How to Think Like a Publisher

At the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference, senior editor Stephanie Owens Lurie shared her point of view of the publishing process. Her intention was to get the audience to think about publishing from the eyes of those on the other side. So here is what the publishers are think and how you can fit into the process:

1. Considering Books Submissions

  • One must ask what are the book’s merits? How well does the book fit with our list? Do we already have too much paranormal romance? Etc. What is the ideal publishing season for this book? How soon can we get it to market?
  • A publisher’s goal is to fill a hole as soon as we possibly can.

Tips for Authors Submitting:

  • Keep in mind a publisher’s strengths when you submit to them.
  • Familiarize yourself with the formats and age groups.
  • Research publisher’s lists. Go to the library or book store and look at what one particular publisher publishes.
  • Beware of something that is too similar to another book already on their list.
  • Don’t submit a book to a publisher in a category that they don’t publish.
  • Look at great resources like publisher’s marketplace online.
  • Polish your work! Get it ready to be put into publication as soon as possible.
  • Be flexible about your publication date.

2. The Pitch

  • In today’s market a lot depends upon your pitch.
  • The pitch helps the editor to get other people on board for your book.
  • The pitch helps marketing, publicity and sales have an edge.
  • The pitch helps book sellers to hand sell your book.
  • The pitch is how readers will spread the word about your book.
  • A sales rep has about 30 seconds to get a buyer interested in your book.

What An Author Can Do:

  • Develop a log line or elevator pitch for your book. Use TV guide movie blurbs as a way to figure out what makes a good log line.
  • Focus on story. Put your story into one sentence.
  • Example: __________ (Character) is so ______________(personality trait) that _________________ (such and such happens). This is a good way to start your query letter.

3. The Franchise

  • Your book is not just a story, it is a franchise. We want to produce multiple books from your story.
  • We are not looking for just one idea. We are looking for authors that can continue to produce books. (This doesn’t have to be a series). We are looking for authors that we can develop relationships with over time.
  • Chain stores like authors that have books coming out every year.
  • Getting a movie deal for your book is great! It helps to sell more books.


What An Author Can Do:

  • Help your publisher see you as a creator of a franchise, but don’t come on too strong. We want to see that you have ideas, but that you are also flexible.
  • Show that you have other ideas within the same age group, if you don’t write series. Your following will leave you if you go too long without publishing a book. Remember that the age group grows up fast and moves on to the next age group.

4. The Deal

  • Books seem to fall into three categories. There are the huge blockbusters (Harry Potter, Twilight, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, etc.). Then there are six-figure books (Shiver, Fallen). And then there is everything else.
  • Publishing is a gamble. Not every book works.
  • Authors can be dropped when an advance doesn’t pay out, and often editors get canned as well.
  • Publishers are under a lot of pressure to find top talent.


Tips for Authors With an Offer:

  • If you are in a position where you have multiple offers consider the amount of money being offered. Is it enough to pay your bills? How will it affect the way the publisher markets the book?
  • Consider the marketing plan. Do you get to be a part of it? Do you like what the publisher makes?
  • Does the editor share your vision for the book? Does the editor have time for you? Do you have chemistry?
  • The speed in which a deal is made and the amount of money being offered are not the only important parts of a book deal.

5. The Media

  • You need to help sell your book!
  • Make noise to get your book attention!
  • Try and make personal connections with your audience.
  • Publishers want an author that they can promote. Having a fascinating back story can make you marketable.
  • You need to think about what inspired you to write your story. Does that help to market the book? If so, mention it in your query letter.
  • Your credentials can help sell books if they relate to the story in some way.
  • Do you have an active platform?  An active platform can sometimes be more interesting to a publisher than your publishing or writing credits.
  • Do you enjoy “pressing the flesh” – meaning meeting the people who will sell/buy your book – librarians, kids, etc.
  • Are you willing to promote your book online? Authors are expected to help spread the word in today’s marketplace.
  • Do you have an interesting presentation for school visits or book tours?
  • Share all of the above with your publisher and together you can build a marketing plan for your book.
  • Remember, editors have expertise in the market, so don’t be too demanding or disappointed if they shoot down an idea.

