Are Books Selling?

Ah, good ol’ book fairs

Who knew that within weeks the words “viral” and “virus” would have such polarizing connotations? The year 2020 sure is a unique beast. As authors, we’re forced gifted lots of home time to create. The longer we’re home, the more (ideally) we’re writing. Hooray for opportunity.

One of my first thoughts has been, “I better make sure my stuff is good. With everyone else home with all this free time, writing and rewriting, there is going to be more competition than ever.”

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Capture that creative energy!

My next thoughts are, “Wait…with everyone home writing, who is out there buying? Is it even worth submitting? Will it sell?”

I did some digging. Talked to friends and colleagues–authors, illustrators, agents, big publishers, small publishers. Researched a bit–the big picture international news down to smaller scope of our children’s book industry. I wanted to see for myself:

What is going on in the publishing world? What will it look like ahead?

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I’m no expert (my Econ degree and MBA play no part in this post!). I’m just a curious author that likes research and is concerned about our future. I know other authors are wondering too. Here’s what I’ve found:

For those TLDR types, lemme say this: Yes, books are still selling (but they are slowing). No, it’s not horrific (changes will come about slowly, and even if the world is magically back to normal tomorrow, we will still see small repercussions down the line in a year or two). Yes, there is a big uptick in pandemic plotlines and both agents and editors are saying KNOCK IT OFF. No, there is no reason stop writing and submitting–as long as it’s your very best work. So no panicking, OK? Keep creating. It’s what you do.

  1. Books are selling. Great! But of course numbers aren’t as high as usual. A study in Sweden shows a sharp decrease in March sales compared to last year (boo), but an uptick in online sales greatly softened the blow, and the LA Times reports the new ABA-backed online-only Bookshop.org has reported a 400% increase in sales since opening in February (*crowd cheering*). Marketwatch states overall book sales have been driven by juvenile nonfiction in particular, which are up 25% year-to-date, and up 65% for the six weeks ending April 11, according to NPD BookScan. “We definitely seeing an uptick in kids’ educational and activity book sales this week,” reports Kristen McLean, NPD books industry analyst. Sure, bookstores and libraries are temporarily closed, tradeshows (where many small publishers rely on sales) have been cancelled, and those free e-books don’t always cut it for parents and kids…yet people are still reading, and books are still selling. Publishers reiterate to me that most sales are activity books (understandably) and series (books they can rely on). Debuts–if an author/illustrator can hold a successful virtual launch–are doing OK but not as good as if they were live or on tour. [Side note: You can help your friends and indies by ordering ANYTHING from your local bookstore as they likely deliver; not only will they appreciate it but it might keep them from going under. Ask your friends to do the same.]
  2. Agents and publishers are still buying. Work-for-hire is still assigning. But…likely not as much. One reason is, due to slower sales, many books they were going to release this summer or fall have been pushed to next year or later, so they won’t need as many titles in 2021 or 2022–the timeframe the title they’d sign today would be released. And if they think sales are going to continue to drop in the near future, they might not take on as many new titles…making them pickier than ever. And they’ll have to be choosy…agents are saying their inbox is fuller than usual (one said even though she is closed to both queries and submissions and only accepts via her website anyway, ever-eager writers are blatantly subbing directly via her email regardless)(not cool!), and The Guardian reports some publishers are seeing a three-fold uptick in submissions! [Side note: It doesn’t mean the pool of writers is better, but it does mean it’s much bigger. It’s harder to get noticed. How is yours unique? Better than the others? You don’t have to submit any or every thing you’re writing right now. Just keep writing. Maybe it’ll turn into something (better) down the line.]
  3. Think you’ve got a great idea for a story that takes place during a pandemic? Well so does everyone else. Not only are publishers and editors already tired of seeing dystopian (especially pandemic) plotlines, the main issue is timing. As agent Jennifer Laughran points out, “publishing is a long game.” While the world may be changing overnight, our industry moves slowly. A book takes a good 2 to 5 years to get to market. The last thing a 12-year-old kid will want to do is relive the time their own 8-year-old self was quarantined at home. Without toilet paper.

Bottom line: like every industry in the world publishing is slowing–but all signs point to us doing okay in the long run. The future of publishing may be changed for good after this. Maybe even for the better. But it won’t change overnight. Stay positive. Keep on plugging away, giving it your best. And maybe happiest.

Seeing as we are now living in a real dystopian society, it might be time for ideal worlds to make a comeback. Let’s lighten up.

-Bitsy Kemper

True or False: SCBWI’S “The Book” Has Live Links [Hint: TRUE]

First let me say that SCBWI’s “The Book” is an online, members-only resource that I’ve always said is one of the single most valuable pieces of membership. You can also have it printed-on-demand and mailed to you, which I also recommend, as I’m tactile as well as visual and like being able to flip through it manually. But the online version IS WHERE IT’S AT! But recently I’ve realized many, many SCBWI members have no idea what the book is, what it offers, let alone how to use use it. Stick with me as I explain the #1 use most people DON’T KNOW, BUT NEED TO.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, for the most part it’s an up-to-date listing of kidlit editors and agents. It lists names of head honchos down to assistants along with how to get a hold of them, websites, policies, expected turnaround time, etc. More importantly, I think, it clarifies what each house wants and doesn’t want. It offers A TON of other stuff to (how to format a manuscript, write a query, etc), but for now, let’s focus on the list of editors and agents.

