Mould-breakers

<p>It's a new year and I'm in tidying-up mode. I love browsing through old files&mdash;as well as reliving former dramas, you realise how little some of the publishing world's issues change.</p>
<p>A real treasure trove is the rejection letters file. When I took over at Kestrel in 1984, I found a letter from the late, great Patrick Hardy rejecting Richard Adams' <i>Watership Down</i>. The rejects file at Warne and Ladybird is more prosaic&mdash;mainly offerings of little stories about fairies or bunnies which the writers' grandchildren are always said to love. There is one notable exception, however: at the turn of the last century, Warne turned down a short story about a rabbit from one Beatrix Potter. They were smart enough to change their minds once she had proved them wrong by publishing <i>The Tale of Peter Rabbit</i>. Sadly, Patrick Hardy didn't get a second chance at <i>Watership Down</i>.</p>
<p>Getting something different published remains a huge challenge. J K Rowling was infamously rejected by a dozen publishers before Barry Cunningham &ldquo;discovered&rdquo; Harry Potter. Eric Hill, creator of Spot, has just been awarded an OBE for his work for literacy, and there is hardly anyone under 30 who wasn't brought up on his d&eacute;but, <i>Where's Spot?</i> But back in the late 1970s it took a small packager to see the possibility of a novelty book for toddlers&mdash;every trade publisher said it would cost too much and would never work.</p>
<p>I don't know how easy it was for Jacqueline Wilson to get her first book published. She has certainly earned her Damehood&mdash;not just because of her own books but for her tireless work for the cause of reading, most recently as Children's Laureate. She and Eric have in common an originality and humour that make their books immediately accessible to the most inexperienced reader without dumbing down; at their different levels, both have tackled the real concerns of a child's world in a new way.</p>
<p>The industry's innate caution hasn't changed in over 100 years, and this extends to jumping on bandwagons&mdash;just look at the shelves groaning with retro books following the success of <i>The Dangerous Book for Boys</i>.</p>
<p>Isn't the lesson here that we need to take more risks as a trade&mdash;be willing to break the mould and not cling to the safety of what has worked before? Even when publishers believe in an original book, retailers are often cautious&mdash;and when times get harder, everyone gets more cautious still. A New Year resolution to be braver might help our industry challenge a tough market in 2008.</p>