It’s 8am on Monday, the dog needs walking and it looks like I may not manage my early morning run, again. But at least I won’t be stuck in traffic. All you need to be a publisher is a laptop, a desk, and somewhere to put lots and lots of boxes of books. Plus wonderful authors and a dedicated team of amazing staff, of course.

Monday afternoon is staff meeting time. It always was, even in the before times when we met on Skype owing to our staff being spread all across Wales and beyond. (Our wonderful designer and illustrator Becka Moor lives in the beyond, in Manchester.) We have an office in Cardiff, but many of us still work from home a lot of the time and most days still involve Zoom or Teams.

If I’m lucky I might have time to make my to-do list for the week by Wednesday. But right now, I need to write the agenda for the Monday meeting, which I always promise will be short, and sometimes it is. We’ll run through the production schedule for the year and see where we are on some ten or twelve forthcoming books, picking up on any pinch points or possible delays. There’s a lot on, from 7-9 year old humour, to a clever 15+ young adult novel which might make waves… When Janet Thomas and I set up Firefly nearly ten years ago, we were sure we would never do more than eight books a year. But when the manuscripts flutter in, promising all sorts of strange and exciting adventures, it’s so easy to be tempted … we are a bit like children in a sweet shop. Or, hopefully, a bookshop.

Back to the agenda: we’ll also look at how the latest marketing is going; how last week’s book launch, or librarians’ conference went (some of these actually In Real Life!); whether we’re best to spend our money on bookmarks or badges next time, or something completely different – maybe a life-sized cut-out of a cuddly Monster Max, or some window clings of wildlife scenes for The Song That Sings Us (can you get biodegradable window clings we ask ourselves?); whether the metadata stretches far enough into the future and whether our catalogues and advance information are reaching the right people out there in the bookshop world. Then there are always a few other projects to talk about: our short story competition; author videos; YALC; our plans for Empathy Day…

Agenda emailed off I half close my eyes and risk a squint at my inbox. I’m hoping everyone will have had a happy weekend out in the sunshine – some mornings the inbox is actually scary but today it’s not too bad. Most urgent is the one from the printers that’s come in around dawn (do printers sleep?) asking me to check the pdf proofs for the next book. As the most final of final checks before pressing the button, this is the moment I really don’t want to see any glaring mistakes, but I always have to look. I don’t read in detail, that’s been done several times already. But I will be checking the set-up has gone right at the printers, that the cover layers are all there, that the page numbers follow in order (they pretty much always do in this digital age but you never know), that I am looking at the right version of the text, and that the title is spelt right. Never forget it can be the biggest, most obvious words that hide typos in plain sight!

During the morning there are emails from agents, speculative or at various stages of possible acquisition or contract negotiation; emails from staff, authors, would-be authors, reps, the accountants, our rights agent, the typesetter, cover illustrators, book clubs, the lovely reading promotion agencies, fellow Welsh publishers, and many more – just a corner of the near and far-flung network of amazing people who help make the children’s book world the thrilling, exhausting but weird and wonderful place it is!

The best email by far suddenly arrived. A parent has taken the trouble to track down my email address and send pictures of her seven-year-old son engrossed in Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton, after watching Alex live on stage at the Hay Festival, and getting his book signed afterwards. There’s something about the way the little boy has gone to sleep with the book on his pillow that makes you think he won’t forget these poems and this author in a hurry. And that’s what it’s all about.

Before I know it, the dog tells me it’s lunchtime. He doesn’t have lunch but he’s still keen for me to have mine, on the off chance some of it comes his way. I break and have a think about some of the most exciting, or the most thorny matters arising from the morning. It appears we really are in with a shout at the beautifully written middle-grade adventure we all fell in love with at our submissions meeting. So what is the next step, and can we afford to take it? It’s probably time to meet the author, which is always exciting but also important that we get it right. More imminently, do we have the right material for the sales conference tomorrow, or do we need to redo the AIs…

Then it’s onto zoom to talk it all through with my colleagues, who never cease to amaze me with their inventiveness, expertise and sheer dogged hard work. (The dog, meanwhile, is fast asleep in the chair, which is lucky, because he has been known to try to join in.) The best moment is when the designer shares the screen with a new cover rough that we’ve been imagining and fretting over for months. A shared intake of breath is always a good sign (sometimes it’s more of a thoughtful pause). This one’s amazing, the illustrator has read the brief and so much more: look at the dragon, the perspective… We probably need to tweak the tail, possibly the main character should look a bit older, then we’ll share with the author, agent and reps for their opinions. But there is so much flare and talent here we know we’re onto a winner here which is a huge relief – it doesn’t always work out this way at first pass!!

Just as we’re finishing there’s a knock at the door. It’s the courier with several heavy boxes of our forthcoming new title for 7-9s. Always a nerve-wracking moment. I steel myself and then pull open the nearest box. The colour is good, the title is spelt right – a quick flick through – the pages are the right way up and the illustrations look great. Phew! I stop there; that’s enough to take in for now. I put it on the table and admire it … then I lift a few of the boxes into the car and drive them up to the office to share with staff there. They love them too, and there’s just time to get the author copies in the post before it goes!

Back home it’s almost tea-time. I start to think about making the to-do list – maybe tomorrow. What I’d love to do right now is have a cup of tea, open the submissions pile and, well, read a book!!

Firefly Press, June 22

  • Penny Thomas