Back in April, we asked a school librarian and a public librarian to create a wish list of the kinds of books they’d like to see more of from publishers. Now we’ve asked some publishers whether feedback from teachers and librarians has any influence on how they shape their lists. Here is a sampling of the responses we received.
Katie Hall, associate editor, Arbordale
I try to get to trade shows at least once a year, because I think it’s helpful to speak with teachers and librarians in person and I always come away with a list of things they’re looking for. If I have a manu- script that I might be on the fence about, but it’s a subject that a teacher has mentioned to me, that can tip it over into the yes pile.
One of the big things we’re always looking for is a book about physical science or earth science. It’s a challenge to get a fun story about those subjects that doesn’t sound like a textbook. We have a book coming out this fall called Magnetic Magic. It teaches kids about magnets and the magnetic North Pole. Magnetism is not something that’s covered a lot, and we’ve heard from teachers that they want books about physical science subjects for younger children.
And something we are always hearing is that people want to see more diversity in children’s books. I very firmly believe that all children should be able to pick up a book and see themselves as a main character. This is especially important when you’re talking about science. I want every kid to see one of our books and think, “Science is for me; that’s something I can do.”
Carolyn Yoder, senior editor, Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek
Some of our authors’ book ideas have come from discussions with librarians or from their research on other projects. An author may stumble upon something interesting while doing research, then run the idea by a librarian or teacher and look at the curricula to see if there’s a need for a book on that subject. In that way, teachers and librarians are always on our radar.
I also check several librarian websites—Kid Lit Frenzy, the Uncommon Corps, Unleashing Readers—where they discuss what’s new and what’s coming up and sometimes what they would like to see more of.
I will have brainstorming sessions with authors, and we talk about how a historical figure could be placed in the context of his time, and how the subjects are viable. We also try to write about figures or events that are maybe not widely known, but they should be. And if we do a book about a figure like Thomas Jefferson, we try to offer some kind of different slant. I find that people like to be surprised by a book and say, “I didn’t know that” when they discover different perspectives on history. That is what drives me.
Alvina Ling, editor-in-chief, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I think there is some influence from teacher and librarian feedback, but ultimately the decisions about what to publish are based on an editor’s taste and passions. I think feedback could push something over the edge, but the influence could also come from booksellers, parents, or a friend. If an editor hears someone say, “Oh gosh, I was looking for a book about X and couldn’t find anything,” I think they keep that in mind when they’re looking at submissions.
We do library previews twice a year, and we often hear feedback there. And during conferences, at the booth, we are hearing feedback about books we’ve published and also about needs for certain types of books that people might have. Social media is a helpful forum as well. We pay attention to it whether someone is tweeting a criticism or about something they need more of.
We have an in-house IP [Intellectual Property] program where several editors will meet periodically and brainstorm about book or series ideas. They can then bring the idea they feel has the most promise to an acquisition meeting. If we get feedback from teachers and librarians we can say, “Let’s try to come up with an idea for a book about X.” Those meetings are another way to do that.
David Levithan, publisher and editorial director, Scholastic
[We consider feedback from teachers and librarians] all the time. I think there are two degrees here. First, feedback can help us position our existing titles, raising their profile. And through feedback we are seeing what we need more of, or need to begin with.
We’re in a unique position because we have teacher advisors and librarian advisors company-wide through our school channels. We literally bring teachers into the building all the time. On the trade side, we mostly get feedback from conferences, email, and the online preview that we do seasonally. It gets hundreds of thousands of views, and we ask for feedback there. We mostly get feedback we want. But we’re very sensitive to that—knowing what will be appealing to teachers and librarians. I always think back to The Hunger Games. Those first galleys went out to as many teachers and librarians as booksellers. The quotes from librarians said it was something special. And if they say, “We love this book,” we can shine more attention on it.
In many instances feedback helps us understand the context of a topic. An example of that is Alex Gino’s George, about an elementary school transgender kid. We were hearing from a lot of teachers and librarians that these kids were in their classroom or library, and they had to reach up to a YA book or to a picture book to find something for them. They wanted something for that elementary age group. We heard that loud and clear, and that was part of the very loud “Hallelujah!” when Alex’s book came in to us. It was a practical issue and needed to be addressed, not just a theoretical issue.
