“There were some 20 bad years for children’s literature – it was seen as unimportant, cheap, not only in quality but also in price. But the small boutique publishing houses set the trend for beautiful, meaningful books, for contemporary authors. Children’s books don’t have to be cheap,” so begins our conversation about the new children’s books with Radostina Nikolova, author of the series about the Motts.
She is from the generation of children’s literature authors, together with Nikola Raykov and the “mother” of “Tina and a Half” – Yulia Spiridonova, who are not inferior in literary and business skills, in social commitment to names on the global stage. Some of them started from the very beginning with their own publishing house, based on modern-day business models. Most of all, they can sense the market well.
According to a study on the book market of the American Booksellers Association for the period March 2018 to March 2019, fiction and children’s literature are at the heart of sales growth in 2015-2019. According to The Report Buyer.com analysis and forecasts for the book market for the period 2019-2024, children’s literature represents at least a third of book sales in the world, and the competition is growing. The readers’ parents find them more often on the web, through their personal presence and positions, and associate with them because they respond to the desires and problems that they do not see in their own children’s books. There are more opportunities for start-up publishing houses and self-publishing, online and international distribution, and non-traditional advertising. Technological printing costs are decreasing, but on the other hand, the cost for more qualitative paper and better illustrations is increasing.
Nikola Raykov started his creative and business journey with the experimental gametale “The Big Adventure of the Little Gremlin” and then the “The Even Bigger Adventure of the Little Gremlin” appeared. His first book is already selling in Latvia, Romania, Moldova, and the gametale “The Goodies” – in China.
“I started with my own publishing house with my first book. I had some savings that I used for the first edition,” he says. The edition was sold out in 6 months, with sales taking place only directly and online, both in paper and electronic form. “I focused on this model, as it seems unfair for distributors to receive 50% of the book price. I only use my own website and do not sell through other platforms.”
Radostina Nikolova, author of the series “The Adventures of Motts”, also chose self-publishing after being offered “rather strange conditions” for the publishing of her first book. Her husband and she funded the first edition with the money put aside for their wedding trip. “We chose a trip to the world of the Motts over a honeymoon, but the publishing business is full of stumbling blocks. Self-publishing – even more,” she laughs.
Radostina Nikolova with her young readers – Photo - personal archive
The Marmot Publishing House appeared a few years later after the family learned the whole process. “We said to ourselves: Why not use this experience for something even more constructive? I think it worked out fine. We are yet to develop the brand.” The project was also encouraged by the release of the entire Mottos series in China in 2018. In less than half a year, it was sold out in nearly 50,000 copies.
Yulia Spiridonova is probably the most traditional writer among my interlocutors. Before publishing her first book, she had many filmed scripts and was known for her short stories. “In the late 1990s, it was very difficult to find a publisher. Maybe the fact that TV series were already being made based on my tales made things a little easier. My first publisher was Marusya Yakova from Damyan Yakov Publishing House. After that, my books were published by Fyut, and for 12 years now, Kragozor has been publishing “Tina and a Half”, the trilogy “The Dreamland”, “Bobby and Santa’s Secret Agents.”
For three consecutive years, she has been nominated for the biggest children’s literary award – Astrid Lindgren, (2016, 2017 and 2018) and her readers are the ones who show and tell about her books, and thus, step by step, they make their way out to France, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, etc. “I remember a girl of Bulgarian descent who lived in Australia and who wrote to me that there was no greater book out there than “Tina and a Half”, so she planned to translate a few chapters and offer it to an Australian publisher. Unexpectedly, my books published in Bulgarian reached the farthest corners of the world,” she concludes.
Nikola says that the best way to foreign publishing houses is through participation in international book fairs. Radostina agrees that they are not “something unattainable or closed to us.” “Recently, we have seen many examples of children’s books, which find their way out. But we have neither developed channels nor traditions in working with foreign publishers. Bulgarian publishing houses are not motivated enough to offer their authors to their international partners. Usually, the efforts are put by the authors themselves. I reached China after a meeting with the Spanish publishing house at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna,” she says.
All three of my interlocutors also see potential in the Bulgarian book market. Nikola says that the national market for children’s literature in Bulgaria is good. The good news, according to Radostina, is that the hunger for “beautiful, meaningful books, for contemporary authors” also urges big publishers to think in this direction. “Respectively, competition increases even more. After all, this is how the taste of the majority is transformed.”
The author of the Motts is the only one of the three who has experience in partnerships with popular brands. She says that as long as they are not presented intrusively and have a common mission, it does not annoy readers. According to her, this is still an underdeveloped advertising channel and an opportunity to optimize the costs for creating a book.
But for now, Facebook remains one of the most effective channels for book promotion. Like Nikola, Radostina uses her experience in online marketing and favours it over traditional sales. “For me, distribution in retail networks is more about prestige. With direct and online sales, I save on the high trade discount I give to book shops,” she adds.
Yulia is not involved in the marketing of her books, but she does get to know her readers through her social initiatives – she is the founder and organizer of the charity initiative “Where Children Live, There Should Be Children’s Books” and the “Who Loves Tales” readings. At these events, her books are not being read, but children recognize her as “Yulka”. “It is high time parents understood once and for all that the love for reading will not come from the school. It is also learned at home,” Radostina adds.
All three authors – Nikola, Radostina and Yulia, can be found in person most often at a reading in a community centre or a book fair. Radostina says that many schools, libraries and active parents invite her to visit them, take classes and give lectures on creative writing.
For her and her family, publishing is still a “calling with elements of business.” Nikola also develops the gametales first with the idea of what he would like rather than seeing it as a product. And Yulia is a writer with an open eye to the world of children who is sometimes “too bold” for her publishers or “rather delicate and soft”, according to her young admirers. All three, Radostina, Yulia and Nikola, however, are needed by readers and business alike, because the path of their books changes the crossroads of book publishing.
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