Q. What do you look for in a new author?
Originality, good writing, sales potential, marketability. An author who will get out there and promote will obviously take precedence over someone who won’t. I have several authors/illustrators who are excellent at self-promotion. These include Susanne Gervay, George Ivanoff, Michael Salmon and Tania McCartney. In a diminishing industry it’s really important for creators to promote their work.
Q. What advice would you give someone before they submit their manuscript?
Checking out the publishers requirements is often important. Not so with short stories – many of my sales over the years have been to magazines that didn’t publish fiction, till I submitted it. But novels are a different case. I get poems sent to me in the guise of picture books; adult books; chapter books. I don’t publish any of these on their own, so it’s wasting everyone’s time sending them to me. I expect a covering letter and a self stamped, addressed envelope for the return of the MS. I don’t take emailed submissions – this would be a costly exercise for any small publisher. Toners are worth over $100 each now, so I don’t think it’s reasonable for authors to expect publishers to print out their MSS when the chances are they won’t be accepted.
Q. Is it more beneficial to have a manuscript submitted to a publisher through an agent or do you prefer directly from the author?
I prefer them to come direct. Let’s face it, an agent receives their commission for selling the product. In most cases, they’ll only try submitting a MS a few times before giving up. What’s the difference between an author sending me a MS or an agent? Sure, an agent knows contracts, but the chances are they will look for things to change in a contract simply because they have to be seen to be doing something for their money, especially if they didn’t in fact send the MS to the publisher in the first place. This isn’t always the case, but it happens. Chances are that a small press isn’t going to change too many things anyway. We don’t have contracts people working for us, so making changes is a nuisance. Imagine having 50 titles, all with different clauses. My life is hectic as it is, so the last thing I need is contracts having clauses changed left and right.
Q. We’ve all experienced the rejection letter. Should a potential author let it discourage them?
Definitely not. I go to the extra effort of sending most authors my readers’ reports. I mention in most cases that these are the thoughts of the person assessing the MS, and this is a very subjective process. Books that I’ve written have been rejected by every publisher in the country, only to sell and become successful. Dragonlinks was written in the 90s, rejected by every publisher. When Laura Harris took over the children’s department at Penguin, I resubmitted the MS. I didn’t tell them they had already rejected two years before. Laura accepted it. It’s since gone on to sell over 10,000 copies, has sold foreign rights, and I’ve written three more titles in the series, with a collection of short stories on the way. Another book, The Earthborn, was also rejected by every major Australian publisher. I sent it to Tor in the US and they bought it. Sold on first submission in the US. The trilogy has now been published over there. So . . . never be discouraged.
Q. How important is it to follow publisher submission guidelines?
As I’ve said, there’s no point in sending MSS to publishers if they don’t publish that style of book. For example, why send non-fiction to a fiction publisher that doesn’t have a non-fiction list. Better to send directly to publishers who do publish non-fiction. Pretty obvious, when you think about it.
Q. Tell us something that has caught your eye in a cover letter?
It’s easier to comment on what not to write: how good you are; this will be a best-seller; it’s equivalent to (existing best-seller like Lord of the Rings /Harry Potter ); how you’re test-driven this with your kids, the neighbours’ kids, their friends, and how every one of them thought it hilarious/great. Mention worthwhile awards if you must, but don’t even think about telling a publisher that you won/second or third place in some completely unknown regional short-story award. Publishers aren’t usually interested in the fact that you’ve self-published your own books, either.
Q. Do you find websites such as Creative Kids Tales beneficial to emerging authors?
This has to be a trick question, right?! I’ll tread carefully lol. I think any site that offers information to authors has to be a good thing. Everything I’ve said here is common sense to me, but maybe not others. Even if the beginning author gets one interesting bit of advice in what I’ve said, it’s been worth their while in reading the interview. No doubt some sites offer little, so they’re to be avoided. But I suspect most website hosts do their utmost to provide good advice to their subscribers/followers.