The Landscape of Children's Publishing by Stephanie Hansen
I must preface this with the fact that Metamorphosis Literary Agency thinks outside of the box more than other agencies. We like to place books with major houses but have also found success placing books with mid-size houses, allowing the author to prove they meet publishing deadlines and market their book, and then successfully place authors with major houses while they have an established platform better preparing them for the big leap. We’re also not opposed to working with independently published authors to sell their subsidiary rights. That might look different for picture books. Perhaps they would place as an iconographic video for PBS. Whereas it might be difficult to sell picture books for translation due to the intricate rhyming and illustration matching of the text…a translation might distort that or be difficult to maintain. Middle grade and young adult books do not pose as big of an obstacle for translation. Film might take middle grade and young adult books more often for movie or streaming series.
But let’s get back to the traditional publishing model. An author writes a book (Congratulations!!!), then takes it through their SCBWI critique group, and then they begin to navigate the query trenches. Subscribing to newsletters from SCBWI, Publishers Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf, and Publishers Marketplace can allow you to see what agents and publishers are acquiring books similar to yours as well as changes in the industry like new houses and print sales. The publishing industry is in a crunch due to Covid delays, strikes (very necessary and long overdue), possible mergers, etc. Since the industry pushed back many calendar items, it often means that editors are taking longer to get back to agents which means it’s taking them longer to place clients’ books and, therefore, they’re unable to take on as many new clients (it also seemed that many authors had more time to write during Covid). One thing you can always be certain of is that the world of Children’s Publishing is always changing.
I specialize in children’s books which elevate voices that often go unheard. One of my most successful placements is Anitra Rowe Schulte’s Dancing with Daddy. Who here has heard of Anitra Rowe Schulte? Another successful placement is The Noisy Classroom by Angela Shanté. Who here has heard of Angela Shanté? I also placed Naomi Teitelbaum Ends the World by Samara Shanker. Please check it out if you haven’t. How to know what an agent is looking for…that’s a tricky question. There are websites like manuscriptwishlist.com and mswishlist.com where agents and editors list what they’re currently seeking. I highly recommend keeping a spreadsheet of agents. As you find an agent who might be interested in your book, add them to the sheet. Include why you think they’d be interested and their submission guidelines.
Get a valuable look at what is happening in the world of children’s publishing.
Picture Book Deals 3/23/23-4/22/23 (Information from Publishers Marketplace)
From Major Houses (24 out of 72) (1/3)
Mid Size Houses distributed by Major House distribution (14 out of 46) (almost 1/3)
How many 6 Figure + deals? (2 out of 72 - you'll be surprised by the house)
...Mid Size houses without Major House distribution!!!
How many deals were brokered with an agent? (69 out of 72)
...And, yes, both 6 Figure + deals had agents involved!!!
Middle Grade Deals 3/23/23-4/22/23
From Major Houses (23 out of 35) (2/3)
Mid Size Houses distributed by Major House distribution (10 out of 12) (about 4/5)
How many 6 Figure + deals? (5 out of 35 - higher than PB even though less deals)
How many deals were brokered with an agent? (34 out of 35)
...And, yes, all 6 Figure + deals had an agent involved!!!
Young Adult Deals 3/23/23-4/22/23
From Major Houses (13 out of 25) (1/2)
Mid Size Houses distributed by Major House (8 out of 11) (about 4/5 same as MG)
How many 6 Figure + deals? (4 out of 25 - about same as MG even though less deals)
How many deals were brokered with an agent? (21 out of 25)
...And, yes, all 6 Figure + deals had an agent involved!!!
(ALL OF THIS WHILE POPULAR AGENTS RECEIVE AN AVERAGE OF 3,000 QUERIES A MONTH)
It's important to do your best to put together a high quality book, act as professionally as you can, and put in good effort every step of the way. Research all avenues available to you and make the best out of everything. Set clear boundaries for yourself and others and maintain them to the best of your ability. This is how you will be successful in your publishing journey.
ANSWERING QUESTIONS PREVIOUSLY RECEIVED
I open for queries in June!!! I want to see THRILLERS (YA & Adult). What I don't want to see is a traditional "helpless" femme victim with a "strong" masc hero. I want to see CONTEMPORARY YA. Bring me all the Beating Heart Baby meets Call Jane. IYKYK. I also prefer to see complete manuscripts that have been through pretty in depth critique and /or editorial processes. I do go through editorial rounds with clients but prefer for authors to have manuscripts in the best shape they can before the process begins.
What are agents looking for in children's books? Katie Salvo opens to queries in July. She placed a young adult novel in-verse by Lisa Roberts Carter with Central Avenue as well as a young adult novel by Elise Fender with Boroughs Publishing. For all agents, I like to go to https://www.publishersweekly.com/ , Children's https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/index.html, then Book news https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/index.html, and find the most recent Rights Report https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/92034-rights-report-week-of-april-17-2023.html - viewing what agents represented books that might one day sit on the same bookstore shelf as your book might give you a general idea of who to query. It will be good to keep a Google Sheet, Excel, or some other document so you can add prospective agents as you go. You can also add submission guidelines from their agency's website, query date, full request date, follow up, etc.
Children's publishing is unique in that it often blends with beautiful artwork/illustrations/graphic novel! It also is fun to develop something that will help readers at the heart of learning to read and growing that ability. The editors, agents, and authors I've worked with in children's publishing are some of the best! They really do an amazing job putting books in front of trade reviewers, bloggers, librarians, teachers, bookstore owners, awards, and more. Plus, many of the story arcs in children's publishing tugs at the heart strings in a way that I don't think I'll ever tire.
Someone also asked about AI. I don't have a lot of experience with that apart from witnessing publishers frown on it via articles I've read and discussions I've had. They want authentic artwork for book covers, organic writing that's organized and makes sense, not AI generated content. Now for science fiction writing topics, the ideas are too many to count! :)
Another question I received was: Do book bans have any effect on what's happening in publishing? Book bans actually tend to make books more popular so I don't think they have the affect book banners want. Storytelling has existed since the beginning of time. It's the essence of humanity. To restrict stories from or about a certain group of people is hateful. I'd like to quote something from Jonathan R. Eller's The Story of FAHRENHEIT 451 here: "The 'intellectual holocaust' revealed by Koestler recharged Bradbury's own conviction that literature is every bit as precious as life itself."
The last question asked was: what advice would you give to aspiring authors? - Enjoy the process! Please, please never lose the desire to read and write. Of course, we all have our good days and bad plus each one of us has a different process and that's totally okay. As an agent I can tell when an author thoroughly enjoyed creating the story they've sent me. Sometimes hopping on whatever trend is popular and writing to fit that instead of what is creatively developed by your own imagination can be a manuscript killer. When you enjoy the process publishing is an afterthought. At that point if even only two people you've never met read your book and love it, it's exhilarating. Obviously, I want every author to have thousands of readers and make tons of sales (a girl's got to pay the bills somehow), but even blockbuster authors have dismal signing turnouts from time to time. Enjoy talking to other authors and readers about books. This will naturally integrate into the marketing process. Engage with readers once your book is out. Happy Writing!
***Adding based on a question asked during the presentation associated with this blog post: if you're interested in working in the publishing industry, a good place to look for remote internships is bookjobs.com (Thank you!)