisher can just publish digitally - eBook production is even more expensive than traditional book production.

I noticed that someone commented about writers being the most important link in the chain, and I understand what you mean - and agree to an extent - but I do not feel that the importance of any other link in the chain should be underestimated. Writers, illustrators, editors, designers, production, sales, marketing, publicity, foreign rights, booksellers - all of these people are VITAL in the success of any book, and that should be recognised.

More than anything, as is always the case, times are changing. And times are tough right now, for everyone - wherever you are in the chain. So you can either spend time thinking about how bad everything is, or you can get on with it, and do your best to make a difference.

"There used to be a longer maturing period when publishers would work with authors to help them break through. Now careers are being lost after book three."

Sadly, the "maturing period" is a thing of the past -- publishers now need to see a return on their investment immediately. Many passionate, enthusiastic in-house editors are run off their feet doing admin, sitting in meetings, and fighting for their current acquisitions, often editing in the evenings. They must prioritize existing authors/illustrators and have little or no time to work with new authors who need time to be nurtured. In this competitive marketplace, submissions have to be market-ready with a clear, unique sales hook. This is where literary consultants can help - we have time to edit and shape stories.

 
Passionate about books said earlier:

“…eBook production is even more expensive than traditional book production.”

How can you justify a statement like that, which flies in the face of all reason let alone fact, and then not back it up with any proof? We have switched from paper-and-ink to digital production and, believe me, our production and distribution costs are way down. Any publisher for whom that is not true is doing something wrong.

Yeah, that's simply not true, is it! eBook conversion from PDF costs a couple of hundred quid and you can sell the result on as many times as you like. For that you will get only a couple of hundred copies of a print book to sell.

Hi there

I really don't appreciate the negative tone of the responses I've received to my comment - what I have said is based on my own experiences, and I haven't said anything untrue or controversial.

It feels as though people use this forum to vent their anger at their own situation.

In my experience, eBook production IS far more expensive than traditional book publishing. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, the publisher I work for doesn't have a speaialised web team, so the work is freelanced out. Secondly, the editorial team is already stretched, and so a freelance editor has been brought in to handle every eBook. It is not just a case of making a PDF and putting it online. In edition to project management and copyreading eBooks, contracts need to be negotiated with authors, because eBooks are still a fairly new format and so it's likely that an author's original contract did not account for eBook rights, and contracts also need to be negotiated with sellers such as Amazon, before the eBooks can even go on sale.

The true cost of an eBook can be very high - perhaps not for a large publisher, where all of these jobs can be done inhouse, but certainly for a small to mid-size publisher. High production costs don't mean that a publisher is doing something wrong, and that's a very quick and uninformed judgement to make.

No, I'm going to continue to disagree with you, because I have just as much relevant experience as you with this. It's my day job too. I'm not adopting a negative tone out of ignorance, nor am I saying you're doing anything wrong; I'm just saying your plant costs for EPUB conversion ought to be cheaper than print for anything over about 500 copies. They'd be cheaper than that using a commercial self-publishing package.

EPUB conversion costs me about 45p a page. Even if you're paying twice that, what's the worst you're looking at? £500 for conversion, five hundred quid more for a full proofread. Versus print your margin is probably better even if you're paying the vendor 30%, the taxman 20%, and the author anything up to 35%.

I am not one of these people who thinks ebooks mean there's a giant pot of money sloshing around because you don't have to pay for print, which needs to be redistributed to authors, agents and consumers. But don't tell me ebook production is 'far more expensive' than print. It just isn't, if you're selling any significant number of books.

I think that some people need to get real here. I decided to set up a small business to publish my children's books. I'm doing ok, I really am, having just taken delivery of the 2nd edition of my first book (the first edition was 5000 copies purchased 8 months ago). BUT.....now I am onto my second book, which I hope to publish in a couple of month's time, my problems are just starting. Like any new businessman in this field, I am the author, publisher, editor, rep, marketing manager, sales manager and finance manager, so my time for each aspect is limited, but my costs are low. I am approaching a crunch time, where my second edition needs to be paid for, I need to allow funds for paying my artist and printer for the work done putting the new book together and then I need to buy and pay for stock of the new book. I will then need to spend money on marketing the new title, although this may be easier than it was for the first. While I'm marketing the first and second books, I need to be thinking about a third book (at which point, if all 3 books are doing as well as my first one currently is, I will have a viable business), so the cycle will begin again. If you multiply my financial conundrums with each book by a factor of 10, 100 or even a thousand for larger publishers, you will understand why they can't afford many duds in their repertoires.
Having said all that, I'm loving being involved in the book industry (I come from construction) and whether I can make a living out of it or not, I hope that it gets better for everyone involved with it.

