There are all kinds of scenarios in which a manuscript becomes a book. Sometimes it’s a series planned well ahead of time, sometimes the author is well-known and the project is signed on the basis of a proposal, sometimes the agent knows that the idea in itself is a winner and he/she sends it out to vast range of different editors, generating a lot of buzz in the process.
As an acquiring editor, however, my favorite way to come across a manuscript is much more quiet than any of these scenarios. It’s when I stumble across something in a pile of submissions that strikes my fancy. The reason it’s fun to discover things in this way, is that I am not reacting to a trend, but to something that particularly suits my taste. And this means I’m going to remain excited about it right up until the release date and beyond.
I’ve had quite a few books like this on my list. It’s hard to pick just one. But I think there is one that is particularly illustrative of this kind of scenario. It’s Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug by Mark Newgarden and Megan Cash.
I got a completely different submission from Mark and Megan in the slush pile—unagented. Mark and Megan decided to send it to me because they had come across another project of mine that made them think I might be interested in their work. Their submission was beautifully packaged, in a folder, with lots of visuals and a pitch sheet. I won’t mention that project, because I still love it and hope that it will come out eventually in some form. For various reasons I wasn’t able to pursue it. Anyway, alongside the mystery project was a proposed series of board books based on a intrepid little terrier. Bow Wow Bugs A Bug was created later, as an anchor to this series.
There are a couple of inspiring things about this story. First, the project came through slush. I know we hear about things being discovered this way. But these stories are told for a reason—they are remarkable because they don’t happen very often. The reason Mark and Megan’s work stood out was that it was impeccably presented and it was exactly the kind of thing that I like to read. They had built an entire pitch package of the quality that we might mock up for a marketing meeting, and they thought very carefully about to whom they were sending it. It was funny, clever and visually stunning with selling points and a target audience outlined. The other important point to note is that, despite the appeal of this package, we ended up having them do a different project all together. They were willing to work with us (and did to an absolutely heroic extent) in order to build a good publishing strategy. And I was willing to work with them, because I could see very clearly that they had more than one project in them.
There is one point I would like to make clear. Mark and Megan are not push-overs. A willingness to work on something doesn’t mean a willingness to surrender your vision to someone else. It simply means that you are willing to hear feedback and try to incorporate it in a way that suits the project. Mark and Megan have a strong aesthetic perspective and I had long email exchanges with them over what to keep and what to leave out. It’s important to work with your editor, but it’s also important to maintain your point of view. Do not compromise to the extent that you don’t want to be associated with the finished book. Every change should be considered carefully. And that doesn’t necessarily mean “Do I take it or leave it.” Quite often it means, “What is it that this change will accomplish, and how can I find a way to accommodate it and still make this something that I love.” You have to live with your name on the cover.
I chose this particular example to write about because I think it exemplifies what authors should be looking for from their editorial relationships (and vice versa, really). I still maintain contact with Mark and Megan. We share taste and inspiration. There should be a certain amount of base understanding and sympathy between an creator and editor. You should share a vision for the project. And when you diverge, you should be able to discuss it reasonably and come to some compromise that you can live with. That’s how good books are made.
Tamson Weston is a published children’s book author and editor with over 15 years experience at several prestigious publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Disney Hyperion. She has edited many acclaimed and award-winning books for children of all ages. Tamson loves to collaborate with people and help authors, illustrators, agents and publishers bring projects to their full potential.
Among the authors Tamson has worked with with are Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Robert Weinstock, Adam Gopnik, Jane Leslie Conly, Anne Rockwell, Deborah Hopkinson, Jen Violi, Alexander Stadler, Dan Santat, Florence Parry Heide, Dandi Daley Mackall, Brian Biggs, Marilyn Singer, Megan Cash and Mark Newgarden.
Tamson has an MFA in Writing and Literature. You can visit her website at www.tamsonweston.com.