Monday 15 February 2016

#CoverKidsBooks – Booksellers

The rise of children's literature is as visible in bookshops as it is invisible in mainstream media.  Booksellers are very aware of the boom in children's books that has given them over 30% of the UK market, but just 3% of review space.  

Booksellers are also well placed to assess the impact coverage has on sales.  So #CoverKidsBooks talked to four leading children's booksellers: Laura Main Ellen of Waterstones Picadilly, Jo Anne Cocadiz of Foyles Charing Cross Road, Tereze Brikmane of Tales On Moon Lane, and Cat Anderson of The Edinburgh Bookshop. 

How has the world of children's books changed in the course of your career?

Jo Anne Cocadiz: There's so much more published now.  I think you have to be much more knowledgeable about kids' books and stay up to date if you can.  It helps to be able to recommend stuff outside of the bestsellers.

Laura Main Ellen: There's a huge increase in the number of titles that are available, and in quality as well.  You have to deal with so much more.  But it's nice, because it means there is a book for every single person.  You don't just recommend the same thing to lots of people because that's all there is.  There's something for everybody.

Tereze Brikmane: A big change has been kids' books becoming acceptable for adults to read.  So with Harry Potter, we saw those funny pictures where people were hiding books in their newspapers, and then they did adult covers.  Then there were the Twilight Moms: a whole generation of women in their 40s and 50s who were reading the books and absolutely loving them.  We have a big crossover for Patrick Ness; a lot of parents read his books themselves.  And they treat it seriously, as part of their literary exploration.  I think that's a huge, huge change, and it's still ongoing.

Cat Anderson: The other big change is the use of social media.  At Borders, I set up a blog… then Facebook and Twitter came along, Instagram, BookTubing, and now frankly I can't keep up with all the online options for learning about books!  But I worry that there are HUGE assumptions that everyone is online now and there is no need for other formats of book reviewing.  The one thing that has stayed constant is the reporting by children and adults who shop with us that they don't get their reading ideas online.  So I am beginning to feel we need more paper-based reviews back in newspapers and magazines, and on TV.

Do newspaper book reviews have an impact on your customers?

LME: Customers definitely seek out reviews.  People come in and they give you that bit of paper.  You know, if you bookmark something on a computer, it's not quite the same as having that newspaper and going, "That looks interesting!"  Rip – it's in your wallet next time you're in a bookshop.  So people come in with those sheets: teachers, librarians, parents, grandparents; everyone, really.  It must have happened to me hundreds of times, people coming in with a physical newspaper.

TB: What we see, especially before Christmas, is a lot of parents and grandparents come in with their Times supplement, or whatever supplement, and say: "I've read about these five books, do you have any of them?'  People definitely pay attention to those, because the books are divided by age, so if you have an eight year old, you know which page to look at.  People like that, and they keep it for quite a while, actually.  We've had people come in with last year's supplement, or the year before!

CA: The majority of my customers, when they come in knowing what they want, do so because they've read about it in a newspaper or a magazine.  Many come in clutching the snipped-out clip, or with a photo of the passage on their phone.  So it gets them into the shop.  The minute a book or author is covered by a trusted source, my sales go up.  It really is that simple.  From a business point of view, it makes sales.  I think if we could develop a TV programme and regular newspaper and magazine coverage by trusted voices, the impact on book sales would be huge. 

"We need more paper-based reviews"

Are book reviews useful to booksellers themselves?

JAC: Personally, Philip Ardagh's reviews in The Guardian always make me want to read the books he recommends.

TB: There are certain reviewers that we like and follow, and you will pick up something on their recommendation, because you found their previous reviews truthful and helpful.  There's not so much on children's books out there, so when we read reviews, we cut them out and bring them to the shop.

CA: We cannot possibly read everything, so reviews help us guide customers.  I'd love to spend Sunday mornings poring over papers and magazines about children's books, or watching children's book shows on catch-up TV, but they don't exist.

Our research shows that children's books typically get 3% of newspaper review space, despite accounting for over 30% of sales.  How do you feel about that?

LME: We expanded our department by a third last March, because it's doing well and it's very important.  The sales are increasing.  Therefore shouldn't it have more coverage?  That's generally how things work.  If it's going to reflect the sales, it should be more.  It doesn't seem fair.

