Hazel Holmes from Askews and Holts library services came to speak to the UCLan MA Publishing class on Monday. She talked about her perspective as a children’s book buyer and about the library market. It was an excellent chance to see what librarians are looking for and get Hazel’s advice on getting into publishing.
Askews and Holts is spread over three floors, with the ground floor home to the factory floor where books are serviced, the first floor has offices, buyers and the showroom where events are held, and the top floor is for IT. Askews and Holts mainly supplies public libraries, though they do supply a few school libraries. Their main competition for school libraries is Peters.
Hazel Holmes gets a budget to buy books and prepares the books for servicing, which means taking care that books get jackets, are categorized correctly, etc. She sat down with us, and Debbie Williams asked her a few questions.
D: What trends have you noticed in children’s books?
H: Illustrations that have quirky things. We’re done with vampires, leaving dystopian … looks like we’re going into gritty reality. There are a lot of books about cults or war fiction from a female point of view.
D: What’s important for picture books to have?
H: Books that parents can read and find amusing. The humor has to work on two levels, one for the parents, one for the kids. The illustration on the spine needs to stand out, because the majority of the books in our showroom are spine out. It’s only really on the website that you see the cover.
D: What picture book trends have you noticed?
H: Books around food, sleeping (e.g. going to bed), fears and monsters. Books on dinosaurs. Popular animals are bears, penguins, lions, dogs.Books that tackle issues always do well, such as bullying, bereavement or being different.
H: Always think about the book from the kid’s perspective.
D: What are your favorite books?
D: What do you look for when buying a book?
H: The cover is key. It needs to strong or it won’t sell. Has to have good text, clear. And nothing wacky or offensive.
H: The library market doesn’t want stickers or extras in the book, since they’ll be shared. Often, publishers do one version for the library market and another for booksellers. Libraries also won’t buy books that are spiral bound or wrap around.
D: What do teachers look for in picture books?
H: Clear text, rhyme, that it’s interactive, good illustrations are key, of course. Rhyme has to be really well done or it won’t sell.
D: How has the changes to the national curriculum affected the market?
H: It hasn’t affected stories so much, more the non-fiction side of things. There’s been a rush from publishers to get stuff published about the stone age. Raintree is a publisher does great books for children.
D: What do you look for as a parent?
H: Something that will hold my child’s attention, that’ll make them laugh. Mine can’t be bothered if the pictures are dull. So, bright colors, bold, action. Silly words are always a hit. Not so much Shirley Hughes, which is picked up by adults in the family, but not the kids.
H: Good characterization is always important. Anything quirky or different, something the children can identify with.
D: What advice would you have when doing events with children?
H: Be prepared to go with the flow.
H: If there’s going to be queuing, then make sure there are activities to keep the children occupied. You want to keep the parents happy. It doesn’t have to be complicated, some from your staff doing simple magic tricks or having angel cake.
H: It’s good to have lots of reliable people around to manage the crowd.
D: What have been the best or the worst events?
H: The best had to have been the Jacqueline Wilson Festival here in Preston. It was over several days, had workshops, four competitions, cupcakes and a signing. The worst are when there’s a low turnup, which often happens in schools. School events also don’t sell books. With public events, you can sell tickets where the book is included in the price.
D: What’s the best thing about your job?
H: Meeting with publishers, seeing the new stuff first, seeing what trends are emerging. The free books.
H: It’s also really nice to see the marketing side and what impact I have on books, especially debut authors. For example, if I really like a book, I’ll put it in the book club. A debut author might sell 20 copies, but if they get publicity that can climb to 1000 copies.
D: What do publishers bring when they come to you?
H: The relationship with the publishers is really important. Publishers bring AI sheets, marketing materials, marketing plans. We get loads of proofs every week, from a few to 30-40. We buy books 6 months in advance. So we’ll be thinking of how to set up the showroom for christmas books in May/June.
H: Publishers pitch in different ways, often bringing in food and dressing in character. If you pitch, prepare to make yourself standout. There are different gimmicks for attention. Hot Key is really good a this, they once brought a book about cannibalism in a butcher’s box. Pitches that are more low key also work, I remember a book about a swan that had a feather bookmark.
D: What should a good pitch do?
H: It’s important to filter things for the buyer and make it easy for them. We can’t buy everything, so keep it short and tailor your pitch to every buyer.
H: Publishers sometimes ask what buyers are looking for. For example, I once spent the day at Raintree with librarians and teachers to help develop ideas. Raintree ran through the ideas with us so they wouldn’t waste any time on a bad idea.
Student: How did you reach your audience when you used to do events at Borders?
H: A lot of it was in-store because there was good footfall. Lots of ringing schools, the local media, and building your contacts. It gets easier with each event.
D: Do you have any advice for getting into publishing?
H: Be keen. Develop your genre knowledge. Get experience as a bookseller. And most important, do as much networking as possible.
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Feautred image Harris Amongst the Stacks by Dennis Brekke (CC BY 2.0) – Flickr