No one truly knows the magical answer to that question, as evidenced by the discussion on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show this week.

You can’t publish a bestseller…you publish a book and you hope it takes off…but many hopes have been dashed by publishing into being a bestseller. 

Jean Feiwel, Senior Vice President and publisher of Fiewel and Friends & Square Fish Books

Ms. Feiwel, responsible for acquiring the popular series The BabySitter’s Club, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter while at Scholastic, was joined by Diane Roback, Senior Editor of Publisher’s Weekly children’s section, and Micha Hershman of Borders Group children’s division.

The three discussed the sea change in children’s book selling over the last 20 years, transforming from a market dominated by institutional sales to one dependent upon retail.  In the 1980’s, the emergence of independent children’s retailers created a surge in demand, and now the national chains also play an enormous role in the success of new titles.  They touched upon merchandising, the power of a good title and eye-catching cover, and understanding customers—what stories appeal to the parent “gatekeepers” as well as the children. 

They briefly discussed “The Harry Potter Effect” on children’s reading habits and how the series suddenly made it cool for boys to be reading.  The “have you read it yet?” peer pressure encouraged kids to pick up thicker and thicker books, a parental dream come true.  The panelists made it clear that kids don’t care about marketing hype, but they do listen to word-of-mouth praise.

Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page for the audio from The Leonard Lopate Show.