The Quarto Group are looking for an enthusiastic and organised person to join their busy Children’s Production team. This is a great opportunity to work on a wide range of children’s books and learn about the production process.
I have spent fifteen years writing the How to Train Your Dragon books, and over those fifteen years I have lost count of the times people have asked me, ‘Have you ever thought of writing for adults?’ as if writing for children was some sort of second best activity, something you do before moving on to the higher level of writing for adults.
Ahead of How technology can make reading fun, an event in London, we decided to interview the expert speakers. Sven Huber is founder & CEO of Boolino, creator of reading tools like Boolino Book Box and publisher of the unique literacy resource Fiction Express.
1) Some people think Technology deters kids from reading, with young people choosing to play games and spend time on social media instead. Do you think this is the case?
This can be the case, more with tablets than eReaders. I think that regardless of format, the main goal should be to give children plenty of books to read. By giving a choice, children are more likely to connect and engage and if a child connects with the story and its characters, he or she will be more motivated to read on.
There are other things that can have a positive influence too, for example, showing an interest in the book your child is reading and discussing the story together. There has been always “competing” media around, first the radio, then television and video games and today the internet and apps. I believe it is more about the content and not so much about the book format.
2) What online tools have you seen which effectively encourage the love of reading?
Most readers love to share the books they are reading with friends. Online tools such as blogs, video blogs and websites like Boolino and Wattpad are great platforms for sharing and discovering books.
There are also deeper interactive reading tools which can enrich the experience, for example Fiction Express, the interactive e-book platform which allows readers to decide on the plot by voting online.
Fiction Express authors write a new chapter of a story every week, and at the end give three possible options for how the plot should continue. Young readers then vote online by choosing between the three options and, depending on what the winning vote is, the author writes the next chapter. This is a great example of how readers can become part of the creative process, and it tends to trigger high levels of motivation to follow the story. Children also have the possibility to interact directly with the author through the Fiction Express blog and by commenting or suggesting their own ideas for the ending.
3) What can teachers do to create an atmosphere in which children will read?
Ask the children to bring in their favourite books from home or libraries, and have them explain to the class why they love their books. Then facilitate book sharing. My 7- and 8-year old children discover a lot of books through their friends at school, and these tend to be the books they like most. It is so much more powerful for them to discover books they WANT to read, as opposed to telling them what they HAVE to read.
4) If a child actively hates reading, what do you think their parents and teachers should do?
Understand what topics the child is interested in and find books that focus on that topic. Read together, talk, and discuss the books in detail. Create a fun atmosphere. Routines really help too – parents can suggest reading together every day for 15 minutes as a joint activity. If a child actively hates reading, he or she has not yet discovered the joy of it and it is the parents’ and teachers’ role (in that order!) to facilitate this discovery.
Reading opens up our minds to new experiences and unknown facts. However, with the rise in digital devices, today’s story telling has taken on a new dimension. Ahead of How technology can make reading fun, an event to explore ways of encouraging kids to read for pleasure when they are glued to their devices, we decided to interview the expert speakers. Louie Stowell writes non-fiction in-house for Usborne Publishing.
1) Some people think that Technology deters kids from reading, with young people choosing to play games and spend time on social media instead. Do you think this is the case?
I’m sure it’s true that kids spend a lot of time playing games and on social media, but I think that time can feed into a love of reading and story. A game can be a story – just one where you get to play a role. Reading a social media post is still reading. I suspect that trying to control how much time kids spend online is a bit of a losing game. Perhaps it would be better to come at it from the angle of, “How can parents and teachers provide creative opportunities online?” There’s a huge difference between dead-eyed staring at a screen, refreshing instagram for hours, and engaging online in a way that feeds your mind.
2) What online tools have you seen which effectively encourage the love of reading?
Writing for Fiction Express, I’ve seen the effect that interactive stories can have on readers. The kids reading my stories there came to the Fiction Express blog full of questions, ideas – even spinoff stories of their own. Any forum that allows children to express themselves and their opinions about books can be really helpful.
