In prefacing this blog, I won't pretend that I've been to many Publisher talks yet. I'm aspiring to be traditionally published and I'm new to it all. My questions are naïve and I'm a sponge, soaking in all the advice I can get but aren't we all, as emerging authors? Maybe you've wondered the same things I have, so I've compiled the pearls of wisdom I gleaned, from the Publisher's Panel, hosted by the CBCA North-Sydney sub-branch on 18 October.The packed house of aspiring and seasoned 'book people' was treated to an insightful Q&A, moderated by children's author Louise Park and experienced Editors from Omnibus (Scholastic) and ABC Books (Harper Collins).
What's Hot? What's Trending?
Both editors agreed that writing and publishing to trends is fraught. If you think your manuscript will be lapped up because it aligns with 'what's hot right now', you have probably already missed the boat. Manuscripts are commissioned long before they are launched and that trend may have passed from the publisher's end of things, by the time they read your work. Remember too, that publishers avoid cannibalising their own list of titles. Though fart or poo books may have endless appeal to boys, for example, a publisher won't take on titles that compete against each other. It's not that your idea is bad because it follows a trend but it may be surplus to that publisher's current needs.
The good news is that both publishers are supportive of manuscripts with an authentic writer's 'voice', possessing a unique quality that 'speaks to them'. This is more important than meeting a 'current' trend in the market.
[This may seem subjective and yes, it is but that is the game and publisher's will fight to acquire books that impact them in this way.] *
Do new authors have any chance of making it onto a big publishing house's list?
The reality is that you may have a higher chance of being picked up by a smaller publishing house, if you are an unknown. A Harper Collins or a Scholastic needs to sell big volumes to warrant their investment in an author. But, there are always exceptions and editors from big publishing houses don't want to miss the 'hottest new author' in publishing, either. Realistically, the figure for both publishers was comparable. Around 4 new authors published in every 50 new titles, as a very general guide.
[So, there is hope! More seasoned industry members at the meeting were pleasantly surprised that the number was as high as this for big publishers.]
How perfect does my manuscript need to be at the time of submission?
The most important things to a publisher is that the manuscript speaks to them and that it sparkles aurally. This means you need to have made sure your writing sounds great when read aloud, whether picture book or otherwise, as parents and teachers read children's books aloud to kids. It is the editor's job to work with a commissioned author on structure and polishing the manuscript for publishing. If you capture the publisher's heart with a good piece of writing, the rest will fall into place.
[I was reassured to hear the publisher's response on this one. I have been getting the impression that if a manuscript isn't critiqued, assessed and edited ($$) to within an inch of its life before submission, an editor won't even look at it. I had always thought this was an editor's job for the right book. It turns out it is! Not to say that the practice of having your work critiqued, assessed or presented professionally and within publishing house guidelines, isn't important.]
How much does an (unpublished) author's online platform contribute to a publisher's decision?
Neither publisher thought it mattered a great deal. Both editors are more concerned with how you sell your manuscript to them and how it touches them. They will take a book to acquisitions based on appreciation of your work and a sense that it will be the right fit for their catalogue. Your proven ability to do the necessary legwork securing school visits would be viewed favourably but your social media following it itself won't be the influencing factor for them.
[I can hear the collective sighs go up now… I was under the impression publishers might check your profile and body of writing online, if they liked the look of your manuscript. They may well need to do this at the point of selling you into the acquisitions team and putting together a financial analysis for backing you, as a new author but it is not the be all and end all. This is a good thing. It's still about the writing. Before you shut down your Twitter and Facebook accounts though, put this publisher's advice into perspective. Presence on social media, for emerging authors, is about finding and building a community of like-minded people. A famous author at the CBCA meeting as much as said this and it was encouraging. An online presence is also tremendously important to the end-client: booksellers. The more you can promote those who back your book, the more goodwill you generate. Reciprocation and giving back is important this industry. It's not just about the taking.]
* '[ ]' closed captions in the above indicate my commentary as the blog author, not the advice of the publishers.
Brydie Wright is an emerging author with Creative Kids Tales. You can learn more about Brydie here www.brydiewright.com