Suzanne Wilson-Higgins Interview

Suzanne Wilson-Higgins

Managing Director, Lion Hudson

How did your career in publishing begin and what have been some of the milestones so far?

Thirty years ago in 1990 I started as a Commissioning Editor at Butterworth-Heinemann (Reed-Elsevier plc) for the business book list, moved into digital publishing, sales and marketing. After my third daughter was born, I moved to become Publisher Relations & Marketing Director of B.H. Blackwell Ltd. library supply/bookselling for 5 years. In 2000 I started Ingram’s Lightning Source UK Limited as Commercial Director hiring the start-up team and staying for at for nearly 10 years. I wrote the book The Impact of Print-on-demand on Academic Publishing (Elsevier, 2016), while working as EU Sales Director for Lion Hudson from 2011 for five years. Lion Hudson entered a tumultuous period just as I took over as Managing Director in 2016. I then assisted in transferring Lion Hudson’s assets to the AFD Group. Since 2017 I have led the rebuilding the new company team and the publishing programme for Lion Hudson Limited.

What sets Lion Hudson apart from its competition?

I think the Christian publishing industry is quite unique in that we spend a lot more time thinking about what we have in common rather than what sets us apart. I could tell you about how we offer our authors a more personal approach than some of our bigger counterparts, or how the we look to commission books to reach a wider and often more secular audience with the Christian message than some other Christian publishers. But ultimately, we’re united together with our ‘competitors’, and are actually invested in each other’s success. We all want to see great Christian literature for all ages available in the market, and it’s privilege to be working alongside these other organisations in doing that. 

How would you describe the current state of the global Christian publishing market?

There is a lot of demand for quality content for Christians and those interested in Christianity. In many respects the global Christian publishing market is not that dissimilar to the general consumer market. Consumers are evolving in terms of their buying habits, the distribution channels change and adapt over time, and we need to keep pace with all of these things. There are also global Christian trends that we need to tap into; hot topics of conversation that people are eager for content on. So we have many of the same challenges as ‘regular’ publishers – but there is lots of demand! And you never quite know where that demand is going to suddenly appear from

The Little White Horse is a well-loved children's classic, winner of the Carnegie Medal and cited as J.K. Rowling's favourite book as a child. What are some of the reasons behind this title's huge success?

The Little White Horse is a perfect example of when all the elements of a story, such as the plot, writing style and pacing, resonate perfectly with a particular group. You only need to read some of the user reviews to see common themes being repeated. Generally, people have read it in their childhood and were captivated by every element of the book. It has a certain atmosphere, which is hard to quantify. It’s wonderful to see people fall in love with a book in that way – and it’s contagious! It’s the kind of love that makes people want to pass it down from one generation to the next. So there is no need to mess with it. We have just issued fresh new editions as part of our curation of this brilliant, classic book. 

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What is Lion Hudson's bestselling children's series?

‘The Storyteller’ series of books by much loved author and storyteller Bob Hartman is one of our bestselling series. Bob’s The Lion Storyteller Bible (most recently illustrated by Krisztina Kalli Nagy) is now celebrating its 25th year and has been used as a core book for many different initiatives, appeals and campaigns by the wider church over the years. It is beautifully written and illustrated and engages adults and children alike. We have a Family Bible version coming out this year to help families who want to discuss the bible stories in more depth, an audio book with Bob reading, and there are other books in the series such as the ‘Book of Animal Tales’ and the ‘Bedtime Book’. We’re really thankful to Bob for is work. Storytelling is such a wonderful skill and it is brilliant seeing it being gifted to families through these books

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How would you describe the style of illustration Lion Hudson like to commission?

Different imprints have different reputations with particular art styles associated with them. Lion Children’s has traditionally published sophisticated art for gifts, traditional bible story imagery or endearing illustrations for younger children. Recently the Lion Kids Comic Bible and the Lion Picture Puzzle Bible moved the Lion Children’s imprint into a more cartoon-oriented space.

The Candle Books imprint has consistently published more cartoon-like styles of illustration and novelty books such as illustrated pop-ups. The Lion Books imprint publishes graphic novel, comic and cartoon-like art styles for an older readership.

