Teen books have always been hard to publish in the U.K. Their content is difficult, their audience is imprecise and their marketing strategy is unclear. And yet, several U.K. publishers have recently started or will be starting lists for teens.
The previous record on teenage fiction has not been impressive. Puffin tried twice, first with Peacocks in 1962 and then with Puffin Plus 20 years later, Collins Children's Books ran its Tracks series from the mid 1970s through the 1980s, Methuen had its Teens list with striking covers also during the '70s and '80s, in the 1970s Bodley Head imported some impressive Scandinavian titles—and there have been others.
Now, Collins has just launched Flamingo; Red Fox has a new Definitions list; Hodder is matching its existing literary teenage list, Signature, with an imprint called Bite; Macmillan is launching Young Picador next year; and Little, Brown is building on its successful reputation in adult science fiction to create a teenage list.
Each publisher has a slightly different approach, but all see the time as right for the publishing of individual titles under loose, collective umbrella series. Sarah Davies, publishing director of Macmillan Children's Books, points to the recent success of single novels—led, of course, by Harry Potter and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy—as the main reason behind the collective move into this kind of publishing. "Over the last 18 months there's been a decline in the mass market series," she said. "Instead there is an awareness of the possibility of attaching individual weight to a novel. The main area of growth for this is the 10+ or teenage novels. We want to be able to publish more challenging books and this is the best way of doing it. Reflecting the values of the well-respected Picador, we aim to publish the best of international fiction." Young Picador, which is launching with four titles toward the end of 2002, is not making use of any backlist titles but is promoting relatively new talents such as Julie Bertagna and Mirjam Pressler.
Definitions, the Red Fox imprint, is adopting a different policy. Gill Evans, head of publishing at Random House Children's Books, arrived at Random in fall 1999 to find "a small but sophisticated heritage of older fiction, notably Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castleand Aidan Chambers's Postcards from No Man's Land, alongside books from new writers such as Margaret Haddix's Among the Hidden and Trevor J. Colgan's The Stretford Enders. This immediately highlighted the issue of how to build on the strength of an exceptional backlist and to link this to promoting new writers into the same market."
Definitions, an eclectic list that launched in January with the pairing of those two backlist titles, will continue with novels from Jan Mark and Helen Dunmore as well as the reissuing of Adèle Geras's Egerton Hall trilogy beginning with The Tower Room. "We see Definitions as a vehicle to promote the backlist, to acquire previously published titles, and also as a desirable and attractive list which new writers would like to join," Evans said.
Collins, like Macmillan, is trading on the reputation of its adult literary imprint, Flamingo. Gillie Russell, publishing director, fiction, said, "We have always had a tradition of publishing original and powerful novels for teenagers, but the creation of this imprint gives us the ability to launch new writers alongside some wonderful established authors, too." The launch list of Flamingo in May included Margaret Mahy's 24 Hoursas well as a first novel, The Starling Tree by Julia Clarke, and Ted van Lieshout's Brothers, a dialogue between two brothers, one dead and one alive, told in diary format, translated from the Dutch.
Bite subtitles its new imprint "sharp writing." Pitched nearer the Definitions age range of 11+ rather than the older Collins Flamingo, the books feature covers that are determinedly "cool." Bite's debut this month will include David Belbin's Festival, the story of four teenagers enjoying the ultimate summer festival, and Sue Mayfield's Blue, a novel of bullying and betrayal.
Unlike the others, Little, Brown's is an adult list that is attempting to reach new readers below the age range of the target audience. The result is a sophisticated approach designed to draw teenagers into science fiction, getting them into a genre which they might stay with as adult readers. Children's publishers, moving into this older age range, have the problem that their books continue to look like children's books, with illustrated covers rather than the design-led covers that are used for most adult novels.
Branding and positioning are certainly seen as key by Macmillan, which believes that the Young Picador spines will get them onto adult shelves. "Our aim is that they should look distinctive and sophisticated," said Davies. "Once people have bought them, the quality of the titles will speak for themselves."
At Definitions, the imprint name—which is used across the top of each title with a witty definition of one of the words, or the whole title—links the books. "It is a way of branding together our literary fiction in a sophisticated package for style-conscious teens," Evans said. "The branding is light but effective, allowing for strong individual packaging while creating a solid list."
Russell describes the Collins Flamingo titles as "having a distinctive design, looking edgy and sophisticated"; whether they, or any of the others, will fulfill the required potential, in Russell's words, of having a "cool look which will have a strong appeal for teenagers" is still to be determined.
Orchard Books at 15
Orchard Books is celebrating 15 years of publishing this summer. Founded in 1986 as an imprint under the umbrella of the Franklin Watts group with Judith Elliott, previously of Heinemann Children's Books, as publisher, it has maintained a high reputation especially for avant-garde novelty books and quality picture books.
Stability and a clear sense of purpose are cited as two of the hallmarks of the Orchard list. Current publishing director Francesca Dow came to Orchard in 1988, when the list was just 18 months old, and took over first as editorial director and then in her current role in 1992.
