Thursday, 25 March 2010

Publishing For Struggling Readers - Guest Post from Barrington Stoke

I am so chuffed to be able to bring you to you today a guest post from the Editorial Manager of Barrington Stoke, publisher of books for struggling and reluctant readers. Kate kindly took some time to tell us about the wonderful work that Barrington Stoke do for those readers.

Publishing for Struggling Readers

by Kate Paice, Editorial Manager at Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke is a publisher founded on one simple belief: Books for struggling readers need to be really good reads. If a struggling reader might take five minutes to get through a single page, that page needs to be worth reading in the first place.

So we always start with the story. If it doesn’t grab me from the first page, and keep me reading till the last, it certainly won’t hook a struggling reader. That’s why we approach the best writers working today – people like Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sophie McKenzie and Anthony McGowan. Because our readers need the best stories.

Once we’ve got the story, we send it to ‘consultants’: struggling readers of the right reading age and interest age (eg teenagers aged 12-14 with a reading age of 8). The consultants read the story, noting the words they don’t understand, the turns of phrase they struggle with, the plot twists that make no sense to them. If you’ve never read a whole book in your life, how are you supposed to understand what’s happening in an unannounced flashback? If all your energy is spent on deciphering each word as it comes, how can you remember a subtle clue from three chapters ago, or pick up a crucial double meaning?

The consultant comments go to our language editors, who use them to edit the MS to meet the required reading age, and then discuss the changes with the author, to ensure the book is going to preserve the author’s voice while being accessible to the readers. This process is referred to by authors as ‘being done over by Barrington Stoke’, and I believe the record is 13 hours to agree all the changes in a 9,000 word manuscript. But it works.

There are a lot of other things we do. We have a specially adapted dyslexia-friendly font, and print on cream or off-white paper to make the contrast easier on the eye. We ensure that our books are short, so that readers aren’t faced with more than they can reasonably manage. We try to make the covers look as cool as the contents. But mostly, we try to give struggling readers a story that drags them along by the scruff of the neck, because once you have the story, you’ve got a reason to read on.

A couple of years ago, we published a book by Nigel Hinton called
Until Proven Guilty, about a boy whose father is arrested on suspicion of murder. The consultants were reading it in class, one chapter at a time. They were a group of boys who were very resistant to reading. Their teacher emailed us, in sheer astonishment, to recount that one of these book-hating hard-case teenagers had come to her in between lessons and demanded the manuscript early - because he was desperate to read on and find out what happened.

That’s what a story can do. And it’s why Barrington Stoke believe in stories.

Struggling Readers

Barrington Stoke publish for dyslexic, struggling and reluctant readers. That includes readers who have specific learning difficulties or other language impairment; readers for whom English is a second language; and people who have never learned to read fluently for any of a huge variety of reasons, including that they simply haven’t had enough exposure to books. I’ve used ‘struggling readers’ as a catch-all term.

This is not a small problem. Currently, somewhere in the region of 14% of the UK’s children aren’t reading to the expected level by the age of 11. The National Literacy Trust estimates that about 16% of UK adults are ‘functionally illiterate’, with a reading age of below 11. Fewer than 2% of UK jobs are now open to people without literacy skills. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that two-thirds of prisoners in British jails have a reading age of below 11, and of that number, half have a reading age of below 8.

Thank you, Kate, for such a wonderful post! Here are also some links, which I'll also be posting on the blog:

Love Reading 4 Kids
Word Pool
Book Trust
Scottish Book Trust
Mrs Mad's Book-a-Rama

Also, Kate also had this to say, "Barrington Stoke founder Patience Thomson wrote a book called 101 WAYS TO GET YOUR CHILD TO READ, which was published as part of last year's Quick Reads for World Book Day, and has won two awards since then. It's a great introductory guide aimed at parents of babies to teens on the variety of factors that might stop a child reading and suggests many (101, in fact) ways to help them, or indeed to get them help. And it's only £1.99." Cool, huh?

Thanks again, Kate!


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  2. This sounds like a fantastic way of getting struggling readers into reading!

  3. This is a very considerate, very inspiring post here - my friend is a struggling reader - how helpful this would be! :D

  4. Sarah - Barrington Stoke are awesome! You should read the things they say in their catalogue! Simply amazing!

    Dwayne - That's brilliant! If you look up the website, I'm sure you'll be able to find some books for your friend as a gift or something. Perhaps you could contact them about reviewing too, maybe. They were happy to have me review for them - and it feels great to feel that I'm helping out somehow by reviewing these books. :)