Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Adult Nostalgia and Book Buying Trends

Do you remember your favorite book from childhood? It could be Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, or maybe it’s Miss Rumphius  by Barbara Cooney (that’s mine!). Thinking about that book probably makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You LOVED it! So, of course your son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson will love it too!

This holiday season I found a large percentage of customers making gift purchases based on these exact emotions. They’d ask for that treasured book (be it out of print or not) with hopes of sharing the feeling they had as a child. On Christmas Eve, I walked into our classics section and found it plucked bare. Little House on the Prairie, The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables – all had been purchased, wrapped, and now sat under trees with bright shinny bows.

I think there are two ways to look at this trend. On one side, these books DO stand up against the test of time. They’re classics, timeless, and just plain good! But on the other side of this discussion, I think some might argue that not all classics appeal to today’s kids. Some are slightly outdated and harder for today’s audience to relate to. In this second case, I think adults are buying classic books because they feel nostalgic about them. They hope their kids (or grandkids) will love the book as much as they did, and it’s that hope that gets them to take it home and put it under the tree. Ultimately, this comes down to why someone buys a gift (or any product). In this case its about the feelings and memories the gift-giver has about a book. There’s a ton of great new books on the shelves these days, but sometimes that can’t compete with the joy of sharing a loved classic.

This leads us (as writers) back to the age-old point that books need an emotional punch. Books we loved as kids stay with us because we are connected to them emotionally and something in them has resonated over the years. Look back at your favorite classic and see if it still holds up today. Why? Why not? What about the book makes it timeless? What makes it memorable and worth sharing?

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Hot YA and Holes in the Market

Continuing my review of popular children’s books this holiday season, today I’m gonna talk about YA. I’ll cover the individual titles that were really popular and mention a few common request that I had a hard time fulfilling (that’s right – holes in the market that need to be filled!!).

Hot YA Titles this Holiday Season:

  • Legend by Marie Lu (this is a debut novel and it’s doing really well!)
  • Blood Red Road by Moira Young
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare
  • The Hunger Games by Susan Collins
  • Apothecary by Maile Meloy
  • Inheretance by Christopher Paolini

Holes in the Market:

The following are common requests that I had a hard time fulfilling for customers (please write these books so we can sell them!!).

  • Sport books for girls. Usually this is for a customer who has a daughter who isn’t into romance themed books. This reader plays sports herself and wants to see strong female characters!
  • Dance books for girls. I did have Bunheads (Sophie Flack) and Audition (Stasia Ward Kehoe) on our shelves to recommend. However, some customers wanted dance books without too much romance, or dance books that were not about ballet.
  • Books with Latino protagonists (this goes for both girl and boy books). We need more!! Please write them!

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Series Make Spectacular Gifts!

Earlier this week I talked about the hot picture books of this holiday season, and today I want to jump into the older age groups of Jr. Fiction, Middle Grade, and Young Adult. Although there were lots of spectacular individual books that sold well this holiday (and I’ll get into that in another post) I can’t help but deny the fact that the big sellers are the books that come in a series. Parents, Grandparents, kids, they all go crazy for __________ (insert child’s favorite book series here).

I have a few theories as to why series sell so well:

1) When a kid gets excited about a book, they don’t just have a passing interest. They are PASSIONATE! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: kids run, scream, and jump for joy when the next book in a favorite series hits the shelves. They’re ravenous! And any parent who sees a kid get this excited over a BOOK (rather than…say, um, Angry Birds) has the good sense to buy them the rest of the series for Christmas. And they do.

2) Book box-sets make great gifts! I found that many adults were looking to buy two or more books (per kid) for the holidays. Nothing makes shopping easier than the suggestion of a great new series that has a box set. In fact, most customers asked for box sets rather than the first book of a series. It’s the holidays, they want to splurge a little and get a nice gift!

3) Book series are a lot like your favorite TV show. After you’ve read the first book (or watched a few episodes of a TV show) you’re invested. You know the world. The characters feel like your best friends and you want to hang out with them. You already know what to expect and don’t have to start from scratch with a  book that could be good…or could be a total dud.

Okay so, here’s what was HOT in Series this holiday season:

  • The new Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney.
  • Susan Collin’s The Hunger Games is still selling like we are in the games and our lives depend on it.
  • With the release of Inheritance by Christopher Paolini (the final installment of the Eragon Series) these books were a common request.
  • The Lost Hero series by Rick Riordan.
  • The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.
  • Steampunk is gaining traction with both The Clockwork Prince by Casandra Clare and the Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfeld doing really well.
  • The Rangers Apprentice series by John Flanagan.
  • Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger
  • As for in Early Series and Jr. Fiction, we are always (year round) selling tons of books in the Magic Tree House series (Mary Pope Osborne). Other popular series include The Rainbow Fairies (Daisy Meadows), Ivy and Bean (Annie Barrows), the Warriors series (Erin Hunter), and the Geronimo Stilton series (Geronimo Stilton).
  • And of course, good old Harry Potter is always a common request!