3) What can teachers do around their schools, to create an atmosphere in which children will read in breaks?
Create comfortable areas to read in, with beanbags and a range of books laid out in a tempting way. Incorporate active play into reading spaces – look at the Discover Story Centre in Stratford, and see how they use play areas in a way that inspires storytelling.
4) If a child actively hates reading, what do you think their parents and teachers should do?
Allow them to explore other ways of consuming stories. Perhaps comics will work for them? Perhaps audiobooks? I think the harder people push books as the only way to narrative, the more already-reluctant children will push back. Presenting reading as one mode of story consumption among many can make it seem less daunting, and presenting different media as part of a continuum means nothing is stigmatised, and children can find their own way to stories they love.
5) How can children be encouraged to read the classics?
It depends what you mean by the classics. Sometimes, it’s about broadening what you consider the canon to be – don’t just fall back on Dickens, Austen, Tolstoy – think about broader world literature. Also: start them on retellings rather than the originals. In some cases, the retellings are better. For example, Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Dragonslayer is the best version of Beowulf. (Sorry, Seamus Heaney – she left out all the boring bits about who’s related to who, and stuck to the monster parts, she wins.)
6) Finally, what was your favourite book to read as a child and why?
Lord of the Rings. Interestingly, Tolkien was also my first major experience of multimedia storytelling – I read the book, watched the cartoon, listened to the BBC radio play, read a comic of The Hobbit and listened to the book on tape on a loop. (This was the 80s. It was a literal tape.)
Reading and technology are hot topics. If kids are glued to their devices, where do books fit in? How can we make sure they keep reading for pleasure? Our expert speakers will look at different ways to engage young people online to make reading fun.
This event is aimed at educational publishers, children’s publishers, teachers, YA bloggers, librarians and anyone else interested in how we can keep reading alive!
Each month BookMachine offers a community member, with great ideas, the chance to write on the site. This month Barb Kuntova, a publishing student at University of Stirling, had the winning idea. She is very much interested in children’s publishing and poetry publishing. You can follow her on Twitter (@ibreakfastbooks), instagram (@laylajaglovs), or read her blog (http://thecoffeewoods.wordpress.com).
Children’s publishing is definitely at its peak – never have there been so many children’s books published as there are now.
Diversity is a hot topic and an important consideration. It is important to think about including a range of races, disabilities throughout books, and consider learning difficulties and the fact that some children find it very difficult to read. This should not be confused with not wanting to read. We need to include as much diversity as possible in children’s books – represent them in fiction as well as non-fiction, so that they know it is okay to be themselves.
Some people assume that writing and publishing for children would be the easiest way to write. There is nothing easy about publishing for children and, more importantly, it is most definitely not easy to write books for children – especially write them well.
Lots of people think they can write picture books, for example. Picture books need to be short, make sense, help development and be readable for the hundredth time for the parent as well. Not an easy task.
When we are children, we are the most curious, and question things more than at any other point in our lives. Children will question everything in your book: plot holes, character holes and lazy development of the plot.
The difficulty about publishing books for children is that there is not one target audience, but two. Children are rarely the buyers of the books. It is their parents or teachers who do the book selection and the book purchases, which, for a publisher, means that they have to target their book campaigns towards two separate audiences.
One of the ways authors find audience for their titles nowadays is through social media. However, if you are writing for children, you cannot, and indeed should not, have contact with children through social media. This means writers need to find different ways of interesting their readers – and their buyers.
Children’s non-fiction books are also on the rise. It shows just how interested children are in the world around them. They want to learn. They want to know. And they want to read. Let’s make it even easier for them to do this and keen focusing our energies on this upward trend!
Some of the ideas in this article were inspired by Kathryn Ross (literary agent) and her visit to the University of Stirling.
Venetia Gosling is Publisher of the 6+ division at Macmillan Children’s Books, overseeing a list which combines YA, fiction, non fiction and poetry, for readers of six and up. She joined Pan Macmillan in 2013, moving from Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, where she was Fiction Editorial Director.
