SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Cyberspace As A Source for Book Acquisitions

 

 

It’s the age old question, one we hear every day at SCBWI: How do I sell my children’s or YA book to a publisher?  Well, there is the traditional way—get a good literary agent who submits your manuscript to publishers and wait for the offers to come in.  Historically, that’s been the best route, the SCBWI recommended path.  But times are changing, and new paths to publication are emerging.  The Internet has proved to be a powerful one.

Using the Internet and all of its various platforms—Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Tumblr, Instragram,YouTube, and personal websites—has become an effective means to develop, display and promote ideas, concepts, creators and content for new books.  Review the sales stories, and you’ll see that authors, illustrators and book properties are being actively discovered by publishers who are literally trolling cyberspace to find new talent, new ideas and proven content.

Last year, Simon and Schuster‘s Atria Publishing teamed up with United Talent Agency to launch Keywords Press, an imprint designed to give “digital influencers” a book based platform. It’s first release, the YA novel Girl Online, was based on video blogger Zoe Sugg’s (aka Zoella) wildly popular YouTube series.  Although Sugg received a great deal of “editorial input” on the novel, Girl Online broke records by selling over 78,000 copies in its first week of release in the UK—more than Harry Potter titles!  Other YouTube hit series are finding homes on the lists of traditional publishing houses. To highlight just a few:  Marcel the Shell is coming out from Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and The Secret Diary of Lizzie Benett is coming out this month from Touchstone (an imprint of Simon and Schuster). The lyrics to the viral YouTube music video hit "What Does the Fox Say?" has become a popular picture book from Simon and Schuster.  

We all know that Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first developed for the website www.FunBrain.com, and after it accrued over 20 million views, Jeff Kinney proposed it as a book to Abrams, a natural thought given its pre-established fan base.  Although Wimpy Kid was originally pitched as an adult book, the editors convinced Kinney to aim the book at kids. Of course, it’s now a record-breaking franchise….that originated on the web.

It’s not just the mega hit properties launched on the web that have become best-selling books.  When we surveyed SCBWI members, we found hundreds of success stories about children’s and YA books and their creators that owe their existence to the Internet.  Here are just a few.

From Twitter: Editor Kat Brzozowski of Thomas Dunne Books (a division of St. Martin’s Press) tweeted that she was interested in YA novels about music, theatre and dance.  (She used #mswl, a hashtag used by editors and agents that stands for manuscript wish list—check it out on Twitter).  She was contacted by Emily Keyes of Fuse Agency, who sent her a YA manuscript from her client Katie M. Stout.  Katie’s novel, Hello, I Love You, a novel about the world of K-Pop, comes out June 9, all because of Twitter.

Also from Twitter: Agent Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency discovered Sam Garton and his whimsical Otter illustrations on Twitter. Brooks now represents Sam, and the picture book franchise, I am Otter and Otter in Space has been launched from Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins). 

From Blogging: Donna Bray, of the aforementioned Balzer + Bray, read a story in the New York Times about a student named Aaron Philip who had cerebral palsy.  Donna went to Aaron’s blog, and impressed with his voice and his story, contacted him and got a writer to work with him. Next year his memoir This Kid Can Fly will be published by Balzer + Bray.

Also from Blogging:  Photographer Brandon Stanton’s photographic blog was discovered and ultimately published in book form as the popular book Humans of New York.  Following on that success, Farrar, Straus and Giroux has recently published Little Humans of New York.  

From Facebook: Jean Feiwel, founder and publisher of Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) received a Facebook posting from a friend with a photo of a dog and his two-year-old boy co-napping.  It was from the blog, Momma’s Gone City, by Jessica Shyba. The lovable photos became a viral sensation.  Jean Feiwel, herself a dog lover, got in touch with Jessica on Facebook first, then was contacted by her agent.  The result was a picture book Naptime with Theo and Beau, that came out in January.  In a three-book deal with Shyba, Feiwel will publish Bathtime next year.

From SCBWI: SCBWI member Sue Fliess, for her own amusement, likes to record herself singing song parodies about writing and post them on her website. (suefliess.com/newsletter)  One such was a parody about revising, sung to the tune of 'Winter Wonderland."  When her agent submitted a manuscript of Sue’s to Sterling, it was rejected, but the editor went to Sue’s website and saw her Christmas parody.  She invited Sue to try her hand at one as a picture book.  Sue wrote We Wish You a Monster Christmas. Guess what? After one revision, Sterling made her an offer.  It’s not even public yet—this column is the first to break the news.
 