If you’ve got an idea for a great series (particularly in Middle Grade), hop to it! I think this is a trend that will be around for awhile.

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: What’s Hot in the Picture Book Market?

To start off my Book-seller’s sneak-peek into the trends of the 2011 holiday season I thought I’d begin with picture books. And I’m happy to report that picture books are not dead! In fact, picture books sold wonderfully this holiday. The following is a re-cap of some of the hot books, trends, and requests that I got this season:

The Big Books of 2011:

These are individual picture books that we sold stacks and stack and stacks of!

  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  • Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
  • The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmet
  • Stars by Mary Lyn Rae (Illustrated by Marla Frazee. Marla is a bit of a local celebrity, therefore the sales of this book may be related to her local fan base. Not to say this book isn’t awesome, because it is. However, this is a great point  for authors and illustrators – get involved with your local bookstores. We love you and your community will too!)
  • The Lego Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz (This isn’t a picture book, it’s a non-fiction book of ideas of things to build with your left-over legos. It fit with this age-group which is why I’m mentioning it here, and it sold like crazy!!!)

And a few awesome honorable mentions that were also pretty popular:

  • Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum
  • Llama Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney
  • Press Here by Hevee Tulette
  • Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein
  • Itsy Mitsy Runs Away by Elanna Allen

The Princess Trend

Princess books are still very popular! In fact, it’s the number one answer to “What does your three to six-year-old girl like?”  There are a lot of options already out there for princess (or very “girly” themed) picture books, including: Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor, Pinkalicious by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, Lady-Bug Girl by Jackie Davis and David Soman, and The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews. But it seems there’s always room for more. Plenty of parents needed NEW books as they already own the traditional go-to girly books mentioned above.

In contrast, there is also the “anti-princess” trend. This is when a parent comes in and wants to steer their daughter away from their obsession with princesses. In these cases they want a strong girl character who is independent, fun, and into things that are not pink, glittery, or covered in neon polka-dots.

Boys Love Trucks

The number one request for young boys (ages 2 to 6) are trains, planes, and automobiles. It’s so popular that we actually have an entire transportation section of the store. There are a lot of great classics in this category, from The Little Engine That Could to Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. But some new popular titles include Otis by Loren Long and Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Dusky Rinker. Also non-fiction automobile books are popular, particularly those with lifting flaps and sounds.

Boys also love dinosaurs, sports, astronomy, and science. These are popular requests as well (and we do have whole sections for them too). However, many of the books on these shelves are primarily non-fiction rather than a traditional picture book.

The Cute Cuddly Animal Phenomenon

In general the number one picture book request is phrased like this: “Show me all your books with ____________ (insert cute cuddly animal) in them.” Usually this will be something like owls, or puppy dogs, or monkeys. Occasionally they will be something odd like moose or lemurs. It seems that kids go through phases where they’re really into one animal. The other reason this question is so popular (particularly around the holidays) is that adults like to give the gift of a book AND a stuffed animal. Pretty much any animal is game, the requests for “insert cute cuddly animal” are pretty vast so have fun with your next picture book character.

There’s Something for Everyone

This is only a small glimpse into the number of books sold over the holidays. Most sales are highly individual, and I spend a lot of time walking through the store giving suggestions based on the customer’s idea of the type of book they want to give for the holidays. The above are a few examples of things I noticed selling particularly well, or questions I was asked over and over.

Lets not forget that trends are exactly that – trends. And just because it’s popular today doesn’t mean it will be popular next year, or even in another city or state. I work at one small independent bookstore, so of course my observations will be skewed by our customer base. Still, I think it’s fun to see what’s doing well!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: What was HOT this Holiday Season?

Alas, as many of you have noticed, I’ve not been very active on the blog this past month. Despite my absence online, I swear it has all been for a good cause! For you see, I’ve just spent the last 6 weeks (of holiday shopping mania) selling children’s books! And I’ll tell you, there’s no better way to get a snippet of whats selling in the kidlit market than to work in the children’s department of a bookstore during the big holiday push.

Though I don’t have access to official book selling numbers, there are a number of ways to tell what books are selling like hot-cakes and which are floundering in the dust. For example:

  • Take a look around the store and you can get a great idea of what’s doing well. Such as — that pile of display books that was towering yesterday and is gone today…yup, it’s pretty safe to say that’s selling well!
  • Shelving books from receiving is another great way to see what needs re-stocking. Particularly with books we only have one or two copies of.
  • And of course actual requests from customers helps you to get a sense of what they’ve heard about and want to buy.
  • And lets not forget the hand selling. A book-sellers life is about lots and lots and lots of hand-selling!

