Monday, September 18, 2006

Hands Across the Water

I had breakfast this morning with Janetta Otter Barry and Sarah Butler of Frances Lincoln Ltd. in London. They were here both to talk about some books F.L. will be selling in the U.S. in the upcoming seasons and to find out about how the book reviewing system in these parts works: according to Janetta, reviews in the States have much more of an impact on sales here than reviews in the U.K. do there.

I was interested to find out more about how the "distributed in the United States by . . ." kind of publishing works. It's different from publishing companies such as Scholastic, say, which have editorial offices in multiple countries, and different again from selling the rights to a U.S. publisher (Frances Lincoln is the original publisher of Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace, for example, but licensed the book to Dial for publication here.) Sarah explained that different books will take different paths to becoming available here, depending on what's projected to be the best way to achieve the most sales, and/or find inclusion on the various award and recommended reading lists. It's certainly a fuzzy distinction: I said at breakfast that I thought Frances Lincoln books would not be eligible for ALA's Notable Books list (because the rules state the book must be "published" in the U.S.), but now I see that Canada's Groundwood Books has received Notable citations, and they seem to be in the same situation as F.L., with both companies' books distributed here by Publishers Group West.

I know this all might sound like so much insider baseball, but as trade agreements, publishing, and consumer access to foreign books makes country-of-origin both less and more complicated, we all might need to be rethinking our rules about what we mean by "published here." Where?

8 comments:

Lynn said...

Thanks for the insight on this topic. I'm learning a lot reading this blog!

I find it interesting the book review process has less impact over there than here. I assumed, mistakenly it seems, that it would work the same both places (see what happens when you assume?).

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the answer to the question "where?" will depend on the writer's address, rather than the publisher's?

Anonymous said...

PS -- I like your new photo, Roger!

Elizabeth said...

In particular, institutional reviews (Horn Book, SLJ, Booklist etc.) have a much bigger impact here--except for The Bookseller (sort of the British PW)I can't even name the British institutional review journals.

As far as whether Frances Lincoln distributes the books themselves here or sells rights to a publisher like Dial, I don't see why that would impact their eligibility for Notables. I have admired their books for many years, and acquired and published several here, but Frances Lincoln herself passed away awhile ago. My guess is that their new system, which they discussed with Roger, comes from the fact that their books were always expensive to produce, and American publishers are being more selective about picture books they buy from abroad. Frances Lincoln's reps implied to Roger that they are looking for the route to greatest revenue, as all publishers do, and again, what does that have to do with Notables?

Roger Sutton said...

The Notables rules say that only books "published" in the U.S. are eligible. I'll try to find out what they do with "distributed" books.

JeanneB said...

Elizabeth -- I don't know exactly what makes an institutional journal, so perhaps these don't qualify....but are you familiar with BOOKS FOR KEEPS and CAROUSEL? Both are wonderful magazines out of England about children's books, with lots of reviews,articles, and interviews with authors and illustrators.

Andy Laties said...

The biggest problem with any form of British book distribution/licensing/publication in the U.S. is the fact that British children's books often reference cultural assumptions that differ subtly but -- from a marketing and sales standpoint -- enormously significantly from U.S. cultural assumptions. This implies that F.L. -- in developing manuscripts -- would be planning ahead: books they sense could do well in the U.S. will be tweaked so as to marketable in both countries. So, British-isms will be excised (no lorries, bins, nappies, or lifts will appear); maps will be at the very least non-Anglocentric.

This is the stuff that any licensing publisher in the U.S. would normally expect to take care of in doing the work that transforms a British book into an American book. And yet, as I say: in this case presumably F.L. is talking about NOT producing two different editions -- Brit and American -- but rather a single version that works in both markets.

I think this is pretty dicey for them as a fullscale business plan, and must indeed reflect a much more difficult time doing licensing.

Perhaps they WILL end up doing dual editions, as a mere practicality, in which case they might end up with some genre of American "partner".

Is it really credible that there's a significant chance for non-Americanized British original picture books to successfully compete for awards against books professionally published and positioned into the so-carefully-watched American marketplace. ("Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone" -- whazzat??)

rindawriter said...

Yes, I'm learning truckloads of new things on this blog, too, thanks.