1) Why would an editorial director want to transition into a role as a publisher?
Not every editorial director will want to transition to the role of publisher, because it does generally take you further away from the day to day job of editing and commissioning – but for those who do, these are some of the reasons why you would:
More autonomy to create and implement your own vision and strategy for the entire list
Increased financial input and responsibility
Management, and potentially board, responsibility
Longer term view
Broader relationships within the company and industry
An editorial director will manage the career or strategy for an author, series, age range or genre. They plan the publishing of that area, whereas a publisher manages the overall shape of the publishing, and strategy for the whole list – of course with input from the rest of the team, but you are able to have a vision for the wider list and run with it, which is exciting and rewarding.
There is also much increased financial responsibility and transparency – I look after the P&L for my division, and need to ensure we are growing through acquiring and selling fantastic books which are appropriate for each section of the market.
Acquisition is always a key focus, and coming up with ideas and commissioning writers is a highlight, as is working with authors and illustrators to develop their careers. It’s the most important part of the job, and the bit I love most.
2) How did being an editor prepare you for your work as publisher?
These are the main transferable skills, I think…
An eye for detail – this is always going to be important, whether you are checking page proofs or poring over a P&L
Understanding the process – understanding the production stages of making a book is really important and something you’ll know inside out by the time you finish working as an editor
Communication skills – you need to convince people to support your vision, whether that’s for an individual book or a whole list, and being able to make your pitch clearly and succinctly is something you definitely learn as an editor
Collaboration – being able to work as part of a team to make things happen is essential
Market knowledge – you learn this as you go along, but building a deep understanding of the environment you are working in, analysing sales figures, checking out the competition and understanding your consumer is key. And though the market changes quickly, it also runs in cycles, so you are likely to see trends and themes come back again and again…
Contacts – the relationships you build with authors, agents, retailers and other industry partners as an editor will stand you in good stead later on
Everything you do ends up being useful later, however insignificant it may seem at the time!
3) What tools do you use to help you manage the changing responsibilities that promotion entails?
I think it’s important to come at your new responsibilities with sensitivity and an open mind. You may have been in the company prior to being promoted, or come in from elsewhere, but either way, you need to be sensitive to your new colleagues – with the first situation, it’s about talking through any issues and keeping the communication lines open; with the latter, it’s about just listening and observing to start with, rather than diving in straightaway with your own view of how things should be done.
4) How do you make decisions in your job, and how have you learned to trust your judgement?
It depends what kind of decision I’m making – with a story or a piece of artwork, I react instinctively, but within the framework of my publishing experience. If it’s a financial issue, I want to have as much detail to hand as possible to be sure I am making an informed decision. I’ve been in children’s books for over twenty years now, so I have a pretty keen sense of what’s commercial and what isn’t, but I am still learning all the time in terms of the business side – and I love that.
5) What career advice would you give your younger self?
Pretty obvious stuff, but:
Participate – don’t hang back, even if something’s outside of your comfort zone. I’ve sometimes stopped myself doing something because I’m terrified of embarrassing myself, and I have kicked myself afterwards. Be brave – everyone else is as anxious as you are, and if they’re not, they’ve had a lot of practice!
Grab opportunities when you’re offered them. I was offered the opportunity to do two maternity covers in a row quite early on – and it leap-frogged me up the editorial ladder.
Don’t be shy – talk to people, make connections, everyone has something of value to share. But also listen. You might learn something.
Be nice. It sounds sappy, but friendships you make now will see you through your career and can be useful in ways you never imagined. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be snooty – the most junior people will probably end up senior to you at some point. Don’t bear grudges, it’s a waste of time. It’s a small industry and we all need to work together, one way or another.
If you don’t know how to do something or what something means – ask. People will be happy to explain.
Check everything. Be thorough. Follow-up in good time. Do your research.
Keep learning. Offer to help, practice your skills, read everything. Don’t be a clock-watcher. Get noticed for the right things. Your hard work will pay off!
