More and more publishers are saying they no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts or writers should only submit through an agent. It appears that getting an agent is becoming essential for the children’s fiction writer.
Rachel Wade, a Senior Editor at Hodder Children’s Books, at the SCWBI Professional Series in March 2005 explained why they are no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Of the 3,000 that landed on Hodder’s desks in the past three years, only two made it to print. Rachel’s advice is to find an agent. “The truth is that the agency is the first place to go. If you do get taken by an agent you will get read by editors.”
Not only are editors no longer reading their slushpiles, they are taking on less writers overall. Rachel continued, “Over the last three years, Hodder has decreased its list. I don’t think any publishers ever published anything they didn’t think was good, but we are taking more of the cream. And I think that is the case throughout the industry. You have to find the publisher that’s looking for the sort of book you’re writing.”
This is yet another hurdle for the unpublished author but Rachel elaborated, “We may have a smaller list but we are selling more books. So the people who are getting published are setting up a lifetime of sales and getting their books into children’s hands.”
Rachel prefers to take on fewer authors and publish them more successfully. The good news is that advances for children’s books are increasing.
Getting an editor to love your work is the biggest hurdle of all because what the editor does is become an advocate of your work within the publishing company. This is what “fitting the list” really means, If your book fits into the list, it means the editor loves it and has transmitted that enthusiasm to others. There needs to be a shared passion for the book between writer and editor.
If Rachel finds a book she likes she will take it to an editorial meeting, if others feel the same way as her it is then taken to an acquisition meeting, at which the editor has to convince the sales force and marketing people that this great book has commercial possibilities.
The final stage is completely out of the editor’s hands. It’s all about selling and whether the retail outlets can persuade the public to buy your book. The cover is an important part, as the retailer bases their judgement on whether to stock your book on the cover. A lot of innovation goes into the book cover design.
Big book chains have been centralising the ordering of books, which means that there are one or two people deciding for the chain store which books children will read all over the country. The retail market is 70% chain.
Rachel said, “Certainly, the ‘high concept’ books are the easiest to sell. We want something that is going to be commercially successful - that stands out from the crowd. Originality is something we have been looking for but there are an awful lot of books out there that are not original.”
Rachel Wade concluded by saying, “Remember, without authors there would be no publishing houses. The aim is to get loads of copies of the book into the hands of the reader.”