Before I start this little rant, I need to make sure everybody knows a few things about how children’s publishing works. Here we go:
Illustrated publishing (including children’s publishing) runs on co-editions. A co-edition is where two or more editions of a book are printed in the same print run. The colour illustrations are printed separately from the black text: you might print 5000 copies with English text, then swap the black text plate and print French text onto the same colour illustrations, then swap out the black text again and print German, etc.
The more editions you can get onto the same print run, the cheaper it is for everybody. If you have sold multiple foreign rights for a title, you will aim to get your Swedish publisher and your French publisher and your Italian publisher to translate their texts to a particular deadline and supply you with black text pdfs in their various languages, so that they can join in with the next big English-language print run. They’ll bring the print costs for your English-language edition down, and also get their books at a price that works for them.
However, when you are printing co-editions in this way, you cannot make any changes to the colour illustrations themselves – you can only swap out the black text that is printed onto them. If you want to change the illustrations, you have to start a new print run (which means you have to pay start-up costs all over again, and you don’t get the lower prices associated with a large print run). Therefore, publishers aim to create illustrations that work for everybody, so that everybody can go on the same print run and the books are cheaper to produce. There are a few things you need to bear in mind if you want to do this. For example:
– If you’re publishing a recipe book with pictures, you need to make sure the ingredients you’re using are widely available in as many countries as possible. You might be surprised by the kinds of ingredients you think are common and other countries think are weird – I remember a cookery editor at some point telling me that garden cress was unheard of in a particular European country (I think it was Italy). If you would like to publish the book in places other than the UK, it makes sense not to use UK-specific ingredients.
– If you are publishing a book that involves children getting dressed (like this one), and you would like it to be available in North America as well as in Europe, the children need to start off wearing vests as well as underwear – the US market doesn’t like to see nipples in children’s books, at least according to the US distributors I have worked with.
– If you are publishing a book featuring anthropomorphic animals (like this one), none of the anthropomorphic animals should be pigs. If you decide you need a pig in the book then of course that’s fine, but it means that you won’t be able to sell the book in Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Dubai and a whole host of other places where you might be able to make money. I know this because I spent five years selling children’s books to foreign publishers in these markets, and they told me what they would buy and what they would not buy.
Go on, guess which one of those three examples people are getting upset about.
This whole ‘OUP bans pigs in books’ thing is a complete non-story in the publishing industry, and although I have already had my say in the National Post, I couldn’t help expanding on my thoughts a bit more here. Let’s be perfectly clear: this is not an example of self-censorship or ‘political correctness gone mad’, and nobody is saying that Jews and Muslims in the UK (or US, or Canada) are going to be horrified or unable to cope with seeing a pig or a sausage in their children’s books. It’s just that when OUP’s rights executives go to international book fairs to meet with foreign publishers, they will need to bring a catalogue full of books that publishers all over the world actually want to buy. And that means that if they can easily avoid cress, nipples and pigs, they should probably do so. It isn’t ‘political correctness gone mad’, it’s the free market at work – which I always thought was the exact opposite of ‘PC gone mad’, actually. I guess some people can’t handle it when the market is influenced by people who are not like them.