Charlotte Eyre is Children’s Editor at The Bookseller, covering the UK children’s and YA book market. She is also chair of the @YABookPrize, and programmes the annual Bookseller Children’s Conference. Here Norah Myers interviews her.
1) What are the current trends in children’s publishing and how do you see them evolving through the rest of 2016?
Publishers are more and more looking to publish books that will become brands, as they want the film, TV and merchandise opportunities, rather than publish stories for their own sake.
Celebrity and YouTube publishing is also hugely popular, as a YouTuber with a massive following has an instant audience to buy a book.
Also, there’s been a lot of really great middle-grade fiction recently and it seems like many publishers are focusing on fiction for this younger age group rather than YA, although they haven’t forgotten their teen audience.
In terms of these trends going forward, the bigger publishers will focus more and more on licensing and brands, leaving room for the smaller independents to focus on author-led publishing. I can’t see the trend for celebrity and YouTube publishing going away until one of these books massively fails, in which case publishers will start to tread more carefully, but it’s hard to say when and if that will happen. Finally, publishers will continue to look for fantastic middle-grade fiction although I know they are also keeping their eye out for the next YA hit. The industry is definitely hungry for the next Hunger Games or Divergent.
2) How have the recent sales of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child affected the children’s and YA market?
The success of J K Rowling several years ago helped create one of the biggest growth surges children’s publishing has ever seen, which is partly why the industry is booming at the moment. However, ‘J K Rowling’s Wizarding World’ is now such a well-oiled media machine I think most people think of Harry Potter as being a category of its own. If you’re a publisher with a Harry Potter licensing deal, the success of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is great for you. If not, it’s probably not going to affect you either way.
3) What are the strongest diversity-based themes you see in children’s literature, and what do you hope to see more of?
The lack of diversity in children’s publishing is still an issue and no-one has seemingly solved the problem yet. There have been a few YA novels where the authors have determinedly included a range of diverse characters but these kinds of books sometimes feel like the writer is just ticking off a checklist.
I’d like to read books from a more diverse range of authors because then the stories would be more authentic, in my opinion. I’d also really like to read an adventure story where a BAME character is the lead rather than a side-kick.
I’d also like to see more northern stories.
4) How has digital publishing affected the children’s and YA market?
The ebook revolution has had little or no effect on the children’s and YA market. Children don’t read ebooks, as their parents generally want them to stick to print, and teens don’t seem that bothered either. The big change in publishing is social media and the impact of Facebook, twitter and instagram. Kids are constantly using these platforms and publishers have to think about how to market to children there, as well as how to lure readers off their devices. It’s both an opportunity and a challenge.
5) What advice do you have for anyone who aspires to work in children’s publishing?
First, network. Introduce yourself to local event or festival organisers and ask if you can volunteer. If you can, get yourself to a city and attend some of the big events like YALC in London or DeptCon in Dublin, where you can get to know book people.
Secondly, engage with children’s book chats on social media. If you talk about books you love on twitter you will soon find hundreds of people who want to do the same. It’s a great way to meet like-minded book fans and hear about opportunities in the publishing world.
Thirdly, if you can get a Saturday job at a local bookshop, do. You may decide to start a career in bookselling or it will give you a launchpad to work in other areas of the business.
Digital formats provide a wealth of opportunity to experiment with, and push the boundaries of, the traditional book. With much focus on what this can do to engage children in reading, here Jana Sukenikova takes a look at the origins of the interactive children’s book and why she used monsters as the topic of her most recent design project.
Monsters became very popular in this century, from Vampires to Werewolves to Dragons, Skeletons and many, many different kinds. When I was conducting research for my recent project, I was disappointed by the selection of books on the topic of monsters in the town library. Badly chosen fonts were fighting with weak and inappropriate illustrations, with everything looking ‘glued’ together rather than being well-designed. I passionately wanted to change this situation – by making a special monster book!