"From the beginning, as a new company with no backlist to draw on, we have always been committed to taking a chance on newcomers," Dow said. "It's a very personal list and a very instinctive one, based on what we like. We now have a strong track record for successfully backing our hunches on new talents, which further strengthens our publishing."
These hunches have included taking on illustrators such as Jane Ray, whose illustrations for books such The Happy Prince and The Story of Christmas, as well as the covers of many of the Orchard anthologies, gave the publisher a distinctive look throughout the 1990s; Debi Gliori, whose Mr. Bear books still prove as successful as ever and are being reissued this month in a larger format; Jane Simmons, whose bold illustrations and simple yet complete story marked Come On, Daisy! as a picture book of distinction (1.5 million copies sold, in 15 countries); and most recently with Lauren Child, whose Clarice Bean, That's Mewas shortlisted for the Greenaway Medal, followed only a year later by her winning the Greenaway for I Will Not Ever NEVER Eat a Tomato.
"Obviously, with illustrators like these, we have always been very successful in the co-edition market," Dow said. "The home market has changed over the years. In the 1990s our Orchard Books anthologies—titles like The Orchard Book of Nursery Rhymesand The Orchard Book of Greek Myths—were market leaders and our top sellers. Now we are concentrating instead on a very focused brief of picture books for the three-to-fives, and highly successful novelty books such as Penny Dann's Secret Fairy Books."
Orchard publishes 20 to 25 picture books out of a total of approximately 80 titles. The rest is made up of novelties, anthologies and fiction from early reader to teenage titles, such as Bernard Ashley's hard-hitting Little Soldier. And Orchard has always had particularly close relationships with independent booksellers. As Jenny Morris of the Lion and Unicorn Bookshop in Richmond, England, put it, "The Orchard list continues to reflect quality and distinction, whether for babies or teenagers, and they have always stood by the power of a good story."
In the Winners' Circle
The winner of the Library Association's Carnegie Medal 2000, announced on July 13, was Beverley Naidoo for The Other Side of Truth (Puffin). Told through the eyes of 10-year-old Sade, The Other Side of Truth begins with the shooting of her mother in reprisal for her father's outspoken work as a journalist, writing against the repressive government. Sade and her younger brother are smuggled to supposed safety in England but soon find themselves abandoned and alone on the streets of London before they are taken into care and become enmeshed in the "system," seeking asylum along with thousands of others.
Naidoo, a South African who is familiar with the fight against repressive regimes, said about her book, "I hope it will be a catalyst for young people to explore with sensitivity and intelligence issues of asylum and human rights, both in the U.K. and abroad." In her acceptance speech, Naidoo attacked the "irresponsibility of politicians and media who are prepared to appeal to the lowest common denominator" and exhorted the government to directly address the issue of asylum seekers.
Adèle Geras's Troy and Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass (both Scholastic/ Fickling)were Highly Commended for the Carnegie Medal; Melvin Burgess's The Ghost Behind the Wall (Andersen Press) was Commended.
The winner of the Library Association's Greenaway Medal 2000 was Lauren Child for I Will Not Ever NEVER Eat a Tomato(Orchard). The story of how an older brother weaves an inventive fantasy around his little sister's most hated foods and so gets her to eat them is illustrated in a mixture of styles integrating photographs, collage and different typefaces for the text. Herself a picky eater when young, Child wrote the book for all parents and children locked into battles over food. Child, whose Beware of the Storybook Wolves (Hodder) was also nominated for the medal, received the £5,000 Colin Mears Award (a bequest attached to the Greenaway Medal so that the winner is financially rewarded).
Anthony Browne was Highly Commended for Willy's Pictures (Walker)and Ted Dewan was Commended for Crispin: The Pig Who Had It All(Doubleday).
The winning author of the 2001 Branford Boase Award was Marcus Sedgwick for Floodland (Orion). The winning editor was Fiona Kennedy, who spotted Marcus's talent and oversaw the publication of his first book. Set up in memory of the
author Henrietta Branford and the editor Wendy Boase, both of whom died of cancer in 1999, the Branford Boase Award celebrates the most promising new children's writer. It also highlights the importance of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent.
The paperback of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published on July 6, just a year after its original publication took place amid hysterical scenes during which 250,000 copies were sold in one day. Despite assurances, Bloomsbury's embargo this time around was broken by nontraditional bookselling outlets, leaving booksellers angry at missing the moment. Whitakers Booktrack recorded sales just under 100,000 copies of the paperback in the first two days of trading.... Egmont has followed HarperCollins in the U.S. with its runaway success in publishing Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events,which has notched up impressive sales figures of the first two volumes, The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room, since their publication in the U.K. in June. Sales of the two titles are predicted to reach 100,000 copies by Christmas.... Bestselling author and himself a farmer, Michael Morpurgo has written the first book to reflect the realities of the foot-and-mouth epidemic that hit Britain in the spring. The diary of a 13-year-old living on a farm in Devon, it charts the growing horror for Becky and her farming family as they watch while the disease ravages the surrounding countryside and finally reaches their own farm, leading to the slaughter of their animals. Morpurgo said, "I wanted to do something to record the events for the future and to help in a practical way. My first instinct was to write." Out of the Ashes was published July 19 by Macmillan.