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.

Molly O’Neill began her career in school library marketing before becoming an Assistant Editor at The Bowen Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books. “It’s hard to separate the marketing parts of my brain from the editorial parts,” she said, offering some background behind her perspective.

“If I love this manuscript, the first thing I ask is who is it for?” The answer will inform her decisions on everything from design to marketing. “Now I know what you’re thinking,” she addressed the audience of writers, “my book is for all the people in the world!” We all laughed. Sure, we’d love to believe that millions around the globe will buy our debut novel! But no, each book has a specific audience and her job is to make a book connect with that group. So she refines the question further, “Who’s going to love it first?”

Ms. O’Neill spoke about a new literary novel by a debut author (and if someone remembers the name, please let me know). Since literary novels are first embraced by librarians, they picked jacket illustrator Raul Colón, whose lush watercolors librarians instantly recognize as associated with other literary titles.

One of the best ways to make an audience connection is through artwork. The Emily the Strange graphic novel series uses black, white and red to paint the main character’s world. A visually stunning book appeals to Emily’s counterculture fans. Emily has pale white skin, jet black hair, and a brood of black cats. As HarperCollins works on a new YA series based on Emily, they even make these visual connections in the office, using bright red paper and black pens at their meetings.

Molly asks herself some very important questions about each manuscript. How is this book different? How does it stand out? And yet, how is it the same as successful books on the market? What does it compare to? This point was drilled into our heads throughout the day—think about how your manuscript compares to a brilliant best-seller, but tell editors and agents why it’s completely different!

Ms. O’Neill spoke about when a publisher distributes advance copies of a book. Tucked into the front is a letter from the editor explaining why this book is exciting. For Herbert’s Wormhole, a novel in cartoons, they ditched the letter in favor of a single cartoon. “Who is it for?” is still at play.

And the most important question editors may ask themselves is, “Am I going to enjoy working on this?” Two years is a long time to be involved with a project. But if the answer is yes, then they can believe that people are going to read it over and over again. That is an editor’s ultimate goal, for their book to become your favorite.

Chad Beckerman coming next in this series!