How monsters were born
This project was born from a coincidence when I was babysitting my little cousin. While we were drawing together I asked her “How do you imagine Monsters?“ I realised that her imagination of monsters is completely different to mine when I was her age. So I decided to put together a book, which will show adults and all children a completely new approach to a world of spooks.
I asked children in the local nursery school for help and the results were awesome! They produced around 100 illustrations to get started with and a third of these were bedsheet ghosts.
Make a toy from your book
Backgrounds, monsters and stories become a living, breathing thing by adding interactive elements. Interactive elements are the inspiration behind many of the books I found while researching. My Book is filled with pop-up monsters, stickers, monsters based on dress-up dolls, foils, mechanical parts, embossed illustrations, monsters base on coloring books etc.
Two dimensional objects are changed to 3D objects by folding paper mechanisms. These plastic models were used for the first time in the mid-19th century, when London publishing companies Dean & Son and Darton & Co added 3D parts into well known 2D scenes. Success came almost immediately. Pioneer of the best Pop Up books was the German illustrator and writer Lothar Meggendörfer (1847–1925) Some of his most famous books include Dolls House and Grand Cirque International.
Pieces of cardboard with interchangeable fashion costumes were popular in the rich classes for both men and women in Europe and America in the late 18th century.
The first manufactured paper doll was Little Fanny, produced by S & J Fuller in London 1810. Before Barbie doll was introduced to the world, paper dolls had a significant role in the lives of children.
In mid-1700 in France “Pantins” dolls were developed to rise against french upper class and royal courts. „Jumping Jacks“ figures were something between a marionette and Paper Doll and they were made to taunt society. Jack developed into a paper element in the books for children, where the base is an illustration and the body parts and head are movable with the help of rivets.
There are many ways to make a book more attractive and engaging for children or adults (both in print and digital). Just go to the library and have a look, you will find plenty of inspiration for your next print or digital project.
Jana Sukenikova aka Fanah Shapeless is a multi-disciplined graphic designer specialising in Book Design, Layout, Brand identity, Print and Digital Design, Boardgames, Illustrations. Check out more of her work here.
Since 2012, Nielsen Book UK has undertaken a Children’s Deep-Dive Study each summer to investigate children’s book reading and buying habits in the context of other leisure and entertainment pursuits.
For the first time in 2015, in addition to the nationally representative sample of 1,500 parents of 0-13 year olds and 500 young adults aged 14-17, the survey included 1,000 book buyers aged 18-25 to help investigate the phenomenon of adults buying ‘YA’ books for themselves. The research was undertaken in July 2015.
The 2015 research measured a drop in book reading on a weekly basis both among those aged 3-7 and 14-17 – though since 2012, the biggest decrease overall has been among 3-10 year olds. Books, however, still rank as the most popular activity for 0-10 year olds – but are in fifth position for 11-13s and drop out of the top 8 activities for those aged 14+.
For the first time Nielsen segmented the 0-25 book market into groups. ‘Superfans’ – the very heaviest readers – tend to be female, with an average age of 12. ‘Distractable’ and the ‘Anti’ groups are more likely to be males, with the ‘Anti’ group being older (14 on average) and the ‘Distractables’ younger (11 on average), whilst the ‘Potential’ group is as likely to be boys as girls.
This latter group are the ones reading e-books and magazines, and they too like adaptations; with the right content, format and messaging, this is a market that publishers can grow.
For the first time this year, Nielsen Book held a UK Children’s Summit at London Book Fair, covering the incredible growth we’ve seen in Children’s sales worldwide over the past two years, and will hopefully continue to see. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and talking about book sales data, I couldn’t pick a better subject to present on right now than the children’s market.
