Friday, June 27, 2008

The children's short story

Yesterday evening, I went into London to the Society of Authors to hear Jane Casey, Senior Editor at Kingfisher talk with Tony Bradman about what makes a successful short story collection, or anthology. I met several of my SCBWI friends there.

Jane Casey
Jane Casey has worked at Kingfisher, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for five years and in that time she has produced twelve story anthologies from scratch. She explained that short story anthologies do not make big money but, are around for a long time. Short stories are popular with children who are put off reading by long novels. Jane believes they will encourage children to go on to read longer things.

Teachers and book clubs like short story collections but for some reason the book shops are not so keen, maybe because they do not know where to classify it. They do not get strong sells through the trade, except at Christmas when they make the perfect gift.

Some of their bestsellers are:

The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories
Like Mother, Like Daughter?
Marvellous Magical Stories
Spellbound: Fantasy Stories

Editors and compilers tend to write briefs for a short story collection and a contributing author needs to pay attention to the age range, market and word count. For example, if the brief specifies they are looking for classic stories they are not looking for anything edgy; if they want something edgy it will say so. Jane explained how there are people who do not write to brief and it can be very disappointing. However, she emphasised how it is better not to take the obvious angle, as they are looking for a selection of stories with a different slant.

Anthologies may not appear to be as glamorous as stand-alone books but they are worth while. Short stories are a great way to meet editors and make relationships. They get you noticed as a writer. Some short stories are later turned into books. If you are just starting out you can find yourself in very good company, with your story alongside some very big names in children’s literature. You may write something that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise.

However, there have been occasions when a short story collection has fallen through. Co-edition customers can change their minds. Publishers invest a lot of money into a collection which is never recouped. The process of making an anthology takes a long time, as they are dealing with many authors and illustrators and the budget can get out of control.

Tony Bradman
Tony Bradman became a full-time freelance writer in 1987. He had previously been a features editor for a magazine, so he was use to commissioning people. Most anthologies use to be reprints. Tony was the pioneer of anthologies of original stories. He has never come up with a theme that has not been taken on eventually, although as Jane explained some fall through

When he compiles anthologies he commissions around ten contributors who are each paid a flat fee, usually around £300 - £500 a story. The compiler gets a royalty. Tony always asks about the budget before he begins. He does not suffer fools gladly and states, that just because someone is a big name it does not guarantee their story will appear in the anthology. Everyone is treated fairly and he has rejected big names.

Tony said that he has learnt more about writing a story by working with people on their manuscripts than he has writing his own books.

Anthologies are very difficult for publishers to make money on. They are turnover books. They are a showcase for an author’s work and an opportunity to work with an editor that shows you are a good person to work with.

Some of the anthologies Tony has been responsible for are:

Incredible Creepy Stories
Football Fever
Like Father, Like Son?: 12 Stories About Boys and Their Dads
All in the Family - Stories that hit home
Skin Deep: A Collection of Stories About Racism
Give Me Shelter: An Asylum Seeker Anthology

He has also just edited one on climate change.

When Tony sends out a brief, he gets a huge response from all over the world. People often send a chapter from a novel and this does not tend to work. Really you need to write something new, specifically for the subject. Many short stories have been turned into novels. It is worth being cooperative and helpful with the editors and compiler. It will teach you the skills to survive as a long-term professional author.

As a professional writer, Tony always advices never give up copyright.

After the talk we went for a very enjoyable meal at the Tampopo restaurant. It served the most amazing East Asian cuisine, and the chefs were pretty cute too!

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