New sales representation in Britain

We are delighted that, as of today, O’Brien Press books are now represented in Britain by the wonderful people at Frances Lincoln. Like us, they started in the 1970s producing books for adults and then started a children’s list too — though they made this change a little earlier than we did (1983, rather than 1990). This makes them a perfect match for The O’Brien Press and it’s great to have all of our books represented by the same people in Britain — for the first time in a very long while.

Having met the team there quite a few times, I am very confident that they will be able to find new avenues for our books in the extremely competitive British market and am looking forward to the adventure!


Moorehawke competition

Celine Kiernan, author of the international smash hit Moorehawke trilogy, has just announced a competition: the prize is a signed copy of The Poison Throne (UK edition), a signed copy of The Crowded Shadows (our Irish edition) and a signed copy of the conclusion to the trilogy The Rebel Prince (the Australian edition).

So what’s involved? Celine would like you to pick your ideal cast of actors to play Wynter, Christopher and Razi in a movie version of The Poison Throne: get your thinking cap on! All the details are on Celine’s blog.

Entries close on 22 June and the winner will be announced on 2 July — so the winner will have The Rebel Prince in their hands MONTHS ahead of anybody else, as well as having a pretty unique set of books. It’s a great idea by Celine, and we are really looking forward to seeing the results.


A book is the best medicine.

If you go into your local Unicare Pharmacy any time in the next two months you will see a slightly unusual display on the counter: a perspex counterpack with half-a-dozen copies of It’s Called Dyslexia, a new title from The O’Brien Press, produced in association with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. It’s a child-friendly introduction to what dyslexia means and how best to manage it. It’s unusual to see books in a pharmacy, but dyslexia can be a hidden problem, so we felt that making the book visible and available beyond the bookshops was important.

The  books have only been on sale for a few days, and so far the results have been really good! Thanks to the lovely people in Unicare for taking a chance with this.


Apples and Oranges: Irish Book of the Decade Award

How can you compare Skulduggery Pleasant to PS, I Love You? Or It’s A Long Way From Penny Apples to Ross O’Carroll-Kelly? The good people at the Irish Book Awards have just announced their shortlist of the top 50 Irish Books of the Decade, and there’s everything there from crime fiction to children’s books via literary fiction and history, biography and popular fiction.

We in O’Brien Press are thrilled that Des Ekin’s wonderful The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates is on the shortlist. The raid in 1631 by Morat Rais and his Algerian pirates on a small Cork village and the kidnapping, or killing, of just about the whole population was the single largest raid on the British Empire: the outrage that this could happen went all the way to the king! Des’s book uncovers this long-forgotten episode and makes it live and breathe, and has been hugely successful.

It’s hard to compare the books to each other given the huge range, but it’s a very good selection of books that no shop should be without, though maybe SO broad that no one person would be interested in the whole lot! It’s good also to see quite a few other Irish-published books on the list, giving the lie to the idea that you have to go to London to publish the very best books.

So go to and vote for your favourite!

We’ve gone all electronic!

It’s been an interesting journey: after months of discussion, development and testing, we have released our first ever electronic product: iPaddy: Irish Slang Guide. When iPhone apps became the big buzz last autumn, it became clear that finally there was a new way that people were willing to pay for content in real numbers: the Information Wants To Be Free movement is all very well, but it doesn’t pay the bills! O’Brien Press decided to jump in and test the water.

We selected our first product by matching the content we have with the market as we saw it: we wanted something entertaining, international and visual and it was not long before we realised that we had the perfect material in The Feckin’ book of Irish slang that’s great craic for cute hoors and bowsies. It is in bite-sized chunks, and the cartoons were just perfect for the small screen on an iPhone. Most importantly, it is genuinely funny.

Normally a publisher would have pretty much total control of a product, apart from physically printing it, so engaging a developer (we went for Plazro Games) to build the application was a new experience. Thankfully, they were great to work with, understood exactly what we were aiming for and had all the skills (3D graphics, 2D graphics, database, coding, marketing) that were required.

The next step was getting voice talent: it was clear that this would only work with great actors to take the humour from the page and make it work on the screen. Morgan Jones and Norma Sheehan are among the best in the game: the recording session was a blast, and they did a great job. Finally, the publication process is very different to anything we had dealt with before: an application is submitted to Apple for their approval before it can be sold: if there are no problems, one day you get a mail to say “ready for sale”, and there you go! No stock to print, hold and distribute either, which is nice.

There’s a microsite at and a promotional video on YouTube.

Of course, the next thing is obsessively tracking the chart position of the app on your iPhone and telling all your friends about it. In the book world the charts come out once a week – the app store seems to update them every couple of mintes. At the last count iPaddy has sold copies in about 20 countries — conquering the world, one iPhone at a time, and just in time for St Patrick’s Day!