Since my first foray to the LBF in 2013, the children’s market has taken a turn for the better – after steadily declining from 2009 to 2013, revenue grew 9.5% in 2014, even as adult fiction and non-fiction continued to decline. Sales in 2015 improved even further, up 5.3% to £309m, marking last year as the highest year for Children’s since BookScan records began. And it wasn’t just one category, or one author, or one publisher. The three largest categories (Children’s Fiction, Picture Books and Novelty & Activity Books) all saw growth, as did the majority of top publishers. Even more impressive, 2016 sales to the end of March are already up 7.4% compared to the first three months of 2015, pointing toward 2016 being another excellent year.
The strength of Children’s Fiction in particular continues to amaze me – value sales grew 11.3% in 2015, and so far in 2016 the category has gone up another 10% in quarter one, topping £20m. Last year, 14 of the top 20 authors were in growth, with the top 20 taking about half of fiction sales. It’s a combination of new and old driving this – David Walliams’ latest Grandpa’s Great Escape was the highest selling children’s title for the last five years, but then we also see J.K. Rowling moving back up the ranks. The new illustrated Harry Potter contributed to her moving from the eighth largest children’s fiction author in 2014 to the third in 2015, and in the first few months of 2016, she’s moved into first.
Contrary to the other large categories, Young Adult Fiction saw a bit of a decline in 2015 (down 5.3%), but there were still some positives – half of the top twenty authors showed increased sales, including Zoe Sugg in first and Terry Pratchett in second. Actually, the top ten YA titles made more money in 2015 than in 2014 (£7.9m vs £7.0m), with 25% of revenue coming from those top ten, led by Girl Online 2: On Tour. We also saw value growth beyond the top 100 titles, and more debut authors earning over £100k than in the previous year, pointing to plenty of future potential in the YA sector.
It’s not just the UK that’s seeing extensive growth in Children’s – of the ten countries we measure through BookScan, only Australia was in decline in 2015, after a really strong 2014. Interestingly, when you look at the breakdown of the market in each country, Australia has the largest share taken by Children’s, at 44% of volume sales, closely followed by New Zealand at 42%. In the UK, Children’s takes about 34% of volume sales and 24% of value, which has grown from only 15% back in 2001, and only 21% as recently as 2012, all pointing to the continuing strength of print in the Children’s market.
Jaclyn Swope is a Publisher Account Manager on the Book Research team at Nielsen BookScan, where she assists a variety of publishers with understanding and utilising both retail sales and consumer data, through training sessions, presentations and bespoke analysis of book industry trends.
Guest Speakers from different areas of the publishing industry came together to discuss how to make a success of publishing for kids in an online world. Here Abigail Hyland rounds up the key things we learned from the speakers.
Steve Bohme, Nielsen Book Research: recognising overlooked marketing strategies
Nielsen measure the engagement children and young adults have with social media, by way of consumer surveys, to find new ways of targeting a market that is increasingly online.
Quick glance stats:
Who’s online? 0-17yr olds
– 50% of this age group access YouTube
– 26% of this age group access Facebook
– 23% of this age group access Amazon
Where are books being bought?
Where are books being discovered?
– 83% offline
From these statistics it’s obvious that publishers of children’s books are missing out on a potentially huge referral market. But instead of a missed opportunity, Nielsen are using this research as encouragement to tap into new ways of marketing children’s literature on online platforms.
Sven Huber, Boolino: using the internet as an instantly available meeting place of reader and text
If bookstores are the psychical bridge between authors and readers, how does the internet form a bridge between author and reader to the same effect?
From this question, a business opportunity arose and there ‘Boolino’ was born; a site that aims to connect the reader to a text through online interactive material that’s supplementary to the book.
This ‘added’ content, such as video book reviews, allow a parent to make an informed decision about which books they will buy their child. And, when that book has been bought, further material is available to aid the reading experience in the form of online tests and games. This caught the attention of the publishers of these texts, as they came to recognise the use of this added value. This then formed strong communications between the Boolino and publishers’ websites, leading to a healthy referral system between each site.
Claire Morrison, DK Books: putting what parents want online
DK’s research into what parents want for their child suggests a wish list of age-appropriate content, educational value, engagement with the text, and an expert view on what kids should be reading. This is encapsulated by the advantageous branding DK have which attributes these traits to their publications purely through the trust in the brand. DK are “engaging but trustworthy”, Claire Morrison describes.
