I attended SCBWI’s first 2011 ‘London Professional Series’ event yesterday, where two commissioning editors for EGMONT UK were in the room, facing a packed audience as the event was sold out. Of course, the talk started with a brief introduction.
ALI DOUGAL, Commissioning Editor for Fiction, studied English for her first degree, prior to undertaking a postgraduate degree in publishing at Oxford Brookes University. She seemed to have always known that she wanted to be in publishing one day, and started her career with Penguin. Over time, she realized that it was children’s fiction that she really wanted to be in, and successfully made the transition into this particular area of the market, inevitably ending up at Egmont UK, the biggest children's book publisher in the UK. Does she write herself? No. It is an ambition, though she believes she may be better in editing than writing.
Unlike his colleague, PETE MARLEY, Commissioning Editor for Picture Books, wanted to be a psychologist at first, having studied the subject in Nottingham. It was there that he realized psychology wasn’t his thing, and publishing was where he ended up in. He worked for ‘Top That!’ - a small publisher, eventually moving on to Egmont UK. Does he write? He wrote for their Winnie the Pooh range before, as well as ‘Pitstop’ - a satirical take on glossy mags.
EGMONT was founded 130 years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has since grown into a global company with offices in London, New York and Sydney. All the offices are known to work closely together. Apart from being the biggest children’s book publisher in the UK, they are also the No. 1 character publisher in the UK (more about this later).
The company is passionate about getting children to read, finding new authors and illustrators, as well as supporting the existing authors on their list. Egmont has also been a frontrunner in ethical publishing, making sure that the paper they use come from ethical sources.
There are three divisions within Egmont UK:
- Magazines (e.g.: TOXIC magazine)
- Licensed Characters (e.g.: Bob the Builder)
- Egmont Press (Fiction Books; age range: 0-YA/Crossover; few adult books)
Pete Marley mentioned that their list has grown considerably in recent years, and now also includes baby & toddler sections as well as gift books, which they believe will help them move away from the over-reliance on Waterstones, since independent small bookstores are on the decline.
On the fiction side, Ali Dougal said that the market continues to be dominated by PARANORMAL fiction, though ‘Twilight’ has finally seen a dip in demand. Those that are hot right now are about Angels and Werewolves. Books that have made it into film are big sellers for publishers, such as the Percy Jackson series. For Egmont, the biggest revenue continues to come from their backlist which includes Enid Blyton books (now being repackaged). Due to Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film ‘Warhorse’, the corresponding book has become Egmont’s very own ‘Twilight’. Other successful books are the ‘GONE’ series, as well as ‘Mr. Gum’ and ‘Lemony Snicket’. Egmont has obviously also followed the Paranormal trend, as seen through ‘The Dark Divine’ books (by Bree Despain). They also have an Angel trilogy coming out.
According to both the editors, there is room at Egmont for anything. In fact, although the market has gone down recently, Egmont Fiction grew.
DIGITAL PUBLISHING is growing as there are an increasing number of platforms out there. From 2008 to 2009, digital publishing has doubled, and this trend is set to continue. In 2009, Egmont created interactive eBooks for the Nintendo DS console. From this year on, all their new books will be simultaneously available as a physical book and in eBook format.
Since eReaders have monochrome displays, they weren’t really applicable to picture books. However, this changed with the arrival of the iPad. 'Sir Charlie Stinky Socks' became the first Picture Book App Egmont has produced. A question remains as to how you would be able to market it in the Apple App Store where it is drowned by all the other apps. They are also expensive to make, and when asked whether the financial investment is viable, the answer is: not yet. But at least, Egmont is exploring the possibilities for the future.
What came next was the golden question all writers would like to get answered: WHAT ARE EDITORS LOOKING FOR?
Pete Marley said that in picture books, there are no strict rules, but the stories should be memorable, and ideally, there would be iconic characters that appeal to children. The text should also be concise - which is the hardest thing for authors to do. They should be a maximum of 800 words in length, with a lyrical script. Of course, in longer fiction, there should be more elaborate descriptions compared to picture books, where the author has to trust the illustration to do the rest.