I’ve decided to break down my observations from this holiday season into a few categories as to better organize what’s hot in which sections. I’ll be posting the following reports throughout the week:

I hope your holidays were spectacular and that the coming information helps inspire you for the New Year!

Traveling Through the Digital Landscape (Part 2)

Continuing my notes from Emma Dryden’s 2011 SCBWI LA talk on publishing and the digital landscape, this post will cover the challenges publishers and authors are faced with as the marketplace keeps changing. Be sure to read PART 1 on the development of digital technology and how it affects the way we read.

Who Gets What Percentage?

  • Currently publishers take in 50% of profits from e-books.
  • Self-published authors get 60%  to 80% of their royalties.
  • Barnes and Noble currently has 25% of the e-book market.  Apple has been interested in purchasing Barnes and Noble so they can compete head to head with Amazon.

Google is No Giggling Matter:

  • Pay attention to Google! They are trying to put out-of-print books into digital devices.

Do Agents become Publishers?

  • There is a new trend of agents and agencies doing editing, cover design, and even some publishing.
  • Andrea Brown Agency and Dystel & Goderich are becoming agency consultants.
  • This is a controversial concept. Is an agent really the perfect publishing partner? The jury is still out on this topic.

New Publishing Outlets:

  • Retailer Publishing
  • Author Publishing
  • Children’s Publishing by: tik-a-tok, inkpop, and figment.
  • UTales is a new platform for illustrators and picture book writers.
  • Indies on Demand
  • Great places to share content include: youtube, itunes, flicker, blogTV, Glogs, Skype.

How does a Publisher Stay Competitive and Fashionable?

  • What keeps a publisher making money?
  • They need to consider Google editions and Google affiliates. How do you control what is on Google? What is fair to the copyrights?
  • How do we deal with piracy? How do we determine what’s free and what is not?
  • “Don’t pirate this book because your friend needs the money vs. Buy this book so you can read it.”
  • Publisher’s Competition = Online Vendors. How does a publisher make themselves a better outlet for authors than these other outlets?
  • Publisher’s Competition = Self-Publishing
  • Publisher’s Competition = Print on Demand (POD) (Such as: Lulu, iUniverse, or Amazon.)
  • The relevancy of the publisher will be diminished if they are not involved in the digital market.
  • Publishers are asking: Who are our customers and why are they our customers? The answer used to be the bookstores, but that is changing.

Changes in Customer Choice:

  • Consumers are now starting to demand some choice in what they consume.
  • There is a growing trend in creating objects that a customer can purchase and customize.
  • We’ve moved from average mass media to the individual.

Author Interaction with His/Her Audience:

  • Lots of interaction is happening online now in “The Cloud”
  • Are authors ready to socialize? Do they want to create a dialog with their audience?
  • Do authors want to create a shared experience online with their audience?
  • What’s your web-utation (play on the word reputation).
  • As an author do you provide your audience with a website that includes: backstory (yours or your books), photos, contests, surveys and reviews, and songlists? Do you create content that your readers can share?
  • Listen, participate, talk with people (not at them), create relevant content, and show respect.

Some Social Media Statistics:

  • Facebook has 760 Million subscribers and the median age is 38.
  • Myspace has 100 million subscribers and the median age is 31
  • Linked in has 100 million subscribers and the median age is 44.
  • Twitter has 200 million subscribers and the median age is 35.
  • Google Plus is growing (no stats as of yet) but is a blend of social and professional.

Some Interesting Digital Things to Look Into:

  • Social Networking:
    • Online social networking for books: Goodreads
  • People to Follow on Twitter:
    • Open Road Integrated Media
    • Scroll Motion
    • Callaway Digital
    • Ruckus Media Group
    • Mindiemoms
    • Goodreads
    • Write4kids
    • drydenbooks
  • Other Fun Stuff:

Closing Quote: “We need to raise a new generation of writers and artists not for our nation’s economy, but for our nations soul.” – Mark Seigel

Emma D. Dryden began her career in children’s publishing in 1986 as an Editorial Assistant at Random House Children’s Books. She was then hired as Associate Editor for the legendary Margaret K. McElderry, whose eponymous imprint was a part of Macmillan Children’s Books, and was later named Senior Editor of the imprint. After McElderry retired, Emma was made Vice President, Editorial Director, and in 2005, Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until May 2009.