Putting this into practice, DK have recently launched the online platform DKfindout!, ‘A safe place online to see, learn and explore almost everything’.
This platform provides:
A secure site for a child to search and explore
Top tips to help parents support their child’s learning and education.
Charlotte Hoare, Hachette Children’s Group: identifying problems one must consider when marketing to children online
Charlotte noted how the children’s books sector is the hardest to target, in terms of marketing, due to the dual approach you have to take when communicating to both the parent and child, buyer and user. But the biggest challenge comes in the form of ‘Verified Consent’: You can easily approach an adult via marketing, but to reach a child is a lot trickier. COPA, an American initiative, states you are not allowed to hold any identifiable data about anyone under the age of 11. So, if you want to sign a child up to a campaign/newsletter/competition, you can only do so with consent from the parent.
Bringing together data (Nielsen) and business opportunity (Boolino & DK), whilst acknowledging the difficulties with children’s book marketing (Hachette), we are provided with a rounded view of how to market books to children and their parents in the current online publishing climate.
Evan Jones is the founder of Stitch Media, an interactive media production services company focused on telling stories using new technology and timeless techniques. Evan is also the creator of Together Tales, a new platform which brings reading, games and real-life activities together. Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.
1) Tell us a little bit about your background and career
Early in my career I became obsessed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are a style of narrative that really couldn’t exist before the internet, because they rely on the audience as investigators who connect different types of media together to make a complete story. They’re also intensely interactive and the best ones consider the audience as collaborators – their theories and solutions inspire the creative team working behind the scenes.
I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with incredibly talented people on projects across every genre. We’ve worked in comedy, drama, documentary, horror, science fiction, children’s, lifestyle – but always with an interactive point of view. Stitch Media is the company that you call when you want to push the boundaries. I’m always working hard to stay ahead of the curve on new technology but more importantly the media trends that are shifting around us.
2) Together Tales – what’s the premise?
Together Tales are Adventure Kits that combine physical books and artifacts with interactive challenges. Parents bring these stories to life as an insider working with the author to plant clues and create coincidences.
For kids aged 8-10 reading the adventures, it’s like the whole story surrounds you. You are a character in the books and your actions end up saving the day. We’ve had a lot of feedback that this product is perfect for ‘reluctant readers’ because it’s broken into short chapters that connect with activities both offline and online.
For parents, it’s like having a creative sidekick for those moments where you want to want to play along with your kids but don’t always have the time or energy to make it up. Adventure Kits give you all the tools you need and simple instructions via email to prompt you at the perfect moment. You’re playing alongside your kids with a cheat sheet from the author.
3) What made you, as a media and TV professional, look at the idea of interactive books? How did the idea and the concept of Together Tales come about?
We didn’t set out to make an interactive book. Our company never starts with the technology first. It’s that old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Instead we started with a question: “How can recreate some of our fondest memories of childhood?”
We loved reading books, of course – books are imagination fireworks where you can do anything at all. We also loved simple games like scavenger hunts and puzzles. But the secret ingredient is the name of our product – it was those moments we spent together.
Together Tales is a platform to combine all of these things. We rely upon an ‘Insider’ who truly knows the reader. We use the shorthand of parents but it could easily be grandparents or that cool uncle or an amazing teacher. The point is that our adventures come to life in through others – they are the ones who personalise a letter online, print it out and tuck it under the child’s pillow because they received an automated email yesterday explaining that the Magician will be answering their dream questions tomorrow. It’s a system to make more of those memorable moments by connecting them together with a story.
4) What kind of success have you enjoyed so far?
Our first success was convincing a jury to give us the CMF Experimental Fund – it allowed us to build the technology and test the concept until we got it right. The one thing we needed after that was the money to pay for our first print run. We created four Adventure Kits in our first year and launched the concept on Kickstarter – that was really when Together Tales took off. We’ve shipped hundreds of kits out to families now and the response has been incredible. The five-star reviews on Amazon have really inspired us – parents talk about how excited their kids get about reading the stories and their adventures.