JAC: I feel like it's kind of reflected in the literary community, at least in the UK, that children's fiction is still seen as a lesser fiction.  That's just how they see kids' books.  I've noticed when I go outside the children's publishing world, unless people have kids who are passionate readers, or unless people have kept up with children's books in the last ten years, they don't realise!  They just think about it as something small; something you do when you're younger and turn away from.  I really don't know why.

CA: In our bookshop, children's books are 50% of our stock and 50% of our sales.  Yet every newspaper or magazine I read gives me loads of adult reviews and adult book news.  Children's books should be everywhere.  Something so vital to developing lifelong skills, health and wellbeing should be getting 50% of review space.

"Children's books should be everywhere"

How do you feel about the frequency of children's books coverage?

LME: I think it's a shame that a lot of them you tend to see are holiday features.  It's like, "You do realise that kids read all year round, and not just during the holidays?  It's not just for Christmas, it's for life!  It's a real thing!"  It is a bit strange.  It's not like they presume that adults only read war biographies at Christmas.  They still review them throughout the year.

TB: The Times promised to do a children's book of the week, but there have been quite a few times when they haven't actually done one.  I know people have tweeted them and asked why it hasn't happened.

JAC: There's so little space given to children's books.  The Guardian only review one kids' book, if you're lucky, every week. 

"Kids read all year round, not just during the holidays"

When all children's books have to fit into a single review space – from the youngest picture book to the oldest YA; fiction, non-fiction and poetry – most of them get left out.

LME: You wouldn't do it with adult books, would you?  You wouldn't say, "Oh, we'll just put fiction, biography and academic reviews into one piece."  You wouldn't, would you?!  You don't lump them all into one category.

TB: Most of the reviews I remember seeing are MG or YA, and they've always been fiction.  I don't remember seeing non-fiction.  But Big Picture Press and Flying Eye Books were ground-breaking in making books that were gorgeous and accessible and something kids wanted to have.  They tapped into something that wasn't there previously.  I think that in itself would warrant that you should write about them. 

JAC: It would be nice to do a weekly or even monthly roundup of older fiction, younger fiction, picture books, nursery...  Because actually right now there's a big boom in board books and novelty books.  How do you promote a novel over a picture book when they're so different, and for a completely different audience?  And children's graphic novels are doing really well right now.  Where do you fit that in?  It would be good to have a page.  That would be really nice; always a page.

"From a bookseller point of view, it does make a huge difference"

What else would you like to see mainstream media doing to #CoverKidsBooks?

JAC: More dialogue between authors and illustrators, because it's really interesting when you get their point of view.  Shared experiences, or contrasts with different experiences.  I like that at children's events; it's something that would be nice to see.  I enjoy authors interviewing other authors, asking questions you wouldn't think of.

CA: I'd like to see newspapers give a much bigger percentage of space to children's book reviews, and not just the so-called 'literary or worthy' ones but the ones children actually get passionate about, collect, and make groans like they are dying when they have to wait for the next in the series.  I also think the fact that BookTubing has taken off so successfully, particularly for YA, suggests that we need to be talking more about books on TV.

LME: I think it's incredibly important that you've got more coverage there.  If they do a children's feature four times a year, people can only come in four times a year with those lists.  But if they're doing them ten times a year – that gives people ten opportunities.  From a bookseller point of view, it does make a huge difference.

#CoverKidsBooks – The Facts
#CoverKidsBooks – Librarians
#CoverKidsBooks – Teachers
#CoverKidsBooks – Parents
#CoverKidsBooks – Experts
#CoverKidsBooks – Writers & Illustrators
#CoverKidsBooks – New Research, One Year On

#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks!


  1. Reading this makes me even more sad that the Independent is folding, especially as it's one of the few papers providing reviews for children's books right now. Makes the #CoverKidsBooks campaign even more important!

  2. We need to nurture Children's literature, because Children are the readers of tomorrow. Besides, plenty of adults read "Children's" books (Harry Potter, anyone?).

  3. Love Tereze's comment about adult readers treating children's books as part of their literary exploration. Children's books are definitely not a lesser form of fiction. CS Lewis said that authors should choose to write so-called children's books when it is the best art-form for what they want to say.

  4. I'm really, really enjoying my month of reading and reviewing children's books, inspired by SF Said and the campaign. You can see the books I've reviewed so far here: I've included children's non fiction in my reading list as this is an area that gets even less review coverage than children's fiction!