Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2014: The Rights Place to Be!

Elaine McQuade

Anne-Marie, head of rights at Oxford Children’s, once worked out that her team travel over 109,000 miles every year. Their job is to sell rights to publishers from around the world to publish OUP children’s fiction, picture books, dictionaries, home learning and schoolbooks into their own languages. The team visit publishers in their offices and at book fairs around the globe, and, of course, they also keep in contact via email and the internet. However, the Bologna Book Fair is still the most important event in the children’s publishing calendar for them. Every year in March, thousands of children’s publishers pour into this gorgeous Italian city with its stunning medieval centre around the Piazza Maggiore.

The ‘Fiera’ takes place in a large, purpose built complex, where around 1,200 publishers and other related organizations from 75 countries showcase the titles or the services they have to sell. The fair’s website states that about ‘25,000 international professional trade representatives’ attended last year.

The Oxford Children's Books stand

The Oxford Children’s Books stand

The run-up to the fair’s opening is one of the busiest times in the publishing year. The British picture book industry, in particular, has been built on co-editions. Colour printing is very expensive so publishers need to build print runs by selling rights to as many customers as possible. The more books we can print, the cheaper the books become to produce for everyone.

Customers naturally want to see as much of the finished book as possible. So for the past few months, authors, illustrators, editors and designers and the production team at OUP have been extremely busy getting proofs ready for the fair.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of the projects we took to Bologna this year, which will be published later on this year or in 2015:

What a Wonderful World

A glorious picture book version of one of the most popular songs of all time

The Adventures of Mr Toad

A funny and fabulously illustrated picture book retelling of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for younger readers

Here’s author/illustrator Steve Antony with his rather tempestuous ‘toddler’ Betty and his US publisher:

Steve Antony and his US publisher.

Steve Antony and his US publisher with a sneak-peak of Betty herself!

The Rising

The stand-alone sequel to last year’s exciting river bank adventure ‘The River Singers’


Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football

A top-of-the-league tale, publishing in time for the 2014 Football World Cup!


The Private Blog of Joe Cowley

The hilarious and highly illustrated of a teenage, self-confessed ‘girl-repeller’


Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre weren’t in Bologna this year but do see the Bologna blog for 2013 for pictures of the two wowing the crowds.

Just before the fair we wrapped up a deal with Philip Reeve’s agent (Philippa Milnes-Smith of LAW) to publish his next novel for older readers. We’ll be publishing it autumn 2015. We sent a press release to the trade press and were pleased that ‘The Bookseller’ magazine featured the story in their daily emailed news flash. It is another way of ensuring that foreign publishers, keen on British fiction and picture books, are kept abreast of exciting new projects, while they are at the fair.

Here’s some of the team at the fair presenting our list to colleagues from around the globe. I am constantly amazed that almost everyone can speak English. However, between them the rights team can speak over 10 different languages so, communication is rarely a problem.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football and The Rising.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football.


Rights Manager, Giuseppe Trapani.

Rights Manager, Stella Giatrakou.

Rights Managers, Stella Giatrakou and Valentina Fazio hard at work!

Clare, Helen and Pete from our fiction and picture book editorial teams were also at the fair seeing agents and foreign publishers, who presented them with projects, manuscripts and picture books that we might look to publish in the UK. It’s fascinating to wander around the stands of colleagues from countries such a France, Korea, or Italy and to note sometimes similar trends but often very different illustrative styles.

The rights team/editors arrange appointments in half an hour slots from around 9.00 till 6.00 daily throughout the fair.

Time for a cappucino!

Time for a cappuccino!

Coffee breaks or a dash to the queue for the loos (too few loos and a preponderance of women publishers is not a good combination) have to be squeezed in if and when someone turns up late for an appointment.

Many UK retailers take the opportunity to visit the fair and Louise, our sales director and I gave them a preview of some of the projects we have coming much later in the year and in 2015. Siwan from production was here to meet with suppliers from outside the UK who are involved in the production of our print and digital books.

