Changing Platforms: Commissioner Conversations with Publishers – Report

Posted on: Saturday 04 July 2015 4:09pm by Simon Bor


  • Reading agents’ Tweets is a good way of identifying the right agent for your book.
  • A ‘packager’ is the publishing equivalent of a TV production company.
  • Marketing departments matter. If publishers don’t make money, they close.
  • Late TV scheduling decisions get in the way of many deals.
  • TV/book tie-ins are usually part of a much larger licensing programme.


John Lomas-Bulivant of Dynamite talked to three executives from the world of publishing and asked them the big question; can you pitch an idea to a publisher without an author attached?

“It’s more traditional to receive a manuscript,” said Richard Haines from Penguin Random House. (The publisher has TV tie-in licences from ‘Peppa Pig’ to ‘Doctor Who’).

Karen Ball, editor at Little Brown Books expressed concern about a broadcaster or publisher coming to them with an idea and a separate author on board. “If it’s a strong idea but it’s the wrong author, there could be a diplomatic conversation to be had.”

Claire Wilson, is head of children’s at the leading literary agent, Rogers, Coleridge and White. They represent ‘Atonement’ and ‘Good Night Mr Tom’ and author (and previous CMF Keynote), Frank Cottrell Boyce. She thought the concept of a writer for hire was not a new one. As an agent, she would either be representing the writer, to get the best terms for them, or the owner of the idea, but not both. “In a way, by representing a content owner, we would just be flipping the way we work.”

John wondered why every TV series didn’t have a book deal attached to them. Karen thought that practical things like long lead times for publishers and unknown scheduling from broadcasters got in the way of many deals and thought that the book reading experience was much more immersive. Richard chipped in and said that not everything could, or should, translate. Not all books become TV shows, not all TV shows become toys. TV tie in books are normally part of a much larger licensing programme.

In answer to an audience question, Claire stated that it was standard, across the industry, for agents to take 15%. These days, looking for the right agent for your book is probably best online. Most young agents are on Twitter and a good way to research their interests was to look at their Tweets.

Karen thought that a property that came through an agent was much more likely to be taken seriously, as it will have gone through a filtering process. Getting to an editor such as her is just the beginning of a process that leads towards presenting it at an acquisition meeting; then it’s about the publisher and agent agreeing on commercial terms. Richard added that every publisher had a similar sort of process and that the opinion of the marketing department was crucial. “We are here to make money, if we stop making money, we close down.”

Beast Quest is a series of books that was developed by Working Partners – not a publisher but a packager. A packager develops and retains IP and places the property with publishers worldwide. A creative team crafts the property through brainstorm meetings and then commissions authors. John thought that this model was nearer to the role of a production company in TV, but wondered if the publishing world was snooty about this was of creating product. Karen thought many people were snooty about packagers, but they were wrong.

For full details of the speakers check the Session Guide.

Event Reports

Simon Bor

About the author

Simon Bor


I studied Animation at Farnham, and, more recently, I have been awarded an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. I set up Honeycomb Animation with Sara Bor and have been involved in children’s television since the mid eighties. As a writer, I have co written and created several shows… Read more