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Interview With Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow Part 1

Kate Wilson (Courtesy of Nosy Crow)

Established in 2010, Nosy Crow is a London-based children’s book and application publisher. What makes Nosy Crow so different and so fresh in comparison to other children’s publishers is their novel perspective on storytelling and the immaculate attention to detail they give to developing children’s applications. Early this year they released their first book Small Blue Thing by S.C. Ransom. More recently we were introduced to their highly waited children’s application The Three Little Pigs and a fresh, groud-breaking style of storytelling in the form of the Mega Mash-Up series. Their first application, The Three Little Pigs, received some outstanding feedback with FUTUReBOOK describing it as “The best children’s book app to date”. And 2011 looks like a very hectic year for the publishing house with 25 books for children and young adults and 4 more apps planned for release. Switch The Shift talks to the Managing Director of Nosy Crow, Kate Wilson, about the remarkable success of Nosy Crow and the first things to consider when running a publishing house.

What are the first things you need to think about when starting your own publishing business?

Who is my customer, and how do I reach them? Who is my reader, and how can I reach them? What can I outsource and to whom? How much money do I need?

How did you start your own publishing house? How did you get financial backing?

Well, first I did a business plan that covered the first couple of years to assess how much money we needed. Having worked in corporate publishing houses, I knew that I wanted to work for a business that I controlled, with the freedom that would give me.  So it was important to me that, between us, my husband and I had a majority stake in the business. The remainder of the business is owned by a co-founding director and by two “angels”, both of whom I’d known for many years, and who would, I thought, bring skills and knowledge to the company as well as financial backing. We set up the company formally, using a lawyer to draw up the documentation. We talked to banks, too, to establish what credit might be available to us. In persuading the angels, in briefing the lawyers and in talking to the banks, having a robust business plan was crucial. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think that we were ambitious, serious and professional in our approach, and that worked all round.

Some say that anybody who can market books can start their own publishing house. How much do you agree with this statement?

I think publishing is more than marketing. It’s selecting ideas, illustrations, text and increasingly other things like music, animation, interactivity and voice audio.  Then you have to combine and shape them, packaging them, marketing them, publicising them and selling them.

What experience did you have before starting your publishing house?

I’ve been in publishing all my working life, and I’m 46 now. I started working in a rights department – of Faber and Faber, as it happens. Rights departments sell the right to do different things to a book – to make a film of it, to publish an extract from it, to translate it. A rights role combines selling with really understanding contracts and book finance, so it’s a great training for print publishing and for digital publishing.

What are the things you should think about when picking the niche you would like to focus on? Why did you pick that niche?

If you want to make a living, you need to think about whether there’s a big enough market for the books that you want to do at the price you want to sell them for. I think that focussing as tightly as possible has a lot of advantages: even “children’s books and apps” is a pretty big niche, extending from baby books to books for teenagers, and from standard paperbacks to highly interactive multimedia apps. I picked the niche because I had a combination of experience and enthusiasm. I believe that providing children with books and apps that will encourage them to read for pleasure plays a part in developing their literacy skills, and literacy skills are profoundly important for children’s and adults’ social, economic and cultural well-being. In a small way, providing compelling reading experiences for children is, for me, a mission as much as a job.

How have recent developments in technology affected the dynamics of a start-up company? What are your long-term strategies in terms of the digital arena?

At a practical level, it’s much easier to outsource, and to work with people who are not in the same office. Social media makes it much easier and cheaper to find and communicate with people who are interested in what you’re doing and who might be your champions. In terms of reading experiences themselves, I believe touchscreen technology is transformative and exciting, and we have plans to expand further into the growing area of interactive apps for children on tablet and mobile devices.

Can you tell us a little about The Three Little Pigs application?

It’s a really interactive reading experience, but it’s also very child-focussed. You can tap to hear the pigs talk to each other; you can make the characters somersault or jump; you can help the pigs build their houses and run away from the wolf; you can even blow the house down by huffing and puffing onto the screen – kids really love that!

The Three Little Pigs (Courtesy of http://nosycrow.com/apps/the-three-little-pigs)

You guys have really reinvented the digital learning platform for children with The Three Little Pigs application . What made you guys focus on children’s book applications?

We’ve got decades of children’s publishing experience between us. I ran Scholastic UK for five years, for example. So we understand what stories work for children, and what’s age-appropriate. We really believe in the importance of literacy and the benefits of reading for pleasure. We know that children are using touchscreens for entertainment, and we wanted to be sure that there were some really exciting, worthwhile, repeatable reading experiences to offer to them on screen.

The Three Little Pigs Application Official Trailer:

As Nosy Crow focuses on children picture books and children’s book applications, on the production side how different is Nosy Crow from a typical fiction publisher i.e. is there more focus on production and design rather than editing?

Unlike most publishers, who are outsourcing app creation, we have our coding and animation in-house, so having that technology aspect as part of our daily lives does make us different from any other publisher I know.

Certainly, children’s publishers have to be aware of what paper or the touchscreen device can do, and how much it costs to make it happen, so there is a production element to a children’s publishing job. Similarly, whether you’re working on designing a print book or an app, you have to have a strong sense of design and illustration. But editing is just as important in children’s books as it is in adult books, and we really pride ourselves on our high editorial standards, whether that’s for retellings (like the Three Little Pigs app) or completely original work (like our forthcoming Animal SnApp series of apps).

The interview continues in part 2.

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