SCBWI – Stephanie Owens Lurie, How to Think Like a Publisher

I’m back from the SCBWI conference with about 100 pages of notes! It was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it. I got to hear great speakers from inside the industry (writers, agents, editors, and publishers), meet fellow writers, and learn. Those who know me well know what a huge learning nerd I am. School is my happy place.

The first breakout session I attended was with Stephanie Owens Lurie, an editorial director at Disney-Hyperion Publishing. Disney-Hyperion is the branch of Disney Publishing charged with creating non-Disney content, and not tie-ins to existing content at theme parks, movies, or television. Stephanie has been in publishing for 30 years and at Disney-Hyperion for 2 years. The woman knows her stuff.

She talked the process of publishing a book from query to publication.

Here are my notes, in raw form.

IMPORTANT: a book is judged not only on its own merits but whether or not it fits with a publisher’s list. When sending out your work, keep in mind a particular company’s strengths and needs.

The Publisher’s List

Publisher’s Goal: fill a hole in the list as soon as possible

Author’s way to support:

  • Know the standard formats
  • Research the publisher’s list
  • Don’t send what they already have (this means vampires)
  • Don’t send a category of book that they don’t publish (this shows lack of research)
  • Make sure the manuscript is polished (revise, revise, revise)
  • Be flexible about the publication date (they are not on your schedule, you are on theirs)

The Pitch

The Publisher’s Goal: To have a compelling sales handle (to sell stuff)

Author’s way to support:

  • Have an elevator pitch (FORMULA: name of character is so exaggerated personality trait that the following happens) – if you can’t do this your story isn’t focused enough.

The Franchise (intellectual property that can be leveraged beyond one book and used in different media)

The Publisher’s Goal: To grow revenue year over year

Author’s way to support:

  • Once the manuscript is complete, think bigger: is this a series, does it have global potential, can I as an author crank out additional manuscripts on a tight schedule?
  • Show that you have ideas and are open to feedback and collaboration
  • Don’t be afraid to share your ideas in your query, but don’t be overwhelming

The Deal

The Publisher’s Goal: To secure top talent that can be grown over time

Author’s way to support:

If you receive multiple offers, take the following under consideration: the money being offered, the marketing plan, what else will be in the sales bag, and the chemistry.

The Media

*once the book is done and sent to the printer the job is only half done!

The Publisher’s Goal:  To have a promotable author with a fascinating back story

Author’s way to support:

  • Think about what inspired the book
  • Do you have relevant credentials?
  • Do you have any media contacts?
  • Do you enjoy meeting new people / schmoozing?
  • Are you willing to promote your book online?
  • Can you develop and give a presentation?
  • Would your book lend itself to a discussion guide?
  • You can share all of these ideas with your editor, but … trust your  marketing and publicity departments too.

The Gatekeepers: The Bookseller & The Consumer

*Booksellers will bring in books that they respond to on a personal level, but also know what will sell.

The Publisher’s Goal:  To partner with the bookseller in order to achieve the highest possible sell-in

Author’s way to support:

  • Give careful thought to mature content
  • Remember most children’s books are purchased by adults (the majority by mothers and grandmothers) – for picture book through middle grade, but most teenagers but their own books

The End Users

The publisher and the author should have the same goals: to deliver high quality entertainment to young people, to change a child’s perspective, to grow readers

But authors, keep in mind:

  • Write for kids, not for ego gratification
  • Know your target audience
  • Respect your readers
  • Never condescend of ridicule your target reader
  • Writing is not just an art form, but a form of communication

The Future

The Publisher’s Goal: To remain competitive, innovative, profitable

Author’s way to support:

  • Embrace technology, because your audience has
  • Find out what different publishers are doing in the digital arena (and good news…l’ll be posting some of that information coming soon)
  • Realize that the rights landscape is changing

What is the difference between an author and a publisher?

  • The Author: TELL the story
  • The Publisher: SELL the story

The ideal author is:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

And, if you’ve kept reading until this point, I would also add patient. As you can see, Stephanie gave a great presentation. My hand hurt from writing after it, and it’s hurting again now after typing. Now time for sleep!

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SCBWI Conference Day 1 – The Morning

It’s somewhat ironic that I started day 1 of a children’s writing conference by doing something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. I cut my leg shaving. And not just a small nick, no, this was full on large loss of blood massive bandaged cut. Even now, nearly 12 hours after the incident, I just took the bandage off and had to clean the wound again. It was right on my knee, so it’s a tad painful too. But enough about my grooming habits, and on to the conference!

It was my first SCBWI conference, and as I entered the Hyatt Century Plaza in West Hollywood and saw how many attendees were there, I felt a tad intimated and out of place. But after having the chance to meet some of those people and hear them speak throughout the day, I no longer have that feeling and even felt more prepared than some people I ran into.

Some of the highlights of the day and speakers I saw, met or heard:

Opening speaker – Jon Scieszka, author of the super cute picture book Robot Zot.

His tips for becoming a successful writer:

  1. Read every book possible in your genre. If you are a picture book writer, read the entire School Library Journal listing of 100 top picture books.
  2. You should also read some of the worst books in your chosen genre. A good place to start? Celebrity books.
  3. Do read children’s trade publications – School Library Journal, kid lit blogs, The Horn, Publisher’s Weekly.
  4. If you are writing a picture book, figure out what your word count is. Then cut it in half.
  5. No rhyming!
  6. No underwear fart books!
  7. No vampires!
  8. No alphabet books!
  9. No princesses!
  10. And no rhyming farting princesses teaching you the alphabet in their underwear while being chased by a vampire.

Second keynote speaker – M.T. Anderson, the only person to make Delaware sound interesting.

Per his introduction, he creates books for thinking kids. He says his craft is to interpose the landscape of fantasy on the American landscape, in a regular place such as say, Delaware.

Some of his other key points:

  1. Books take us away from home so we can actually see home.
  2. Through estrangement we are forced to see what we know in a new way.
  3. Literature restores the sense of the unknown in what we already know.
  4. He sang his version of the Delaware state song. Nuff said.

First breakout session – How to Think Like a Publisher with Stephanie Owens Lurie from Disney-Hyperion.

I have a LOT of notes from this session, so check back later for a post dedicated specifically to this topic.

 That was the morning, afternoon notes to follow!