Sunday, February 10, 2019

The #NY19SCBWI Agent/Editor Panel: Maria Barbo, Sarah Davies, Kate Egan,

The Agents/Editors panel is a reason to get up early on a Sunday. It featured a wide-ranging view of the industry, as well as insights specific to houses. It included:

Maria Barbo is a senior editor at Harper Collins .

Kate Egan is editorial director of KCP Loft, the YA imprint of Kids Can Press.

Rachel Ekstrom is a literary agent at Folio Literary Management

Left to right: Maria Barbo, Rachel Ekstrom and Kate Egan

Q: What are some relevant trends and topics right now?
Ekstrom: There's more interest in nonfiction MG and YA, in books that discuss important topics in a non-didactic way.

I recommend reading the article in Bustle on the experiences of Black women in the publishing industry.

Q: How do you feel about the Own Voices movement?
Ekstrom:  Everyone [throughout the industry] can do better to support creators from diverse communities. I'm getting lots of interesting submissions inspired by non-western European stories and they're really exciting.

Q: How are institutional markets doing?
Egan: Schools and libraries are essential. Often it's the teachers and librarians who make the connection between books and kids. When I edit, I think a lot about how librarians will amplify the voice of the book.

Q: What is your acquisitions process like?
Barbo: At HarperCollins, the process is very formal and one of the most corporate. Our meetings include the heads of marketing, sales and publicity, the business manager, and the head of the art department. Editors come in and pitch their projects  We talk about the market for the book. The advantage is that you can get everyone on board from the get-go.

Q: What are you seeing in marketing?
Ekstein: We're seeing more creativity in getting books out there--via subscription boxes, for example.  Target and Barnes and Noble are great, but the independent bookstores are the mainstay of bookselling.

Q: Can you describe the subscription box program?
Ekstein: Basically it's the same model used in other industries--beauty samples, for example, or what was formerly used with records and CDs. You get a box with a theme. It's a subscription model, so it's reoccurring revenue. It's a box of hand-selected books, sometimes with other gifts. Dhonielle Clayton di a whole box around The Belles, which included  candles and lip gloss.

Q: How do you handle submissions of "quieter books?
Egan: It can be discouraging at an acquisitions meeting if colleagues do not share [the editor's] vision and there is a testy conversation. Everyone wants a best seller, although everyone [at the publisher] understands that not every book will be a best-seller. I make a point of not dismissing quiet books because sometimes they are the sleeper hits with a long life on a backlist because quiet people like to read.

Barbo: It's too quiet, it means that it lacks a strong voice and high-caliber writing. Sometime that comment means that other elements of the story weren't there.

Q: There's a belief right now that it helps to have a recognizable brand. Can you comment--what are the pitfalls and advantages of having an overall brand as opposed to focusing on individual works?
Barbo: Its about authenticity. If it's forced, everyone will know.

Eckstein: As former publicist, I often see too much emphasis on branding too early.  Get the book written and published first.

It's not too early to make connections--it's like a farmer planting seeds for a future harvest. Be an active community member--offer help, get involved. That way when later, when you need a blurb, you get you can ask people because you know them. Think of the connections and groundwork.  You don't have to have a logo and color scheme.

Q: People have to make decisions what to write/illustrate next--there's the project in your head and there's the projects that might make career sense. Do you have any advice on how to reconcile the different impulses or directions?

Barbo: It's helpful to think about what your book is about. Craft that 25 second pitch. Think about what makes your work special and explain it in a sentence. If it excites you and excites strangers (not family and friends, they love everything you do), then that's a project you should be pursuing.

Q:  Can you give a single piece of advice to aspiring pre-published on their career path?
Egan: I can't emphasis enough: focus on your manuscript, but above all, focus on your reader, whether it's spending time with children, reading more of their writing and understanding what [books] they don't have yet.

Eckstein: Get comfortable with feedback, get comfortable with no. I thought I had a think skin, but my first rejection as an agent felt like a punch to the face. It's really hard, but see it as a gift and get back on the horse again. Hopefully with each project, you'll be growing.

Barbo:  Manage your expectations for your career. Decide what your own vision for success is.  Set yourself up for success by connecting with your own reader.

Q: Can you recommend one book that you published or read this past year that really inspired you?
Barbo: The Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott is a chapter-book series about an owl that does DYI projects. They're friendship stories that spark positivity.

Eckstein:  The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. I was so immersed in the world and there were really interesting themes. It has great world-building.  Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippencott is  a real tear-jerker. This is a good encapsulation of what I'm interested in.

Egan:  I feel funny plugging one of my own books, but The Center of the Universe by Ria Voros is the kind of book that I've always aspired to publish. It was met with skepticism at the acquisition meeting--it's a quiet book about a girl aspires to be an astrophysicist.  Daughter and mother don't have many things in common and then the mother disappears. It's so rich and I'm so proud of it.

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