Over the course of Emma’s career she’s edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers, ranging in format from board books and picture books to poetry anthologies, novelty books, non-fiction, middle grade fiction, and YA/teen fiction and fantasy. As publisher, she oversaw the annual publication of more than one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. Authors and illustrators whom Emma has edited include Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Susan Cooper, Alan Katz, David Catrow, Raul Colon, Shelia P. Moses, Marjorie Priceman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, David Diaz, and Paul Zelinsky.

Traveling Through the Digital Landscape (Part 1)

Emma Dryden spoke at the 2011 LA SCBWI Conference and gave a very in depth talk about how the digital marketplace is changing the business of books. I took so many notes I’ve had to break this into two posts. Part one will cover how kids interact with technology and fiction, how this is influencing the business, and some of the key factors that have changed the landscape. Part two will look into how the book business is adapting and the challenges it’s facing to stay competitive, as well as some of the new models that are surfacing due to self publishing. This is a big hot topic and Dryden was very thorough! Enjoy.

Dryden pre-empted this talk with a reminder that we should never forget that story matters most!

Kids and Technology:

  • The landscape of technology is a place kids know intrinsically.
  • Paper is not something kids are used to interacting with.
  • Most children are media consumers by the time they are one year old.
  • Kids are not linear.
  • Kids brains have adapted to a digital dialect.

How Interaction with Digital Technology is Changing the Way We Read and Acquire Information:

  • In the absence of bursts of stimulation we now get bored faster.
  • The way we read is different and changing. How we interact with an object is changing.
  • The internet creates a whole new area of narrative. One people can explore and drive.
  • It’s become more important for one to know how to search for a fact, rather than to know the fact itself.
  • Does heavy technology use diminish empathy, whereas fiction creates empathy?

Our Connection to Fiction:

  • Our experience of fiction is based on: literacy, imagination, and human connection.
  • Fiction allows us to think for the sake of thinking.

How is the Book Business Changing?

  • The digital world is changing the book business and we had better adapt!
  • Print is not going away for the sake of digital, but we are moving to a model that uses both.
  • It pays to be flexible and on time when it comes to this new digital landscape.
  • Some smaller publishers are taking the e-only option and no longer printing books.
  • Libraries need to become more like Lady Ga Ga and less like Lady Bird Johnson.
  • Technology should not or need not drive a story.
  • Storytellers and illustrators are our best guides as to how the landscape is changing and how it should change.

Things that Changed the Game:

  • Apple created the iPhone in 2007
  • Amazon came out with the Kindle in 2007. Currently there are 15 million kindles in the hands of consumers.
  • The recession hit us hard and created more start-ups.
  • The e-book battles began.

Things that Continue to Change the Game and Influence the Market:

  • In 2010 the Sony Walkman was retired.
  • Apple baked the iPie and wants to eat it too.
  • The expanding book market changed to create less cost book production through digital sources. (Less cost not NO cost).
  • E-Books are everywhere! It is estimated that 50% of book sales will be E-Books by 2014.
  • What’s your app-titude? Apps are changing the market as well.
  • Pottermore is influencing and changing business models.
  • We are easily distracted by new devices.

What about Picture Books and the Digital Market?

  • Picture books do still matter! And they still are selling. Electronic media should not be a threat to picture books, it should be a supplement!

Stay Tuned for Part Two:

  • In part two, Dryden brings up issues of Agents becoming publishers, self publishing, new business challenges, and customer choice.

Emma D. Dryden began her career in children’s publishing in 1986 as an Editorial Assistant at Random House Children’s Books. She was then hired as Associate Editor for the legendary Margaret K. McElderry, whose eponymous imprint was a part of Macmillan Children’s Books, and was later named Senior Editor of the imprint. After McElderry retired, Emma was made Vice President, Editorial Director, and in 2005, Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until May 2009.

Over the course of Emma’s career she’s edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers, ranging in format from board books and picture books to poetry anthologies, novelty books, non-fiction, middle grade fiction, and YA/teen fiction and fantasy. As publisher, she oversaw the annual publication of more than one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. Authors and illustrators whom Emma has edited include Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Susan Cooper, Alan Katz, David Catrow, Raul Colon, Shelia P. Moses, Marjorie Priceman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, David Diaz, and Paul Zelinsky.

Five Publishers Give an Industry-Wide Picture

Editors Debra Dorfman, Beverly Horowitz, Jennifer Hunt, Allyn Johnston, and Julie Strauss-Gabel all spoke on a panel at the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference about the current state of the children’s book industry. Big issues like self-publishing, e-books, and digital trends were discussed, but deep down it seems that content is king. The following is my transcription of the panel discussion. Please note that these are my notes and not direct quotes from the editors mouth.

Moderator: Please introduce yourself and your company.

Allyn Johnston: VP of Beach Lane Books which she runs with one other colleague. They put out 18-20 books per year. Mostly these are picture books for very young kids and a few middle grade or YA titles.

