SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Trending This Year at Bologna

 

By Stephen Mooser, President, SCBWI

Every two years the SCBWI sponsors a booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. The Fair is arguably the premier annual venue in the world for the exhibition of children’s books and the sale of foreign rights to thousands of those books. This year it featured nearly 1,300 booths including a newly-expanded, separate wing devoted to digital publishing.  The SCBWI has had a presence there since 2003, and this year our booth doubled in size, enabling us to showcase member’s books along with information on their rights offerings. Additionally, our online Bologna Illustration Gallery offered an opportunity for illustrator members to showcase their art.  Events at our booth attracted heavy traffic, and four books in the exhibit made foreign rights sales, and most likely a number of artists picked up assignments as well. For our next booth, in 2018, we are looking into the possibility of hiring a freelance sales person so that we can more aggressively promote our members books to the rights buyers at the fair.

This year I (Stephen Mooser, SCBWI President) represented the main office at the Fair.

Here is what I learned:

*The Chinese market is going to dominate rights sales for some years to come. With the ending of the one child policy new births per year in the country will grow by up to an additional 8 million. The China booths were all doing brisk business, in particular snapping up rights to titles with an educational component. One publisher I interviewed said he would not be exhibiting at the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair this year because they had already bought every one of his titles. One statistic that seemed to sum up the opportunities in this market was that there are 15,000 titles currently on the market there, and on the list of the 100 bestsellers thirty-two were by foreign authors.

*Illustrators are in demand. Many of the publisher booths were offering free snap portfolio critiques to long lines of portfolio toting artists. One hand written sign outside of a booth summed it all up: TALENTED ILLUSTRATORS WANTED.  SCBWI Illustrators should send up a giant cheer to Chris Cheng, author and SCBWI Board Co-Chair, who spent hours visiting publisher booths to alert them to our online Digital Art Catalogue and our Website Illustrator Gallery. Many of the publishers, he said, were not previously aware of the galleries, but were excited to learn of this rich resource.

*Digital books for children are still in their infancy and many start-ups seem to be struggling. The addition of a room devoted to the digital market was hailed as a recognition of this new player in the market, but I could only count a little over 30 exhibitors and half of them appeared to be start-ups looking for a buyer. Some exhibitors had products featuring Augmented (3D) Reality, but even though Google had a large booth I didn’t see anything about Virtual Reality, which they had been promoting in schools with their Google Cardboard. Most digital programs seemed to be simple computer and I pad displays teaching basic skills, which is nothing new.  Of interest were a number of companies offering authors the ability to easily turn their work, or out of print books, into interactive apps at a reasonable price. Even at lower costs however authors have had a hard time generating revenue from an app. If you want to look into this option two of the more interesting companies I visited were QTales (www.qtales.com)  and Kids App Maker (www.kidsappmaker.com).

*Picture books seemed to dominate many of the publisher booths. As always it was the unique and innovative offering that garnered the most attention. There was a lot of middle grade as well, particularly anything that had universal interest and could easily cross borders and cultures. As an example, Diary of a Wimpy Kid not only is the best-selling series in the US, It is also number one in Italy, and second in the UK.

*The Bologna Exhibition Gallery showcased selected children’s book illustration from scores of countries. Always a mixed bag of styles this year’s presentation was no different. If you were to look at past exhibits you could clearly see how what may have seemed unusual or even weird at the time became mainstream a decade later. To see the art at this year’s exhibit google Bologna Illustrators Exhibition.

The SCBWI will be back at Bologna again in 2018. Building on the success of this year’s book and illustration rights offering we plan to even more aggressively market the work of the SCBWI membership.

And special thanks to everyone who made our booth such a success, including those who manned the tables from our many regions, the artists who participated in our popular Dueling Illustrators events, our International Team headed by Kathleen Ahrens, and to Chris Cheng Bologna Coordinator and to Susan Eaddy who designed the booth along with Sarah Baker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonus Read: How to Raise Your Amazon Ranking

 

By Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D.

 

So, you've written a book.  And you've just put it up on Amazon Kindle.  The good news is you've completed your project that was on your bucket list.  The bad news is you don't have any sales.  Ouch. 

