Sarah Odedina Interview

Sarah Odedina

Publisher, Oneworld / Rock the Boat

Give us a brief overview of your highly esteemed career in publishing to date. What have been some of the most significant milestones?

I have been fortunate and have had a wonderful career in children's books over more than two decades. I have worked on the selling side (international rights) and editorial and I have a keen interest in books that people want to read. Books that people get pleasure from and books that enhance people's lives. I think that the most important points in my career have involved times in which my passion for a good story have been shared by readers. WITCH CHILD by Celia Rees was a book that I loved and knew was special and outstanding. It was a change of direction at that time for Celia and went on to launch a whole new strand to her career. I was very proud to be part of the journey of that book to name just one out of many.

You launched Hot Key Books in 2011 after leaving your position as group editor-in-chief for children’s books at Bloomsbury, where you oversaw J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Tell us about some of the biggest lessons you learned during this exciting period.

I think the most important thing I have learned in my working career is how incredibly important it is to have good relationships. Good relationships with colleagues and authors and illustrators and of course with booksellers and international publishers. Publishing is a profession in which we have to trust one another, and take one another's recommendations very seriously and without good relationships to lean on it can be tough. I have been incredibly lucky and have worked with some of the most talented people in the business and the biggest lesson without a doubt is recognising that without those people I would have no career.

As Publisher of Oneworld’s children’s and YA imprint Rock the Boat, what is your vision for the imprint and how many titles will you look to publish per year?

We will publish about 12 books a year. Each very much picked because of the authors voice. We are looking for diverse books by a wide range of authors. The children's list will very much mirror the values implicit to the adult list and I think that our originality and ability to publish books that others might be a bit shy of will help make a mark. Our mission will be to publish each book in a stand out original way. Very few UK children's publishers are lucky enough to be able to work on such a focused list.

Are there particular illustration subject matters or styles which appeal to Oneworld?

No! Just outstanding books by creative individuals please! And of course book jackets that are different and original and not mimicking the look and feel of other books in the bookshops.

You have been behind several successful children's book launches. Which of these titles provoked the most discussion and why?

Paper Towns by John Green was an interesting acquisition. I loved that book and we talked long and hard about it at Bloomsbury. Quite a few members of the team were worried that it might not find an audience in the UK. I think now we can see that the original and clever writing, the great relationships and the wonderful setting is just exactly what people want to read.

How important is it for independent publishers like Oneworld to strive to win awards?

Awards are wonderful things. They reinforce our faith in a creator and their work, they give the creators of books confidence and they help booksellers, librarians and other players in the book world a hook for the book. But I don't think we should strive to win awards as not winning them is not a failure NOR does it mean that the book is not good. we have to have faith in our own decisions and hope that we can get that across to readers.

What words of wisdom can you offer young children's illustrators looking to make their mark on the industry?

Develop your own style, be professional, take advice and listen to editors and make good relationships. Pretty simple really!

Talk us through some of the exciting projects you're currently working on.

We have a really lovely list of books coming together for 2016. a mix of books from US based authors, UK debuts authors and some more established names. we are loving working on the look and feel of the list and designing great jackets. I still want to find a wonderful picture book or two. You know where I am!

Who have been your greatest mentors and what advice has been the most helpful?

Barry Cunningham! He is a great friend and support. He has been more than words of advice. He has really supported me from the start of my career change from rights to editorial when he proposed me - without any experience of editing - to be the head of the children's list at Bloomsbury. Also Liz Calder with whom I worked at Bloomsbury who told me the most important thing which was that a good publisher publishes authors not books.

Tell us about the idea behind your plan to launch 'The Read Quarterly' in January 2016.

The Read Quarterly is a magazine about children's literature which is aimed at an adult author. The range of voices will be totally international and diverse and our contents will look at a wonderful spectrum of subjects from issues of Independence in books for children published in India, The Singaporisation of fairy tales, the development of the work of Beatrix Potter, Nonsense in early American writing for children and so much more. We are interested in the culture of children's books and we want to create a quarterly magazine that will further a discussion about this wonderful area looking at words and illustration in a critical and respoectful way but at the same time not afraid to question and challenge some long held beliefs. We will have a regular feature where we will look at the work of a new artist and will also in the first issue look at the publishing of Tara Books in Chennai in India. And to top it all there will be original fiction (our first author is Eoin Colfer) and poetry (Toni Stuart).

We are crowdfunding at the moment and if anyone is interested in getting issue one they should visit our kickstarter on

We would hugely value all support from your readers.

Thank you so much for your interesting questions!

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