When Pete Marley looks at submissions, he views them from the eyes of a child. Is it easy to understand? Is it accessible enough? There should be a story arc, and a strong ending. He loves to see a type symmetry in the story, e.g. when the beginning and the end happen in the same place (it would be like the story has come round full circle). The text does not have to rhyme - in fact, it is more difficult to sell it internationally if it rhymes.
Ali Dougal looks at all genres, whether it be science fiction or romance. She looks at all books aimed at kids aged 5+ all the way to YA/Crossover books. She pointed out that VOICE is important. MASS MARKET APPEAL would be great. She is also looking for books that are GENUINELY FUNNY. Basically, she has to love the book so much, that she can champion it in-house. If a book is promising, but not to her taste, she will pass it on to a colleague who may fall in love with it. There has to be a strong sense that the author can continue to grow. Naturally, it would be great if the book has CLEAR COMMERCIAL APPEAL. The BONUS would be if the book has international appeal and can be sold into 5-6 countries. This would mean that the author can earn out their advance, and Egmont could regain its investment. The icing on the cake would be if a film option or the screen rights could be sold.
Pete Marley informed us that submissions to him generally come from agents or via email from the occasional person who has found his email address somewhere. Novelty books generally arrive via post. With illustrators, he often asks them to come in with their scrapbooks. He likes to see them, because sometimes, there may be a character in there that has slipped away because they were thought not to be good enough. Once, for example, an illustration of a toddler in a ladybird costume in one such scrapbook captured his attention.
Egmont UK does take UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS. Please send these to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Submissions to the above email address would usually go to a junior reader, and if that reader is excited, they will pass it on to an editor. It has to be said that this process is much slower than submissions that come via agents who not only will pass it on to the editor directly, but probably know which editor to pass it on to (like everyone else, the taste of editors differ from one to another).
You don’t need to submit your CV with your submission. Only relevant details matter, e.g. writing competitions, courses, etc. With unsolicited longer fiction, the submission guidelines are as follows: Three chapters and an outline. Or, if available, the whole manuscript.
Ideally, it would be great to be able to say: this novel is xxx meets xxx. Some of the memorable submissions that are to be published this year are:
- Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick: it is fast-paced, and a book Ali couldn’t stop talking about. It’s ‘Ferris Bueller’ meets ‘Kill Bill’. It tapped into a trend - the YA action thriller. There was something new about it, and there was film interest (screen rights now sold in auction to Paramount).
- The Shadowing: a series for 10+ kids that is really well thought through and spreads across 5 books. There is a gap in the market for kids’ horror books - with the one outstanding top author being Darren Shan.
- Dear Dylan: a coming of age story written in email format. The voice felt so real, it took Ali Dougal back to being 16. It also had a good PR story. The author, Siobhan Curham, self-published the novel after turning a two-book deal with a publisher down before, and went on to win the Young Minds Book Award. She also runs workshops with young people, so Egmont knew she would be good at public events.
Authors have to remember that although Egmont is an editorially-led publishing house, the editors still have to attend an acquisitions meeting where he or she will have to convince the sales, marketing and finance teams to buy the book. These departments would think about whether the book could become a bestseller or be a prize winner. An important thing to market your book well is a good hook. You need to find a one-line bullet point to describe your book (e.g. the ‘xxx meets xxx’ scenario).
Once the book goes through, they will start asking questions. When is the best time to publish? Who are the competitors? Peg against them or not? Prize-winning potential? Package/Branding? Advertising - bill boards or word of mouth?
The process is similar in picture books, though it will have a longer lead time. About 12-18 months prior to publishing, they usually take them to book fairs first.
What else could be said about being noticed... oh yeah... DON’T RELY ON GIMMICKS. They will eat the chocolate you send them, but it will have no impact on your submission.