I think that some people need to get real here. I decided to set up a small business to publish my children's books. I'm doing ok, I really am, having just taken delivery of the 2nd edition of my first book (the first edition was 5000 copies purchased 8 months ago). BUT.....now I am onto my second book, which I hope to publish in a couple of month's time, my problems are just starting. Like any new businessman in this field, I am the author, publisher, editor, rep, marketing manager, sales manager and finance manager, so my time for each aspect is limited, but my costs are low. I am approaching a crunch time, where my second edition needs to be paid for, I need to allow funds for paying my artist and printer for the work done putting the new book together and then I need to buy and pay for stock of the new book. I will then need to spend money on marketing the new title, although this may be easier than it was for the first. While I'm marketing the first and second books, I need to be thinking about a third book (at which point, if all 3 books are doing as well as my first one currently is, I will have a viable business), so the cycle will begin again. If you multiply my financial conundrums with each book by a factor of 10, 100 or even a thousand for larger publishers, you will understand why they can't afford many duds in their repertoires.
Having said all that, I'm loving being involved in the book industry (I come from construction) and whether I can make a living out of it or not, I hope that it gets better for everyone involved with it.

Small Publisher - you sold 5,000 copies of your first book in eight months and you describe that as "ok"?! Now I feel very inadequate and unsuccessful! I, like you, decided to set up a small business to publish my own children's books (I started nine months ago and I've just sent the fourth one to press). I did this as a business venture, and because of all the horror stories about trying to get published - I decided I'd just skip that bit and be entrepreneurial. I have found that attitudes to self publishing can be very obstructive and disheartening, but despite that I've had some success and have got my books available via a big distributor, and just lately in some proper bookshops including WHSmiths and Waterstones. Up to now it has all been online sales via word of mouth however, and it's very difficult to know what is good/bad in terms of sales figures for an unknown author just starting out. I was just googling to try to find any comparable data and came across this discussion. Can I ask via what means your 5,000 copies were sold - in bookshops or online and how did you promote them? Sounds like you're doing more than ok to me!

Hi there. If I was to give you all the information you need in an open online forum then the chances are that the market would be awash with self-published authors. I have used one or two tricks, but really it's all about sheer bloody-minded persistence. My biggest problem now is trying to fund my next book at the same time as paying for the second edition of my first book......

Hi Small publisher and another small publisher,
I'm yet another small publisher who has alot in common with you both.
I too set up a publishing firm last December and have just received a second print run, which is now paid off from sales of the first run.
I've just arranged for a second book to be illustrated and that should be ready for Christmas, fingers crossed.
I'm also form construction (well painting/decorating and minor building repairs).
Isn't this publishing game a gas! I'm loving every minute.
Don't say you're self-published. I find independently published far more acceptably received. Sure, libraries and school budgets have been wiped out and Waterstone's are closing the door on self/sorry/independently published authors but it seems to me that when one door slams shut, another will open if we're willing to stay positive. First and foremost, this is a buzz more than anything serious but you're both right that times are hard.
Let's just keep plugging away and enjoying what we're doing. The children's market isn't as difficult to get into as the big houses would have us believe. Personally, I don't buy new books for myself any more but I'll always buy them for my children, and I think other parents think along those lines too.
I do free school readings, which are great. Kids get to meet an author, hear a story (mine are picture books with between 1000 and 2000 words, so quite substantial, but fun with a nondidactic message) and ask questions about writing, printing and anything else.
Libraries are proving to be trickier. I can never tell if there'll be lots of children coming and its marketing depends on the library's management, which is sometimes very laissez-faire.
I'd be happy to exchange details with you both so that we can learn from each other. My printers are good but the quality is restricted by price and it's hard to make books as seamlessly as the mass-produced stock of big houses.
If I can be of any help to you both, just let me know. It's us against the big guns so we may as well hold hands!