On Thursday 22 November, the Oxford Publishing Society (OpuS) held an event at Oxford Brookes University entitled ‘Children's Publishing: A success story'. The speakers were Catherine Clarke, literary agent at the Felicity Bryan Agency, Liz Cross, Children's Publisher at Oxford University Press, and Julia Golding, author of numerous children's books including The Diamond of Drury Lane. The event was chaired by Angus Phillips, Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies.
Helen Swain, Master's in Publishing student at Oxford Brookes University, writes:
Liz Cross began by describing the shift in popular opinion regarding children's books. Over the last 10 years children's fiction, with authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman, and J. K. Rowling, has developed into today's highly popular genre, appealing to adults as well as children. Celebrities and established adult fiction writers are now trying their hand at writing books for children. The phenomenon of ‘branding' of the best-known children's authors and their fictional characters was a theme to which Catherine Clarke and Julia Golding were to return. Liz Cross also outlined how, from an editor's point of view, the acquisition of new titles in a much more commercial market has become highly competitive. She warned of the dangers of a narrowing market due to the impact of recent children's bestsellers, which obliges publishers to focus their marketing more tightly on fewer titles, and leaves them unable to give equal attention to all their books. The question was raised of whether good quality books which do not necessarily have an eye-catching commercial hook will find their proper place in this altered market, and she mentioned the methods used to maintain interest in OUP's strong backlist through regularly renewed marketing campaigns.
Catherine Clarke highlighted the shift in the market for children's books, with the sale of rights now involving not only translation but also cross-media factors such as the film industry. However, she pointed out that not all types of children's book have been lifted by the same wave and that picture books have suffered from the market changes, to the extent that some retailers have largely withdrawn their support for illustrated children's titles. She also outlined her view on the triangular agent-author-editor relationship, in which she believes that the author-editor dynamic still remains foremost, and that her role as agent is simply to obtain what is best for her authors.
Julia Golding gave an enticing description of her self-designed marketing techniques, which include a website, blog and visits to classrooms. Indeed, the audience enjoyed a live demonstration of her publicity methods, which exploit the idea of the character as a brand and, through the use of class involvement and a wide variety of props, draw the children into the fantastical or historical worlds she creates in her books.
All three speakers mentioned the fact that, as with all aspects of publishing, digital technology has had a great impact on how children's fiction is marketed and made accessible to children and adults alike.
The audience obviously enjoyed the three different and complementary approaches to this highly topical subject.
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