By Meredith Mundy
Before I started as an editorial assistant in 1994, I dreamed that my new job would consist of sitting in a fancy office building in NYC reading piles of brilliant picture book manuscripts, selecting the best among them, making a few helpful suggestions to the author, and sending the text off to an illustrator. Before long, a bound copy of the book would magically appear on my desk.
I was right about the fancy office building and the brilliant manuscripts, but I was clueless about the publication process!
My job as an editor does include a ton of reading and editing, but I’m also a salesperson. When I find a text I want to acquire, a big part of my job is convincing my colleagues to believe in it, too.
I must first “sell” the manuscript to my editorial director, then to all the children’s editors, and then to our Sales and Marketing departments during a formal “Pub Board” meeting. Only if I can convince all of these people of the project’s financial and educational/entertainment potential am I actually able to acquire it.
This process is easier if an author has a great “track” of successful books. But some of our authors are unpublished, or only have one book under their belts. How, then, can I convince my colleagues that the brand new, untested project is worth the risk?
The secret is to provide a list of the best, most relevant “comp” (comparison) titles. Editors spend a good chunk of time combing the internet and bookstore shelves to find books that are in some way similar to the one they’re dying to acquire. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a few shining examples that have received good reviews or have strong sales. This goes a long way toward reassuring the team that a new (and somehow similar) project is worthy of publication.
In the summer of 2015 I received a submission for a picture book biography about the fascinating (but largely unknown) computer scientist Grace Hopper. None of us had heard of her, and, as a house, we had never tried to publish a picture book biography because we assumed it would sell only to schools and libraries and not to our general trade audience. But I adored this text by author Laurie Wallmark and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I wanted EVERYONE to know about Grace! I went on a hunt for other picture book biographies, and found several titles that I thought made a great case for this genre’s success.
My favorites spanned a wide range:
Books about people most everyone knows (Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn):
And books about people few readers have encountered (a mathematician and a wildly successful con man):
My most helpful finds were books about obscure but fascinating women (astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, horticulturalist Kate Sessions, and computer programmer Ada Lovelace).
By providing these comps, I was able to convince my in-house team to take a chance on an author who had published only one other book, but clearly had vision and a terrific talent for conveying complex information to young readers. It was a triumph when the project was given the green light. I can’t wait for the book to come out in May.
If you are an author submitting your work to editors—whether it’s a fairytale retelling or a work of nonfiction on an obscure topic, consider including a few key comp titles in your cover letter. The editor will thank you when she falls in love with your text and has to put on her sales hat to convince her whole team to love it, too!
Meredith is giving away two copies of GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu, which will pub in May 2017. To be eligible for the drawing at the conclusion of ReFoReMo, please comment on this post and strive to read mentor texts regularly.
Meredith Mundy has been editing books for young readers for 22 years, and hopes to continue doing so for at least 22 more! She is currently Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books, where she acquires everything from board books to young adult novels. Check out Sterling’s website at sterlingpublishing.com and connect with Meredith on Twitter at @mm4tweets.