The three publishers I interviewed at the Foundation for Children's Books event at Boston College last Tuesday were more alike than they were different, we concluded--at least when compared to the New York behemoths Random House, HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster. I had always thought Houghton, represented at B.C. by children's editorial director Margaret Raymo, was the most New-Yorky of the Boston crowd, because of both its Clarion outpost there and its old-school reputation. But its celebrity books are all children's-book celebrities, most notably Curious George (whose recent incarnations seem more Hollywood than New York anyway). Liz Bicknell, editorial director of Candlewick, said that they had tried a celebrity book but it bombed. Charlesbridge, there in the person of executive editor Judy O'Malley, has fed us M&Ms, but it's peanuts compared to what Kit Kats are doing for Harper. (Oh of course I'm kidding. But, do you know, I always thought that M&Ms donated their likenesses to the charitable purpose of educating children in the service of arithmetic and consumerism and the self-serving purpose of free advertising, but former Charlesbridge guy Dominic Barth told me that Charlesbridge was the paying partner.)
I began the evening by asking the publishers their roads into the Wild Wood (Liz, happenstance; Judy, fashion magazines; Margaret basically grew up at Houghton) and then we talked about how publishing looked different today. M-O-N-E-Y. We also discussed i-n-t-e-r-n-e-t, the (relative) dearth of picture books (all three published have been publishing them in consistent numbers), and agents (Liz said you don't need one, but only Houghton and Charlesbridge are accepting unagented submissions).
In this kind of a program it's always hard to judge what the audience already knows, what they want to know, and what is just insider baseball and/or gossip. I hope we respected the balance, but I think I talked too much.