Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A book sale shouldn't earn less than a library loan: The case for a PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty on special sales

The royalty payment per book on a special sales deal is often lower than the PLR payment on a single UK library loan.

Motivated by the Society of Authors Special Sales Campaign, I’ve just turned down a special sales deal for one of my picture books. A special sales deal is a deal where a very low price per copy is paid for a large quantity of books. If you see a catalogue offering "10 books for £11.99", the seller will probably have done a special sales deal with the publisher for a few thousand copies of each book.

One of the concerns highlighted by the Society of Authors campaign is that the growing number of special sales deals are cannibalising standard book sales while the royalty payment an author receives for a special sales book may be as little as a tenth of a standard royalty payment.  It recently occurred to me that special sales deals will be cannibalising authors' PLR income as well, since people don’t borrow books that they already own. Publishers do not receive PLR payments, so they suffer no loss of income if special sales result in a reduction of library loans.

The Society of Authors campaign asks publishers to give authors the right of approval on special sales deals. My agent already makes such approvals a contract requirement and last week she passed on a request from a publisher for a special sales deal on one of my picture books.

Under the terms of the deal I would receive a royalty of 3p per book sold. The terms were not unusual and I have received as little as 1.8p per book on previous special sales deals.

As is often the case with such deals, the author payment per book was lower than the PLR payment I currently receive on a single UK library loan of the same book. The 2017 UK PLR rate is 7.82p per loan*. PLR on picture books is split equally between the author and the illustrator, so I receive a payment of 3.91p per library loan.

The special sales deal would provide a one-off payment, while PLR provides me with regular annual payments. If the deal was going to cannibalise some of my future PLR income, the 3p per sale payment the publisher was offering seemed too small in comparison with the 3.91p I currently received for each library loan.

Following this reasoning, I told my agent that I would only accept the deal if the payment I received per book sale was at least equivalent to the payment I'd receive for a single UK library loan. In this instance, that would mean my royalty increasing by at least 1.5%. The publisher declined to increase the royalty, so I turned down the deal.

The publisher will no doubt offer the same 3p per book deal to another picture book author or illustrator, who may well accept. But what if they didn’t accept? What if all PLR-registered authors and illustrators started using the PLR per loan rate as a minimum benchmark based on the reasoning above? If enough PLR-registered authors and illustrators commit to a PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty, special sales royalty payments would have to go up. A PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty is still a tiny amount per sale compared with a standard royalty, but it would be a small step in the right direction and would help to halt the current race to the bottom in special sales.

So, if you are a PLR-registered author or illustrator and you don't think it's reasonable to receive less for a book sale than for a library loan, ask for a PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty on any future special sales deals.

*A UK PLR rate of 8.2p per loan is currently proposed for 2018.

How do I work out if the payment I'd receive for a special sales deal is above or below the PLR benchmark?

The 2017 UK PLR rate is 7.82p per loan. The PLR rates for subsequent years will be shown at the top of that year's PLR statement.

If the PLR on the book is shared with another contributor (e.g. an illustrator or translator) you will need to multiply the per loan rate by the appropriate percentage to reflect your share (the percentage you receive for each book is listed on your PLR statement). The resulting figure is your PLR benchmark for that book.

Special sales terms are usually supplied by publishers as three figures:

  • the percentage royalty to be paid to you
  • the unit price that the publisher receives
  • the quantity of books covered by the deal. 

Multiply the percentage royalty by the unit price (you don't need the quantity) to get the payment per book.

If the book is part of a set or pack, the publisher may give you the unit price of the whole set instead of an individual book. In which case you will need to divide this figure by the number of books in the set to get the unit price for an individual book.

Example 1

You receive 50% of a picture book's PLR (with the other 50% going to the illustrator).
A publisher offers a 5% royalty on special sales copies they are supplying at a unit price of 50p per copy. 
2017 PLR rate = 7.82p per loan 
PLR benchmark = 50% of 7.82p = 0.5 x 7.82p = 3.91p 
Special sales payment per book =  5% of 50p = 0.05 x 50p = 2.5p 
2.5p is less than 3.91p, so this deal is below the PLR benchmark. 

Example 2

You receive 100% of a novel's PLR.
A publisher offers a 6% royalty on special sales copies that are supplied as part of a 7 book set at a unit price of £9.50 per set. 
2017 PLR rate = 7.82p per loan 
PLR benchmark = 100% of 7.82p = 7.82p 
Special sales payment per book =  6% of (950p ÷ 7)   = 0.06 x 135.71p = 8.14p 
8.14p is more than 7.82p, so this deal is above the PLR benchmark. 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

DIAMOND IN THE SNOW • New UK Paperback Edition

I'm delighted to announce that Walker Books have just published a new edition of Diamond in the Snow illustrated by Vanessa Cabban. This publication completes the set of new editions of all five of the Mole and Friends books, the other four having been published back in February and June of this year.

