What I Learned At Working Partners by Karen Ball
As Head of Editorial, I’m soon to leave my happy home at Working Partners for pastures new and exciting as Publisher at Little Brown Young Readers and Atom. Inevitably, this is a time of great introspection. What have I learned during my time at a leading packager of children’s fiction that sells around the world? Is there anything I can pass on to you?
Team Work Works
Developing Intellectual Property is all about team work. We brainstorm as a team, create storylines collaboratively, commission writers who are happy to engage, converse with publishers who respect what we do, and ultimately, send books out into the world that inspire and maybe change the odd reading habit. It’s all about a group of people who trust each other and enjoy playing with ideas. I’ve been taught a crucial publishing lesson – that to be the best you can be, you need experts by your side who you also call friends.
Creating Is Challenging
Our team of 15+ editors may have fun, batting ideas back and forth, but behind that fun is intense and hard work. Five days a week, they are writing storylines, honing plots, taking on board sometimes challenging feedback, and writing, writing, writing. Did I mention writing? This level of consistent creativity can be exhausting! But it can also be joyful and the best training ground in the world. I believe WP has some of the finest children’s editors in London and New York – but then, I would!
It’s All About Story
Ticking boxes doesn’t work. Market research is fallible, reader feedback inconsistent and list analysis boring. Want to know how to kill an idea? Research it first. Ultimately, good packaging of fiction comes down to one thing – story. A boy finds a sword in a stone. A girl sits with her feet in the kitchen sink. Parents go missing, a wardrobe is full of fur coats, an unusual nanny comes to stay or boarding school turns out to be full of wizards. The beating heart behind any concept is story, and that comes from imagination. There’s not a system in the world that can duplicate that.
The Formula For Success
Ah, don’t you wish I could give you that? I can’t. There is no formula. Crucial to creating is the ability to fail. Several projects we develop at WP haven’t succeeded, and that is A Very Good Thing. Telling a team that their ideas must succeed is creatively stifling. How do we know which of our concepts will fly? We don’t. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To play with ideas, until something lands on an editor’s desk and they fall in love. But love is a deeply mysterious and unpredictable emotion. So we try, we wait and we sometimes fail. If it was all easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
The Future Is Rosy
If you seek out fear and gloom, you’ll manage to find it in publishing right now. Ebooks, free content, IP, changing contracts, closing libraries, lack of high street bookshops, powerful online sellers, recession… The world is a scary place for the scared. Personally, I am incredibly excited about the future of children’s publishing. I believe that the very things some of us fear will ultimately make our industry more creative, more vigorous, more exciting. As I said at the beginning of this piece, team work works, and we’re about to enjoy the ultimate collaboration – with our readers.