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I’ve often heard people—Publishing Professionals—talk about wanting to “publish books that stand the test of time.”

There’s something unnerving about the way the phrase is used. As though it were written into their code, rather than contemplated carefully and reevaluated case by case. It’s a slogan, rather than a creed. And there’s a reason for that.

While it sounds good to be the publisher known for publishing books that “stand the test of time,” publishing is a business. And in order to be successful, units need to be moved. Not books. Units. Units do not stand the test of time.

Now, it’s true, publishing professionals often come to their jobs with a love of books. And for that reason, they often sell books in spite of their better judgment. They sell them out of love. Sometimes the PP will wake clear-eyed at a meeting a year later, looking at some abominably small number in a column and wonder what they ever saw in that silly little volume.

But sometimes that love will win the day and that number will not be small. It will be large. If it is large the first year, it will, perhaps, continue to be large the second year (this is often the case with the books that are loved very well). In fact, it will sell year after year. And we will, indeed, end up with a book that stands the test of time.

Friends, this is where you come in. When you look at a bestseller list of picture books, you are often—not always—looking at a list of units. When you look at shelves of sparkly pink princesses and less sparkly dumptrucks, you are looking at units. So, as you are making lists of ideas, I want you to consider the following five point entreaty:

  1. Don’ t pull your ideas from the bestseller list. Pull them from your soul. What combination of experiences, relationships and ideas has come together to make your thoughts what they are? This is the same equation that should make your book. Don’t try to insert some new variable derived from market research.
  2. Don’t follow the rules. At least, don’t follow them just *because* they are the rules. Use them as guidelines. Mitigate them thoughtfully with your own point of view.
  3. Your structure is a springboard. If you are using a traditional structure, of the kind that Tammi Sauer recommends in this post, great! But don’t use it as a fetter, let it be the springy energy beneath your feet (or keyboard, as it were).
  4. Don’t be afraid to steal. But if you’re going to steal an idea, make it good. Pay tribute to something that you’ve been in love with for some time and can’t seem to forget. Don’t riff on something because it’s marketable. Do it because it’s good and you love it.
  5. Be giddy. You know those ideas that are so good you can’t believe that they came from your brain? The ones that make you do a little dance and clap your hands with glee? Those are books. Use them.

There are a lot of wonderfully quirky picture books that are having their day out there. And you can bet that these books are not a result of market research. They are a result of love.

Tamson Weston is a published children’s book author, founder of Tamson Weston Books, and an editor with over 15 years experience. She has worked on many acclaimed and award-winning books for children of all ages. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, Tamson likes to run, bike, swim, lift heavy things and, most of all, hang out with her family in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her online at www.tamsonweston.com.

by Tamson Weston

There are all kinds of scenarios in which a manuscript becomes a book. Sometimes it’s a series planned well ahead of time, sometimes the author is well-known and the project is signed on the basis of a proposal, sometimes the agent knows that the idea in itself is a winner and he/she sends it out to vast range of different editors, generating a lot of buzz in the process.

As an acquiring editor, however, my favorite way to come across a manuscript is much more quiet than any of these scenarios. It’s when I stumble across something in a pile of submissions that strikes my fancy. The reason it’s fun to discover things in this way, is that I am not reacting to a trend, but to something that particularly suits my taste. And this means I’m going to remain excited about it right up until the release date and beyond.

I’ve had quite a few books like this on my list. It’s hard to pick just one. But I think there is one that is particularly illustrative of this kind of scenario. It’s Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug by Mark Newgarden and Megan Cash.

I got a completely different submission from Mark and Megan in the slush pile—unagented. Mark and Megan decided to send it to me because they had come across another project of mine that made them think I might be interested in their work. Their submission was beautifully packaged, in a folder, with lots of visuals and a pitch sheet. I won’t mention that project, because I still love it and hope that it will come out eventually in some form. For various reasons I wasn’t able to pursue it. Anyway, alongside the mystery project was a proposed series of board books based on a intrepid little terrier. Bow Wow Bugs A Bug was created later, as an anchor to this series.

There are a couple of inspiring things about this story. First, the project came through slush. I know we hear about things being discovered this way. But these stories are told for a reason—they are remarkable because they don’t happen very often. The reason Mark and Megan’s work stood out was that it was impeccably presented and it was exactly the kind of thing that I like to read. They had built an entire pitch package of the quality that we might mock up for a marketing meeting, and they thought very carefully about to whom they were sending it. It was funny, clever and visually stunning with selling points and a target audience outlined. The other important point to note is that, despite the appeal of this package, we ended up having them do a different project all together. They were willing to work with us (and did to an absolutely heroic extent) in order to build a good publishing strategy. And I was willing to work with them, because I could see very clearly that they had more than one project in them.

There is one point I would like to make clear. Mark and Megan are not push-overs. A willingness to work on something doesn’t mean a willingness to surrender your vision to someone else. It simply means that you are willing to hear feedback and try to incorporate it in a way that suits the project. Mark and Megan have a strong aesthetic perspective and I had long email exchanges with them over what to keep and what to leave out. It’s important to work with your editor, but it’s also important to maintain your point of view. Do not compromise to the extent that you don’t want to be associated with the finished book. Every change should be considered carefully. And that doesn’t necessarily mean “Do I take it or leave it.” Quite often it means, “What is it that this change will accomplish, and how can I find a way to accommodate it and still make this something that I love.” You have to live with your name on the cover.

I chose this particular example to write about because I think it exemplifies what authors should be looking for from their editorial relationships (and vice versa, really). I still maintain contact with Mark and Megan. We share taste and inspiration. There should be a certain amount of base understanding and sympathy between an creator and editor. You should share a vision for the project. And when you diverge, you should be able to discuss it reasonably and come to some compromise that you can live with. That’s how good books are made.

Tamson Weston is a published children’s book author and editor with over 15 years experience at several prestigious publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Disney Hyperion. She has edited many acclaimed and award-winning books for children of all ages. Tamson loves to collaborate with people and help authors, illustrators, agents and publishers bring projects to their full potential.

Among the authors Tamson has worked with with are Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Robert Weinstock, Adam Gopnik, Jane Leslie Conly, Anne Rockwell, Deborah Hopkinson, Jen Violi, Alexander Stadler, Dan Santat, Florence Parry Heide, Dandi Daley Mackall, Brian Biggs, Marilyn Singer, Megan Cash and Mark Newgarden.

Tamson has an MFA in Writing and Literature. You can visit her website at www.tamsonweston.com.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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