A much-anticipated panel on children’s books at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute brought out an amazing array of publishing talent, with newly minted literary agent Brenda Bowen moderating. Included in the lineup were Ellie Berger, President of Scholastic Trade Publishing, Megan Tingley, Publisher of Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Don Weisberg, President of Penguin’s Young Readers Group, Felicia Frazier, SVP and Director of Sales at Penguin, and Jean Feiwel, SVP and Director, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
Bowen began with an over view of each panelist’s background in “this bunny eat bunny world,” and then asked each speaker to give observations about the industry. Weisberg, whose focus on children’s began only a year ago after a career spent in sales and management at Random House, remarked on how many constituencies children’s publishers had to serve – including children in multiple age groups, but also extending to parents, librarians, and teachers. Frazier added grandparents to the list of powerful constituents, as they make up 25% of all children’s book buyers.
Each speaker talked not only about his or her own books, but about other authors and titles. Favorites included Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why” (which was initially a tough sell for Penguin because it deals with teen suicide); the phenomenally successful “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” which gained its following through Scholastic book clubs, and, of course, Little Brown’s “Twilight” series -books that all the students seemed to have read. Tingley talked about hating both romance and horror genres, but falling in love with the manuscript of “Twilight” on a plane trip to California…and the rest is history.
But everyone had their mega-successes, and Berger talked about Rick Riordan’s “39 Clues” and Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Game” series, while Feiwell discussed inventing the children’s series market with brands such as “The Babysitters Club” and “Goosebumps.” Weisberg mentioned John Green’s ability to communicate with his readers via his own website, sparksflyup.com, and gave as an example a recent book signing, where a thousand fans showed up to see him.
In the end, everyone agreed that children’s book publishers will always have a place finding and promoting authors, regardless of what formats are used for reading in years to come. What excites this particular set of publishers is that now children’s books (which have always been a source of profit for their houses) are getting the attention they deserve. As Tingley said about her author Stephenie Meyer (who recently appeared in concert with her favorite band):”Who would have believed people would think of an author as a rock star?” But Meyer, and JK Rowling, John Green and others have proven that while you can’t make the book jacket too sexy (or scary), it doesn’t mean their authors aren’t cool.
by Lorraine Shanley