This post is just one in a series about the 2008 Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Mentoring Conference. Click the RUCCL tag above to read them all.

Lisa Cheng edits picture books as well as middle grade and young adult fiction at Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. She began her manuscript-to-book speech, “…so there’s this manuscript that I love and I want to take it further. What steps do I go through?”

The short answer: a lot. Lisa provided us with a valuable inside look at the complicated business of publishing. As writers, we submit manuscripts and then wait for an answer, often for months and in some cases, years. After listening to Lisa, we now know why. There’s much to be done.

First, she reviews her own list. What has she released lately? What does she have coming out? Does this manuscript compete directly with projects to which she’s already committed? If the answer is no, then she looks at the other McElderry editors’ lists. Then she looks at Simon & Schuster’s list. If the book does not compete, then she moves to the next step.

She looks beyond what’s hot in the marketplace now and tries to imagine if this manuscript will be welcomed in a year or two when it’s released. In other words, is it too trendy or will it work in the future? Other questions she thinks about: Does this book have an audience? Does it have a good hook?

If she’s still convinced of this manuscript’s promise, she’ll show it to other editors in her group. She has to be confident at this point since she’s asking her colleagues to take time out of their own schedules, time away from their own manuscripts, to read her project.

If it passes her peer review, then it’s onto the acquisitions committee. In these meetings, she asks editors and her publisher to review the book. Design sits in and gives an opinion. Marketing sits in. Publicity, too. They all make a decision of whether or not this manuscript should proceed.

If it’s thumbs up, then she has to work up a profit and loss statement. Some of the financial considerations: estimated price point, forecasted sales, royalties, overhead costs (everything from staff salaries to lightbulbs are in that number somewhere), art costs, and production costs (binding, type of paper, page count). Phew. That’s a lot of numbers. And they have to look good.

So that’s what editors like Lisa Cheng have to do before you get that magical piece of paper: the contract. Her job is to “look beyond the craft to the business” and that’s what we writers should do as well.

Next up is Molly O’Neill!