6. The Gatekeeper

  • The gatekeeper is the bookseller. These are the stores, outlets, chains, etc.
  • Books sell for two reasons. One, it is something that the store thinks the customers will busy. Two, the bookseller has an emotional connection with the book.
  • Booksellers take the heat when things don’t sell well.
  • Sales representatives build relationships with booksellers. Sales reps consider who will want what type of books and over time the buyer will begin to trust the sales reps opinions.
  • Large booksellers (Barnes and Noble, etc.) like to have custom content. A B&N exclusive – new chapters of the next book, etc.  This type of thing is unlikely however with a first book.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Be careful of mature content.
  • Introduce yourself to your local bookseller.
  • Inform your editor if you don’t see your book for sale at a local book shop (not the big chains, smaller stores).
  • Develop ideas for custom content.
  • Trust your sales team.

7. The Consumer

  • Most children’s books (picture book through middle grade) are purchased by adults. These are usually women (mom and grandma).
  • Teachers no longer buy trade books anymore due to the introduction of “No Child Left Behind” as they are not focusing attention toward test scores.
  • Things that turn off Mom and Grandma: Bratty kids, lots of text, depressing stories, odd names. Etc.
  • The Cover is often the most important thing in making a decision to buy a book.
  • Teens usually buy their own books.
  • Teens are looking for classy covers. Books have actually become something of a status symbol within the teen world.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Come up with sales handles from the start.  What makes your book different? What will make a consumer pick it up?
  • Compare your book to the competition.
  • Think about packaging. If you have image ideas share them with your editor.
  • Trust your design department.

8. The End User

  • The end user is the kids.
  • Publishers and authors have the same goal – we want to deliver a high quality work in a kids perspective, and grow a readership.


What an Author Can do:

  • Write for kids and not for ego gratification.
  • Writing is not just an art form, it is a form of communication (with kids).
  • Put in the time.
  • Know your target audience and don’t condescend to them.
  • Interact with your fans! Go to schools!
  • Answer your fan mail. Interact.
  • Don’t leave your audience hanging. Write the next book!


9. The Future

  • For content providers (you) there are so many new ways in which to reach your audience (the kids).
  • Remain competitive, innovative, and profitable.
  • Embrace technology! Publishers are looking for creative people who want to enhance the way in which they communicate.
  • Don’t distrust the future. Be a part of the creative discussion with your publisher.
  • The rights landscape is constantly changing. Be patient.
  • Think about the bigger picture.

10. The Author

  • It’s your job to tell the story. It’s the publisher’s job to sell it.
  • If you and your publisher are thinking along the same lines, then it makes everything easier.
  • Be strategic from submission to final decision.
  • Be willing to promote your book.
  • “I need your book in order to get a raise.” – Owens Lurie

The Ideal Author Will Be:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

About Stephanie Owens Lurie and Disney Hyperion:

  • Owens Lurie is the editorial director and oversees other editors.
  • Disney Hyperion creates non-Disney content.
  • They publish about 100 books a year. 75 of those books are original, and 25 are reprints.
  • Owens Lurie has been in the editorial business for 30 years. Previous places of employment include Little, Brown and Penguin.
  • Owens Lurie edits about 15 books per year herself.

Check Out Notes From the Follwoing Q&A of This Session Here:

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

7 thoughts on “How to Think Like a Publisher

  1. Pingback: SCBWI LA 2010 – The Quick Take Away « Ingrid's Notes

  2. Interesting point about pitch – I’d never thought of it as a way for sales reps to sell to bookstores too. Guess that’s why it’s so important to have a great one!

  3. Pingback: Q&A with Disney Hyperion Editor Stephanie Owens Lurie « Ingrid's Notes

  4. This was incredibly helpful, it’s amazing to have someone break down publisher’s needs and how authors can fit those in this way.

    This is bookmarked and printed for constant reference, thanks so much!

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