Tuesday, 3 July 2012

What do Publishers expect today from authors and illustrators?

SCBWI's roving reporter, Lynda Calder passes on some of the information gleaned from the publishers' session...

From craft to social media
Panel of Publishers
Laura Harris - Penguin Australia
Lisa Berryman - HarperCollins
Zoe Walton - Random House
Karen Tayleur - Five Mile Press
Dianne Wolfer (Chair)

 Some of this topic was touched on during yesterday's sessions. But the big words that kept being repeated were trust, discretion and loyalty.

HarperCollins does accept unsolicited manuscripts. Random House, Penguin and Allen & Unwin have a pitching day.

Lisa Berryman goes on the journey with the creators. She prefers to work collaboratively with authors who are patient. It is unusual to find a manuscript that is ready but she does expect an author to take feedback and use it. She doesn't expect an author to accept all the advice but expects it to be respected and listened to.

A good picture book requires illustrators and authors working well together. All should respect deadlines and schedules. Especially since the release of a book can cause stress in other departments and delay releases that may be carefully timed. 
Assets digital trailers, interviews, magazine articles. Authors will be active on social media - Facebook, Twitter and Blog. It indicates that the author has a handle on what is required to market the book. Authors should back up book sales with school visits, be available for festivals and other events organised for them. Local book shop contacts and media. It is key to success and contributes to when your next book comes before Acquisitions to be judged.
Zoe Walton - Random House
Do's and Don'ts in the Editorial Process
·         Be ready to be edited
·         Open to suggestion (open mind but not so open your brains fall out)
·         Look at suggestions with all faculties switched on - think about each, do you agree and, if not, why not? There needs to be a discussion. Don't come into
·         Expect to get a say in the cover design (in Australia), but it more like a vote. All votes need to be respected - marketing, sales etc. Sometimes the designer has a perfect cover first time but sometimes it takes months.
·         Meet your deadlines. Tell them about things that come up. But remember there are certain slots for releases.
·         Feel free to make suggestions for publicity. Let them know about your contacts. But if your suggestions are outrageous the answer is likely "no" but if you are ready to work with your publicist and suggest interesting angles for publicity, all will be well.
·         Get the basics right - especially a professional author photo. A biography. Simple website about you and how to contact you. The buzz word is "discoverability" - i.e. easy information about you can be found using Google.
Zoe Walton
·         What is right for you and your book - don’t start a blog if you can't keep it up, don't Twitter if you don't know how.
·         Freak out when editorial report is as long as a book - you may freak out, but everyone does. Take a cup of tea, sit down, be calm, come back to it later and go through the suggestions one at a time.
·         Panic if you don't hear back for a while. There is a chance they may hate it and can't bear to tell you but that is a 1% chance. It is usually that they need quality time to have their first, most important read.
Karen Tayleur - Five Mile Press
Writing to be published is a business and you need to treat it as a business.

What doesn't work
·         Flowery note papers with doodles and kittens.
·         "I want this published because my Grandmother thinks it's nice."
·         No spelling mistakes in the cover letter.
·         Sent to the wrong person or name misspelt.
·         Scattergun submissions are not the best way to spend your time. It's a waste of their time and your time. If they have written a story or know what kind of story they want to write - check out the market, see what publishers are producing and target the right publishers. She does understand multiple submissions BUT let other publishers know if you get a nibble somewhere.

They look to be able to get on with author, to communicate, for them to be open to suggestions. You can't be too precious about your work BUT you can take a stand on things you believe in. Remember, there is a reason people say things and they may be guiding you into a better idea.

Be careful with social media, especially about what you say as Children's and Young Adult authors. You don't have the luxury of being yourself unless you use a pseudonym. Teachers and parents are looking at what their children are reading and don't what them reading books who have questionable photos or language online.

Karen Tayleur
Be on time turning up to interviews. Dress professionally. Speak coherently. Project confidence - even if you are a quivering mess. If you can't, create a character and be that character when you go out.

At the moment at Five Mile Press they are looking for work for 0-8 year olds - board books and picture books.

