Editors, agents and booksellers have told The Bookseller they worry that authors are failing to reap the benefits of growth in the children’s book market.
With 2014 being a record year for children’s books—sales of which grew 9.1% year on year to a value of £336.5m, according to Nielsen BookScan—a large number of new imprints and agencies have been created. Some publishers, such as Janetta Otter Barry, formerly of Quarto, are setting up their own companies and many in the industry are launching their own literary agencies.
However, Imogen Cooper, freelance editor at Chicken House and director of the Golden Egg Academy, said although the recent increase in the number of children’s imprints and agents “may seem to some like a great thing”, for authors there may be a downside.
“It’s a tough market, and the danger is that too many books are published, many badly edited and of poor quality,” she said. “As we all know, if an author’s first book fails, it’s very difficult to build a career. Are we in danger of strings of one-book wonders because authors are accepted too early, without the skills they need to have acquired? Manuscripts and authors need time and a great deal of editorial support, together with marketing know-how and industry contacts, to launch a career.”
Cooper pointed out that even if the number of children’s books being printed increases there are only “so many” book suppliers and “getting a book into Waterstones or Amazon is a tough business, even if you have the big guns of the tried and tested publishers”.
Literary agent Ben Illis agreed, saying retailers were failing to get behind new writers, which means many are struggling to get their books sold. “The big book chains are not supporting new writers,” he said. “I would like to see them promote new talent, perhaps for just one month a year, so the new books can get some attention. It’s just not happening at the moment.”
Independent bookseller and publisher Ron Johns said that in the Young Adult sector in particular too many books are being published, so some authors will fail to build a career. Jo de Guia, owner of Victoria Park Books in east London, said she worried that these writers are not earning enough. “There isn’t much middle ground, there are either big corporations or teeny tiny publishers.
“Capitalism means big businesses eat big businesses, which leaves the market underneath open for beautiful, quirky, brilliant books [but] little imprints cannot pay authors the same amount as big publishers and that is problematic,” she said. “At the bottom, people aren’t really making money. Is that sustainable?”
However, author Liz Kessler said growth was good for “team children’s books”, adding: “Anything that is expanding the world of children’s books and making them more accessible and available can only ever be a good thing. The more books, publishers, imprints and voices that are out there, the more chances we have of bringing in new readers to the children’s book world as a whole.”
Amber Caraveo, who left Orion Children’s Books last year to set up the Skylark Literary Agency, said: “It’s incredibly healthy that there is such enthusiasm for children’s books, with so many publishers and imprints springing up, eager to find new talent and publish new books.”
Caraveo thinks the quality of the publishing is also improving, and that “more publishers are now moving away from simply publishing lots of titles for children and are instead aiming to publish fewer titles better”.