The Secrets of a Successful Book

What makes a successful book? Great question! Let’s go ask some editors, shall we? At the 2009 SCBWI LA Conference this is exactly what they did. Four editors each shared a book that they edited and personally felt was a great success.


Courtney Bongiolatti (editor at Simon and Schuester) spoke about the picture book What’s under the Bed by Joe Fenton. She thought this was a strong and successful children’s book because:

  • Strong simple artwork with dark colors.
  • Well written rhyme.
  • Creative and successful use of multiple angles in illustration compositions, where all the illustrations are from different perspectives.
  • It’s a monster book (a personal interest).
  • The book has a story climax and a pictures climax.
  • A simple central image for the cover – something not too complex.

Courtney Bongiolatti is the Associate Editor at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. She has edited Private and Privilege by Kate Brian, the Seven Habits books, and the Wee Little series with Lauren Thompson.

JORDAN BROWN: Touching Snow

Jordan Brown (editor at Walden Press and Balzar and Bray) spoke about the young adult novel Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin. This book was one of the first books he acquired, and it was also the first novel by the author. This is a successful book in his opinion because:

  • It had a magnificent voice.
  • The story is about abuse and murder and is controversial.
  • It was a personal book for the author which can make this an extra tough process. But that process was very rewarding.
  • The book had a good mix of heavy and funny.
  • There are many different takes on the book once it was published and he liked this about it. He is not afraid to publish a tough book.

Jordan Brown is an editor for two imprints: Walden H. Press and Balzar and Bray at Harper Collins. He publishes middle grade, teen, and character driven work with a great voice.

ARI LEWIN: The Heir Chronicles

Ari Lewin (Editor at Disney Hyperion) spoke about her fantasy series The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima. The reasons Ari though these books are successful would include:

  • This is a contemporary fantasy book that started as a stand alone novel that later became a series.
  • The series does not have to be read in order. The books are “companion books” but each has a different main character. Each book stands on its own.
  • Pacing is important and these books are page turners.
  • These books are very visual and cinematic.
  • Ari really likes that these books are real-world fantasy, because the reader is grounded in the world they know and then taken into a new world/space.
  • These books also appeal to both boys and girls.

Ari Lewin is the Senior Editor at Disney Hyperion.  She works with Cinda Williams Chima, Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Waters, EB Lewis, Scott Magoon, among others.


Jennifer Hunt (editor at Little Brown) chose a couple books she edited that she felt were successful for different reasons. They are as follows:

  • A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass – this is a book with lasting quality the kind that sells for years after it is published.
  • Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler – this is a great debut novel, that has anticipation of a franchise.
  • Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr – this is a career changing novel, the kind that wins an award and pushes the author’s career in a new direction. This was done through tenacity and a dedication to excellence by the author.
  • Luna by Julie Anne Peters – this is a challenging book that makes readers think. This is a story about being trans-gender.
  • Jennifer says that it is not so much the idea as it is the execution that makes a book an excellent book. Stay focused on doing excellent work.

Jennifer Hunt is editorial director at Little Brown Books for Young Readers, where she oversees middle grade through young adult acquisitions. Her books include: National Book Award Winner The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexi, Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr, and the How to Train Your Dragon Series by Cressida Cowell.

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