Kim Baker moderated a panel with our editor and agent faculty. Here's a sampling of questions and answers.
Kim Baker: What does a project need to have a shot in the marketplace?
Melissa Manlove from Chronicle Books: "There are so many books and so many readers. The simplest, most honest answer is an audience of thousands. In the end, that's what we're trying to find. Books with an audience of 10,000 at least." That's how many books they need to sell to turn a basic profit.
Deborah Warren of East West Books: Books need to nurture a passion. "We need to feel how passionate you are about that project. It needs to come from the heart. It starts with you. It starts with your passion."
KB: What are things that grab your interest in a portfolio? What are common reasons for passing?
Jessica Anderson from Christy Ottaviano Books: Break new ground. Something that breaks new ground and doesn't compete with books that are already on their list.
Deborah Warren: When we pass on something, it may not have anything to do with your work. An editor might be leaving. The editor's list might be full for that season.
Rebeca Sherman from Writers House: "I have maybe the bandwidth for 50 clients in my career. That's why I'm passing on the vast majority of projects. It has to be beyond exceptional, and beyond exceptionally right for me."
Stephanie Pitts, editor at G.P. Putnam's Sons: She's looking for a marketable package. The craft--the quality of writing and illustration. You can't make someone a good writer. Of course you want someone with a great concept, but the execution has to be there as well.
Alison Weiss: "The book process takes a really long time, and if I don't feel that level of passion, how can I commit that time to you? We have a lot of books on our list, and we want to treat each one like it's an amazing project. It's also important that my vision matches your vision. ... All of the stars have to align perfectly for a project really to work.
Danielle Smith from Lupine Grove Creative: "There's only so much time that I have to take care of a client. I want to make sure I'm not spreading myself too thin. I don't want to just take somebody on for just one project at a time. I want to work with them on a career. That means a huge investment... hopefully for a long, long time." "I like getting pitches that have some sort of personal touch to it. I like knowing someone has researched me and paid attention to something I said. It says something about the relationship we could have moving forward."
KB: If you had a magic wand and could fix one thing in publishing, what would it be?
Rebecca Sherman: How long contracts take.
Jessica Anderson: We hate that too.
Deborah Warren: How often authors get paid. (She thinks monthly would be much better.)
KB: How have you responded to the call for diversity and #ownvoices stories?
Melissa Manlove: We are looking for them. We're acquiring them. I have friends in WNDB, and the staff at Chronicle is working through the School Library Journal syllabus. We keep talking about it. It's one step at a time.
Danielle Smith: I'm constantly looking and going to conferences. It's hard to get an email and know for sure if somebody is (own voices) without their saying it. One way to find those authors is to go to conferences.
Stephanie Pitts: We are looking for all sorts of diversity... It's a systemic problem. There are not enough illustrators and authors of color, and other kinds of diverse authors, coming up the pipeline. ... If you want to tell a story that's not your exact experience, keep in mind that you are telling a story that someone else has lived. You have to do the research ... and make sure you're adding something to that body of literature.
Rebecca Sherman: I am looking to ... expand the diversity of my client list. I took a close look last year at my reading habits, and my adult reading. The more you read diversely, it opens you up to what is out there, what is not out there, and what you are drawn to personally.
Alison Weiss: I was at Southern Breeze a month ago and we were talking about diversity. A gentleman in the back of the room said, "Do you think the readers actually care?" I think the teen readers are pushing the industry a lot. If we go to younger readers, for them to be able to say they care or not doesn't matter. If they're not seeing themselves in books, we're erasing their presence.