Our children’s Senior Commissioning Editor seeks to understand who the target readership is especially in terms of reading age, while considering the buyer of the book (typically a parent, God-parent or church leader). Then she works with the author on the content and writing style, while our Design Manager responds to the design brief and works with the selected illustrator to deliver amazing illustrations. Throughout the process we consult with book buyers to ensure we are on trend and appealing to a variety of tastes.

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What portfolio advice would you offer an illustrator looking to appeal to Lion Hudson?

Sensitivity to the subject matter is something that is critical to the illustrations in our books. In particular, we commission many bible story retellings. When illustrating a bible we therefore we require illustrators to submit a variety of animals (Noah, Nativity and Palm Sunday demand great animals), a variety of faces (we particularly consider the style of eyes) and of course any bible requires a convincing portrait of Jesus. There are so many talented artists out there, and so many fantastic styles to appreciate. But it always needs to be done in a way that lifts the text and works with it. Our Design Manager reviews many online portfolio’s when considering alternative styles to pitch for a particular project and the sales team is consulted with regard to market appeal. Updating your online portfolio regularly, showing a mixture of digital and hand drawn examples and ensuring a variety of subjects will ensure we take note!

Could you share some of your favourite seasonal titles with our audience?

We publish one or two Christmas themed and one Easter themed book each year. Our bestsellers are from the My Very First Bible by Lois Rock & Alex Ayliffe Baby Jesus and The Easter Story small books which we sell in multipacks.

Particular favourites of mine are books by Antonia Woodward The Promised One: The Wonderful Story of Easter (2017) and the Christmas story The Extra Special Baby (2016). Antonia’s illustrations are so full of life and loved by everyone. On That Christmas Night (2018) by Lois Rock and illustrated by Alison Jay is a stunning and sophisticated gift book for Christmas. This year we have a beautiful book coming out in August: The Gift of Christmas: The boy who blessed the world by in-house author Mary Joslin and illustrated by Kristina Swarner.

Some other titles that make great gifts around Christmas time are Max Lucado’s stories about the Wemmicks and particularly the various editions of You Are Special. I can’t imagine anyone reading them and not have their heart touched!

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Baby Jesus - My Very First Bible Stories by Lois Rock & Alex Ayliffe 

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The Extra Special Baby + The Promised One: The Wonderful Story of Easter by Antonia Woodward

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Christmas Night (2018) by Lois Rock and illustrated by Alison Jay

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You Are Special by Max Lucado

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The Gift of Christmas: The boy who blessed the world by Mary Joslin. Illustrated by Kristina Swarner.

Which children's book would you have loved to publish?

I think this ties in well with how we view our ‘competitors’. We’re all in this together, and we love that there are so many fantastic books displaying Christian influences.  A few recently published books that I would love to have published but recognising that each publisher brought its own strengths, relationships and abilities to the fore in these projects include (in date order): The Garden, the Cross and the Curtain (The Good Book Company, 2016); Everyone a Child Should Know by Clare Heath-Whyte (10Publishing, 2017); God’s Timeline (CF4 Kids, 2018); Frances Lincoln’s series of biographies Little People, Big Dreams - especially Mother Theresa (2018); and of course Bob Hartmann’s The Rhyming Bible (SPCK 2019). Always easier to pick the winners in hindsight! In fact, I’m overwhelmingly thankful that these books are available for people to buy, regardless of who the publisher is.

What exciting new releases are on the horizon?

I already mentioned The Gift of Christmas (August 2020) above. We continue to refresh, digitally enhance and reissue our classic bibles in new editions and Carolyn Cox’s art from Pat Alexander’s The Lion Children’s Bible will be released in a new My Very Own Bible edition in early 2021.  Two gorgeous new prayer books are on their way: ABC Prayers (2020) by Myriam Baudic illustrated by Camille Bernard followed by Deborah Lock’s Prayers Around the World (2021) illustrated by Helen Canning.

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We also have a new charming series of bible story retellings featuring Albert, a narrator mouse by Richard Littledale illustrated by Heather Heyworth: Albert and the Big Boat (2020); Albert and the Sling-shot (2020), Albert and the Flour-sack (2020), Albert and the Good Sister (2020) to be followed by Albert and the Journey Home (2021) and Albert and the Big Picnic (2021).

So plenty more illustrated children’s books to come!

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