Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rubin Pfeffer: Children's Books Today and Tomorrow

Rubin talking to a packed ballroom with his fellow members of the panel
(all of whom, he joked, have rejected his submissions).
Rubin Pfeffer is an industry veteran. Among other things, he's been president and publisher at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, a senior VP and chief creative officer of Pearson, and publisher of children's books at Simon & Schuster. And he even worked as an art director, discovering talent like David Diaz.

These days, he's a partner at East West Literary Agency, where he not only represents some of the industry's brightest lights--Susan Cooper, Marian Dane Bauer, David Diaz, and the Watson clan--but also is on the forefront of emerging technologies in storytelling.

The best part of it, he says, "... is building a greenhouse around their ideas and hopes and seeing those ideas to fruition."

He shared a ton of insights with us. A few excerpts:

Observations on significant changes in the industry: 
He started his career at Grosset & Dunlap and was designing Hardy Boys covers. When he walked in their offices yesterday, he was amazed by the diversity and energy of the titles. There is also more commercial publishing in the industry.

Two years ago, digital publishing was groundbreaking and people were still saying how they wanted to cuddle up with real books. But now, it's generally acknowledged that digital publishing is part of the future.

On the importance of acquisitions committees and discoverability of our books:
"There is this notion about acquisitions groups and meetings, it's like the death knell to all would-be writers who want to be published. But it's important.... because it is not just publishing a book that an editor is a champion of. It's publishing a book that a number of people are championing in some very important fields. Is it something that can be marked effectively in all the new ways you can market? Because we are publishing fewer titles, we have to publish those fewer titles better."

There are new responsibilities that are associated with writers and illustrators, to make yourself discoverable by somebody who will be interested in it.

We'll start to see more "vertical groups on the interest," Rubin says. For example, second grade teachers, or preschool teachers. We need to reach out to them.

Do authors/illustrators need publishers anymore? 
"It's an important question. Just because there are examples of successful self-publishing endeavors, for every successful example, there are countless others that didn't work."

The editor, publisher, marketers--these people are the village that gets behind books.

"The bigger question: What is a publisher? They used to be the big six and the other six after that. There are new kinds of publishers coming out. Some of them are rising quickly."

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