 

Whether you have worked with a traditional publisher or self-published, you've probably felt the frustration of waiting for readers to arrive at your book, for waiting to be discovered.  In the film, Field of Dreams, the old saying was, "If you build it, they will come."  Unfortunately, just because you wrote it doesn't mean readers will discover your book.  So you need to be proactive.

 

Like many writers, I finished writing my book and wasn’t completely sure what to do.  I’d never taken a class in marketing.  Or developed a platform.  For a moment I felt lost.  And then I discovered a helpful resource, How to Hit #1 in the Amazon Free Store: Winning with KDP Select by Jeff Bennington.  In this book, Bennington provides some helpful places where you can market your book.

 

Bennington’s overall strategy is that you should do everything you can to hit #1 in the Free Amazon Kindle KDP store.  Of course, it would be wonderful to make money, but you can’t do that until you establish a name for yourself.  Before you start, it’s essential to have a high-quality product—from the text to the cover design.  

 

Bennington recommends promoting your book on Bookbub.com.  Every day this site sends out emails to over a million people, directing them to books that fit their individual reading tastes.  This is a critical place to start, but there are other helpful options.  For $60-200, you can get the word out to a million new readers.

 

Booksends is another great publicity arena.  This site sends out a colorful email to readers who may be interested in your book.  Once again, you need to pay a small amount ($20-60) to get on this site, but it can be a worthwhile investment in alerting readers to your work.

 

You will also want to send out notices with Freebooksy.com and Bargainbooksy.  To get on these sites, you will need to pay a nominal fee.  Once again, the investment will be worth it because you will increase your book’s discoverability level. It may sound counterintuitive to pay to promote a free book, but this is the best way to level the playing field if you are a self-published author.  Remember, this is what publicity departments at book companies do; how can you compete if you aren’t willing to spend a little money to get the word out?

 

Many writers advocate developing a platform before your book goes to press.  If you read Julie and Julia, it is a wonderful example of a young woman developing a platform through her blog postings, in which she made recipes from Julia Child’s book.  Eventually the book went to press, and there was an audience of readers waiting for it. If you have planned ahead and created a platform, you may just have to post on your blog and the readers will start downloading copies. 

 

Then, you want to post alerts on social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook.  If you belong to Facebook, you will definitely want to post that your book is available.  If you decide to offer your book for free for the five day period, you will want to alert your friends that your book is not only available, but that they can download it for free. 

 

You’ll also want to alert your alumni magazine and other contacts.  This is a slower process; sometimes it can take months for an alumni magazine to go to press, and not all will feature your book.  Some may allow you to post a note with your class. You could also post a note on Facebook websites hosted by your university or college, alerting your friends to the publication.

 

Finally, send a press release to your local newspaper.  If you are lucky, they may decide to interview you.  Or you may not be contacted at all for a story.  It depends on a variety of factors, but it never hurts to send a mini-press release.

 

The good news is this: you’ll get your book out there, possibly into the hands of young readers who may love it.  The bad news is this: you may need to take these steps again, because having your book discovered by a critical audience is no easy feat. Remember, just because you have written a good book doesn’t mean readers will come; you need to draw the traffic toward your book, so start promoting it today.

 

Sue Henshon teaches creative writing and composition at Florida Gulf Coast University.  She is the author of seven books, including Andy Lightfoot and the Time Warp.

4 Questions for…Lori Nowicki

 
This month’s Illustrator Info interview is with Lori Nowicki, the founder of Painted Words. She is a well-renowned agent and has been representing illustrators since 1992. 
 

What should an illustrator look for in an agent? How can an illustrator know if they are reaching out to the right one?

An illustrator should look for an agent that is accessible, that is enthusiastic about their work, and that they can have a conversation about their business with. Before contacting an agent, an illustrator should determine what their goals are for their career. As an agent, I like to know that I can help meet the illustrator’s needs when I sign them up, and that we can openly communicate about their career. Is the illustrator interested in writing, as well as illustrating? Is there a particular age group they’d like to focus on? Are they also looking to expand beyond children’s publishing into editorial or licensing work?

