Children trade publishing: the evergreen and happening industry!

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There’s a lot happening in the children trade publishing. Indian authors, illustrators and of course Indian publishers are gaining recognition like never before. So, how is the industry today – healthy, competitive or crowded? finds out Varsha Verma. Children’s books have an appeal for both children and adults alike. They entice you, entertain you and keep you glued unless you read it cover to cover. People involved in the industry, whether they are a writer, illustrator or a publisher, are often passionate about children’s books. Here, we met a few such people involved in the industry and got some thought-provoking insights about the same.

Anushka Ravishankar, an award-winning author of children’s books, and Co-founder of Duckbill Books, says, “I got into writing because of a love of books and of words. That was when I about 9 years old! I never thought I’d become a writer, though. That happened when I started reading children’s books with my daughter. I realised I enjoyed reading those books and thought it would be fun to try and write some stories for kids. And surprisingly, people seemed to like them.”

While, Anuj Chawla, director, Dreamland Publications is a third generation publisher.“Somehow since my college days, I had a keen interest towards children book publishing as you can showcase your creativity and make the books more interesting for young learners,” he says.

Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, publisher, Talking Cub (a new imprint on children’s books from Speaking Tiger) came into publishing quite by chance. “Personally, I got to know about a profession called publishing by chance, after talking to some editors while I was in college. The thought that one can work in a field where the work involves reading, editing and closely working with authors was immensely appealing. After that, one learnt a lot on the job and from seniors.Children’s publishing, because as a Bengali I have grown up on a steady diet of wonderful children’s books and once I was in publishing I wanted to be part of the process of creating good books for children in English in India. This was some time in 2001-2002, when books for children by Indian authors were beginning to get attention again. After that, this segment has become more and more important for publishing houses and there is a lot more editorial focus on creating good content,” she shares.

Nancy Raj is a well known children’s book illustrator, who recently won the Hindu Goodbooks Award 2018, for the category Best Illustrations (for the book Maharani the Cow). “As a child, I enjoyed making pictures and caricatures of friends and family. I have been a designer working for corporate organisations for over 12 years now, and this journey has always been teaching me to explore, experiment and realise my passion and love in making illustrations for Children’s books,which is why I chose children’s book illustration over a corporate job,” she says. “My imagination is inspired by tiny details in the world around me – which is why I enjoy capturing people, their emotions and involvement in daily life through my sketches. I’ve illustrated for stories, poems, text books, cartoons, and much more…and also conduct workshops on illustrations. What I love while making pictures is that I enjoy thinking through my characters, the setting, the treatment and the colours, and sketching through a entire journey to bring concepts and stories to life. Sometimes the journey is short, sometimes it’s a long trail.”

Trends in the children trade publishing market

“Children book publishing market is very competitive, which is great. It means we’re all spurred on to do the best we can and authors have a choice of publishers to go to, which means more writers are encouraged to get into writing for children,” shares Anushka.

Anuj also echoes her thoughts, “The Indian publishing market at the moment is competitive, you need to be at your best to deliver the right content to the buyer. There are numerous players in the market but to stand out from the crowd we have to create the content looking at the market trends and demands.”

While, Sudeshna says, “The children’s book market is definitely healthy at the moment with a number of publishers bringing out books of different kinds and suited for various age groups, as well as price points. In fact, I feel there is still space for more here, for eg, more who do quality picture books and books for early readers.”

“Children’s books and reading materials in India do have a long journey. I feel that the network of children’s book circle including the publishers, authors, illustrators, educational system, readers, book fairs, art lovers, book lovers, etc. is slowly growing. This network is becoming healthy and competitive like never before. This is a good sign and a good news that over the last ten or fifteen years, this segment is growing though not at a very rapid pace,” opines Nancy.

Growth in the industry…

“In terms of both sales and the number of children’s books published, it’s definitely on an upward swing!” says Anushka.

Do books shape child’s mind?

On asking about what role do books play in shaping a child’s mind, Anushka replied, “I don’t believe books should be seen as tools to shape minds. Not the kind of books I like to write and publish, anyway. Books should be a source of joy. Authors are experimenting with new genres and styles, but whatever might change, one thing will always stay the same – the power of a good story.”

While, Anuj believes, “Books play a major role in shaping and developing a child’s mind. With the help of books, a child can develop their imagination, IQ skills set and reading capacity as well. We develop the content in such an interactive format that even during the technology age, we are able to keep the children hooked to the books rather than electronic devices.”

Sudeshna also believes that books obviously play a big role in shaping minds. “They bring with them the power of imagination, the magic of words, and the ability to grasp ideas and thoughts. This is apart from helping develop mental faculties like reading and comprehension and developing emotional quotients. It has been proved by research that the earlier children are exposed to books, the more rounded is their overall development”.

What makes a great children’s book?

“That’s a deep and perhaps impossible to answer question! I think storytelling remains the key. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, or book for any age group from picture books to YA books, the writer has to be able to tell a story or a narrative with ease and a facility with words that will keep a child glued to the book. Children are wonderful critics and once you have lost their interest, your book is doomed. So it is important to know what will keep a reader engaged with the book,” says Sudeshna.

