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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