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by Alyson Heller

As I dodged shoppers last Friday at my local mall, I came to realize that trying to find that next “big thing” in publishing is like to trying to find a great pair of shoes on sale—really hard to do, may cause some panic attacks, but once in a while, you will find the perfect fit.

We editors have a love/hate relationship with that “thrill of the hunt”—with every email from an agent, we hope that once we click open the attachment or email, there will be a pitch or manuscript so amazing, we will have to stop our day to read and convince our powers-to-be to let us acquire it. Most of the time, it isn’t quite what we are looking for—it might not be our taste, or in line with our house publishing strategy—but every once in a while, there is a pitch or idea that makes us pause our day.

For me, I always have that gut feeling—much like that fabulous piece of jewelry that draws your eye, I just know that I absolutely have to try to make sure that particular manuscript gets to stay with me, knowing that I would be so very bummed out if I couldn’t work on the project. There’s usually a unique hook—an idea that hasn’t been done over and over and over again—or a character that I immediately fall in love with that triggers that feeling. I also try to see if there is something timeless about the story; a book that you know readers will think is still relevant to their world 10 years from now—the little black dress of publishing, so to speak.

Of course, love for the idea isn’t enough to propel that manuscript into something that can go directly from my in-box to the local bookstore. Even though this may have caught my eye, I need to make sure that the story ultimately can fit into the overall marketplace and fit in with our list. That means a revision or two (sometimes 3!), making sure that the author shares our vision for their project, and coordinating the best PR possible for the title.

Though writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, the editing process is a team effort, and one of the great joys I have with my job. Even though it can be daunting, that chase, that knowledge that another fantastic story for kids could be sitting with me (or a member of my terrific team), is what keeps me going—and what makes this crazy, wonderful, unpredictable world of publishing so great. There’s nothing like finally seeing that finished product hit the shelves—and knowing that book will hopefully be someone’s perfect fit.

Alyson is an assistant editor with Aladdin Books, a kid-centric imprint featuring titles with strong commercial appeal for readers of all ages up to tween.

Alyson was part of the S&S Associate’s Program before landing her job with the Aladdin imprint and becoming part of a wonderful team. Alyson works on everything from picture books through middle-grade novels. She has had the privilege of working with some fantastic authors (and agents!) during her time with S&S. Some new and upcoming titles that she has edited or co-edited include Just Add Magic by Cindy Callaghan, Odd Girl In by Jo Whittemore, Sprinkles and Secrets by Lisa Schroeder, Cold Case by Julia Platt Leonard, The Monstore by Tara Lazar and I Loathe You by David Slonim.

In addition to her love for reading and writing, Alyson is also a huge fan of traveling, baking, eating things that are bad for you, awful reality t.v., and all things sparkly. She currently lives in Connecticut.

Simon & Schuster has generously donated several picture book prizes for PiBoIdMo. Winners for the titles below will be announced on December 4th, randomly selected from those who completed the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. Thanks to Alyson and Simon & Schuster for the prizes!

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


“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!”


“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.”


“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.”

I wanted to know what to expect at a first page critique before attending one, so this post is for those of you with similar curiosity.  I can’t speak for every first-page session, but here is how it might be organized:

  • The editor/agent (or other professional commenter) will sit at the front of the room, along with readers.  The editor/agent may read each page aloud, or an attendee will be selected to read.  Depending upon the number of first pages, there may be more than one reader.
  • The reader will read first pages aloud, one at a time.  After one piece has been read, the commenters will present their immediate reactions.  Depending upon how much time has been allotted for the event, they may spend as little as 30 seconds or as many as 5 minutes each discussing the page.
  • Questions from attendees are typically held until the end of the event so there is enough time to get to everyone’s submission.  Occasionally a question of clarification is entertained, but a dialogue is discouraged at this time.  It is not appropriate to jump in and explain/defend your piece.
  • When all the works have been reviewed, the organizer may open the floor to questions if there is enough time.

Here’s what you’ll need to bring:

  • Multiple copies of your first page, formatted for submission: 12-point type, double-spaced, one-inch margins.  (Poetry can be single-spaced with double spaces between stanzas.)  Include the title and genre, but not your name.  You’ll need one copy each for the commenters, one for the reader, and one for yourself if you’d like to take notes directly on the page. 
  • Business cards, if you have them.  Don’t hand them to the editor/agent unless they specifically approach you, but you’ll want to network with the other writers present.  You might find a new critique partner or learn about another event.  Make a friend, give them your card to keep in touch.
  • Notebook and pen.  Take notes.  Not just about your first page, but about all the pages.  There will be lots of good information shared about what makes a successful first page.  Pay attention to the ones the editor/agent said they would continue reading. 

Remember to thank the editors/agents and organizer of the event.   They have graciously given their time and expertise in an effort to help polish your work.   Shake hands, be polite.  If you have a specific question that wasn’t addressed, now’s the time to ask if they have a moment.

Remember names.  If you are serious about your craft, you will be seeing many of these people again at other events.  Be thankful toward the professionals even if your piece didn’t receive the praise you expected.  Go home inspired to work harder instead of being discouraged.  You’re another step closer to your goal of becoming published!

And if your piece was one of the stories in which the editor/agent showed an interest, ask if you can submit to them.  They are there to find new talent, after all! 

Do you have any information to share about first page events?  If so, please comment!  Thank you!

Robin Mizell of Treated and Released asked her readership about approaching editors in an informal setting.  The business of writing is no different than any other business, meaning that you have a limited amount of time to wow an editor with your idea.  Practice and get the pitch tight.  Read the post and comments here.

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