How to Turn 12-year olds into Published Authors

Emma Barnes on the publishing industry and its future

By Rob Fitzpatrick and featuring Emma Barnes

In this Useful Books meetup, we’re joined by Emma Barnes.

Emma has spent 18 years at the helm of Snowbooks, the award-winning, innovative independent trade publisher.

Now she’s using her deep understanding of the realities of modern publishing in Consonance, the FutureBook and IPG award-winning all-in-one publishing solution. As if she isn’t busy enough, she also helps schoolchildren become published authors through Make Our Book. Highly Commended as a Futurebook Digital Leader, and a Futurebook 40 member.

Watch our conversation with the lovely Emma.




I worked at a big UK consulting firm. One day I was working on some trivial project and just had a wake-up call and thought, “What am I doing with my life?!”

I dove into publishing out of frustration with the current process and was fortunate enough that some of my consulting skills gave me huge advantage. “We’ve been incredibly lucky for the past 20 years.”



I wish there were more resources for authors… The publishing process is screwed up. Don’t think they’re always right or even that they’ll always do the right thing for you!

We’ve been trying to counter this by sending out as much info as we can.

No publisher can promise you anything. It’s not fair to promise you your book is going to work.

In fact, we lay out why people shouldn’t trust our opinion. We’re in the “can I flip this for money game”. It doesn’t say anything about how good/bad your book is.



The reason for the bad deals is because of publisher’s lack of tech literacy. They do stuff with interns that should be done by software.

The nuance is there are going to be many books that need to be published in order to find a few that will do really well. The author is an individual but it’s a big group where a few outliers will pay for everyone else.

Because it’s so hard to sell books, publishers are efficient. They’re passionate and badly paid. The ability to use tools and data would result in a better life for publisher. Or even higher rates of pay.

You’d get a win-win. More money for them and content creators.



  • [Talking about her Make Our Book project] You can do a lot of talks about tech literacy. But this is the embodiment of it. This is what a single person can do on weekends if they know programming. The kids write something, draw something, and then it comes back to them as a published book. It elevates it. That kicks of this cycle of writing, creating, inspiring them. It looks important. It’s an artifact. It’s magical.
  • [Why do adults lose the creativity they have as kids?] Because of grading. Creative work can be wrong. I think it’s a symptom of the creative process.
  • [Advice she gave to her son] Be really careful with what you do with your life and maybe don’t make it the thing you love. That can be dangerous because it’s love + money. You love the writing of the book but it also needs to pay the bills.



  • Write the book 5 times
  • Dont put too much of your soul into it. Take the emotion out of it as much as possible. That’ll help you structure it in a more sensible. And also, if it fails, your entire identify wasn’t in it.
  • It’s a means of making money.



Please visit Make Our Book, Snowbooks, and Consonance.

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