Here is an example of detail provided in the Market Survey portion for one house, redacted since the information is proprietary (Note: there are over a hundred pages of listings, each page with 5-6 house per page):

NAME OF PUBLISHER (An Imprint of NAME) PO Box XX TOWN, STATE ZIP (PHONE); FAX www.WEBSITE.com Publisher: <first and last name> ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER: <first and last name> Editorial Director: <f/l name> Editor: <f/l name> Associate Editors <names> Description: NAME OF PUBLISHING HOUSE publishes board books, picture books, and paperbacks that encourage young children to explore facts, examine ideas, and imagine new ways of understanding the world. XXXX imprints also include XXX, XXXX, and XX Digital, none of which are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Only XXX accepts submissions. Distribution via XXXX. QUERY LETTERS: Accepting. MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS: Accepting. UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS: Accepting for XXX and XXXX imprints. See full instructions at <specific URL given>. Send to <specific email addy>, typical response time 3 to 6 months. PAYMENT: Advance against royalty or flat fee, depending on project. ARTWORK INTEREST: Accepting. Send portfolios for consideration to <email addy diff than manuscript addy>. Will respond only if interested. ARTWORK PAYMENT: Flat fee or advance against royalty, depending on project.

It looks much better in The Book, lol.

Anyway, back to why I’m creating this post. I was recently surprised when I saw someone tweet about her frustration that The Book isn’t the greatest resource. She lamented that sure, there are lists of editors and agents, but it’s such a pain to have to cut and paste every agency’s URL to get more info, or reenter their posted email address. Another tweeter, from a different part of the country, agreed. They were/are both active members.

Even if they weren’t, well, this Book needs a better PR agent! 🙂

To start with, ALL THE URLS AND EMAILS ARE LIVE HYPERLINKS!! There are soooo many websites and emails in there that The Book couldn’t possibly bold or underline each one. It would look a mess. But they are live all the same. There might be a few here or there that have been missed (I mean, there are literally thousands of them in the 322-page document) but I think a solid 98% are good to go. What a timesaver! A thing of beauty!

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When it turns to a hand –YES! — it’s a hyperlink!

Here’s how you know if a website is hyperlinked: hover your pointer over the URL or website. Your pointer should change from the arrow to a hand (at least, that’s what my laptop defaults to). Tap or click the words/phrase that the hand is hovering over and VIOLA! you are taken directly to that site, no highlighting and opening another tab and cutting and pasting and hitting enter needed. If someone’s complete email address is given, and you click or tap the provided email address, your computer will automatically open a new window and create a new email with that address in the “To” or “Send” section, from you. No highlighting the address, copying and pasting, opening up your email account, composing a new email, pasting the name into Sender, etc…. *trumpets sound, confetti is thrown* Yes, it really is that easy.

There are soooo many other ways The Book can make your writing life easier. But for now, soak that up. Explore. Enjoy. Click away.

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image from vectorstock.com

I’ll highlight some other sections later.

Revision: Taking A Step Back

 

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Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

Current Status of Children’s Book Market, according to SCBWI NY 2015

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Ah, so much went on at the international conference that I’m still basking in the fruitfulness. I’m pretty sure that’s not an expression, but you know what I mean. I’ve tweeted out much of the greatness. I’ve culled some more juicy tidbits to share, in random order:

1. Webinars are popular and great for those farther away from the masses. Expect to see more.

2. Webinars are NOT a replacement of in-person conferences, workshops, or gatherings. They are in addition to them. Nothing beats face to face contact.

3. Editors and agents find/book authors and illustrators at conferences, people they wouldn’t otherwise hear from. Repeatedly. Attend roundtables, submit your work for critique. The additional cost is worth it.

4.  With the field so crowded, editors and agents are looking for something that “blows them away.” Really good no longer cuts it.

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5. There’s no award for speed in this industry. Give your work the time it deserves.

6. Hardcovers, after a bit of a slump, are on the rise!

7. Picture books are getting shorter, funnier…”an economy of text.”

and, my favorite takeaway from the enter conference:

8. “The importance of what we’re doing will never go away”

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Thoughts? Comments? Bring ’em.

Presenting at SCBWI Conference, April 2014

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Oh the joys of being part of a tribe. I had a great time presenting “Marketing the @#&! out of Yourself with Twitter” at the Northern CA SCBWI Spring Spirit conference (#SpSp14) on April 5, 2014, held in the Sacramento area. I was surrounded by greatness and the common love of writing children’s books. Being “on faculty” had its privileges too…allow me to show, not tell:

Here I am signing books right next to NYT best-selling YA author Jay Asher (@JayAsherGuy), as he enjoys a laugh with a conference attendee that just bought his book:

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Here I am next to author & illustrator extraordinaire Dan Yaccarino (of Oswald, Backyardigans fame as well as lots and lots of picture books) as he shakes hands with one of his many fans:

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Here I am in front of Chad W. Beckerman (Creative director and cover designer for Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, as well as Mishaps and Adventures blogger) (@chadwbecks and @abramskids) and Louise May (Vice President/Editorial Director of Lee & Low Books) (@LEEandLOW) as they talk shop, with Dan Yaccarino and Northern CA SCBWI Regional Advisor Patti Newman (@PatriciaNewman) recapping conference success in the background:

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Here I am as Tricia Lawrence (@authorblogger), associate agent at the revered Erin Murphy Literary Agency, has a conversation with someone else at the after party:

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Here I am next to with the amazing, multiple award-winning, NYT best-selling author & poet Nikki Grimes (it’s almost like she doesn’t know I’m there):

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Here I am as Deirdre Jones (assistant editor and rising star at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) (@DeirdreEJones) talks to BMOC Jay Asher (@jasasherguy) about his success with the hot selling Thirteen Reasons Why YA novel:

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As you can see in my rear-view mirror, here are art director Chad Beckerman (@chadwbecks), author Jay Asher (@jayasherguy), and associate editor Deirdre Jones (@DeirdreEJones) as they get ready to head to the airport:

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This may or may not be Chad approaching my car asking me to leave them all alone already:

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Ah, good times.

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