We are endlessly fascinated by all aspects of children’s publishing and when we were given the chance of Zanna Davidson writing a piece for the blog, we jumped at it. As in house writer and editor, her books have sold over 2 million copies worldwide- an impressive achievement. Read on for her blog post- it is incredible.
When I took a job as an editor at Usborne Publishing, I hadn’t really realised it meant I would become a children’s writer. Usborne is different to other publishers in that all its editors, from day one, are trained to become writers. We edit each other’s work, develop book series, check proofs and plotters and keep an eye on schedules… but much of our day is spent writing and researching books.
To begin with, like most Usborne editors, I was asked to write a book in an existing series. It makes for a much easier beginning than developing a new book, as you’re following a set series style. My first book was a non-fiction title, Whales and Dolphins, and I had an editor, a managing editor and an expert on the subject to help me. I remember having to re-write each page many, many times!
As well as writing non-fiction, I started re-telling fairy tales for Usborne’s Young Reading programme. And I LOVED it. Looking back, I can see how re-telling fairy tales is perfect training for creating stories. Re-telling the tales for now, for today’s reader, opens up potential to add your own creative input. As well as thinking about diversity and equality, there is huge scope when it comes to dialogue, setting and character development, but with the structure of the original fairy tale to guide you.
And now I get to come up with my own stories. I can be writing about monsters one day (for Billy and the Mini Monsters) and unicorns the next (the Fairy Unicorns series). Sometimes I’m editing fairy tales about mermaids, folk tales from around the world, or trying to create new series fiction (at the moment this involves a science-mad girl, a roly-poly unicorn and a bad fairy).
Sometimes books can start out as non-fiction and morph into fiction. Last year, I was asked to write a book about table manners. But then the title Table Manners for Tigers was proposed, and I started hearing a rhyme in my head about slurping, burping tigers, gulping down juice, trailing their tails in chocolate mousse…
Framing a rhyming story around manners was great fun. I had to think of all the lessons that would be helpful to children and wanted by parents (saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, not eating with your mouth open etc) and what would make children laugh (naughty tigers longing to eat their fellow guests).
One of my favourite things about being an in-house writer is working so closely with designers and illustrators. Working within a publishing firm, you get to shape a book from the beginning, help choose illustrators, chat to designers about the format, the layout of every page… and as each book is different, and a learning experience, the job never gets dull.
Equally, it’s wonderful to work with new in-house writers, identifying and developing their talents as clear and inspiring non-fiction writers, or those with a flair for dialogue, or plot, or all those things.
Editing a text reminds you to think about what works and why, and keeps you on your toes.
Being an in-house writer also means you fully realise how books are a team effort – from the illustrator and editor and designer, to the production team in charge of the printing process, to the marketing, PR and sales team who help the books end up in the hands of readers. The writer is just a small cog in a large wheel. It’s creative and challenging and I wouldn’t change it for the world.