Diamond in the Snow was originally the third in the series, but the new edition was published last to suit its seasonal setting.

In this wintery tale, Mole finds something smooth and sparkly sticking out of the snow. "It must be a diamond!" he thinks. But as he rushes to show his new treasure to his friends, it keeps escaping his paws.

The theme of this story is similar to that of Bringing Down the Moon, in that Mole becomes enamoured with a beautiful object. However in this instance, Mole attains the object of his desire – only to lose it again!

The story celebrates the wonder of the natural world and recognises that something can be both ephemeral and precious.

Here's what two reviewers said about the original edition:
"Something of the awe and wonder - that silence, stillness and sheer beauty of a pristine landscape - is captured in this enchanting winter's tale for young listeners and readers."
Jill Bennett, WORDPOOL
"Recoding magical moments that occur in nature can lead to sappy text and overly idealized illustrations – this is NOT the case with Cabban’s illustrations or Emmett’s prose. Readers/listeners will experience the awe and joy of Mole’s first experience with snow just as if they had shared it with him."

And here's actor Tom Ward reading the book for the CBeebies Bedtime Stories in an appropriately icy location.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Night at the Museum • Dinosaurs of China sleepovers and previews of HOW THE BORKS BECAME at Wollaton Hall

I enjoyed playing a small part in two Dino Doze schools sleepovers at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham last week.

Wollaton Hall South Elevation

The Hall is a magnificent Elizabethan country house that is home to Nottingham City Council's Natural History Museum. The Museum is currently hosting a Dinosaurs of China exhibition featuring an impressive collection of Chinese fossils and dinosaur specimens. You can read The Guardian's review of the exhibition here.

The Museum invited two lucky local schools to spend the night sleeping in one of the exhibition's galleries. It was the first time the museum had organised a sleepover and I was as excited as the children to share in this experience. I'd enjoyed visiting the exhibition in the daytime, but it was a huge thrill to see the spot-lit dinosaurs looming out of the darkness in this historic setting. 

The towering Mamenchisaurus in the Great Hall is the tallest dinosaur
skeleton ever exhibited in the UK.

A Sinraptor standing guard by a doorway.

Many of the dinosaurs' skeletons, like this Protoceratops, cast some very dramatic shadows!

Each sleepover started with a torchlit tour of the exhibition by the museum's curator and resident dinosaur expert Dr Adam Smith. One of the themes of the exhibition is how some two-legged dinosaurs have evolved into modern-day birds and, after the tour, I gave the children a preview of How the Borks Became, a rhyming picture book I've created with Elys Dolan to explain natural selection, the process by which evolution takes place.

Before reading the book we played spot the difference with a couple of Elys's before and after Bork illustrations and the children tried to guess the environmental factors that had caused the Borks to evolve.

I'd sent an early proof of How the Borks Became to the museum in the hope that they'd be interested in hosting a launch event and they'd liked the book so much they asked me to preview it at the sleepovers. The book does not come out until next May, so I'm very grateful to publishers Otter-Barry Books for allowing me to preview it so far ahead of publication.

How the Borks Became explains how natural variation within a species enables plants and animals to evolve.

I'm pleased to report that the book was very well received by both the schools that took part in the sleepovers.

After this bedtime story the children eventually settled down to sleep under the watchful gaze of a Gigantoraptor.

I really enjoyed my nights with the dinosaurs. If you haven't seen the exhibition and can get to Nottingham (in the daytime!) before it closes at the end of October, I thoroughly recommend it!

runs at Wollaton Hall until 29 October 2017.
You can book tickets HERE.

How the Borks Became
by me and Elys Dolan will be published by
Otter-Barry Books in May 2018

Monday, 25 September 2017

FROM PAGE TO STAGE: Adapting Picture Books into Children's Theatre

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.

Some of the picture books currently treading the boards in the UK.
(Scroll down to the bottom of the page for links to each production)

If you're a regular children's theatregoer, you'll be be aware that a growing number of stage shows are adapted from picture books. I'm fortunate to have had several of my picture books adapted for the stage, most recently The Princess and the Pig, which finished a summer tour last week.

While some authors are content to sell the stage rights to their books and let the theatre company take it from there, others like to have some degree of involvement in the adaptation.  I'm one of the latter group; I always ask for script approval before an adaptation goes ahead. I usually have a few comments and suggestions on the early drafts and, once the script is approved, I'll continue to give feedback on the adaptation for as long as the theatre company wants me to, which can mean sitting in on rehearsals or reviewing marketing and publicity material.