Julie Strauss Gabel: VP at Dutton Children’s Books, which she has worked at for a decade. Dutton has moved to become a boutique company that does mostly MG and YA. She acquires 10-12 books per year (more YA now) and is looking for things that are literary and commercial.

Jennifer Hunt: VP at Dial Books for Young Readers. She just moved to this new company. Previously she worked as an editor at Little Brown. She is looking to build a high-quality literary book list and is interested in partnerships that broaden what a book can be.

Beverly Horowitz:  VP at Delacorte Press. Delacorte has evolved over the years and is now focused on MG and a wide variety of YA. The Newbery winner this year came from Delacorte and is a debut author! Their books include Fallen to Maze Runner, but they’re always looking for little gems (though that’s not the norm). Looking for books that will translate into international fairs, and she likes voices from other cultures.

Debra Dorfman: VP at Scholastic where they do everything from baby books to YA. In fact, lots of YA recently. Her focus is on middle grade and chapter books. Her group does hardcover series’ and works closely with book clubs/fair for paperback series’.

Moderator: Are there any genres that are endangered or growth spurting right now? (i.e. picture book, fantasy, etc.)

Beverly: With the demise of Borders we have to begin new thinking. Genres aren’t going to die, but they do cycle. Certain strong genres lead the pack. Borders demise is a sad thing. There’s an opportunity for independents to have great potential, but we should also not be afraid of the e-book. Be nimble! Big box stores are opening up to YA (stores like Walmart), though maybe not picture books yet. Everyone is going to need to re-think the business. With that, new ideas and opportunities will arise. The adult book world may have a harder time (in the short term).

Deb: I think there will be books moving to non-bookstore markets (mass retailers).

Beverly: Be optimistic AND realistic. Walmart and Target are not innovators. Don’t be too tough on the electronic future.

Julie: There is not one way to publish a book to success. Not being in Target is not the end of the world. Each will find their way. If the content is there it will find its audience. Take your time. Target can be a skewed view of the YA market.

Jen: Kids are always at the forefront of innovation. Meanwhile books with a 30th anniversary edition is an example of content that stays. Content is king.

Beverly: Sometimes you can be before a trend. Some cycle and come around. As publishers we look to the backlist to repackage a book. Suddenly a repackaged book can become big as it’s new to the audience ten years later. The kids market has a lot of turnover. Don’t use the old system. It doesn’t work anymore.

Moderator: What kind of skills does an author or illustrator need? What do you expect from them more than just the ability to write?

Deb: Put yourself out there. Websites, school visits, etc. Talk with your publisher. It helps if you create your own buzz.

Julie: Social media only works when it’s genuine to who you are. Do you want to do it? Do what’s natural to your marketing voice. Don’t force yourself to blog and tweet. It’s not what we expect. Do what’s genuine.

Jen: I agree. There’s a lot of anxiety for writers with social media. Focus on your writing.

Moderator: What about Self Publishing?

Deb: Amanda Hocking is a really interesting self publishing phenomenon. She’s been selling her paranormal YA novel online for 99 cents and gotten herself a multi-million dollar contract out of it. There’s a lot of different ways to do things now. In Japan girls are writing  YA novels and texting them to each other. People are putting things online and when it gets enough hits publishers are taking notice. However, these guys are the outlier and not the norm.

Beverly: It’s like Justin Bieber – he’s an outlier.

Jen: Independent publishing can be good for under-represented communities. That’s important. The LA Times did an article on the shifting face of what a family is and kids want to see themselves in print.

Julie: I firmly believe in voices finding their way. But beware of the “I submitted to some houses, got no’s, so they must be idiots” attitude. I believe in editing, and gate keeping. The book can be better! Or maybe it’s the 4th book you write that get’s published. We need moments of personal honesty.

Moderator: How does New Media affect Picture books?

Allyn: I believe in the traditional format, e-book included. The enhanced book is distracting and disrupts the purity of words and pictures. I’m not interested in moving stuff unless it’s about education.

Beverly: Can we put that in YA? These are questions being asked now. It’s evolving. Some of those enhanced book elements may work better with an older audience.

Julie: The content (or value) isn’t the book (the physical book). It’s the editorial team, the intellectual property, etc. That is the value that goes into the content.

Beverly: As things get cheaper (iPads etc.) the technology changes. Even the homeless have ear-buds in their ears.

Deb:  We are publishing all our YA books simultaneously in e-book and regular book, as well as a lot of MG. A lot of adults are buying and downloading YA today.

Moderator: Can you comment on the fact that NY Times Bestseller lists are not consistent? The hardcopy and e-books have different lists and are selling differently.