                                                                                           

I suggest the illustrator familiarize herself with a few different agents who may be able to meet her needs. Different agents have different focuses and specialties, so an illustrator should do their research on the company’s website before submitting their work. A lot of agents have social media accounts and blogs, as well. These are good resources for an illustrator to learn more about the agent’s sensibility and the types of projects they work on. I would also recommend that the illustrator reviews the agent’s current artist list to see if they can bring something unique and different to the agent’s group.  

 

If an illustrator is trying to find an agent, can they query multiple agents at one time, or should they contact them and wait until they hear back, one by one?

Many agencies have submission guidelines. It’s important to review them and submit accordingly.  Some agents do prefer exclusive submissions. I personally don’t have a problem with artists querying multiple agents at once, so long as I’m not receiving a mass email.  In their query letter, the illustrator can include a short note about why they have chosen to contact the agent.   

 

Many of us are very busy and the turnaround time for a response can sometimes take a while.  Due to the large number of submissions we receive, we unfortunately can’t respond to every artist. Once the artist does receive a response from us, I’d suggest they have a list of questions ready for the agent. The illustrator will be interviewing the agent, as much as we are interviewing them.

 

How many pieces of art do you like to see from an artist before making the decision to represent them?

In the initial query,  we like to see 2-3 images to see if the style resonates. I always suggest including a link to their portfolio or website (or even an Instagram account), so we can review more of their work.  If their art piques our interest, we will request more images and start a conversation with the illustrator about their work.  When we review a submission, we look for consistency in style and strong characters. We like to see that an illustrator can take a character through a range of scenes/situations, and can capture body language and different facial expressions.  Painted Words is primarily looking for illustrators with an interest in developing their own stories.

 

Will you sign up an artist who you see promise in, even if you don’t think they are quite ready to publish books? (If so, do you work with them to help them improve their portfolio?) 

We don’t sign up an artist until we feel they are ready.  However, if their work has promise and there’s something unique and different about their style, we will help them improve their portfolio in the hopes of getting it to a sellable place. In this scenario, we generally ask the illustrator if they are interested in working with us exclusively for a period of time to develop their style.  This process also helps us learn how the artist works—how long it takes them to complete a project, if they are open to feedback, etc.  It’s important that we can openly communicate with each other, and that an artist can translate our comments into creating sellable pieces for their portfolio.   

 

Let’s say you are an illustrator and you have a publisher interested in your book dummy, but you don’t have an agent yet. Does it make sense to move forward with the publisher without an agent, or should you try to get an agent before you sign a contract?

Finding an agent and jumping into a relationship without vetting them first can be a bit risky for the artist. Luckily, an artist with an offer has options. They can work directly with an attorney to  negotiate their contract or ask an agent to negotiate the deal on their behalf without a formal commitment.

 

Should an illustrator plan on receiving notes on their picture book dummy from their own agent, before it is sent out to publishers?

Yes. We  review all book dummies  and help the illustrator get their work  into  shape prior to  sending it out for submission.   Sometimes the book dummy is ready to go and needs no comments, but more often than not we’ll work with the artist first before sending it out.  As an agent, I’m constantly learning what editors are looking for and discovering what type of projects they gravitate towards. I hope that I can provide an illustrator with meaningful feedback that will get their dummy into sellable shape.

 

Do you have any other advice for SCBWI illustrator members who are trying to find an agent?

It’s important to be patient while querying agents, as we do receive a lot of submissions. We go through incredibly busy times and have to stay focused on the authors and illustrators  we are currently representing.   Many agents go through a courting period to make sure it’s a good fit with an artist before signing them up.  It’s important for us to understand an artist’s goals and needs, so we can make sure that we are in the best position to help their career.  

 

And my main piece of advice is to keep visiting your local bookstore and stay on top of the latest trends in picture books. Have an idea of how your books will fit into the current market, and what makes your work stand out.

On the Shelves Carmichael’s Kids

 

Kelly Estep, Manager of Carmichael's Kids in Louisville, Kentucky, tells us what's on the shelves.  
 

What trends do you notice in children’s book sales? What are the current hot reads? 
There is always a new trend popping up, but what I love about children's books is that the classics are still the classics, and most people are just looking for a good story to read with their children.  Of course, more children read earlier these days, so early reader adaptations are very common and publishers are very conscious of leveling their readers properly for parents to understand comprehension levels.  One trend I've noticed this last year is that TONS of picture books are now being put into board book format.  Things that were only available in picture book are now in board book (Madeline is good example) so they can be a durable intro to a classic for little ones.
 