Although picture books and theatre have many things in common (see Timothy Knapman's excellent PBD post here), they are very different media and what works well on the page, will not necessarily work well on the stage. Successfully translating a story from one to the other takes a great deal of skill across a wide range of disciplines: the list of creative contributors involved in a stage adaptation may include a scriptwriter, director, composer, lyricist, actors, musicians, set designer, costume designer, puppet maker, and lighting designer. However in smaller adaptations, individuals will usually take on two or three of these roles.

Here are five things that I've learnt from working with theatre companies on the stage adaptations of my picture books.

1: DO make a song and dance of it!

A common ingredient of most picture book adaptations is music and all of the shows that have been adapted from my picture books have included songs that were written for the adaptation. Songs are sometimes sung to a pre-recorded accompaniment, but it’s not unusual for the music to be played live as part of the performance.

In Belfield and Slater’s adaptation of Here Be Monsters all of Simon Slater’s score is performed live by a cast of actor-musicians. The original picture book is written in rhyme and Simon incorporated some of the couplets from the original text into his lyrics.

Poly Bernatene's illustration and Ben Tolley as Captain Cut-Throat, Eloise Secker as Sneaky McSqueaky, Lauren Storer as Quilly von Squint, Toby Vaughan as Stinky O'Bleary and Josh Sneesby as Findus Spew performing one of the songs from Belfield and Slater's adaptation of Here be Monsters. Photo: Ian Holder.

2: "Make 'em laugh!"

Children love to laugh and another common ingredient of many, if not most, picture book adaptations is comedy. In many adaptations the comedy stems from the original picture book, but it's often added in to a stage adaptation to provide moments of light relief in more serious stories.

The first of my picture books to be adapted for the stage was Bringing Down the Moon, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban. While the picture book has some gentle humour, I would not describe it as a comedy. Whereas Peaceful Lion's stage show was frequently laugh-out-loud funny – and all the more enjoyable for it!

Vanessa Cabban's illustration and Henry Wyrley-Birch as Mole and Victoria Andrews as Rabbit in Peaceful Lion's stage adaptation of Bringing Down the Moon. Photo: Pamela Raith.

3: "It's good to talk!"

Word count restrictions tend to limit the amount of dialogue that authors can include in a picture book. The same restrictions do not apply to stage adaptations and scriptwriters will usually take advantage of this, adding extra dialogue to flesh out characters and embellish the plot.

The Santa Trap's beastly anti-hero Bradley Bartleby spends most of the original picture book alone in his booby-trapped mansion. Consequently the book has little dialogue and most the story is told in narration (along with Poly Bernatene's wonderfully atmospheric illustrations). Unfortunately a children's show in which so little is said by the characters is unlikely to hold the interest of a young audience. Belfield and Slater's stage adaptation solved this problem by expanding the roles of the three secretaries who only appear on one page of the picture book. In the stage version, the three secretaries become Bradley's reluctant stooges, giving him someone to talk to (or in Bradley's case - shout at) and interact with throughout the play.

Poly Bernatene's illustration and Toby Vaughan as Bradley, with  Eloise Secker, Lauren Storer and Josh Sneesby as secretaries Scribe, Scribble and Smythe in Belfield and Slater's adaptation of The Santa Trap.

4: Sometimes story elements have to be added in …

Entirely original story elements such as new characters, settings, scenes and subplots are sometimes needed for a stage adaptation.

The original picture book cast of Ruby Flew Too! were joined by two new birdwatcher characters who acted as narrators in Topsy Turvy Theatre's stage adaptation of the book.

Rebecca Harry's illustration and Claire Alizon Hills and Rachel Priest as the birdwatchers with Jessica Kay's puppets in Topsy Turvy Theatre's adaptation of Ruby Flew Too! 

5: … and sometimes story elements have to be taken out.

The writer's maxim "kill your darlings" applies to adaptations as much as original stories and sometimes much-loved elements of the original picture book need to be removed completely for the story to work well on stage.

A popular element of the original picture book version of The Princess and The Pig is the way characters hold up books they've read to back up their (usually misguided) theories about what is happening in the story. The refrain "It's the sort of thing that happens all the while in books," is repeated throughout the text, culminating in the final punchline, "Unfortunately for the prince, it's not what happen's in this particular book". The first draft I was shown of Folksy Theatre's script for their stage adaptation of the book retained this refrain and punchline, but it didn't feel quite right for the stage show. Much of the show's audience would be unaware that the story they were watching was adapted from a book, so I felt it would make more sense if the final punchline was altered to, "it's not what happens in this particular story." And once "story" was used in the punchline it it had to be swapped in throughout the rest of the play as well. Folksy's scriptwriter and director Lee Hardwicke agreed and cut the "book" references from her script.

