Snot glue and other eternal verities of the children’s publishing industry

It’s said that much in the way of significant business deals and networking still takes place in male-only sanctums. But at the Nosy Crow Conference at the St Bride Foundation on Saturday the (very long) queue for the ladies’ loos was the place to be! My networking skills are a work-in-progress but even I managed some worthwhile conversations while the predominantly female audience waited patiently for the 3 available cubicles – though a break-away contingent did annexe the second gents’ facilities on the top floor.

(I’ve already written too much about toilets and nothing about publishing. Note to self.)

Billed as Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Children’s Publishing (but were afraid to ask), that kind of summed up my feelings as a relative newbie in the field. Nosy Crow are relative newbies too, as a publishing house, but have squillions of years of collective experience between them. (Exaggeration, moi?)

Others have blogged more comprehensively and sensibly about the event here and here but I’d like to share some of what I learned at this packed and exciting day.

Lucy Mangan, Guardian columnist and bibliophile – and that’s putting it mildly – said that reading “sets you free”. Access to books, in particular through school and public libraries, was invaluable for aspiring to and achieving that slightly touchy subject, social mobility. I felt that children’s authors and readers (of all ages) were together planting a flag for the value of books, like in the famous Iwo Jima photograph. Somebody with more advanced expertise than mine Photoshop it for me, please.

The Nosy Crow editorial panel, with their eyes on worldwide sales, said useful things about picture books like, ‘Don’t make your story too British’. (Hedgehogs are a no-no on that basis. Who knew?) That blows my story about a Dartford Warbler right out of the water. Also, ‘If it rhymes, is the story strong enough to work as prose in another language?’ And stories about ordinary everyday life for 5 to 7-year-olds just don’t really cross borders, too culture-specific. Fantasy worlds do translate.

As for their wish-list, quite frankly I don’t want to share that with you. I want to keep it all to myself.

Hilary Delamere defended agents against the theoretical defamation that they were only money-grubbing parasites. But personally I had always thought that they were the golden key (elbow? Metaphor!?) to pushing past the slush pile.

Tracey Corderoy wowed with energy and charm but scared me with her crafting super-powers in a talk about live author events. ‘Take a story sack’ was the lesson I learned, even if it’s only to clutch to your terrified bosom. Jon Reed had to follow on with a session about on-line marketing while one of Tracey’s sparkly spiders still dangled from the lectern. A good tip from Jon was paywithatweet where readers get a free extract or 1-page resource but have to ‘pay’ by tweeting your link.

From Melissa Cox, children’s book buyer for Waterstones, I learned that the ideal book for 9s-12s (the age-group I am currently writing for) has good writing, a good cover, a strong story and leaves ‘em wanting more. Hope that’s sorted, then. And that foil covers aren’t the thing any more, it’s all about sprayed edges. Unfortunately by this time the data projector had done a diva-flounce and stopped cooperating, so we couldn’t see all the titles Melissa wanted to illustrate her talk with.

From there we moved into the strange but fascinating world of children’s story apps, but we’d had cake by then and wine was promised so nothing felt too mystifying.

My last lesson of the day was: snot glue. Think about it. It’s that stuff that sticks things to things. Free stuff on magazine covers. You can roll it up into a ball…eventually. Yes, now you know what I’m talking about, and now you know it has a technical name. Snot glue. You heard it here, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

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