Children's books aren't really an area we've ventured into with the book box yet (with the exception of a very brief sojourn in the summer) but as well as building the book box and book club business we're also trying to build a community here of amazing small businesses doing wonderful things and todays' interview is most definitely part of that! We also have another wonderful raffle prize so if you haven't got tickets yet do check out the prize bundles you could win and get some if you can!
We're really happy to welcome Anna McQuinn, founder of children's book publishers Alanna Books, to the blog today.
You often describe yourself as ‘an inadvertent publisher’, can you talk more about that?
When I say ‘inadvertent publisher’ I don’t mean to imply any lack of passion – I’ve been passionate about children’s books all my life and have worked in some of the most wonderful children’s lists: Child’s Play, Tamarind, Frances Lincoln and DeAgostini Editions, as well as my own list, Zero to Ten. After a difficult redundancy following a takeover, in 2003 I took a step back to work directly with small children, running groups for babies and toddlers and their parents in Acton Library for Sure Start. I continued to work in publishing one day a week, writing, editing and developing new ideas.
At the Bologna Children’s Bookfair in 2004, I sold the rights to one of my new books, Lulu Loves the Library in the USA, Netherlands and Denmark, but struggled to find a publisher in the UK. As we approached the print deadline I bemoaned the fact that the books wouldn’t be in the UK and, in a moment of madness, like the Little Red Hen, I decided to do it myself! The rest, as they say, is history…
Tell us about some of the challenges of running a small independent children’s publisher.
One of the big challenges in children’s picture books is the expense – the artwork (quite rightly) costs a lot and so does full colour printing. That’s why even the tiniest of children’s picture book publishers are usually quite international. The way to fund all of this expense is to sell the rights to a publisher in another country who pays an ‘advance’ fee. They then translate the text into their own language but they can use the same art and sometimes you can print together. The advance fees offset some of your costs.
Now, if I were making cheese, I would be regarded as ‘artisan’ and could charge a premium for being involved in every aspect of the book – but publishing doesn’t work that way and instead tiny independents compete on exactly the same terms as enormous conglomerates with huge budgets and staff. So, tiny publishers like me have to work smarter and harder.
Some of the Alanna Books – the Lulu & Zeki series in particular – have been very successful internationally. How have you achieved that?
On the international stage, I feel that one of the keys to success has been finding international ‘champions’ for the books, then working collaboratively and closely with them in innovative ways – something we continue to do today. This has really worked – in the United States, Lulu’s publisher, Charlesbridge has just reached sales of one million dollars for the series this year. With co-publishers in Netherlands and Denmark, we’ve clubbed together to co-print promotional material as well as books. In fact, I’ve become close friends with almost all of the co-publishers now.
Alanna Books has an international flavour in other ways, can you talk about that?
Like other small publishers in the UK, we also innovate by seeking out some of the best books from around the world and publishing them in the UK. Our first acquisition was Little Frog written and illustrated by Denmark’s most famous cartoonist, Jakob Martin Strid. We followed that by acquiring multi-award winning A Splendid Friend Indeed from the USA (which went on to be shortlisted for the UKLA prize) and What Are You Playing At? from France (endorsed by Amnesty, one of CLPE’s Books of the Year 2014 and chosen by John Newman for Books for Keeps as one of the top 10 books for introducing children to philosophy).
What’s next for Alanna Books?
Ruth Hearson is just finishing the artwork for the 3rd Zeki title and Rosalind Beardshaw is starting on the next Lulu book (I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you!), so we’re really looking forward to next year. We will continue to work in innovative ways with our international partners, and smarter and harder here in the UK – because we believe the books we publish are special – and far more important than cheese!
Many thanks to Anna for this wonderful interview. I'm off to add lots of Alanna books to my childrens' wishlists!
Announcing another raffle prize... Alanna Books have very kindly donated a 7 book bundle of the Lulu and Zeki books mentioned above to our fundraising raffle! You can win them along with many other amazing prizes.
Check back tomorrow for another amazing feature, or catch up with the event so far here.