How do you choose what books to order? Do you use a publishing rep? 
We do still choose every book that comes into the store.  Most of them are through sales reps, who work so hard and still visit our stores in-person (for the most part).  I peruse tons of catalogs, read advance copies, and then depend on my sales reps to understand my store and its customers to help me choose the best books.
 

What would you like to see more of from authors/illustrators in terms of community involvement?

I think a lot of them are very involved with the community.  Children's authors and illustrators tend to understand that one of the ways to appeal to children is to reach them personally.  So many authors, like Katherine Applegate, are so generous with their time.  They visit schools and even offer skype interviews for kids.

 

How do you handle author/illustrator visits? Can authors/illustrators contact you directly?

Yes, we are open to authors contacting us directly (our event coordinater handles those emails).  Typically, that would be for authors with a local tie who don't have publicists working for their tours.  We take authors to schools, have them for storytime, or do in-store events quite regularly.

 

What is your favorite part of being a bookseller/manager/librarian?

I am so fortunate to be part of an industry that prides itself on independence and is so committed to the educational well-being of children.  I do so many different things in these stores that I manage and a lot of them don't involve direct interaction with the customers.  Like any job, you can get bogged down with details, ordering, making schedules, etc. but if I get to see one child walk into Carmichael's Kids and get SO excited that this store is just for them and that there are SO many books to look at, I know that all of the hard work is worth it!


Personal book recommendation?
My favorite Middle Grade novel in the last year is The Thing About Jellyfish.  My favorite picture book from the last year is Sidewalk Flowers.  My favorite classic is Miss Rumphius.
 
 

SCBWI Exclusive with…Kate McKean, Agent, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency

 

 

KateMcKean-127-Edit  Kate McKean joined the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency in 2006. She earned her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi and began her publishing career at the University Press of Florida. She is proud to work with New York Times best-selling authors in a wide variety of genres including Mallory Ortberg’s Texts From Jane Eyre, Madeleine Roux’s YA horror series Asylum, and Brittany Gibbons’ memoir Fat Girl Walking

 

 What path led you to becoming an agent?

 I started, like many, as an English major. My genius sister suggested I get an internship at the university press at my school, and I did and that lead to a full time job as an editorial assistant after graduation. After working there a year, I went to graduate school for my MA in Fiction Writing and after having just about all I could take of being a student, I packed my things and drove to New York to become a literary agent. I knew it would suit my outgoing personality. That was almost thirteen years ago. 

 

When you are reading a submission, what are the key elements it has to have to make you want to sign a client?

I first want to forget I'm reading a submission. I want to feel like I'm reading a full-blown book. That usually means I'm immersed in a world so much I forget what's going on around me. I want a submission to call to me, even when I have to do other things. It's hard, or near impossible, for an author to plan on that, but it boils down to writing an unforgettable book.

 

Off the page, I look for clients who are hardworking, realistic, who will roll with the punches, and who understand that publishing is a team effort. 

 

Once you take on an author, what are your next steps for submission?

Every book is different. If I feel it needs a lot of editorial work, I'll discuss that with the author upfront and we'll devise a plan. I often don't know if I'll be line editing something or just writing an editorial letter until I'm knee deep in the book, but we figure out what the book needs and move toward that. Sometimes there can be more than one round of edits, but as my client list grows, I take on fewer and fewer projects that need that much work from the get-go.

 

When the project is ship shape, I create a submission list and discuss it with my client and I take their input and discuss any questions they might have. Then I write a pitch letter and start making calls and sending emails. Hopefully, it's not too long a wait until we have good news!

 

What’s on your manuscript wish list?

I'd like some fun YA romance and more contemporary YA of all stripes. I'd also like serious, literary middle grade that will break my heart into a million pieces. I am also desperate for nonfiction of all kinds for YA and MG audiences! Send me your nonfiction! 

 

Three tips when querying an agent:

DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Submission guidelines are there to help you.

 

In your query letter, tell me what happens in your book!

 

Avoid all self-deprecating, cutesy, goofy, or sarcastic remarks about querying or publishing in your queries.

Follow her on Twitter @kate_mckean