Sunday, February 04, 2007

Three agree

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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had hoped to attend the meeting last week, as I had imagined that the purpose was to discuss where children's publishing might possibly venture. From your comments, it sounds as if the discussion centered on where children's publishing is today.

What would be very interesting is to know the editors' opinions (both positive and negative) regarding the "relative dearth" in picture books, the emphasis on "money" in publishing, and the influence of the internet.

I too am also left hanging with the comment from Liz at Candlewick about not needing agents. Hmmmm.

Thank you very much for your comments.

M

Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liz Bicknell said...

It is true that Candlewick does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is also true that I don't think all authors need agents. But I do see how those two statements seem contradictory. Let me explain how what might seem cold-hearted (not accepting unsolicited manuscripts)is really just a way of separating the wheat from the chaff (and dear reader, you are most definitely wheat): For example, all our editors make regular forays to conferences, workshops, and other children's books gatherings, and we always agree to read manuscripts from writers participating in those workshops, talks, retreats, etc. This is one way of ensuring we are reaching out to the more serious writer. Additionally, of course, we attend all the national and regional library, bookselling, and teacher conferences--another big source of submissions.

Most of the submissions I receive personally come via recommendations--from other writers, or sometimes from editors at other houses--or out of MFA programs. The true "slush pile" manuscripts I receive tend to fall into two distinct categories--the completely hopeless (chaff) and the promising (wheat). I do read them all, and I reply personally to the latter.

Regarding agents, that is surely up to an author to decide. All I can say is that some of our most notable and well published authors do not have one.

The panel was a lot of fun; thanks to all who arranged, participated, and embraced it on a cold winter night.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ms. Bicknell, for taking the time to respond. Hearing you discuss the networking necessary for success is quite illuminating.

I so completely agree with you about separating the chaff from the wheat. If there were far less chaff, it would be possible for more publishers to look at unsolicited writers - at least at the query stage. Realistically, we all know there will never be less chaff.

From the viewpoint of this neophyte writer, the job publishers do is a very dificult and very much appreciated one.

M

Anonymous said...

RS--

Wasn't there, but can't imagine you talking TOO much.

Miss hearing you guys around the office.

alb

rindawriter said...

Thanks for the detailed information, very interesting to reflect on...

rindawriter said...

P.S. I do have to quibble just a little with the comment above about the "more serious writer" appearing at conferences, retreats, etc.
Ahem, ahem...I sold my first picturebook on my own, through ye goode, olde slushie pile, without ever MEETING another writer...and although I am not always serious when I write (writing goofy stuff), writing has become a serious secondary addiction...secondary to reading, that is....

Editors MIGHT be missing some tasty goodies in the talent pool if they are only relying on submissions from writers who have the extra $$$ to attend conferences, retreats, etc. Some of us out there would rather spend the $$$ on postage and computer updates....

Anonymous said...

I'm probably in the minority as an aspiring writer who would rather see all publishing houses require agents. I think jumping through the hoop of finding an agent culls a lot of chaff right out of the gate. A friend of mine is in publishing and the slush pile sounds like the Third Circle of Hell. Call me crazy, but I don't want my meticulously crafted (as well as compelling and moving :-) work read by someone who has spent eight hours sifting through the literary equivalent of William Hung performances. I went to two conferences, they didn't blow my skirt up, so it seemed more cost-effective to me to seek mentoring from instructors at my local university. Since it's hard to meet editors without going to conferences, I'll seek representation for my first novel.

The NCBLA said...

The Foundation for Children's Book panel on "What Happens Next in Children's Books?"was of great interest and Roger Sutton's questions and comments were as thought provoking as the editor's.

For anyone interested, the NCBLA has a report and observations on the panel at: http://thencbla.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-happens-next-in-childrens-books.html

Anonymous said...

one might infer from the NCBLA report that only one editor had something worth hearing. which one was it?