Catalogues … The Devil’s Work

KidsCat2009Have you ever had to put together a catalogue? If so, you know where I’m coming from here: if not, be glad and run a mile if the subject ever comes up!

A catalogue looks all innocent, but any document that has over 50o images relating to over 500 titles, each of which has a title, ISBN, price, extent, author, subtitle, description and more is obviously trouble on the way … did we change the name of that character half way through the edit!?

This is one area where the web wins hands down — on our website, an error can be corrected instantly, and its mere existance quickly wiped from memory, but when you print ten of thousands of catalogues, those errors are with you to stay. Continue reading “Catalogues … The Devil’s Work”

Books appear in the strangest places!

It’s been a week of Bookspotting in The O’Brien Press. Firstly, there was Bono and The Stolen Village (not the bizarre new title of a U2 album, just check out the post below for an explanation!)

Then a staff member (who chooses to remain anonymous!) was watching the movie Shrooms where the doomed hapless tourists are using our Golden Book of Ireland as their guidebook. Given their grisly fate, I’m not sure how many people would take it as a recommendation, but maybe it’s one for thrillseekers!

Finally, we saw a post on David Maybury’s Blog — he was just in Hong Kong where he saw Judi Curtin‘s books on the shelves, reminding me of the lovely glow I felt when on holidays in France I saw a copy of the French edition of The Leprechaun Who Wished He Wasn’t on the shelves in FNAC!

The Tail Wagging the Dog?

German edition cover

In the publishing business things tend to happen slowly, and in a certain order. A lot of the time it is easy for publishers to perceive rights business as a happy addendum to their main business (apart from those publishers for whom coeditions are a core part of their business model, but they are rare enough): publish the book for the home market first and then use the finished books to drive rights sales, using book fairs, the network of rights agents, websites etc to ensure that books get the best possibly chance of having a life in other markets: we have been very successful at this over the years, as our long list of foreign editions shows. As it is easier to sell from a finished book than a pre-publication description, this is usually the way we work. The majority of the time the revenue from volume sales will outweigh those from rights in any case, as many are small, but there are a significant number of cases where fights revenues, for author and publisher, are very significant — Brendan O’Carroll’s The Mammy has appeared in over a dozen foreign editions; Epic and Saga, for Conor Kostick; The Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan; Eoin Colfer’s books — in children’s publishing these tend to be at the higher age levels, with titles for younger children so often met with a response of “we have our own authors for these books”, but even here there are significant exceptions: The Little Black Sheep sold over 250,000 copies in Japan!

We have had one delightful little series that has bucked the trend in an unusual way: The Witch Apprentice by Marian Broderick was published in our Forbidden Files series a few years ago. Marian used to work for us, and it’s always fun to work with someone who has jumped the fence from editor to author, as they really understand the process — quite apart from practically being family! Anyway, we showed this at Frankfurt and it was well-received: so well that Bertelsmann said that they would take the book on condition that it had a sequel, shortly after which they asked for a trilogy! We had thought of it as a stand-alone, but they had a good point — it was more than that.

We repackaged the newly-renamed Anna the Witch series when The Witch in the Woods came out last autumn, and now we are just about to produce the third and final installment: A Witch in a Fix.

So a big thanks for Bertelsmann for seeing the potential in Anna and encouraging us to develop these books largely on the back of rights potential, and to Marian, Francesca Carabelli (the wonderful illustrator) and Helen Carr (the editor) for seeing it through to a finish!

Presentation Season

Publishing is a seasonal business, based around tourists and kids in the spring, holiday reading in the summer and (hopefully!) gift purchases in Autumn and Winter. 2008 was an exception to the rule that the Christmas gift market is where it’s at for general book publishers like us, and Christmas starts this week (for the Sales department: for editorial much of Christmas is over, and the rest of it in frenzied development)!

For a period of about ten days, we meet, greet and show our autumn wares to all the major retailers, wholesalers and chains in Ireland and do our best to ensure that our pitch — enthusiasm, belief, marketing plans etc — will convince them that ours are the must-have titles for the season. Naturally, every other publisher is pitching their books at the same time, and the retail buyers must get punch-drunk from the whole thing.

So what happens? Well, we show them advance information (AI: not to be confused with Artificial Insemination!) sheets and talk about forthcoming titles and the feedback is collated and fed back into our system and we make a call on which comments to take seriously and which ones to leave aside.

Many books fit into boxes (In The Blood is the next Grand National, Alice to the Rescue is Judi Curtin’s next sure-fire winner, …) but where it gets really interesting is where there is something that just doesn’t fit: is Blood Upon the Rose a kid’s book or a general book? Is it a graphic novel or a history book?

So who is right and who is wrong? We can’t know until the readers have had their say: we use our years of experience to make the best guesses we can on what it is that people want to buy, read and enjoy: and to make those books as readable and attractive as they can be: and ensure that they are all on the tables at the front of the shops, of course … Place your bets!


The Vagaries of Databases

It’s great to have a bestseller, and when we produced our special World Book Day book this year (a flipper book combining Daifní Dineasár [another WBD first — an Irish language book] and Alfie Green and the Monkey Puzzler), we were confident that this would be one: every year, the kid’s charts are dominated for a couple of weeks by these books which, with a cover price of €1.50, are mainly bought with the vouchers given to all school children.

Of course, just about nobody publishes the children’s bestseller lists these days, so our moment of glory is often missed by the general public. A little database error, however, meant that is was categorized as general non-fiction instead of a children’s books — which has had it at the top of the bestsellers under General Fiction for two weeks now!

Maybe we should be a little less careful about our data in future …


Another country conquered!

Well, you can now get OBP books in another country, as copies of our first Albanian editions have arrived in the office! It’s amazing that so many countries, and small countries at that, can justify the effort of producing and selling literature in translation.

Obviously, doing a local edition of an international blockbuster is an easy decision, but there has to be an element of passion or courage involved in translating a children’s novel about the Irish potato famine (Marita Conlon-McKenna’s Under the Hawthorn Tree — the new PJ Lynch covers are just about finished, by the way, and are lovely) or Irish dancing (Kate by Siobhán Parkinson) into Albanian, even with the valuable support of the Ireland Literature Exchange.

It takes us to a grand total of 44 territories/languages (well, I have included Film and Audio there) that our stuff is available in, which I reckon is quite impressive …


You have to try new things …

I’m really excited about an exciting new collaboration between us and Movies @ cinemas. Later this week the pre-launch hype is going to start for The Secret of Kells movie, which is released on 6 March in Ireland. Movies @ are going to see how many of their customers, in both Dundrum and Swords, want to “take the magic of Kells home” with them, in the form of our lovely picture book and novelisation of the film.

Not only that, but they are being amazingly generous with display space in their cinemas, with banners, posters and time on their plasma screens: here is one of the banners.kellsbanner-copy

I didn’t mention the great fun that was had at the premiere of the film on Sunday in Savoy 1, as the closing film for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. We walked up the steps to avoid the indignity of being physically removed from the world’s shortest red carpet! The cinema was jammed, the film looked and sounded great and director Tomm Moore pulled about 50 people onto the stage at the end to take a well-deserved bow.

After that it was off the to Long Library in Trinity College, where the real Book of Kells is held, for a great after-show party: I  have never been there at midnight with a glass of wine in my hand, and it is certainly to be recommended. Lots of people were buying our books to get them signed by Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, the other actors, director, producers (including the producer of Les Triplettes de Belleville, one of my favourite animated movies, who were also the main producers on this film) and the only downside was that it was a school night, so we had to leave before the real partying began …

I could get used to all this movie business stuff, you know …