Beverly: Kids books are only 4% of the e-book market, while adult books have about 30-40%. We have a lot of room to grow.

Jen: Kids aren’t mini-adults. They are going to interact with technology in their own way.

Beverly: Browsing is the part of the e-book technology that hasn’t been figured out yet.

Moderator: Have you noticed a change in the reading habits of kids?

Deb: Looking to publish earlier chapter books, girls are jumping to chapter books rather than picture books.

Bev: I think it comes down to content. When someone says “My kid is reading Dostoevsky,” sure they understand the words, but do they understand the content? There are emotional needs of a child that need to be nurtured.

Julie: They are sophisticated readers but not emotionally ready. What do we give them? It’s a challenge. What are they ready for as a reader, but not as a person? We need to speak to the head and heart of a child. Older YA can be distinguished through voice or content. Some jump ship to adult books, but they don’t “get it.” They are not a mini-adults.

Jen: Something about the word “crossover” makes me bristle. I’d hate for us to ever not make the best book for that reader in the MG or YA market.

Moderator: Tell us about one of your upcoming books?

Deb: Ghost Buddy – it’s funny, heartfelt, and funny!

Bev: All the Earth Thrown to the Skythis is by an author who was originally an adult writer. It’s literary, compelling, and a lovely story. It’s a little game. I love the beauty of the writing and the passion.

Jen: Counting by Sevens is about exploring family identity and your place in the world.

Julie: I have two. The first is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It will blow open everything you know about John Green. And The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour which is a road trip book about figuring out what happens next once you discover that you’ve grown up. There’s a complexity and clarity in how she tells a story.

Allyn:  10 Little Caterpillars which is a poem picture book and Stars by Mary Lynne Rae which is an exploration of all things star.

Debra Dorfman is VP, Publisher Paperbacks, Non-Fiction & Licensed Publishing at Scholastic. She worked in the Scholastic Book Club division for twelve years, then move to Penguin Young Readers Group as President and Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap for seven years. In 2008, she came back to Scholastic. Some of her favorite books include Go, Dog, Go!, Stargirl, and Looking for Alaska.

Jennifer Hunt is VP of Acquisitions and Editor-at-Large for Dial Books. She was formerly Editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She is the editor of many award winning books including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacugalupi, and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.

Allyn Johnston is VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books which focuses on emotionally engaging, lyrical, and highly visual picture books for young readers. Allyn has worked with Mem Fox, Lois Ehlert, Marla Frazee, Avi, and M.T. Anderson.

Beverly Horowitz is VP Publisher of Delacorte Press. She began her career in the editorial department of Little, Brown in Boston. She’s held positions in all aspects of publishing including publicity and promotions, school and library marketing, and editorial. She has worked with Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and many more!

Julie Strauss-Gabel is VP at Dutton Children’s Books.  A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard University she worked at Hyperion Books and Clarion Books before joining Dutton in 1992. She has worked with the authors: John Green, Galye Forman, Stephanie Perkins, Nina LaCour, Lauren Myracle, and many more.

A View From The Top

From the top things look pretty good! But from such a high angle one has a different point of view of the marketplace. Four senior editors were kind enough to share their view of the current children’s book  marketplace at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference. This star studded cast included editors: Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney/Hyperion), Francesco Sedita (Grosset & Dunlap, and Price Stern Sloan), Jennifer Hunt (Little Brown), and Justin Chada (VP and publisher at: Simon and Schuster, Anthem, and Margaret K. McElderly Books).

MODERATOR: Tell us a little about yourselves.

FRANCESCO: I’m the publisher of two imprints at Penguin. I was at Scholastic for 8 years before, an also worked at Knoph adult before that. “Leading by Instinct” is my motto. The spirit of a project is what is most important to me. I also went to school for writing and am the author of Miss Popularity.

STEPHANIE: The school library introduced me to Little House On the Prairie, and later my heart was stolen by Harriet the Spy. I worked at Little Brown for 12 years, then Simon and Schuster for 6 years. Dutton for 9 years, and now I’m with Disney Hyperion. I was interested in working with an entertainment company and a smaller staff.

JENNIFER: I work at Little Brown. Initially I started on the marketing side, and I also did an internship with Beacon Press. I’ve also worked at Time and Money Magazines, and Random House Adult, as well as with Lee and Low’s multi-cultural picture books. I’ve been with Little Brown for the past 9 years. We are a small boutique house and we “strive to be the best in the class.”

JUSTIN: I work at Simon and Schuster. I work on the fourth floor.  I oversee 250 titles per year, and work with a staff of 15 editors and assistants. I used to write for kids television and this is my 12th year in publishing!

MODERATOR: Characterize what you do at each of your imprints.

