NNFN: The Non Fiction Renaissance – a guest post by Lisa Edwards, Publishing Director, Templar Publishing
Today’s guest post celebrating non-fiction for children and young people comes from Lisa Edwards, Publishing Director at Templar Publishing (part of Bonnier Publishing).
Lisa is in her twentieth year in publishing, having spent twelve years of it at Scholastic, latterly as Publishing & Commercial Director. She managed the publishing of bestsellers in every category, including The Hunger Games, Tom Gates, Horrible Histories and Stick Man. She is now Publishing Director of Templar Books and Big Picture Press, where her list includes the groundbreaking Ology books, the Mizielinski’s MAPS and Katie Scott’s Animalium and Botanicum. In today’s post she talks with optimism about the future of non-fiction for children and young people.
“I believe we are in the middle of a renaissance in non-fiction publishing for children. In fact, 2013 marked the turning point, with the publication of ‘MAPS’ on the newly formed Big Picture Press imprint at Templar Publishing – the first title in the now ubiquitous large format. The Mizielinskis’ artwork style recalled a nostalgia for a time when children pored over detailed illustrations on a given topic – I know I did. My first book was an illustrated dictionary and I loved every piece of artwork in it.
In 2014 we saw the publication of William Grill’s ‘Shackleton’s Journey’ on the newly formed Flying Eye imprint and Big Picture Press released Katie Scott’s ‘Animalium’. From then on we’ve seen an explosion in illustrated large-format titles and this Christmas it’s likely that a host of children will receive one as a gift.
For years before this, non fiction has somehow been viewed as the poor cousin of its more glamorous relatives, fiction and picture books. Now, we have its contributors clamouring to create titles based on their own passion for certain subjects. Even Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are tackling wildlife in their new picture book next year for Scholastic UK, ‘The Ugly Five’.
For me, non-fiction books have always been a perfect marriage of text and image on a page – it’s taken me twenty years in publishing to realise that this is what I love. I’m not really interested in editing anything that doesn’t come with pictures, and I love publishing books for visually literate children.
In this country we seem to hold the view that children somehow grow out of books with pictures (or ‘should’ grow out of them) but the latest renaissance in non fiction is reversing that view. We know that adults are deriving just as much pleasure from ‘Animalium’ and ‘Botanicum’ as children are, and you might say that this is the ‘crossover’ area into adult interest that young-adult fiction has been enjoying for some time.
I tend to view our top-selling titles as ‘family experience’ rather than ‘children’s coffee table’ books. There is something about ‘Animalium’ that encourages a shared reading, a shared dipping-in to a factual universe that the whole family can enjoy.
I don’t think anyone can deny that this renaissance is linked to the prizing of a beautiful printed product in the digital age. These are books that can’t be experienced fully in digital form – they are hardback, printed on quality paper, where the sensory experience of holding them and turning each page carefully is part of the reading experience. Publishers are spending more than ever on cover finishes – fluorescent inks, coloured foils, debossing, embossing, cloth jackets. Suddenly everything on a printer’s menu is up for grabs and not beyond a discussion in a cover or finance meeting.
Retailers are making space for the large-format books in previously forbidden territory. I remember trying to make Big Books for the trade in the late 1990s (they were primarily for schools) and being told that they were unshelvable. Suddenly, they are dominating the space on shelves and tables like never before.
Perhaps it’s a case of ‘if you build it, they will come’ when it comes to these books. Make a book that children and adults want to pore over endlessly, like ‘MAPS’ or ‘Animalium’, and demand suddenly outweighs shelf constrictions. We are no longer the poor cousins, we’re the market drivers, and it feels so good to see our creations studding the trade landscape like never before.”