Vineeta and Sam from our dictionary team were also at the fair. In 2016 we are very much looking forward to publishing the ‘Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary’. 2016 is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and Vineeta and I attended a presentation and dinner for many of his foreign and UK publishers where we heard about the exciting plans the Estate has to celebrate the anniversary around the world. I sat on a table with lovely publishers from Taiwan and Estonia as well as Amanda from Puffin and it was great to hear how popular Roald’s books are around the world. Here’s Vineeta and me leaving the beautiful, medieval palace where the event was held. The photo is a bit dark but you can see we’ve got our winter coats on! It’s been pretty chilly weather-wise.

Head of Children's Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR Elaine McQuade.

Head of Children’s Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR, Elaine McQuade.

For a few days in March Bologna becomes the centre of children’s publishing and it is always a joy to meet colleagues from around the world who work in this wonderful, creative and important industry.

Elaine pic

Elaine McQuade is Head of Marketing and PR for OUP Children’s Books


Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2013: rights, camera, action!

Elaine picThe Bologna Children’s Book Fair is now in full swing.

From Monday to Thursday this week our rights team have scheduled meetings every 30 minutes from 9.00am till 5.30pm with children’s editors from around the world. It’s our chance to showcase the OUP titles that we are planning to publish over the next year or so with the aim of selling them the rights to publish our books in their own language. It’s so busy the rights team barely have time to schedule in a loo break!

The fair takes place often before the books are published in the UK so, here is the rights team in action presenting  proofs and ‘dummies’ – artwork that is run out on the colour printer and stuck into blank books of the right size and shape supplied by our production team from our printers.


Head of Rights Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for picture book The Great Moon Confusion from Richard Byrne, and Haunted, a chilling new book for teens from William Hussey.


Zuzana Miyahara Kratka, Rights Manager. In the background is the hilarious Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom, by Wendy Meddour and Mina May.

While that’s happening, our editors are meeting with the rights teams of publishers from abroad who are presenting their titles to us. There are also meetings with other people interested in children’s books from film scouts and online sites to UK retailers and media.

Here’s Head of Publishing Liz Cross in a meeting on the OUP stand.


Our lovely designers have also been meeting with scores of potential new illustrators from around the world.

This year we are delighted to host a special dinner for publishers who have already bought or are considering Oliver and the Seawigs, a new illustrated novel by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.  Here they are drawing sea monkeys from the book all over the OUP stand and causing a stir as they stroll through the aisles at the Fair. Sarah is resplendent in her ‘Seawig’ and, Philip, as elegant as ever, sports a Seawig sailor’s cap.

philip and sarah

seawigs graffitianne-marie drawing

This is one of the most important weeks of the year for children’s publishers. Selling foreign rights is hugely important to the industry and is often crucial to the success of a book – particularly colour publishing.

Elaine pic

Elaine McQuade is Head of Marketing and PR for OUP Children’s Books

Picture This: Karen George on becoming a published illustrator

karen_george_2013Karen George shares her journey to becoming a published illustrator, with a little help from Waterstones and Julia Donaldson…

In 2009, I won the Waterstones/Macmillan ‘Picture This’ competition, beating 900 hopeful unpublished illustrators to the top prize of illustrating Freddie and the Fairy for Julia Donaldson.

freddie and fairy 3The timing of the competition was perfect for me, my youngest son was about to start nursery and I was at the point of making decisions about work. After leaving the Royal College of Art, where I studied fine art, I eventually settled as a film set painter and muralist. It was during my time as a standby painter on films, which involved a lot of waiting around (of course ready to pounce like coiled spring when called for!) that I started drawing and jotting down ideas for stories to pass the time. I then entered into a long and continuing period of research into children’s picture books following the birth of my first son, who demanded three stories a night, every night. I spent these years scribbling, writing, cutting out and sticking; creating characters of my own that I hoped would catch a publisher’s eye. Some were extremely interested but not quite ready to take the final plunge, there had been many words of encouragement  but alas no contracts.