Old and New

The old and new worlds of publishing and marketing all happen at the same time these days: we have just launched An Irish Voice by Niall O’Dowd, a very influential Irish-American with links everywhere, who played a crucial role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process, among other things. It’s a great book, but I’ll stop the sales pitch here! What I want to explore here is how the changes in the book world have impacted on how we have taken this title to market. In many ways, this title has been a textbook example of the traditional way to launch a book:

  • pre-sell to the book trade five months in advance with a good cover, advance information sheet etc
  • release the book in to the supply chain ten days before you start the publicity, to give the books time to make their way onto the shelves: there’s nothing worse than a customer leaving a shop because the book is still in goods inwards!
  • get the book into key reviewers’ hands, and ensure that all the authors friends, colleagues and ex-colleagues know about it in plenty of time to use their influence in the national print media: we got a string of fabulous reviews, particularly Tim Pat Coogan in the Irish Independent.
  • select a newspaper to have exclusive access to an extract from the book
  • get all the traditional broadcast media lined up behind it: Today With Pat Kenny, Ireland AM, The George Hook Show, Drivetime etc
  • get a high-profile person to launch it (you can’t get much more high profile than An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen!) and hope that the press will cover it. The event was great, both Niall O’Dowd and Brian Cowen gave excellent speeches and lots of influential people enjoyed mingling with each other. And even better (the day after a soccer international with Brazil) the Irish Independent had a picture from our book launch on their cover (as well as an inside story) instead of Robbie Keane!
  • get the author to sign stock
  • keep pushing for more stories, more coverage and a wider spread in the local media

And yet, current trends in the world of books are playing an ever-increasing role

  • the microsite is live:
  • this is our first ever commercial eBook: it is available (and copies have been sold) on the Amazon Kindle
  • other electronic versions are following quickly in its heels: more news to follow on this very soon
  • the media list contains an ever-increasing list of blogs, websites and other online opinion-formers (many of the enthusiastic amateurs) as well as the more traditional targets
  • the signed stock is being sold online (on our site as well as the microsite) in addition to via traditional booksellers.
  • the presence of the book on is enhanced with extracts and a video (produced in-house) of Niall talking about the book. Both as a marketing and sales tool, is becoming ever more important, and was responsible for 2% of our total sales last year — not to be sniffed at, and growing all the time.

And all this without facebook, twitter, Google AdWords, iPhone apps and enhanced Smell-O-Vision e-book! Marketing and selling a book is all about making connections with the reader effectively and efficiently: how much of this will look a little quaint and old-fashioned in another couple of years? How many more books will sell electronically and how many less physically (sadly, no more will sell via Hughes & Hughes: this family-owned Irish chain had some excellent shops and great booksellers, and will be sorely missed by book-lovers here. Our sincere sympathies to the 100 or so people who have lost their jobs — the latest victims of the Irish economic collapse. We are delighted that Eason have taken over the contract for the airports — great news for World Book Day)?


Guinness is good for us!

As a lovely Valentine’s Day Present we are delighted to announce that The Guinness Story by Edward J Bourke has won the Best Drinks History Book Award at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, held at the Paris Cookbook Fair last week.

The world of cookbooks has been growing rapidly in the last few years — a good cookbook is something that people are happy to pay for, and the production standards have been rising all the time. I have about two metres of shelving in my kitchen full of these wonderful items, which are almost as comforting as the food they show you how to make!

The Gourmand stand and associated cookery area at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year was stunning: from celebrity cookbooks to single-ingredient titles (there was a whole shelf of books about chocolate, you won’t be surprised to hear) to extremely high-end titles, the range is vast.

So we were delighted to hear that The Guinness Story had been shortlisted, and immensely chuffed to have won! It is particularly gratifying as we put a huge amount of thought into the packaging of the book — a lovely design job by Emma Byrne, and a cover that uses printed cloth with the oval on the front cover stuck on — which makes the book feel lovely in the hand. But not QUITE a good as a pint of plain, I have to admit.

So raise a glass to author Edward J Bourke, and join us in celebrating our first award of 2010!


30 editions on, it’s as fresh as ever

In 1990 a very unusual manuscript from a new author arrived in The O’Brien Press. It was a story about the Great Irish Famine and involved the desperate journey of three starving children across the country to find their relatives: it involved death, danger and a faint hope of safety — and it was aimed at children. Nobody had read or heard of anything like this before, and we realised that this was an opportunity to show Irish children their own history in a unique way.

