It’s Dyslexia Awareness Week in Scotland and what better way to celebrate than with Barrington Stoke – the publisher committed to making every child a reader! Our unfailingly bookish Sarah Broadley has been chatting to them about their new audiobook range, and their mission to make books accessible to ALL readers. Indeed, Barrington Stoke books undergo a highly specialised editorial process that goes beyond that of other publishers to meet the needs of their readers. We love their commitment to supplying those who find reading a challenge books they can be proud of.
- Barrington Stoke have been publishing accessible books for children for over twenty years. Can you tell us a little about how it came about and the people and ethos behind its creation?
The company was founded by a mother-and-daughter-in-law team, who brought together their specialisms in dyslexia and children’s publishing to create books specifically aimed at struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers. Barrington Stoke’s mission was to provide quality stories by the very best authors for those children who were who were being failed by traditional publishers. And with the help and guidance of various experts in dyslexia, opthamology and design, and after much road-testing by young focus groups, the first Barrington Stoke books were published in May 1998. Today, the principles and ethos behind the company remain the same – we work with the very best authors and illustrators and ensure that our books are as accessible as possible so that all readers can enjoy them.
- Your publications range from picture books to young adult novels. With incredible creatives behind each book, how does the process work – from initial contact with the writer through to ensuring the finished product meets the needs of dyslexic readers and beyond?
Unlike many other publishing houses, we don’t accept unsolicited approaches from authors. This is because our accessible remit is quite specialised and our editorial process focuses on the particular needs of our readers. It wouldn’t be fair to pretend that we have the capacity to nurture a new author at the same time. In addition, well-established author names help us engage those readers who might feel a sense of stigma attached to their reading difficulties.
So our commissioning process usually involves a direct approach to the author we’d like to write for us, with the only limit we put on them being word count. Our books are shorter than mainstream equivalents, but other than that we just want our authors to write the fantastic stories they’re known for. Then we have a twofold editorial process. First, our editor will work with the author on plot, pacing, character, etc – the structural edit that happens with any publisher. Then the manuscript will undergo a second, specialised process that we call the ‘language edit’, where an expert goes through line by line, working to identify vocabulary or sentence structure that might trip up an unconfident reader. We work closely and collaboratively with our authors over these changes so that we can offer the most easily accessible story while still maintaining the author’s voice.
Then our design and production team go about commissioning illustrators, creating beautiful book covers and laying out the text in our super-readable format, which includes our own font. Meanwhile, our marketing team are working to ensure that our agents, sales reps and various customers know about each book so that on publication we can send them out into the world with the best chance of landing in the hands we need them to.
- Do you use in-house illustrators for your publications or do you have an illustrator in mind as you consider each project?
We commission external artists for each publication on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes we’ll have an illustrator in mind from the outset; on other occasions we’ll ask illustration agencies for suggestions based on the brief or trawl the internet and/or our illustration portfolios for inspiration!
- From historical novels such as Catherine Johnson’s ‘Journey Back to Freedom’ and Elizabeth Wein’s ‘Firebird’, is there a process/discussion whereby a theme or moment in time is considered for the next publication?
Often the author will come to us with the idea or moment they want to write about – we don’t like to be too restrictive as we’ve commissioned the author for their voice and their ideas, so it’s important that these shine through for our readers. We might sometimes suggest a general genre or topic that we’d love to see from a particular author, or ask if they would be interested in exploring a specific historical period, but it’s rare and only ever a suggestion. Usually we’re just thrilled to see what our authors are keen to write about! The short-story format requires something a bit different than their usual longer-length fiction, so writing for Barrington Stoke offers authors an opportunity to try something they wouldn’t usually consider or allows them to explore an idea that only works in a shorter form.
- What advice would you give to schools and libraries who are keen for your books to get into the hands of pupils and readers?
Firstly, thanks to those educators and librarians for being brilliant champions of our books! We wouldn’t be able to reach many of our readers without their input. We hear so often about the different ways that classrooms, libraries and bookshops use and shelve our books. Some find that a specific ‘quick reads’ section is best to allow easy browsing of all of our books at once; others like to shelve our titles alongside the rest of an authors’ work so that fans can discover another story by an author they love, as our books are also simply just great stories by great storytellers. Whatever works best for the space you have available! We have lots of free resources including discussion guides, activity sheets, writing prompts, posters and more available to download from our website: www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/teachers-and-librarians
One other great resource that we offer is our Young Editors project, where readers can access select pre-published manuscripts and give us their feedback. There are also opportunities to try their hand at writing a cover blurb or designing a cover concept. And there’s a certificate to download after completion to thank them for taking part! We hear time and again that working on this project has switched on even the most disengaged reader, so it’s certainly something we would recommend all schools and libraries check out. Find out more and register here: www.youngeditors.barringtonstoke.co.uk
- Can you tell us a little about the new audio book range that was launched earlier this month and how our readers can access them?
We are so delighted to have launched our own audio range! It’s something we have been looking to provide for a long time and we’re thrilled to now be able to offer these audiobooks to our readers. We’re big fans of audio and believe that accessing stories in any form counts as reading and helps towards building a young person’s confidence and passion for books. It’s been a fascinating process working with our agent to source narrators, listening to recordings and working to get the finished content out to as many places as we can. Our first few titles can be found on all the usual platforms including Audible, Kobo, Apple, and Overdrive for libraries, as well as available for direct purchase from our own website. We’re hoping to add more soon!