Billed as a ‘life changing’ prize, ‘Picture This’ came at a pivotal point, but it was a competition that I nearly didn’t enter…

The early hurdles

The first hurdle was that I first heard of the competition horribly close to the deadline. I wasn’t sure that it could be done in time, but dither over, I set to work.

Illustrating for Julia Donaldson and the other notable judges proved disastrously daunting, the weight of their pedigree made me produce some of the worst work I’ve ever done!

A day of despair followed, at my inability to manoeuvre a pencil, and a lost opportunity to enter the world I had so long wanted to be a part of… but I had invested too much over the years to completely waste such an opportunity, so I decided to use the Julia Donaldson text and an impending deadline to at least update my portfolio. I pushed all thoughts of Julia and the judges aside (sorry!) and set to work again. With VERY little time left I sketched, painted, cut and glued my way through several near sleepless nights. Exhausted, with only hours to spare, I finally delivered my finished artwork to Waterstones Kew Headquarters; excited by the three new character sketches, three animal sketches and  colour spread that would refresh my portfolio.

 freddie and fairy 1

The home straight

A week later, I was plunged into the deepest deep end. Amazingly I had been shortlisted down to the final six!

There then followed six weeks of intense drawing; night after night well into the small hours, the twelve required spreads drawn and re-drawn.

It was an extremely steep, but exhilarating, learning curve.

freddie and fairy 2

And the winner is…

Standing alongside the other finalists on ‘judgment day’, the tension was unbearable; as we waited to hear which one of us had been successful.

On arrival we had been told that the jury was still out. A final decision had not been reached and there would be a slight delay before the announcement. We all chatted nervously.

Finally the moment arrived. Giving nothing away, Julia talked about each finalist and what she had liked about their work. It was lovely to hear and know that a great deal of thought had gone into the decision… but it was also excruciating!

At length came the words ‘and the winner is…’

Julia Donaldson’s books have always been a staple at bedtime for my sons. I had empathised with the Old Woman in A Squash and a Squeeze and had, at times, donated my clothes for the needs of my small children, feeling a little like The Smartest Giant in Town, but I had never dreamt that my name would appear alongside Julia Donaldson on the cover of a book. Indeed, it now appears alongside hers on two books!

The desire to scale down the size of my paint brush from a film set painter to become a published children’s illustrator has taken me on a long and sometimes frustrating journey. Winning ‘Picture This’ catapulted me, like a moment of fairytale magic, to illustrating for the Children’s Laureate and on… to become an author too, with my third book, Hugh Shampoo… all about a boy who will NOT wash his hair!



Find out more about Karen and her work at

Hugh Shampoo is out on 4th April.


Editing children’s books – a love story

Jasmine1Let me introduce myself. I’m Jasmine Richards and I have been a senior commissioning editor at Oxford University Press Children’s Books for four years. I have worked in publishing for nine years or so and one questions that I often get asked is: ‘how do you become a commissioning editor?’ I’ll do my best to answer that in this post or at the very least tell you a little bit about my path into publishing and why I think my job is AWESOME!

How I became a commissioning editor

Everyone’s route into publishing is different but I think they all begin with a passion for books. I have been a lifelong reader of children’s books. Indeed, the fact that I was still reading children’s books when I was an adult was my first clue that I should work in children’s publishing!

I studied English Literature and Language at Oxford University and learnt lots about analysing books and talking about them. After I left university, I worked for a year going to state schools around the country where I talked to young people about higher education and its benefits. I realized how important books were in terms of raising aspirations and how they had raised my aspirations as a child without me even really noticing! After that epiphany, I just knew I had to work with books.

