SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Exclusive with Balzer + Bray, an Imprint of HarperCollins

 

Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray formed their imprint in 2008 after working together for twelve years at Hyperion Books for Children. During that time, they found that they really relied on each other as sounding boards for everything from manuscripts to marketing materials. When the time came for them to make a change, they figured, why not make their partnership official and create an imprint? B+B is a continuation of their collaborative way of working that has been going on for…well, a pretty long time, if you do the math! (Fun fact: It’s their second round at HarperCollins—they both worked there before Hyperion.)

 

How has the publishing industry changed since you formed B+B?

The children’s industry has definitely become more frontlist-focused, more like the adult industry. Children’s books also have a higher profile than they did years ago, which means a lot more money all around—more revenue, higher advances, bigger stakes. But with that comes more pressure on authors and publishers—and sometimes less patience for a book to build an audience over time.

 

That said, many things remain true: indie booksellers and librarians are still key tastemakers who can make a book happen; backlist is still incredibly important to our bottom line; and a small book can hit big. And most importantly: Authors and illustrators are the backbone of the business.

 

Your imprint is unique in that your list is made up of picture books, middle grade, and young adult. How did that evolve?

Every imprint is defined by its editors’ tastes and interests, and we have always edited in these categories, so it seemed natural that we continue to do so in the imprint. It keeps our jobs interesting to be able to work on such varied books on a day-to-day basis.

 

What reels you in when you read a manuscript that makes you say "This has to be a B+B book"?

We try to be very rigorous about what we acquire at B+B. Generally, though, we are drawn in by an original and arresting narrative voice, as well as a compelling story that really seems to be adding to the conversation. It’s a very personal, subjective process!

 

What’s your editorial process once you acquire a manuscript?

Our editorial process begins even before we acquire a manuscript, at the most important meeting of our week: the B+B team meeting. This is where the incubation process of a manuscript starts. We circulate among our group of six any project we’re seriously considering, and ideally we read all or most of each one. At the meeting, we discuss very frankly our thoughts on the manuscripts. It’s a place to give and get great nuts-and-bolts editorial comments, thoughts on comps in the market and positioning, advice on advance level, packaging, illustrators…This meeting is where the blueprint of the book is sketched out.

As for the editorial process with the author: although each editor on our team has a slightly different process, our goal is always the same: to help the author realize his or her vision. We ask a lot of questions and make suggestions that we hope will launch a collaborative discussion, a dialogue that keeps going right through the galley stage.

 

What are you seeing as trends in publishing?

One recent trend we’re happy about is diversity in children’s publishing. While there’s always been an awareness of the need for diversity in our industry, with the advent of social media and the founding of We Need Diverse Books, it seems that awareness is turning into more support for diverse authors and books, as well as a broadened definition of diversity.

On the picture book side, there seems to be more of an openness in the market to what would have once been considered quirky, sophisticated picture books. These are now turning into some of the biggest commercial successes, when for many years the bestseller lists were dominated by character-driven series.

 

Do you have a tip or two for anyone submitting to B+B? 

Take the time to research the kinds of books we publish and to get a sense of our taste. We do have a handy Facebook page which is a good place to start. Feel free to mention a recent title or two that you feel is in the same vein or has a similar sensibility as your manuscript.