What do publishers say about picture books? Australian publishers let us know what they are looking to publish and how they publish their picture book list.
This discussion on 30 June 2012 was a part of the NSW Writers’ Centre 7th Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival and the 2012 SCBWI Sydney Conference. The panel included [from left to right] Frané Lessac (author), Karen Tayleur (publisher with Five Mile Press and editor at Walker Books), Jeanmarie Morosin (publisher with Random House) and Tegan Morrison (publisher with ABC Books). It was chaired by Frané Lessac
How many picture books do you publish per year?
ABC Books: Thirty titles per year, ten or twelve of these are new titles. Process and waiting time varies. Tegan tries to respond to submissions within six weeks.
Random House: Nine to twelve titles per year.
Karen Taylor: Walker books publishes fifteen picture books per year and they are looking to expand this. She noted that getting published is all about networking.
Does every book get a press release?
ABC Books: yes every book gets a press release.
Random House: does a press release but focuses on getting advanced copies into the hands of reviewers.
Walker Books: Karen agrees that getting books to reviewers is the most vital aspect of promotion.
What size is your print run?
ABC Books: 4000 is the minimum book run.
Random House: 3-4000 is average 6-8000 is good.
Walker: 4000 is average.
What is the publisher’s connection with foreign rights?
Walker Books: three of their staff members focus on foreign rights. One third of their books last years were sold overseas.
Random House: have sold six titles overseas in the last few years.
ABC Books: has foreign rights connections in South Korea - a large and growing market.
How much promotion do you expect of authors?
ABC Books: the more promotion the author does the better. Blogging, social media and simply ‘getting out and talking about it’ are all central to building profile. This is not written into contracts but they encourage this with their authors.
Random House: agreed that when authors visit schools it translates to sales. The more the author does the better the sales.
Walker Books: noted that blogging and social media helps sales. But you need to take care with what you say within social networking.
What do you think about illustrators working for numerous publishers concurrently?
ABC Books: understands that illustrators need to take on multiple projects with numerous publishers so that they can make a living.
Random House: expects that illustrators will be published by numerous publishing houses.
Walker Books: Karen noted that at Black Dogs Books the author was expected to stay with that publisher. But illustrators were ‘a different kettle of fish’, they were able to work with multiple publishing houses.
Are there any current gaps in your list?
ABC Books: there are not too many gaps. But there is not an Anzac Day book this year on the list. They are always looking for books with a universal theme or topic, such as Quay’s Rudie Nudie.
Random House: has a gap for bestselling picture books [audience laughter].
Walker Books: looks also for universal themes and humour. They are focused on works for ages birth to eight years. Five mile press publish gate fold and novelty books. These are at the top of their preschool list.
ABC Books and Random House: are looking for historical non fiction works.
How do you seek out new illustrators?
Walker Books: look at the Style File for illustrators but do not find it really easy to use.
ABC Books: looks at the Style File, Illustrators Australia or Bright Agency.
Is there a market for older aged picture books?
Walker and ABC Books: is not into this market.
Random House: would want an education hook for an older picture book.
How does your publishing house feel about the author-illustrator?
Walker Books: ‘bring it on’.
Random House: ‘if you are a brilliant author-illustrator then it is great’.
Generally all of the publishers were positive about the author-illustrator mix.
Do you like to see multiple manuscripts at one time from an author?
ABC Books: is happy to look at numerous manuscripts.
Walker Books: suggest that you send your best work and you keep some works ‘up your sleeve’. Then if you are published you can then offer new fresh works.
How much do you want to see in an initial submission?
Walker Books: for illustrators send in a couple of sketches with one more developed piece for the work.
Random House and ABC Books: noted that there is a trend for minimal text but they are not closed to more text is it suits the story.
Walker Books: ‘show don’t tell’. A text that starts at a thousand words may end up being two hundred words in the end. Perhaps provide more text initially, possibly the work will be edited down as you begin to work with the illustrator. It can be best to provide the illustrations notes in the synopsis rather than in suggestive text. It is not only the editorial team that decide on what is published as the sales and marketing team also have a say.
What is your attitude towards digital books?
Random House: note that Allen and Unwin will take more risks but Random House is more conservative.
ABC Books: is looking at enhanced digital books. They already have some in ‘fixed [digital] format’. If a book is published and successful then they may look at making an App.
Random House: notes that they are not seeing the returns on Apps at this stage.
Walker Books: regard Apps as a marketing tool.