I’ve got something different for you today. We’ve talked a lot about mindset and the craft of writing picture books so I thought it’d be nice to slip behind the scenes and chat about the ‘Who’s Who’ when it comes to publishing them…
These are literal GODS who fall in love with your book and fight for it in acquisitions meetings. They help you sort out your structure and make the words sparkle. They also project-manage the delivery of your book, overseeing everything like a conductor in an orchestra. They’re your main point of contact at the publisher and in many cases, the ones who (together with the art director) pass on your feedback (and grovelly thanks!) to the illustrator.
They lead the design team. They champion, grow and support artists and help make the pictures shine. They also snoop on portfolios and Instagram hashtags to find the most exciting talent and suggest illustrator pairings. Once your picture book draft has settled down, art directors and their team are usually the ones who create text layouts, showing where and how the text will sit on each page and what kinds of images might work best (e.g. a full-bleed image or vignettes).
They sell your book to retailers in the home market (in our case, the UK) and to export markets (e.g. exporting copies to Australia without actually selling the rights to an Australian publisher). IMPORTANTLY, when your book is headed to an acquisitions meeting, the editor will be shmoozing sales and checking to see how they think the book will do once they crunch the numbers. You need their blessing, people.
Publishers often get ‘world rights’ for picture books. This means that the rights team can sell rights to foreign publishers so that they can then sell (or translate and sell) your book in their territories. Your publisher gets a cut, you and the illustrator get a cut, and it’s an exciting and magical thing to be published around the world in multiple languages, reaching readers you never dreamed of reaching. The rights team make that happen. Part of that is pitching at book fairs like Bologna but rights are sold all year round.
They run the process of turning those words and pictures into an actual real BOOK and we love them for it though they rarely get shoutouts for what they do. But think of them when you hold your picture book in your hands for the very first time, stroking the cover and marvelling at how it looks and feels!
They work on stuff publishers spend money on. Think Amazon ads, ads in magazines, and POS (point of sale) goodies like bookmarks, postcards, and posters. They’ll work with publicity to come up with a plan to help launch your book. (They’ll usually get the go-ahead to spend a bit more if something good happens to lift sales – e.g. a big award win or the backing of Waterstones – so budget isn’t fixed! It can expand!)
They can be a huge support and are another big point of contact at the publisher. They’ll come up with clever ideas to promote your book pre- and post-launch. They’ll pitch you to the media for reviews as well as to book festivals and other gigs that could boost your profile and sales. How much support they can give you will vary depending on the context (size of publisher, capacity, strategy for you/your book etc!).
I’ve gone way over my word limit so will stop here but I hope that’s a useful peek into the people working behind the scenes in traditional publishing.
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Rashmi is 2022 Picture Book Writer-in-Residence for the Hub, WriteMentor’s community learning platform that connects like-minded storytellers and provides all the tools they need for writing success.
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