Laura Harris - Penguin Australia
It is good to know that as a community and industry, Children's book publishing is similar between us. Publishers get played off against each other by authors. Don't do it because they all know each other. They all have experience in the industry and you should generally err on the side of taking publishers' advice. They do everything they can to make it work out in the market.

No one sets out to make a bad book.

Three words that come into her mind on a daily basis:
·         Professionalism'
·         Decency'
·         Dedication
Simple words but many people don't act decently. You should expect back and question if you don't. Be open to the "changing landscape of publishing". Things are very different today than they were six months ago, one year ago and a year before that. Everyone is still trying to figure it out, especially authors trying to figure out where their work fits.

She expects writers to write and illustrators to draw. Spend your time doing that.
She hates rejecting people and it is very hard to say a work is not right for them. It could be it doesn't suit where you are up to or there are four other works in progress that are similar. She doesn't have time to say why. A personal letter from someone says they do care.

They get 3000 unsolicited manuscripts a year! Thus, the unsolicited manuscript submissions have just been shut down so they can catch up on the back log. They read absolutely everything that comes in. They used to send more detailed notes back but they can't keep up with the demand if they do that. This is because more people are writing.
If you've been rejected by three people, rewrite, or start writing something else. Don't be so attached to the one manuscript that no one else seems to understand. Just write - practice, practice, practice. The more experienced you are as a writer the more that will come out in your work.

There is a sad shift and we are losing book shops because of the digital world. How do you get your book noticed? Borders and A&R used to take 25% of the books in the market and they are now gone because not enough people were in there to sustain it. How are people looking for books? Online, especially to get better prices.

On the editorial process: their editor role is to be invisible. They will put to you different ways to look at your work. Editing is not just about the repetition of words - structural edits, copy edits are two different things that require a lot of dedication and work by you. If you don't agree, respectfully let them know. Nothing is about point scoring but making the book best it can be.

She doesn't want a synopsis or biography. She wants the whole book and not to have distractions by anything else. Laura has lots of great ideas and can be entertaining but can't write a book. Thus, a great idea may not necessarily translate into a good book and ordinary ideas may make great books. So, just write, Write, WRITE!
Lisa Berryman

Diane Wolfer: If you are a shy author and aren't out there on social media what is the most important thing to be involved with?
Laura: You can do yourself a disservice if you use a medium that is not organic for you. Don't use YouTube if you are not experienced with it - reading your picture book to camera can go against you.
Zoe: Just a website, really simple and updating it is very important. This who I am, these are my books and this is how to contact me for school visits.
Diane: Sarah is doing a session on making a website like that.
Karen: If you are making picture books for 0-8 year olds, your end user, the people you are pitching to are the gatekeepers - parents, librarians, and teachers.

Diane: There seems to be this "thing" out there that authors and illustrators must be kept apart. Is this true?
Karen: It gets very tricky because you are dealing with two creative forces with egos and this needs to be harnessed. If they can't work well together, they are not being policemen but are just managing personalities.
Laura: Sometimes it's just about geography. Picture books tend to start with the text and the illustrator has to come along and interpret. 90% of the job is managing expectations - especially the authors' expectations. 
Zoe: The Publisher always has to be involved and make sure everyone is happy with every step of the process.

Question - Have sales of picture books and children's books dropped off now that people are buying online and from overseas?
Laura: There are industry statistics that are coming through. 12 months ago there was a panic when book shops closed. But in the last couple of months the reality is that, as an industry, sales are 20-25% lower across the board. What skews it in Children's publishing are phenomena - Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, and Twilight. Certain books have sustained themselves, others have dropped off. Some books work very well in independent book shops. Others do well in larger chain stores - Target, Big W. If something goes into both and kicks off, great. But everything on her list has dropped off. This is the way it is now so they just modify print runs, advances change and costs changes.


  1. A brilliant blog post Sheryl and thank you to all who have given such important and useful advice. I will include a link to this post in next week's PIO.

  2. Really informative. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. This is only part of the very useful information from this session. Thank you to Lynda Calder, our SCBWI Roving Reporter. :)