These are only a few examples of how to launch a book from cyberspace.  Know that children’s book publishers cull the Internet for new talent and new ideas.  Why?  Because that’s where the kids are.  (For example, the 2013 Nielsen Children’s Book Industry Report tells us that watching video content online is the second most popular activity for kids up to age six. Yikes!!!)  Be aware that you can use all internet platforms (but limit yourself to the ones you’re good at) to draw the interest of traditional book publishers.  Make sure that everything you post on the Internet represents your unique voice and showcases your best writing or illustrating.  The Internet is clearly a great tool for promotion, a way to build a brand and a following.  But more and more, it’s becoming a living, breathing path to quality publication.  Use it well.
 
Comments?  Feel free to write me at linoliver@scbwi.org

 

On the Shelves Dolly’s Books

 

 

Fassett proclaims the store has an "abundance of everything" from Newbery winners to the hottest young adult fantasy thrillers, all proudly housed in eye-catching displays. With a smaller space, comes the opportunity to really focus on what people want to read, and although she generally chooses new books based on what her publishing representatives recommend, she would love to have recommendations come straight from authors, especially local authors, and encourages those in the Salt Lake City area to contact Dolly's Books about author visits, book signings, or interest in having their book stocked in the store. The space is small, but Fassett would still love to have more author involvement in the historic community. Whether you're on vacation, a local author, or just need a cozy place to curl up with a great book, make your next stop Dolly's Bookstore.

 

If you're an author or illustrator interested in contacting Dolly's Books, please e-mail Sue@dollysbookstore.com.

4 Questions for Jannie Ho

 

 

Do you have separate portfolios that you use depending on what type of work you are looking for? And are there any differences in your style or technique depending on the type of publication?

 

I do not have a clear intentional divide of portfolios when it comes to the type of work I'm looking for, so maybe that is why the projects I get tend to be a hybrid of different things together. But when different clients want samples of my art, I'm well aware of what kind of samples I should show them and what I shouldn't. I adjust within my style depending on the type of publication. Some publishers are more conservative, and maybe some projects are more decorative. Even when it comes to color palettes, some publishers look for brighter colors and some are open to a more sophisticated palette. My goal is to make each client happy and to make art to fit their needs, within my style.

 

Does your agent, Mela Bolinao at MB Artists, cover all your contracts, or only your trade book work?

 

Mela covers most of the contracts that I do.

 

What are the benefits of illustrating for publications and products other than trade picture books, besides supplementing your income?

 

Besides the love of having my art on a variety of products, it is also great advertisement to be in unexpected places. Art directors are always on the lookout for art, wherever they go. I also discover new techniques and themes I'm interested in and translate that back to trade books.

 

What is your best piece of advice for children's book illustrators that want to branch out into magazines?

 

Children's book illustrators can easily branch out into children's magazines. Many of the same rules still apply. My biggest advice is to do research-know the magazine you want to work for. Would they likely commission illustration in your style? Also many magazines have special features; for example, Highlights magazine has Hidden Pictures, etc. Creating a promotional piece specifically for that feature shows that you know the publication and can handle the job. It will get your foot in the door a lot faster.

 

Insider Exclusive with Allyn Johnston

 

 

When you buy a book, what's your process as you edit?

 

"I am hoping every book I buy will be the beginning of a long-term editorial relationship for me and for Beach Lane. I love the experience of sharing a deep backlist with authors and illustrators. I love all the crazy ups-and-downs-and-ups of our collaborations over time. And I want the books and our friendships to be a part of our lives together for many years."

 

How do you think the business has changed for picture book publishing?

 

"I think publishers are much more open to buying picture books now than they were even just a few years ago. It seems to me that we're in a really dynamic and exciting time for them at the moment."

 

How many manuscripts has Beach Lane bought as a result of an SCBWI conference?

 

"25 and counting. We want to add YOU to that list!" You read that here first members!

 

Three Tips for Picture Book Writers:

 

1.    Don't summarize your story in the cover letter-let it speak for itself.

2.    Leave the illustrations to the illustrators: no art notes.

3.    Picture books are not snippets of novels-write for a read-aloud audience.

 

June Insider Bonus Read

INSIDER BONUS

Member Paul Gleed has interviewed a number of agents in order to better help us understand a common communication from an agent to an author.

 

CELEBRATING PARTIAL SUCCESS: INSIDE AN AGENT'S REQUEST TO SEE MORE OF YOUR WORK

By Paul Gleed

 

 Another email from an agent arrives, another rejection. One after another, these polite denials trickle into the unrepresented author’s inbox for weeks after querying.  But wait!  This email doesn’t say “I’m not the right fit for this work,” and it doesn’t follow “Thank you for sending me this” with an instantly deflating “but.”  It actually asks for more of your work! 

