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!

Alice goes to Portugal

Portuguese cover for Alice Again

One of the very best bits about this publishing game is when a foreign edition of one of our books hits the desk. It is the culmination of a process that starts with meeting an editor or scout at a bookfair (or, as often happens, the tenth meeting with the same person on successive years, waiting to get a hit!) and plugging everything from your list that you think might stick! After that there’s the sample copies to send, the agents to keep in the loop, the negotiation over price, terms, territories etc and then things go quiet: at our end.

For the foreign publisher, that’s the point where the rest of the company gets to hear about it — they have to translate, check difficult bits with the author, get our image files (if they are using them) and combine them with their text, build a publicity plan and (and this is the best bit) design a new cover.

The next we hear about it is when a copy of the translated edition arrived in the door, which is always great fun. The great bit about foreign covers is that the show clearly just how each nation has its own artistic sensibility, and there have been loads of times when a new edition has come in where our reaction has been “that’s a beautiful cover: but it wouldn’t work here”. What’s particularly striking for kid’s books is that the age-level implied in the graphics can vary so much: my favourite example is comparing the German, French and Italian covers for our book Sisters … No Way! And then the Slovenian edition came in and rewrote the rules.

Estonian cover

What brought this to mind today was a new Portuguese edition of Alice Again by Judi Curtin that hit the office today. Entitled As Melhores Amigas sao Inseparáveis (which translates roughly as Best Friends are Inseparable) , it is the second book in the series and shows that they have developed a lovely series look (see their cover for Alice Next Door) that is lovely, and utterly different to ours! I also adore the fact that they have a footnote explaining what hummus is (In the story, Megan’s mum is a health-food fanatic)!

I have to say that my favourite foreign cover of one of our books that really made me think “now why the hell didn’t we think of that?” is for The Wish List by the amazing Eoin Colfer in (wait for it) Estonian. Partly because meetings with Toomas Toorma, the publisher, are one of the highlights of any bookfair, but also because their elegant and beautiful cover is the perfect solution to the endless effort we put into finding a suitable cover for what is a great book.
Do take a wander through our cover gallery: there are lots of weird and wonderful things to discover …
Ivan