Earlier this year I got to play at being a publisher of poetry. My eldest daughter was raising funds for a charity, and rather than doing a sponsored house clean or cake sale, she wrote poems for anyone who donated to the charity she was supporting. Once she’d done the hard work, I got dressed up as an editor and designer and publisher (yes, all at once!) and helped her create little poetry pamphlets which she posted out to all those who had supported her.
Playing at being a poetry publisher was great fun, but what is it like to be a REAL publisher of poetry, able to commission poets and release books into bookshops, libraries and homes across the country?
Earlier this year Otter-Barry Books was launched by publisher Janetta Otter-Barry. Alongside publishing picture books (both fiction and non-fiction), Otter-Barry Books has poetry at the heart of what they are doing, and Where Zebras Go (the title I reviewed yesterday) is one their 2017 titles. Using the excuse of our Poe-tree calendar for December, I asked Janetta about her work and why publishing poetry for children matters so much to her:
Playing by the book: Why, when setting up a new imprint, did you decide to have such a focus on poetry, given that most people would argue it is quite a marginal genre, and not one likely to make much money?
Janetta Otter-Barry: Otter-Barry Books launched in May 2016. We are publishing 16 titles per year, of which 4 titles are black and white single poet collections for 6/7 year olds up, all published as original paperbacks. In addition some of our picture books have poetry as the text, to appeal to younger children, e.g. Zim Zam Zoom!, Zappy Poems to Read out Loud by James Carter – a very accessible and fun young collection with fantastic colour pictures, and Dreamer, in which the text is just one poem by Brian Moses, with a line per double page spread and stunning paintings by Bee Willey.
So yes, poetry is definitely a significant feature of the list, and I was very happy, when we approached Robert Snuggs at Bounce Sales and Marketing about selling Otter-Barry Books in the UK, to hear that Bounce would relish the chance to sell our poetry list. That was music to my ears, and so far the signs are very good. We are getting the collections of our first poets Chrissie Gittins and John Dougherty into the trade and getting great feedback. And I believe that Adder, Bluebell, Lobster and Dinosaurs and Dinner-Ladies will go on selling as backlist now they’re becoming established. That’s a very important commercial consideration.
Playing by the book: Why do you want to champion children’s poetry through Otter-Barry Books?
Janetta Otter-Barry: I believe children’s poetry can play a hugely important and enriching role in developing children’s reading enjoyment, both at home and in the classroom, and I want to recognise that through my publishing. Having championed poetry at Frances Lincoln and created an award-winning list there, I wanted to continue to fly the flag for it with my new imprint. It’s true that it’s a challenge to sell to some areas of the market, but schools and libraries recognise its value – and many independent booksellers do as well. Poets are some of the best performers in schools and at festivals and I love seeing the kids light up when our poets perform to them. I guess I’m on a bit of a mission to get poetry more widely appreciated as being fun and cool, rather than difficult and literary, and generally help it to become an indispensable part of family life.
Playing by the book: What do you think of the current children’s poetry landscape in the UK?
Janetta Otter-Barry: I think that most people are only aware of a very few poets, such as Roger McGough and Michael Rosen. These two are fantastic ambassadors for poetry, but we still need somehow to “break out” the new generation of great poets coming through. I published Rachel Rooney‘s and Joseph Coelho‘s début collections in 2011 and 2014 respectively, and these two are now becoming much more widely known – both were winners of the amazing CLIPPA Award championed by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). But they are still really only famous to the relatively small poetry-friendly literary community of reviewers, teachers, bloggers etc. These poets should be superstars and I hope Otter-Barry Books can help to make that happen when we publish their next collections!
Playing by the book: What would you like to see in the future?
Janetta Otter-Barry: I’d like to see many more young poets given a chance to get their work out there, and much more representation of diversity and inclusion among published children’s poets. John Agard and Grace Nichols are extraordinary talents and powerful voices who have hugely enriched the adult and children’s British poetry scene for forty years – and long may they continue to do so. But we also need to encourage new voices, and I’m proud to say that Otter-Barry Books in conjunction with others are indeed looking into new ways of doing this.
Playing by the book: I can’t wait to find out more! Thank you, Janetta.
Do check out Otter-Barry Books’ poetry list – I’m confident you’ll find something you and the children you know will really enjoy 🙂