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Good news from children's publishing

28 November 2011

A review of the UK children’s publishing scene by Caroline Horn in this week’s Bookseller provides an interesting picture of a part of the publishing business which is in pretty good shape. There is a strong feeling in the trade that the focus has shifted to bestsellers, bestselling authors and brand-name series. This makes it hard for new authors to get a sympathetic view taken of their work. The view is that nobody is interested in unknowns unless they are likely to be instant bestseller material.

Thankfully for unpublished authors, this turns out not to be entirely the case. When you look at actual sales of children’s books, it’s clear that the whole market is looking healthy. Between 2001 and 2010 it has grown from £193m to £325m, a substantial increase by any standards and about twice as much as the increase in the sales of adult books. The number of bestselling authors selling more than £2m had increased during this period from five to 20. However the percentage of sales coming from these bestselling authors had actually decreased during this period.

What is very encouraging is that the number of children’s titles being published during this nine-year period had increased by 12.5%, although it’s fair to add that this may be partly because of the increased number of self-published books.

So writers aiming at the children’s market should not despair, there is still a market for midlist and for backlist sales. What is important however is to study what is going on in publishing, to look at what is in bookshops and to read other authors’ work. Study the trends and don’t assume that last year’s success will be what publishers are looking for. There is a high premium on originality in children’s writing and good stories with lively characters and page-turning plots work well. Not every publisher is looking for series, although to be fair some are. The most successful authors in this field have strong identities for their writing, which makes sense because they are writing for a very critical audience.

Don’t be discouraged though, publishers always have to look for new authors, they are the life-blood of publishing and good children’s writing is in demand all over the world.