We had been publishing children’s books for a few years at that point, convinced that there was a need for Irish material for Irish children, rather than continuing to rely on books from Britain: lashings of ginger ale drunk on the White Cliffs of Dover simply did not reflect the experience of Irish people! This book, Under the Hawthorn Tree, was exactly what we were looking for.

We commissioned fine artist Donald Teskey to paint the cover and do chapter-head illustrations, and we published the book, which was a sensation: within three years an incredible 45,000 copies were in print. Author Marita Conlon-McKenna was a celebrated writer and wrote two more books, Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home, which completed what became known as the Children of the Famine trilogy.

Ten years later the book was selling as strongly as ever and, in 2000, we felt that a new look was in order. We commissioned Anne Yvonne Gilbert to produce new cover artwork for the trilogy. By this stage the international success of the book was well-established: in 1991 it won the Reading Association of Ireland Award and International Reading Association Award in 1991 in America, and was available in many translations: there have been 14 at the last count!

An amazing 20 years after first publication, the book continues to build: last year we decided it was long past time for us to work with Ireland’s premier children’s illustrator, PJ Lynch, and he created fabulous new covers for the trilogy. A new US edition was published last April by Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, one of the most imaginative independent presses anywhere. And now we have just received stock in for the 30th printing of this book: 30 printings in 20 years, and life sales of over quarter of a million copies sold of our editions alone: which all goes to show that a great story, in the hands of a gifted storyteller, can transcend the fascination with the new that the book world is often accused of.

So congratulations to Marita on this great achievement and for keeping history alive for children the world over.


Snap, Crackle, Pop, Read!

I promised some exciting new promotions for the start of 2010, and we have just launched the first one: in association with Hughes & Hughes booksellers and Kelloggs, we are absolutely thrilled to be part of Rice Krispies Storytime. As you can see from the picture (taken in my local supermarket the other day: my first sighting in the wild after months of planning), every pack of Ireland’s Loudest Breakfast Cereal is promoting reading at the moment, with a selection of six O’Brien Press books on the front and back of the box. There is a lovely website to follow soon and an official launch at the start of February.

In time-honoured fashion, the cereal boxes have vouchers to collect and these can be redeemed against the books for a small postage and packing fee. One recession-friendly change to this pattern is that the Storytime books can also be collected directly (at no charge) from any Hughes & Hughes bookshop, where the books will be prominently displayed.

The books and authors involved are

This is the first time we have done a promotion in association with an FMCG company (fast-moving consumer goods ie the stuff you find in supermarkets!) What I really love about this one is that it’s Irish: many multi-national brands don’t seem to make any real effort to appeal to their local audience, preferring to rely on their international muscle to do most things on a multi-national level. Kelloggs, however, have arranged this locally with an Irish-owned chain retailer and an Irish-owned publisher to appeal to Irish kids, and have put a lot of thought and effort into it — well done them, I say.

Now, let’s get all our kids reading, seeing as it’s too cold for them to be outside at the moment!


Another year over: what have we learned?

Happy Christmas!So it’s the official end of 2009, when the last of the stock is still piled up in the shops as people scramble to fill those stockings! Several autumn reprints, and a few titles out-of-stock for the last week or so, mean we must have been doing something right, but it’s been one heck of a year. The main memories of 2009 will be of change and pressure to be a part of that change: a transformed economy meeting a rapidly transforming book world.

As what are now called “traditional publishers” we have to read the writing on the wall: we may have had our domain for 20 years now, and a commerce-enabled website for over 10; we may have developed and enhanced databases and workflows to reduce repetitive tasks; we may have half a dozen staff who connect to the office either solely, or largely, via VPN (ie over the internet); we may even be supplying all of our title information in the new-fangled Onix format (if you don’t know what this is, you don’t care: believe me) but the full impact of the digital world is certainly upon us — people are now buying content digitally, so we have to become a Content Company instead of a Book Publisher, and we have to do it fast.

This blog has been running for a year now, and I would not have thought when I started it that, by now, we would:

  • have developed custom web gizmos for the site (see the flashy new caroussels on the homepage!)
  • be trialling a range of .ePub conversion tools, including custom software, to enable our books to be sold through a range of new channels, whether e-readers or on-screen
  • be building our own iPhone application (and no, I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to be patient …)
  • immerse ourselves in quite the degree of blue-sky thinking that we are doing

Many of the old-fashioned things that publishers do have stayed the same: publish a great book and people will buy it. Build a marketing model, or an export sales structure, and great things can happen (more on this in the New Year, when we can go public) but given what 2009 has brought, I wonder what O’Brien Press (and the rest of the publishing world …) will look like come the holidays next year: answers on a postcard, please!

Happy holidays to one and all: and make sure you read a good book (I can recommend a few …)