“To make a great children’s book there is not just one key factor. It’s a combination of all the factors like script, content styling, presentation of a topic, then printing and fabrication. We have to closely monitor all these factors to make a great children’s book,” says Anuj.

“A good story, with humour and conflict and a strong emotional hook. A really good book works for everyone – not just for children,” says Anushka.

Finding illustrators…

Illustrations form an intrinsic part of a children’s book. “Illustrations are like music, It needs no translation and can be enjoyed by every age groups. Illustrations from any source conveys many messages, sometimes a piece of illustration makes you laugh, sometimes it makes you think, it evokes various emotions, totally teleports you to an entirely different place. Readers are now looking for books with India-specific content – such as Indian setting, Indian characters, subjects etc. And I am glad Picture book / children’s books found in the Indian market now-a-days are finding its way in the predominance of the textbook culture. It helps a child reflect to various perspectives of culture, literature and creativity and much more,” says Nancy.

So, how do publishers find the best illustrators? “We select illustrators on the basis of their experience in this field and how well they understand the brief of designing and delivering the product as per the requirement of the project,” replies Anuj.

While, Sudeshna says, “We have a wonderfully talented in-house art director. Together with her we decide on the look and feel of the book, and she works with a wide range of illustrators whose work will fit the kind of book we are doing to come up with the final look.”

Challenges…

“Publishers need to be aware of what is happening in terms of the interests of children. Changing attention spans, availability of diverse forms of entertainment, the pressure of academics are all challenges. Yet we also need to know that children today are much more aware, focused, and fearless in expressing themselves than before. They are exposed to many ideas in their environment and we need to know what these are so our books remain relevant. That said, there are certain aspects that will always remain–good storytelling, ability to engage with the reader, well produced and designed books–are some things that are eternal,” says Sudeshna.

“The main challenges in this segment are the unorganised distribution and retailing system,” tells Anuj.

On asking about the challenges as a children author Anushka clearly states, “There are no challenges, really. Writing for children is the most liberating thing. You can act/think like a child and not be embarrassed. What more can you ask for?”

While, Nancy mentions her challenges as an illustrator. “ Every piece of illustration that I work, goes through intense thinking and planning, creating the character to compositions to look, feel and the mood. I am always conscious is that illustrations can go flat and literally destroy a dream that the book can create, however powerful the text, it is the pictures that sticks in the mind. Children’s book illustrations are an art by itself, they talk stories and sometimes more powerful than the text. These artworks are now found in galleries and art exhibitions for public view as art objects. They often take a quiet approach, hidden between the wrappers of a book – waiting to be opened by a reader. I feel this is the most challenging part – the reach and exposure,” she adds.

What to publish?

“We study the market trends and scenarios and also we introduce certain topics which are the need of the hour. The topic and the content is the most important feature of the book. It needs to interesting and engaging from a child’s perspective,” tells Anuj.

While, Sudeshna says, “We choose our books based on literary merit, the uniqueness of the idea, the way our entire list is oriented (for eg, we do want to focus on non-fiction books), trends in the market place and of course the profile of the writer also comes into consideration.”

Sharing more about what they look for in the submission of manuscripts, Sudeshna added, “ The submission should come with a detailed synopsis that gives a clear outline of the story and characters, or the main idea of the book if it is non-fiction. The length of the book, targeted audience should be mentioned. If it is based on research then an idea on the kind of sources and amount of research put in should also be mentioned. It should also come with three chapters that will show the writing style and structure of the book.”

Indian vs. international books…

“We try to deliver international quality books at best affordable prices which cater to all classes of the market. If we compare the price with any of the US/UK publishers, our books are moderately priced,” states Anuj.

“Books from the west are a big challenge as they take up the most mind space among children and parents. Awareness of our books and authors still needs to be worked on. Limited media available for promotions as traditional media rarely covers children’s books, so we need to rely on digital as well as in-person book promotions like taking the authors to schools, festivals, etc,” tells Sudeshna.

Expectations from the industry…

“I just want more and better books; I’d like authors to stay off cliched stories and come up with complex and unusual plots. Publishers should push the boundaries and take risks, instead of sticking to tried and tested authors and safe genres like mythology and folk tales,” opines Anushka.

“We want good books, good authors and good editing. At Talking Cub, we are also looking at a diversity in our publishing list where we are both aware of the marketing angle and yet take risks if we believe in a book,” adds Sudeshna.

On book festivals…

“The ongoing trend of book festival is great. I do wish the festivals would give more space and importance to children’s books, because the only way children’s books will get visibility is if they are treated like the important literary objects they are and not lesser products of the publishing industry – which, alas, is what frequently happens in India,” says Anushka.

Going ahead…

“There is always a pressure on the price of children’s books, yet they do need to look and feel good. So I think it is a balance that publishers have to strike between using resources and at the same time not pricing the book out of the market,” concludes Sudeshna..

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