Justin Chanda is vice president and publisher at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Justin started his talk about the future of publishing by dispelling a couple of myths:
1) Myth: Simon and Schuster isn't interested in literary books. This isn't true--they have literary imprints.
But he wasn't about to disparage any sort of book. "If a kid wants to read it, then by God, we're doing something great. ... Our main goal is to get kids to read."
At S&S, they are happy to publish books that sell only 2,000 copies if those are books kids on the fringe want to read. It's not all about the mega-bestsellers. They've also received many awards from the American Library Association, which acknowledges literary works, he sayd.
2) Myth: S&S isn't going to publish picture books. He adores them, but said, "I am going to beat up on picture books today. I'm going to be doom and gloom. I'm going to be more doom and gloom afterward. That's realistic. We have to be realistic."
Picture books are the seeds to plant that grow readers, so they're important to keep publishing.
His list has gone from about 50 percent picture books a few years ago to 10 percent. (Teen books are selling much better.)
An uplifting thought about picture books: He commissioned a study of PBs sold on Amazon and Baker & Taylor (a distributor). The rate of sale of PBs is the same in each area, which means people still want them. It's about finding ways to get people the books.
Also, some picture books are actually working:
- Texts that are shorter. "If you think you've written a picture book that's too short, you're wrong. Make it shorter." Parents don't want to read Moby Dick to their kids. They want to read something that's short, that has a lot of life, that has oomph.
- Quirky is good. An identifiable character is good. Short. "I'm going to keep saying that till I'm blue in the face," he said. The age range is not really 4-8 anymore. It's more like 4-6 (or even 3-6).
Justin also wants books to be so beloved they will melt your face. (And maybe in the future, you can shape yourself new features with the melty remainders--Justin didn't say.)
Middle grade books
Middle-grade boys are reading (it's a myth they're not). Teen boys, not so much. But middle grade boys are reading and an author like Rick Riordan feels "boy." Ten years ago, people would say that couldn't be done.
What's on the downswing: pink, princessy books. The marketplace doesn't want it--but the marketplace doesn't know what it's doing, he said. Everyone but Abrams turned down DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. (Oops!)
There's a lot of contradiction in publishing, which is why you have to go with your gut.
Young Adult books It's a great time to be a teen debut novelist. Some warning signs: A lot of stuff about the world ending. He's read a lot about viruses. Is there ever a point when it's too much? He's seen it with picture books (and celebrity picture books).
"How much flesh-eating viruses do we need?"
He doesn't know what the next trend is. He wants to see more experimentation. "Good storytelling is going to be the trend forever."
Nothing trumps story and writing, he says. We're curating content and stories--not making movies and video games.
One final myth--that publishers are all about the bottom line: Publishers are NOT all bottom-line people, Justin says. They love books. Literature. The tradition, and making a contribution into this world.