Friday, 23 November 2012

Interview #13: Steve Bicknell, Maverick Books

Here's another first for Bookengine. I'm shifting the emphasis temporarily away from writers to the people who make their dreams come true. The publishers.

And I'm thrilled to tell you about my chat with one of the most exciting independent publishers around, Steve Bicknell, managing director of Maverick Books.

Boasting such classy picture book authors as Julie Fulton and Giles Paley-Phillips, Maverick is set to unveil further exciting talent in the near future.

Steve is passionate to the point of being evangelical about books and publishing.

Maverick title: Fin and Zoa's Dog Detectives
"I can't imagine a child growing up and not having books. A children's 32-page picture book is still only £6.99. It isn't much past the price of a pint.

"They make marvellous presents - you can put a lovely message in the front. A teenager later will pick that up and read it. That reaffirms that the family is important."

I couldn't agree more.

Yet publishing is a relatively recent venture for the energetic Mr Bicknell.

He was a professional photographer for 28 years. He was very successful and for the last few years was doing global commissions working for very large companies, doing photographs for their annual reports.

“But the warning signs were there that big commissions with an open cheque book were under pressure.

“So I decided in 2004 to move into publishing. I formed Icarus and published photographic calendars. I was trying to get into the high street market."

His breakthrough came when he published one featuring a waterskiing Westie dog. "It was an instant hit," he said.

Other ideas were brewing.

“I split the company and formed Maverick. I am a creative and visual person and I was drawn to children’s picture books, working with an illustrator.

"Our first books were very visual but weak editorially.

Maverick title: Izy Penguin's quirky Grandma Bendy
"Three years ago I took on an editor Kimara Nye and with her we filled the list. She assesses all the submissions. She presents likely texts to me and my wife, Karen. It’s a very collaborative process.

"We have 14 first-time authors now. This is the heart of Maverick, championing new talent. We would like to provide the next generation of children’s authors.

"We live in a very fast-moving world and the basic family structure has been under pressure for some time. A lot of parents have to work so contact with their children is not as much as it once was. Bringing up children is not an easy process because of peer pressure and distractions. And the temptation is to plonk children in front of the television. I don’t blame parents but it isn’t a great thing. It’s not a positive thing to do. Children are influenced by their parents.

"The process of reading a story to a child is fundamentally key in a child’s upbringing.

"When we publish a book I have a mental picture of a mum or dad sitting on the side of the bed and the child propped up in bed listening to one of our books.

"I love it when an adult says Sophie’s favourite book is so and so, and it's one of our books."

Steve's ambition is to turn his authors into must-have children's authors.

"I want them to collect our authors' books the way people collect Julia Donaldson. There are people who will buy every new book that she does. Oliver Jeffers is another one.

"I feel Julie could eventually be that appreciated."

He remembers how Julie Fulton was spotted by Kim.

"Kim said, Steve there’s an interesting text for you to read, so I sat down and read it. It was so funny and I thought I think I can publish this. But I thought Mrs MacCready would leave people rather offended. And I didn’t want to be shot at so early in Maverick’s career.

"But I believe in Julie so much. I think we can build up a series around Hamilton Shady (the town where Julie's stories are set)." (Check out my interview with Julie here.)

Steve says it isn't easy competing with major, established publishing houses.

“Children’s book publishing is so competitive these days. There is a huge legacy of classic children’s books stocked by major retailers. Books like The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Sales are all about shelf space.

"Because there is such a lot of competition, we have to stand on our own two feet if we are to be as good as Walker Books, Random House and Macmillan."

One of the best ways to get the Maverick brand known is for the authors to get out and meet their readers.

Giles Paley-Phillips' The Fearsome Beastie
Steve says both Julie and Giles Paley-Phillips are great performers who bring their work to life. Maverick really looks after its writers - both Julie and Giles told me of the welcoming and encouraging culture there. And having spoken to Steve, it's clear that this ethos cascades down from him.

"We prefer to give a good royalty to the writer. We find the illustrator and do a 'buy-out' of the artwork so that Maverick owns the illustrations. Kim draws up a shortlist of illustrators she feels would be suitable to the text and Karen and I choose two or three illustrators to do a test. They do the same double-page spread and you can see whether an illustrator has caught the flavour of the book."

Steve is excited about the future. As well as new titles, the company has branched out into e-books on the Nook. And on the day we chatted on the phone, Steve had met with a television scriptwriter about a possible future project.

One forthcoming title that interests me is Rachel Lyon's The Cautionary Tale of the Childe of Hale, which tells the true story of gentle giant John Middleton (1578-1623).

Rachel Lyon at the cottage of the Childe of Hale

Middleton lived not far from where I live in Cheshire and his cottage still stands in the village of Hale. Steve says of Rachel's rhyming story about the giant: "It's going to be absolutely amazing. We want to give it an interesting old look without falling into cliches."

A double page spread from The Childe of Hale

I thanked Steve, as we wrapped up our interview, and it struck me how approachable and welcoming he was. That's truly the hallmark of Maverick.

* Thanks to Steve for chatting and to Maverick for helping to promote Bookengine.

You can visit their website here. Their blog is here. To take a look at Maverick's range of books and to buy them, click here. A budding author? Click here to find out how you can send your picture book ideas to Maverick.

1 comment:

  1. Aww, this post has made me nostalgic for those days when I used to read to my children. I love the look of Grandma Bendy and The Fearsome Beastie... The world needs high quality picture books. Go Maverick!