Like water in a desert, an agent’s request for a ‘partial’ provides the aspiring writer with hope of the most fundamental kind.  Traditionally, if hooked by a query and the first ten manuscript pages often included therein, an agent solicits the first fifty pages of the manuscript. The truth is, of course, that this request guarantees nothing, but nonetheless marks an important milestone on the writer’s path to publication.  And while much is written about how to query an agent, or even the kinds of questions to ask of an agent if representation is offered, relatively little is out there to help a developing writer understand the processes behind the request for a partial.

The first thing to note about ‘the partial’ is how meaningful the request is.  Literary agent Victoria Sanders (Victoria Sanders and Associates) says an author can take "immense" satisfaction in having further work requested, even when it proves not to be the beginning of an agent/client relationship.  "You caught the eye of an agent," says Sanders, "and [even if] it did not result in representation, you are doing something right. Congratulations!" And certainly the numbers reinforce Sanders’ sentiment: All the agents I spoke to report requesting partials from no more than one percent of slush pile queries.   

What may not be so clear to writers, however, is the process and calibration behind an agent’s request.  When it comes to requesting a partial, in fact, agents fall into two basic camps: those who follow the tradition and those who don’t. For example, Michael Congdon and several of his colleagues at Don Congdon Associates Inc., request a full manuscript instead of a partial in response to an interesting query.  "Of course," says Congdon, "we can always ask for the full [ms] and then read only as far as we wish, which is why a partial’s economic consideration and physical convenience became a non-issue once snail mail stopped being the primary source of distribution."

    Other agents continue to use ‘the partial’ as part of their system, opting to request the smaller sample in some cases and the full manuscript in others.  How does an agent determine whether to request a full manuscript or a partial after the promising initial query, though?  "It depends on the book," says Doug Grad (Doug Grad Literary Agency Inc). "If the idea sounds good but the cover letter is iffy, I might ask for a partial. If I'm at a writer's conference, I might only ask for a partial simply because of the volume of people I meet there. If there's a great cover letter or a beautifully written synopsis, or it's an amazingly hot idea, then I might ask for the complete manuscript." 

So, a clear hierarchy emerges between the partial and the full request, and understanding the nature of this distinction helps to read the tea leaves contained in an agent’s communication.  “I almost always request a partial after reading a particularly great query,” says Kate Schafer Testerman (KT Literary, LLC). “Mostly because I can usually tell within those first five chapters if I want to read more, or if I've already made a decision and don't need to see anything more. I also like there being a tiered system—that more people get partial requests from me, and that a request for a full means they've already passed over several benchmarks for success.”

Despite this ranking between the two kinds of ‘see more’ request, a partial should not cause the writer to worry that a full was not initially requested.  “I've signed up nonfiction authors on just a proposal and some sample chapters,” says Adriana Dominguez (Full Circle Literary), “and have requested partials followed by full manuscripts that resulted in offers of representation.”

So the practical implications of a partial or full manuscript request are somewhat fluid, varying even within an individual agent’s experience and practice.  But the protocol an author should follow after the request for more of their work, partial or full, is much clearer.  A consensus emerged among agents interviewed that these following three steps are essential good form:

·         Don’t imagine that the request for a partial triggers a new and intimate relationship between author and agent.  Especially, do not take the request as a cue to ramp up communications.  "Authors need to be patient," says Grad, "but if you haven't heard anything back in 6-8 weeks, send a follow-up e-mail. But don't call me a week later demanding to know if I've read it. Kiss any chance goodbye then!"

Similarly, an author may receive some detailed feedback on their rejected partial, but they certainly should not expect or feel entitled to it. "If something really stands out and I feel that I need to go the extra mile for this person, then yes, I will [provide feedback]," says Sanders, but "sometimes, just due to volume, all I can do is decline, grateful for having had the opportunity to consider."

 

·         Inform the first agent if another agent requests a partial or full look at the same manuscript.  Keep all agents in the loop regarding activity around your manuscript.  "If requesting a partial," says Congdon, "the agent will definitely want to know if others are reading the full." It's the polite thing for an author to do, agrees Sanders, but it also "build[s] heat on their submission!"

 

·         Use your understanding of an agent’s process to inform ongoing revision and creative work.  “If I were an author [whose query lead to a partial],” says Dominguez, “I'd probably think that the first ten pages are doing exactly what they are supposed to do: spark interest in my project. If several requests for partials do not result in requests for full manuscripts and offers of representation, I may take a closer look at those initial pages, and especially the feedback received from the agents who requested the partials, to apply whatever worked there to the rest of my manuscript to make it as strong as possible, so that the next request for a full turns into an offer!”

 

Using this picture of when and why an agent requests a partial or a full manuscript, the author can take professional pride in an important accomplishment, correctly navigate the etiquette of an exciting but anxiety-ridden wait for word from the agent, and translate the mechanics of the submission process into potentially pivotal creative insights.  So,  while the 'partial' may have an unassuming, even diminutive name, its significant role in the writer's early journey needs to be fully understood.