Bookbuilders of Boston is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together people involved in book publishing and manufacturing throughout New England. Our blog describes industry events that we sponsor or attend.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring Forum: Children's Publishing Today

Last night's forum on children's publishing was well-received by 100+ attendees gathered at Emerson College. Panel participants (l-r) were Amy Pattee, Associate Professor at Simmons and author of Reading the Adolescent Romance; Mary Wilcox, VP and Editorial Director of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children and HMH Books; and Yolanda Scott, Editorial Director of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Yolanda and Mary described the various types of children's books being published, from picture books to early readers and YA (young adult) novels. There was also discussion of business processes at Charlesbridge and Houghton Mifflin, very different companies in size and scope. The core function of the editorial department as "list builder" (i.e., spring list, fall list) was common to both, as was passion for the material and adherence to high literary standards in acquisition.

Amy's overview of her recently published book was popular--the title focuses on an interpretation of the Sweet Valley High series for young teenagers. The analysis emphasized that children's literature often deals with dream scenarios that allow readers to experience lives others than their own. In some cases the dreams are designed by adults as models for the children, but in others the dreams express the children's own desires.
The Q&A portion of the forum was also popular, with interest in the following topics:
  • E-books in the library setting (reference to Harper Collins controversy, new to me and very interesting)
  • Weight of digital considerations in editorial process (currently not essential to acquisition)
  • Simultaneous release of print and e-product (adopted by Charlesbridge)
  • Concerns regarding piracy (in this genre, sometimes considered to enhance discoverability)
  • Difficulty of bringing nonfiction titles (esp. backlist) to electronic form because of costly permissions
  • Interest in Spanish-language translations (produced by both publishers)
  • Concern about Borders' closing stores and decline of brick-and-mortar retailers
The question of brick-and-mortar viability comes up at almost every event I attend, and more and more in casual conversation as well. Publishers appreciate the importance of "hand selling" and hate to think of it going away. More to the point, they don't know what will replace it. Readers as well have a sense that the physical store, particularly an independent store, is a valuable part of their literary life. For an interesting demonstration of readers' commitment to an independent store in action, read about a proposed customer buyout of Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, NY.

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