It wasn’t surprising when talk at last weekend’s Missouri SCBWI conference turned to the biggest children’s publishers, soon to be the Big 5 — Penguin/RandomHouse, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan. It’s like the Big Leagues in baseball but with a lot fewer teams.
But what was said this weekend was a little surprising. Usually, you hear people moaning about how the big houses skew the market. They will only buy a book that will sell BIG. If your work doesn’t have mass market appeal, forget it. That may be the sort of thing writers and illustrators expected to hear, but it isn’t what was being said.
First Emma Dryden pointed out that sometimes smaller houses are actually a much better fit for a particular piece of writing. Don’t be afraid to go with a smaller house who will be willing to take on a manuscript with potentially fewer sales as long as it serves their particular market.
Then illustrator Will Terry said much the same thing. He compared publishing to baseball. The Big 5 publishers are in the infield and the outfield. That’s where you want to put the ball if you want one of them to get it. But whose happy when you hit a ball out of bounds? He then pointed to the areas beyond the first base line and the third base line. Whose happy when balls go over there? The fans! And who serves these fans? The smaller publishers.
Terry encouraged everyone to get their work out there in every way possible. Take advantage of new technologies. Put your work in as many places as possible. Create and innovate and let people know that’s what you’re doing. It may take some time, but you will find your niche!
It was a monumentally encouraging event. Keep working, writing and illustrating and get your work into the hands of the people who want it. If not the Big 5, then the smaller publishers and your fans.