I started off on the Penguin Graduate Programme. It was an eighteen month programme where I got to work in lots of different parts of the business—marketing, publicity, sales, a stint in the Penguin US office as well as children and adult editorial. Because I got to work in so many different parts of the business I was absolutely sure that I wanted to work in children’s editorial at the end of the programme.

After my time at Penguin ended, I took up an editorial position at a company called Working Partners where I developed and edited books such as Rainbow Magic and Beast Quest. I then moved over to OUP Children’s Books where I would become the editor of authors like Gillian Cross and Julia Golding.

What I do all day

I love being a senior commissioning editor at OUP because there is no such thing as a typical day. I can often be found in meetings, be they marketing meetings, cover meetings, or acquisitions meetings. I might be busy writing book blurbs or additional information for sales sheets, or maybe a piece of passion for a website, a letter to booksellers, or indeed a blog post like this!

A big part of my job is finding new talent and so that means reading new submissions. I love the fact that every time you are reading a submission you could be about to find the ONE—it’s a bit like speed dating and rather exciting (especially as I have never actually been speed dating)!

Another part of my job that I adore is editing manuscripts from authors already on our list.  I really enjoy working with authors and realizing their vision for a book.

Other elements of my job include negotiating with agents over contracts or talking to my colleagues about scheduling and progress of current projects. I’ll speak frequently to our rights team about possible angles to help pitch a book to foreign publishers and I’ll often be on the phone to an author talking about a new idea or how a book event went. I’ll attend book launches, writing conferences and book fairs.

If I’m honest, there’s really not enough hours in the day to do the job but it is always varied and stimulating and I get to work with books all day long (and get paid for it). Result!

Choosing books: how I fall in love

Now another question that I often get asked is: ‘what makes you acquire a book?’

And the answer is simple— I’ve got to fall in love.

In the first instance, it might be an idea that I’ve fallen in love with. An idea that makes you sit up and go WOW, that’s something a bit different.

A killer idea would make me dip straight into a script right there and then even if I have a million other things to do.

A good first line would keep me reading.

When I first started in this role, I had a wish list—dark fiction, thrillers, some classic adventure stories for 9+ readers. But the longer I do this job, the more I feel that genre is not my main focus. It is those books that refuse to let you off the hook that find their way into my heart.

That hook may be a driving plot that won’t let you put the book down. It might be characters that move you so deeply that you can’t stop reading because you need to know that they will be okay. It might be the way that a book makes you feel—happy, excited or scared and the fact that you don’t want that feeling to end.

These books don’t come along every day.   Authors who can make you laugh and cry, gasp and cheer all in the same novel are rare. Which is why when you find them, it is a bit like striking storytelling gold.

Discovering Dave Cousins, author of 15 Days without a Head and new novel Waiting for Gonzo, was a golden moment for me.  I came across his writing in an anthology called Undiscovered Voices and immediately knew that I wanted to read more of his writing. Very soon after that first reading we put in an offer for his debut novel 15 Days Without a Head.

Waiting for Gonzo, Dave’s second book, follows the character of Oz and his move to a small village up north called Slowleigh. Oz has big mouth and it soon gets him into big trouble with Isobel Skinner the school psycho.

Oz is not a character that you will forget easily. He’s flawed yes but charming and funny, and underneath it all has a good heart. The cast of characters that surround him are also unforgettable. There’s Meg, Oz’s older sister who has a problem of her own which is getting bigger by the day. Then there’s Oz’s friend Ryan and a pair of notorious hobbit feet.

Dave’s writing manages to be funny and emotional, surprising and satisfying. There’s a lovely accessibility to his writing but you know every sentence has been crafted and honed. Don’t wait too long to read Waiting for Gonzo—you’re in for a real treat. And it is a reminder to me why I became an editor and how lucky I am to do the job that I do.

Jasmine Richards, Senior Commissioning Editor

Waiting for Gonzo publishes in March.

Visit Dave Cousins’ website to hear the Waiting for Gonzo playlist, and watch the amazing Waiting for Gonzo trailer on You Tube.


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