Judy Gailbraith, president and founder, Free Spirit
We take suggestions from teachers and librarians very seriously. A lot of that feedback comes through our advisory board, which is composed of classroom teachers, school counselors, special education teachers, school librarians, and parents. We query them about possible book topics, and they offer other suggestions as well. We also talk to teachers and librarians at conferences we attend. We interact with them at our booth, and in conference sessions. One of the newest titles in our Best Behavior series came as a result of a contest we ran inviting people to title the next book. The winner was Noses Aren’t for Picking, which is a concern for many parents and early-childhood educators. We also get suggestions and feedback from our sales reps and Free Spirit authors, many of whom work in schools either as educators or as consultants.
Vince Burns, v-p of editorial, ABC-CLIO
I’m proud to say that we get feedback from librarians on virtually every one of the 300 books we publish each year. On our website we list our librarian advisory board, which numbers almost 70 librarians! To supplement their views we occasionally reach out for feedback to an even wider group of school, public, and academic librarians. Finally, our Libraries Unlimited editors are themselves prominent librarians. Sharon Coatney and Blanche Woolls, both Libraries Unlimited editors, are former presidents of the American Association of School Librarians.
For our reference list, our editors reach out to their “mini advisory board” of librarians for feedback on projects even before they begin to put together a proposal, and long before we issue a contract. In fact, the librarian feedback is one of the most important parts of the book proposal that goes to our publication committee for a “go or no-go” decision on the project. In terms of the kind of feedback we are looking for, the most basic and important question is always, Does this concept or idea for a book meet your patrons’ needs?
Mary Lee Donovan, editorial director, Candlewick
Candlewick is very much a creatively led publishing house. “Creatively led” in this context means that the majority of the books we publish are products of the creator’s particular pursuit or passion. The author submits a book or a proposal, and we react to it. We rarely work on spec, i.e., commission authors to write books on subjects of our choosing to a formula of our design. Some might be surprised to learn, for example, that Candlewick’s Read and Wonder science picture books don’t necessarily come to us pitched specifically as Read and Wonders. That designation may come as a project evolves. What started out as a conversation about the need for a picture book about butterflies might ultimately reveal itself as a young adult novel about a Victorian butterfly collector, once it’s been dropped into the hopper of the creative mind.
The collective voices [of teachers and librarians] are definitely a large and important element of the evaluation process. When an editor wishes to acquire a project, it is part of his/her job to consider the project’s likely markets and its closest competition. If it appears that the schools and libraries will be a critical audience for a book, then the prevailing educational movements and trends—whole language, Common Core, STEM—are also taken into account. An editor could have conversations with many people in-house prior to signing a project, not necessarily to secure approvals, but to become informed, to begin shaping his or her vision for the book, to begin positioning the book for optimum viability, to be aware of obstacles or challenges from the start so as to minimize them or to turn them into assets.
The best way for teachers and librarians to pass along wish lists or requests to publishers is through a publisher’s sales and marketing representatives. Those in-house experts are in a perfect position to gather feedback from various corners of the market/country and to report to their publisher what is happening in the field, synthesizing it in a way that’s meaningful to the company, its mission, and its aesthetic. As a book develops, those in-house expert voices are again critical to title and subtitle choices, jacket design, the kinds of front and back matter that might be included.
Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Feedback from teachers and librarians is absolutely invaluable to the building of my lists. In fact, part of our editorial-meeting agenda within each of my imprints is to discuss what the editors have been hearing from those on the front lines—teachers and librarians who are sharing books and working with kids. We often hear comments at librarian previews, at conferences, on social media, and on listservs. We hear things directly from folks we have relationships for years, and who will email editors or me directly. Authors will hear feedback when they are going into schools on tour and will bring comments back. It is all very much a part of our discussions. Editorial’s job is to know as much about the market as possible, and educators and librarians are the conduit to one of the largest pieces of that market.
The idea of wish lists are also an important part of the discussion. It lets us know where the holes are on the shelves, what the needs are in the classrooms, and certainly makes us perk up when a submission comes in that meets those criteria! For example, I’ve had countless discussions at conferences about the need to focus on women’s role in science, especially for middle grade. So when a proposal from Jeannine Atkins came in entitled Finding Wonders that told the story of three often-overlooked young women who changed the course of scientific thinking, it naturally shot right up on our discussion agenda at Atheneum.
I am at every institutional conference, and I love to be approached to talk about our books. I am particularly fond of hearing about how they are being used in schools and in discussion groups. That is such important information because it not only informs publishing decisions moving forward, but it also allows me to share that user information with other teachers and librarians I speak with.