Editors Share Secrets for Aspiring Authors

By Jason Boog 

scwbi304Hundreds of writers gathered at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference in Los Angeles last weekend.

The annual “Editor’s Panel” featured a star-studded collection of editors, including Dutton Children’s Books publisher Julie Strauss-Gabel–she’s worked with Ally Condie, John Green and John Grisham, among many others. Strauss-Gabel snapped that photograph of her view from stage during the panel. GalleyCat was there, gathering advice for aspiring writers…

1. You need to send the manuscript to the right editor. Strauss-Gabel explained: “I’m very attentive to fit both the imprint and if it is a good manuscript for me. We mean it when we say ‘this is not the right manuscript for me.’ I know another editor could bring something to that manuscript that I couldn’t.” She advised writers to read an editor’s body of work and understand what kind of books they love.

2. Learn as much as you can by reading everything in your genre and meeting other writers. “You need to school yourself,” summarized Candlewick Press executive editor Mary Lee Donovan. “By talking to peers and working with other writers.”

3. REVISE! The panel mostly agreed with this stunning statement: “99 percent of all submitted manuscripts need more revision.”

4. Don’t tell editors that “my children loved this manuscript.” Your family can never be objective about your work, and the phrase is overused by many aspiring authors.

5. Make sure your book is sharable. Strauss-Gabel called this “shareability,” an important quality for any genre. “Is it something I want to share with someone else? Sharing is what makes the book world go round,” she explained.

The official SCBWI blog published more tips from the panel as well.

For writers looking for more guidance, editor and author Deborah Halverson compiled the members-only “2014 SCBWI Market Survey: Publishers of Books for Young Readers.” The official SCBWI blog published a few excerpts from the member-only report:

There’s an upswing in picture book sales and market demand – Young picture books.

Re: diversity in picture books, editors prefer projects that aren’t heavy handed. Books that include cultural elements that aren’t about the diversity.

One area of cautious interest is realistic contemporary YA… the challenge is “finding stories about normal kids in normal school environments that stand out from other stories about normal kids in normal school environments.”

Jason Boog is the former editor of GalleyCat. Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint just published his first book, Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age.