One of Poly Bernatene's illustrations and Emma Kemp as the Queen, Christopher Pegler-Lambert as the King and Em Watkins operating Sarah Lewis's pig puppet in Folksy Theatre's adaptation of The Princess and the Pig.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite for some picture book performances. Here's a selection of stage shows adapted from picture books that are currently showing in the UK.

UK Stage Adaptations of Picture Books

Showing in September 2018

by Clare Helen Welsh and Sophia Touliatou
adapted by Entertainingly Different
by Anna Kemp and Sarah Oglivie
adapted by Little Blue Monster Productions
by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
adapted by Tall Stories
by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
adapted by Tall Stories
by Lynley Dodd
adapted by Nonsense Room
by Eileen Browne
adapted by Little Angel Theatre
by Emma Dodd
adapted by Little Angel Theatre
by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright
adapted by Nick Brooke
by Joyce Dunbar and Polly Dunbar
adapted by Long Nose Puppets
by Nick Sharrat
adapted by Nonsense Room
by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
adapted by Scamp Theatre
by Judith Kerr
adapted by David Wood
by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks
adapted by Kenny Wax
by Tim Hopgood
adapted by Little Angel Theatre

by Dianne Hofmeyr and Jane Ray
adapted by Little Angel Theatre

Monday, 11 September 2017

Scoop's Ups and Downs – New First Reader Picture Book

I have a new first reader picture book coming out today! Scoop's Ups and Downs is illustrated by Alex Paterson and published as part of Oxford University Press's Story Sparks series.

The story is a modern-day re-telling of The Fox and the Well Bucket, one of the Brer Rabbit stories from American Folklore.

An A B Frost illustration of the original Brer Rabbit story.

I'd read some of Enid Blyton's re-tellings of the Brer Rabbit stories as a child and fallen in love with the mischievous character, who is believed to have been based on Anansi, a trickster from African folklore. I had previously pitched adaptations of The Fox and the Well Bucket story to a couple of publishers using the original Rabbit and Fox characters, but they had not been accepted.

I first came across Brer Rabbit in this book
of Enid Blyton's re-tellings of the stories

When I was invited to submit ideas for Oxford University Press's new Story Sparks series, I sent them another adaptation of the story. Their commissioning editor liked the adaptation but asked if I could re-cast the story and re-set it in a modern urban setting as she already had a Story Sparks story featuring a fox and OUP published a separate series of traditional tales. I said I'd give it a go, which is why the story is now about two cats on a building site!

One of Alex Paterson's spreads for our modern-day re-telling of the story.

The text of Scoop's Ups and Downs is far simpler than most of my picture books and it's the first book I've done in a phonic format. I've written quite a few books for reading schemes like OUP's Treetops Series and I'm used to working with a word count and language levelling, but the additional restriction imposed by a phonic brief presented a new challenge to me.

My first draft of the story began with the words:

"It was a sunny day on the building site."

However all of the words shown in red are incompatible with the phonic level the book was intended for, which is why the first line now reads:

"It was a hot morning in the town."

I'm grateful to freelance editor (and author) Teresa Heapy for patiently explaining the ins and outs of writing for phonics and for helping me to knock the text into shape.

The book is illustrated by Alex Paterson, who had previously illustrated The Greatest Scientist of All Time, a short play script included in Skyboy and other Stupendous Science Stories. Alex has a great knack for comic characters and I'm delighted with the way he has brought this simple story to life.

Pail riders. Scoop and Scrap swap places.

You can order a copy of Scoop's Ups and Downs using the sales links below.

Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

Thursday, 10 August 2017


My wife and I took a trip out to the beautiful Burrows Gardens in the Derbyshire Dales yesterday to see Folksy Theatre's open-air stage show of The Princess and the Pig, a charming adaptation of my picture book illustrated by Poly Bernatene.

The show tells the story of how a baby princess and a farmer's piglet are accidentally switched at birth and raised in each others places. In Folksy's stage version, actors Em Watkins, Christopher Pegler-Lambert and Emma Kemp double up to play both royal and rural households and use puppets to portray the porcine princess and baby Pigmella.

It's a lovely show, filled with toe-tapping songs and comic moments and a touch of pathos; the scene were farmer and his family discover the mix-up and decide that their adopted daughter must leave them to return to the palace was genuinely moving.

The show is written and directed by Lee Hardwicke, with songs by Gary Cameron and puppets by Sarah Lewis.

The farmer takes a nap in the shade of the castle, unaware that a baby girl is about to drop into his life.

The queen, about to discover that her daughter has been swapped for a piglet.

The grown-up Princess Priscilla was also played by a puppet.

It was lovely to meet actors Em Watkins, Emma Kemp and Christopher Pegler-Lambert.

The show will be touring open air venues in the UK until September 2017. You can see a full list of venues and tour dates by clicking on the link below.

And you can find out more about the book on this page of my web site.

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