FRANCESCO: Grosset and Dunlap was a licensed publisher for awhile, and did things like Star Wars, etc. We are trying to develop books for 1-10 years old and middle grade. Price Stern Sloan is the original publisher of madlibs, and is thought of as the obnoxious little brother to Grosset. We like to try to new things with format and develop new ideas. We are trying out a $9.99 picture book. We are playing with margins to make books easier to read. Some of our books include: Frankly Frannie, George Brown Class Clown, and Katie Kazoo Switch-a-roo.

STEPHANIE: Disney Press publishes all things related to Disney. But Disney Hyperion does non-Disney related content.  We publish everything from Pre-School to YA, and things that are high concept. We are author focused and have people like Mo Willems, Clementine (book), Rick Riordan, Ally Carter, Melissa De La Cruz’s Blue Bloods. We publish 100 books a year, including literary fiction through series. 80% of our titles (per year) are commercial, and 20% are literary.

JENNIFER: Our Imprint Poppy publishes Gossip Girl, It Girl, and other series of that nature. Little Brown Kids is our licensing and novelty imprint, and Little Brown Young Readers is our core list with picturebooks through YA. We are about quality, thoughtful work from editorial to marketing. We are a house that an author can find a career at. We want you to grow with us. We really like debut authors. We don’t give up on books. For example How to Train Your Dragon took a while to find its audience.

JUSTIN: Each imprint for us has its own team and is its own entity. Our philosophy is not all literary books are not commercial, and not all commercial books are not literary. Commercial = Kids are reading it. Books for young readers publishes series, picture books, and commercial stuff. Atheneum is our literary imprint. That’s where our Newberry’s come from. McElderly is a boutique imprint that does poetry and literary work, fantasy, and publishes authors like Ellen Hopkins. It’s very versatile.  We have no policy against sending things to multiple imprints, but research and find out who is right for you. We also have Simon Pulse and Aladdin, but I don’t oversee those imprints.

MODERATOR: What role does the Children’s Book Division play in your overall company?

JUSTIN: Children’s books used to be “cute,” but now we are a major presence. Children’s books actually float many companies. We are a major player!

JENNIFER: Children’s books plays a major role in our company. After all we did publish Twilight, which has gained a lot of respect for our imprint. But you never know what will be a blockbuster.

STEPHANIE: “Where’s Our Twilight?” (Joke). At Hyperion we are the only children’s book division and we are separate from Hyperion adult. We have actually made more money than Disney Press.

FRANCESCO: Children’s books are the sleeping giant, and we are slowly waking up. “If you’re not make mistakes you’re not taking any risks.” That is our philosophy.

JENNIFER: It feels great to be innovative!

MODERATOR: What is your allocation of resources in terms of advances, promotion, etc.?

JUSTIN: It’s different than it was before. There are less human resources and less marketing resources. For example if no one comes to a book tour then it was wasted money. Some of the bestsellers actually come from word of mouth and reviews. You need every dollar to count. Marketing online makes things more possible. Facebook and Twitter are great way to promote directly to consumers.

JENNIFER: We have a smaller list 100-120 books per year including series. We think a lot about each book and want to see where it fits in. I love our marketing team! But we try to be thoughtful for each book.

MODERATOR: How do you make acquisition choices?

STEPHANIE: We have A, B, and C books. Big, strong, and developing. We want authors to deliver year after year. Our resources are bad news. It feels like our work load has tripled. But we are a small enough company to keep and author in house. We want them to have a home and we pick our authors carefully. We like to see good ideas, strong execution, and then we think about compatibility.

FRANCESCO: We have low price points ($9.99) so we like to take on new voices.  We like successful series. For example the Frank Frannie books are $4.99. I hate the word mass market, I like to think about it more as a project that opens a lot of doors. It’s tricky all over the place. We do market every book, but we don’t have tons of money to promote books instead we have lots of smart people to help push it forward.

MODERATOR: What’s your opinion about multi-media and the importance of platforms? Specifically in the near future?

JUSTIN: E-books are great, and everyone else who doesn’t think so is wrong – in my opinion! All our hardcover books go into e-books now. There’s a growing audience. Adults are reading teen books on kindle now too. But there’s a weird discussion going on about apps vs. digital books. We are trying not to make the betamax. We want the VHS! “Looser Queen” is an online publisher.

FRANCESCO: Take a look at any proposal that’s direct to video. Read the digital stuff like The 39 Clues. Learn from it. We need your help too.

JENNIFER: We do think about digital assets even from the acquisitions point. Enhanced books, etc. The question is does the story lend itself to creative marketing?

STEPHANIE: Kingdom Keeper Series created a trans-media game where you have to read the book to get keys to the video game. The third book sold 70% more than the other two that did not have the game element.

