Saturday, February 2, 2013

Jennifer Besser, Publisher at G.P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin's Young Readers Group)

Jennifer Besser is the publisher at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin’s Young Readers Group.

She and her team publish everything from picture books through young adult. When she was at Hyperion, she was the editor of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series (Stephanie Lurie now oversees that Olympian peak), and has also worked with Jonathan Stroud, Brian Selznick, Ann Martin, Laura Godwin, and John Rocco, among others.

She talked about her editorial process and vision, outlining what appeals to her when she’s reading submissions.

She also read from books she’s edited, including Rick Riordan’s much-beloved THE LIGHTNING THIEF. (It was the first book she acquired—“I thought it was special, terrific, wonderful, of course.” But she had no idea how huge it would become.)

She gave us a lot of great perspective on the craft and business of writing books for children.

There’s a lot of word of mouth in children's books--from kid to kid, from librarian to kid. "In the adult market, the book comes out and it hits or it doesn’t. In the kids’ book market, there are many more avenues," she said.

She gets submissions from agents. Editors spend time building relationships with agents, and this is a vital part of her process. “You want to see all the good stuff,” she said.

If an editor likes a submission, they bring it to an editorial meeting. Putnam has these once a week. At this meeting, they talk about why they think it’s special and what vision they have for it.

They do financial paperwork on sales projections, how much they’re going to pay the author. "It’s best guess at how it’s going to perform in the marketplace," she said.

They don't have an acquisitions board. The president of company wants publishers to design their own lists. “It’s great because it makes us that much more nimble," she said. "It's one less meeting.”

In picture books, she likes humor and things that are slightly irreverent. She also likes books with a lot of heart. "Anything that feels unexpected," she said.

Her advice to aspiring writers: "Read. Read. Read. Read everything. Read often. Read every genre, even stuff you don’t like. Know the marketplace. Know your competition. All of that informs your writing."

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