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Random comments on the children’s book industry from editors and agents attending the NJ-SCBWI mentoring workshop on February 22:

On THE ECONOMY:

“Things are getting tighter with budgets. As hard as it was to get published, it’s even harder now.”

“Bookstores are cutting down on their inventory. We can’t get as many books in, so we’re not buying as many books.”

“This is not just a correction of the marketplace, it’s a correction of the mind.”

“We’re going to be seeing far fewer advances for mediocre books.”

“But if you’re a new author, you don’t have a poor track record to hurt you.”

“We may see a return to house authors. Authors and publishers will enter a partnership. They’ll help nuture one another and careers will have a steady progression. If you find a house that loves you, they will love you long time!”

On MARKETING & PROMOTION:

“Learn how to market your books. Do school visits. Use social networking tools. Talk to other writers about your book. Talk to everyone about your book.”

“Get to know your publicist and marketing director. They are your friends. But don’t overwhelm them with 17 email messages a day. Let them know you’re their partner.”

“Realize that the books you see up front in the stores are paid for by the publishers through co-op marketing. If they have a talking slip? Paid for. If they’re on an end-cap? Paid for.”

“Become friends with your local librarian and your local bookstores. But always keep your publicist informed about what you’re doing. Don’t go over their head. Don’t go over your editor’s head, either. That’s bad business for everyone involved.”

“Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t send chocolate to all the Borders buyers in the country.”

“With school visits, you’re a celebrity to those kids. Get yourself out there. Build word-of-mouth.”

“Temper your expectations. If you wrote a teen non-fiction book, the big retailers aren’t going to carry it. That’s not their market.”

“Don’t follow today’s trends. Writing for the market in general is a terrible idea.”

“If you’re a picture book writer, don’t start writing a YA about vampires just because it’s popular.”

On EDITORS:

“Editors are always in the market for a well-written book. But I can’t define for you what that is. I know it when I see it.”

“Know what your editor likes. Know who you’re submitting to. I don’t like gross stories.”

“But I do! Send them to me!”

“We like authors who are agented because the work comes in polished.”

Who doesn’t love first page sessions? Where else can you get two non-stop hours of professional, editorial feedback? They pack quite a picture book pow. (And a middle grade wallop. And a YA smack.)

But how do you get the most out of these sessions? Take care in what you submit and how you submit it. Let the editors focus on your story rather than procedure.

These suggestions are based upon the November 19 NJ-SCBWI first page session with Kendra Levin of Viking and Lauren Hodge of Little, Brown.

1. Format properly. Some submissions didn’t use standard paragraph breaks and indents. While the editors understood that these writers were eager to submit as much story as possible, the manuscripts were confusing to read.  Everything ran together. Format your first page just as you would a professional submission. Honestly, you will get more out of less.

2. Use Times New Roman font. A serif font reads well. Courier, the traditional typewriter font, is a monospaced font, meaning each letter is the same width. This wastes space. If you submit with Courier, you’ll have 50% less story on your first page.

3. Research your genre. Some manuscripts felt inappropriate for the genre the author indicated. The topic, word choice and level of sophistication need to match your audience’s age. If you submit with the correct genre, the editors will spend more time assessing your writing than genre counseling.

4. Don’t limit yourself to one gender. One manuscript indicated it was for girls. If you write this on a submission, an editor will immediately think your work doesn’t have broad appeal. Let the editor decide if both boys and girls will love your story.

5. Skip the prologue. Go right to the story. Submit page one of the first chapter, not the backstory.

6. Don’t include an explanation. One picture book began with an intro about why the author had written the story, based upon an experience with her children. And here is where editor Kendra Levin was gracious and tactful. She thought the children in this author’s life were incredibly lucky to have such a playful, creative parent. But stating how children you know enjoy your work doesn’t help sell it. The story does. The intro only left room for five lines of the tale, so the editors could not comment fully. They also emphasized that if the story is written well enough, an explanation becomes unneccesary.

7. Take notes. Don’t just wait for what the editors/agents have to say about your manuscript. Listen to the comments about every page. There’s something to learn from everyone’s manuscript.

There’s more to come from this dynamic first page session. Watch for another post this weekend. And please add your own first page tips!

7ate9

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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