FRANCESCO: The apps need to serve the story. If they do then tell me about it as part of the project proposal. Otherwise we have a whole marketing team who can dream up the other stuff.

JENNIFER: It’s about great writing for me!

STEPHANIE: Yes, first start with the story. Then get me with the second part about the marketing. But only if it is essential to the story.

JENNIFER: Focus on writing. Tell a great story.

MODERATIOR: Can you leave us with a word of council to everyone?

FRANCESCO: When you write, write for yourself first. Shut the door on what you’ve learned. Write what you want to write.

JUSTIN: Don’t write to trends. If you write to the trend then the Vampires win!

JENNIFER: Think about your own excellence and write toward that.

STEPHANIE: Write what you think is cool! Remember the child you once were.

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.

Jennifer Hunt oversees the acquisition and development of all middle grade and young adult fiction for the Little Brown for Young Readers list. She edits a wide range of books including titles with Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, Cornelia Funke, Pseudonymous Bosch, Walter Mosley, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Francesco Sedita is an accomplished writer whose work includes an ongoing children’s book series; his literary career also includes his role as Publisher of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan. He developed and oversaw the marketing campaign  for the final book in the Harry Potter Series. He also recently edited the first young adult novel by author Ann Hood.

Justin Chada is the VP and Publisher at S&S Books for Young Readers, Atheneum Books, and Margaret K McElderry Books. He is an editor at Atheneum books. He has worked with authors and illustrators such as David Shannon, Jon Scieszka, Loren Long, Kenneth Oppel, Adam Rex, and Eric Wright.

The Digital Revolution: Writers Becoming Content Creators

The digital revolution is changing the way we publish books. With iPads and e-readers, blogging and the internet, the way in which we receive content is changing every day. Agent Rubin Pfeffer spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference to address this very topic. In his opinion, we should all redefine how we see ourselves, we are not simply writers and illustrators, we are content creators.

Notes from Rubin Pfeffer’s Keynote Speech:

Let’s Clarify…

  • When talking about digital books and publishing in new media, this means “NOT INSTEAD OF, BUT IN ADDITION TO…”

What if SCBWI was SCCC:

  • SCBWI (as a name) is functional – yes.  But sexy? No!
  • The word society has a foofyness to it. A tea party sound.
  • When SCBWI created its name branding wasn’t (then) what it needs to be now.
  • SCCC = Society of Children’s Content Creators: Perhaps it is time for a moment of self examination. Where could this organization go?
  • SCBWI has 22,000 members (globally) as of 2010. We are a global force!

What Does It Mean to Be Relevant In the Digital Age?

  • The digital future has become the digital-NOW!
  • We are in a world commanded by e-retailers. There is no more “on ground” stores. Amazon is the number one retailer for trade book publishing!
  • Reading devices used to have a fast turnover rate, but the iPad has become the big game changer.
  • 70% of adults have not been in a book store in five years! They have a store in their poket/purse. It’s called an iPhone.

Agents as E-Publishers:

  • In response to the digital revolution certain agents are now becoming e-publishers as well. These pioneers include Richard Curtis and Scott Waxman.
  • Odyssey Company (e-publisher).
  • If you compare a $10 paperback to a $10 e-book, the author will get 80 cents per paperback book, and $1.75 per e-book.
  • E-publishers have talked about royalties as a high as $3.50 to $7 per book.  (These are theoretical and may not be uniform.)
  • APO = Alternate Publishing Options

An Opportunity is Upon Us…

  • Books in print will always be here, but they are not the only way.
  • This is a time of revolution and opportunity!
  • Why shouldn’t there be larger profits for you the content creators?
  • The opportunities are to be found in new formats.
  • The lexicon of formats are expanding – animation, phone apps, twitter, etc.
  • Look at the iPad as a dry sponge hungry for content with many multi-media possibilities.
  • We must remain high above the poor quality material that is published on the internet.
  • “Just because we can publish, doesn’t mean that we should.” -?

There is Fear in the Unknown…

  • Traditional publishers are scared that the way books are read is changing on a fundamental level. The book is presently going through a radical reinvention right now!
  • Think about how music changed over the years (in terms of the format in which the music got to  you). Originally it was live, then recorded on a record, then 8-track, cassette, CD, and MP3. The music is still good, the form we get it in has changed.

A Great Article on the Market…

  • “Publishing The Revolutionary Future.” New York Times Review, March 11, 2010

Rubin Pfeffer is an agent with East West Literary Agency. Prior he has worked in Children’s book publishing for many years as SVP of and Publisher of Simon and Schuster and overseeing the imprints of Anthem, McElderry, Aladdin, and Paula Wiseman Books.