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The British Chapter of the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) started its 2012 Professional Series with a bang and a Commissioning Editors Event at which 4 commissioning editors gave briefings about their respective publishing houses and answered questions from those of us in attendance.



Lauren Buckland, Random House Children's Books

Lauren Buckland is a commissioning editor at Random House Children's Books who commissions and edits across all age groups and genres. She began by giving some statistics from Random House for 2011:

- Random House published 171 books over 2011;
- Random House received approximately 650 submissions;
- Of these 650 submissions, the Random House team requested 150 partials;
- From these 150 partials, the team took 30 books to the acquisitions committee;
- Of these 30 books, Random House bought between 15 and 20.

Lauren explained that there were 9 people in the Random House team, who read/reviewed all the submissions. She said that she personally was interested in gritty, distinctive and/or captivating new voices. Her personal tastes are for teen fantasy/science fiction but she made a point of saying that she's also looking for humour for 9 - 10 year olds (think GANGSTER GRANNY by David Walliams). She also loves thrillers.

Barry Cunningham, Chicken House

Barry Cunningham is Publisher and Managing Director at Chicken House Publishing and is probably most famous for being the publisher who spotted the potential in and bought HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE by J. K. Rowling.

He began by explaining that although Chicken House operates as an independent publisher, it is part of the Scholastic family. It publishes fiction for children aged 7 to teen (roughly 16/17).

Chicken House looks to release between 20 and 25 books per year, of which 8 or 9 will be completely original works. They look to take world rights on manuscripts and have publishing arms in the United States, German (where they are part of a joint venture) and will shortly be launching a joint venture in Holland. As a result of this, they are really looking for manuscripts that can be sold internationally.

Barry said that he likes new voices and that Chicken House is a publisher that looks to build an author's career. He also said that he particularly looks for:

- a manuscript voice that is authentic for the age group that the author is writing for; and
- a big idea that has a good hook (i.e. can be summarised easily in a line) and a reason why it's particularly true (i.e. what makes it humorously true, or grittily true etc).

Ruth Knowles, Andersen Press

Ruth Knowles is currently on secondment from Random House to Andersen Press, where she is providing maternity cover as a commissioning editor.

Ruth explained that Andersen has a small team (currently Ruth and one editorial assistant!) and as a result, their publishing list is very much a matter of personal taste. In general, they tend towards the more literary style of children's and young adult publishing but they're keen to work with debut authors and their list includes people like Melvin Burgess and last year's winner of the Costa Children's Prize, Jason Wallace.

Andersen release 2 books each month and Ruth said that what they want is special voices and special stories.

Emily Lamm, Gullane Children's Books

Emily Lamm is a commissioning editor at Gullane Children's Books, which is a specialist picture book publisher. Emily explained that Gullane is a house that publishes many kinds of picture book, from those for young children, to issue-based picture books, specialist ones and ones with special features (e.g. books with locks on them etc).

Gullane is rare in that it's a publisher that still accepts unsolicited manuscripts (further details can be found here on their website and it's very open to ideas.

Stephanie Stansbie, Little Tiger Press

Stephanie Stansbie is Editorial Director at Little Tiger Press, which specialises in picture books and novelty books for readers between the ages of 0 and 8 (although their core market is for 3 - 5 year olds).

Stephanie explained that Little Tiger is a commercially driven publisher, which works with international publishers. As a result, they look to acquire manuscripts that have an international appeal. Stephanie made a point of saying that 80% of their list feature animals because anthropomorphised books are easier to sell internationally.

Stephanie said that she looks for quirky books with humour that are character-driven. They are rare among picture book publishers in that they will look at picture books with rhyming text provided that:

- they are strongly written; and
- they are easy to translate into prose.

Stephanie also said that the voice of the picture book needs to be well-pitched, authentic and naturalistic.

Questions From The Audience

Trends

- In response to a question about current trends in children's and young adult fiction and whether writers should pay attention to them, the panel generally seemed to be of the view that authors should ignore current trends.

- In relation to picture books, the point was made that it takes 9 - 12 months to release a book so current trends in the market probably won't reflect future trends. It was also noted that the current market trend for safe, domestic stories seems to be passing and the focus is switching to funny and quirky stories. The panellists said that

- For older children's and young adult fiction, it was said that although booksellers such as Waterstones seem to be suffering vampire, dystopia and supernatural fatigue, those types of books remain big sellers within the marketplace. The panellists agreed that whatever genre you write in, it is still likely to find an audience, but they also noted that dystopia and epic fantasy (think George R. R. Martin) is massive at the moment, as is anything in a genre where there's an equivalent film due for release.

- Barry Cunningham said that Chicken House is currently looking for realism (whether contemporary or historical realism) and stories that have issues at their heart. He made the point that the next big thing often has nothing to do with the current big thing.

Negative And Critical Book Reviews

- In light of the recent young adult on-line shenanigans about negative or critical book reviews on Good Reads or in the blog sphere, I asked the panel what they thought about critical or negative reviews and whether they had any impact on them or their authors.

- Barry Cunningham said that they pay attention to some young adult blogs - particularly those run by or contributed to by people in the age group - but they don't generally care about negative reviews. He said that lively disagreement was part of the discussion and that the only person likely to be bothered by it was the author.

- The panellists agreed that the more people talking about books (positively or critically), the better it was to stimulate discussion and debate, which could only be a good thing for the genre.

Series And Trilogies

- The panel were asked what they thought about books being pitched to them that were the start of a trilogy or series and whether this would adversely affect their decision to pick up the manuscript.

- The panel said that their sales and marketing departments were usually keen to know if a manuscript was part of a trilogy or series because it can help sales to booksellers, so if a manuscript has the potential for a series or trilogy then that can be an important factor. The panel also agreed that if they believed in a manuscript then they were more likely to commit to more than one book (i.e. offer a multi-book deal).

- The point was made that Waterstones's book buyers often say that they'd like more stand alone books in the children's and young adult areas, but if a book sells well then they usually want more of the same.

- Barry Cunningham said that Chicken House will probably want you to think of a sequel to your manuscript but they won't necessarily commit to buying it.

General Points

- Random House and Andersen said that they both work closely with graduates of creative writing courses.

- Random House, Andersen and Chicken House said that they don't take unsolicited manuscripts and only look at agented submissions. However Barry Cunningham did point to The Times/Chicken House Children's Writing Competition, which effectively operates as an unsolicited submission route. He also said that in addition to publishing the winner of this competition, they've also published some of the shortlisted writers and worked closely with others.

- All of the panel agreed that if you or your agent say in a covering letter that you are a member of the SCBWI in a covering letter then this is a positive thing to know.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a very successful event (evidenced through the fact that the event sold out very quickly in advance) organised and run by Tina Lemon and Paolo Romeo for the British Chapter of the SCBWI. Many thanks to them for their hard work.

You can find more information on the British SCBWI here.

The next event in the Professional Series will be on 6th March, when Julia Churchill from The Greenhouse Literary Agency and Leah Thaxton from Egmont will be talking about the process of finding an agent and being published. More details can be found here.



Thank you to Paolo Romeo for letting me use his photographs from the event.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Laura Atkins
Jan. 18th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
This post
Thanks for this detailed post - very informative. It's almost like being there!
Mark Jones
Jan. 18th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
Lovely write up
Lovely. Thanks.
candygourlay
Jan. 18th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
Great post!
pinkdormouse
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
Great write-up. Thanks for sharing.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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