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Kellie Magnus - Moving on Up

Kellie Magnus founder and Editorial Director of Jackmandora

Kellie Magnus, the force behind Jack Mandora and author of the endearing Little Lion series of stories for children is making a play to move her company from being a small press to becoming a major player in the publishing industry. Magnus recently came out at the top of a the pile of a group of companies seeking investors at the Jamaica Stock Exchange 2014 Venture Capital Pitch Room. Magnus was seeking a J$21 million dollar investment in Jackmandora and offered a 30% stake in the company in return.

According to Magnus, her win in the pitch room is an indicator that investors can realize the potential that lays in the Caribbean publishing industry, and admits to finding the response since then encouraging. 

“I would like to thing that it signals that the financial sector is open to investment in publishing,” Magnus said, pointing out that on the global scale, publishing is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Magnus, has been a part of Jamaica’s publishing industry for approximately 10 years, and sees this move as timely for taking her business and the industry forward.

“A friend encouraged me,” Magnus says explaining why she decided to get into the fray of the Pitch Room, “and I use ‘encouraged’ as a euphemism for bullied,” she continues with a laugh. “There are people who know me well and believe in the possibility of what I do and wanted me to take it me more seriously.”

She speaks with great candor and explains that she finds it far easier to advocate for others than push her own business. It is a situation for which the motivating little hero of her books Little Lion would probably chide her. But Magnus has been significantly involved with initiatives that are trying to drive the Jamaican and Caribbean publishing industry forward. She is currently on the board of directors of the Book Industry of Jamaica and is the chair of the Kingston Book Festival as well as integrally involved in the CaribLit project.

Magnus at the Script to Sales event hosted by the BIAJMagnus explains that for the past few years she has been working on building a catalogue of titles that could be released with the right financing. “It made sense to hold off on them until I could invest in them properly,” she explains. Magnus points out that the economics of publishing means that returns are significantly greater on the investment with larger quantities, both in terms of the number of titles and the number of books.

Though her speciality is in books for leisure (trade books) Magnus recognizes that getting into the education sector can provide the kind stability for the company and in that regard she is hoping to explore those areas that allow for synergies with leisure books.

Yet, she is also aware that because of her greater interest in the leisure market, unleashing the potential of the industry means going beyond the Jamaica and the Caribbean. 

“The real money is not selling books in Jamaica unless you’re in the text market,” she says. Magnus argues that she fully believes that local books can transcend to a global audience, however it takes having knowledge of the international market and then finding the right content to funnel down that pipeline. And that is where she hit a major stumbling block.

“Many of the stories I get are literal, pedantic, dull and narrow,” Magnus says. “I find a disconnect between how Jamaicans are and tell stories to each other, and how we write stores for our children.”

She explains that the natural gift for language that Jamaicans show in everyday life somehow seems to get lost on its way to the page. 

“We need to write the way we speak,” Magnus says. “We are naturally funny and playful with language.”

Magnus explains that she has a simple edict that drives what books she wants to create.

“I want the kind of books that children want to read, not the kind of books that children should read,” she says. “For me, ‘should’ is a four letter word.”