It’s also been a huge boost for us to be recognised by our industry. We were nominated for the BookTech prize in the UK this year and for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Interactive Project. These endorsements help a great deal in promoting sales.
5) Anything that has been particularly challenging?
Our biggest challenge is everyone’s biggest challenge – discoverability. Our target demographic is parents with 8-10 year old kids and I’m one of them. It’s a very busy and distracted group of customers and we don’t have a marketing budget to spend yet. We know that families love the product but we haven’t yet mastered the way we reach that audience.
6) Why do you think there’s a market for this kind of publishing?
Publishing is not going away. Yes it’s changing but all of the media industries shift when a new paradigm appears. We know this is a crowded market but we feel that Together Tales is something truly new and will strike a chord with the right type of customer.
Together Tales is also built to empower authors to write their own Adventure Kits. Our platform expands with every new book as we build a library of games and technology which are reused in subsequent stories. They’re also not tied to a particular platform. We’re not thinking about the issues of paper vs tablets because we use them all in the way they were intended. Media consumption habits for us aren’t an either/or proposition, they’re all potential for us.
7) Have you found that you have been able to reach out easily to children who may not be particularly enthusiastic about reading?
Together Tales is very accessible because the story is portioned out. The child never sees a huge book because the story is divided into chapters and interactive moments. The first chapter looks like a comic book, but once you’ve read it you’re hooked. The characters need your help and a game begins. It’s not hard to convince kids to play games but when the game is over you want to see how it affected the story. That’s when the second chapter magically appears (thanks parents!) and the cycle continues.
1) As a marketer, what’s the first thing you think about when developing an online marketing campaign for a new children’s book?
The first thing to consider is always your audience. There’s three things to address straight off the bat: 1) Are we talking to parents or direct to children? 2) If the latter, how do we verify consent? 3) Where would our audience (parents or children) be hanging out online? Once you’ve thought about those three things, you can start thinking creatively.
2) What is the best children’s marketing campaign you have seen? Why is it so good?
I was really interested with what Mattel did for Monster High on YouTube, it’s a classic case of knowing exactly where their audience hangs out. They did a homepage takeover and tied in with some key YouTube influencers to produce a series of music videos for the brand, which they then followed up afterwards with a 4 week campaign targeting viewers who engaged with the takeover to deliver them additional Monster High content (from webisodes to toy adverts). What I liked especially was the way that the takeover was followed up with the more targeted campaign to encourage longer term brand engagement, it garnered them millions of views and YouTube was the perfect platform for the campaign.
3) How can publishers, in general, become better at marketing kids books?
It’s become increasingly clear that we need to move away from the ‘traditional’ idea of a marketing campaign (enewsletters, pub day tweets, bookmarks) and think outside of our publishing bubble. When we market children’s books, we’re effectively competing with the likes of LEGO, Xbox, Candy Crush, YouTube, etc. for kids’ attention. In order to stand a chance against such big companies (and their wallets), we need to spend our budgets more wisely on marketing ideas and digital properties that add real value to a book, rather than something that’s forgotten a week after it publishes.
4) What are parents looking for when finding books for their children online?
I think parents that are into books are always going to know where to find books for their kids, be that on Amazon or Mumsnet or wherever. In the majority of cases, though, I don’t think your average parents are actively looking online for books for their kids. I think for us, as publishers, it’s more about going to places online where they are looking for stuff – be that advice on how to get their kid to sleep or homework help – and seeding out our content to promote books that way.
5) If you could offer advice to any budding children’s marketing professionals, what would that be?
Don’t be lured in solely by the glamorous YA side of children’s publishing. For most lists, these won’t be the bread and butter books that you’ll be spending most of your energy on. Related to that, I’d say to read widely and with an open mind, as you need to be able to appreciate books that are aimed at much younger audiences.