PICTURE BOOK FOCUS: The EDITOR is Your Champion (Part 1)

Experienced editor Natascha Biebow shares tips on why a strong pitch matters when selling your book to a publisher and explores the role of the editor as your main champion.

If you’re submitting a book for publication at a traditional publishing house, you will have heard people say how important it is for you to have honed your hook and pitch and to know and understand the unique premise of your book. But why is this so important and how does this influence whether a book is acquired and ultimately considered commercially successful? In this series of blog posts, we will look at the different roles in children’s publishing and how your book’s hook is key for each one.


Diagram © Natascha Biebow @ Blue Elephant Storyshaping


The success of a book can be down to having in-house champions. 

The first of these is the EDITOR who is the one who gets excited about your project and thinks it’s a good fit for the publisher’s list. The editor must convince everyone else in-house that going ahead is a good move. Since publishers are ultimately businesses this involves making a case to colleagues not only that the book is wonderfully written, (and/or illustrated), but that it has a unique sales hook that will stand out in the marketplace and therefore has a good chance of selling and making a profit.

The editor must convince Sales & Rights what the book is and that it will sell!

So, how does the EDITOR do this? 

Often the first step will be for the editor to work with you to do some preliminary edits to shape the book so they can present the strongest possible project. After all, the work must speak for itself. Sometimes the editor will provide feedback from other editorial colleagues and the publisher in the first instance and ask you to do a revision.

If you have submitted a picture book text, the editor will collaborate with the art director or designer to consider what kind of illustrative approach best fits their vision for the text. (We will do a deeper dive into this process in another blog post.)

Next the editor must pull together a PROPOSAL to present to colleagues, comprised of other key members of the publishing house, including the publisher, the rights and sales teams, finance and the marketing and publicity teams. In larger publishers this takes place at an acquisitions meeting. 

The editor is championing your book, but, saying he or she loves it is not enough. They must have buy-in from other departments and also some key facts and sales predictions. As part of their proposal they will put together the following –  

A Pitch:
What is the book (format, target audience, age group)?

• How will the book grab its intended audience with something new, unique and universal?

• What is the unique sales hook?

• What key themes does the book explore and how and why are they relevant now?

Your HOOK is a key part of the pitch that editors will pass on to every department at the publisher,
(like a baton!), in an attempt to convince them to take on the project and to get buy-in.

A Competitor Analysis:

How is the book like other books that are selling well and how is it different? 

The editor will list competitor titles and look up sales figures for these comparative titles to present to the team. 

If you have previously published any books with that publisher – or another publisher – they will compile sales figures for these titles also. 

They will ask your agent, (or you), about what markets the book has sold into – home, export, special sales and foreign publishers.


Information For Home Market Sales:

The editor will need to understand:
• Where will booksellers, (and librarians), shelve the book?

• What is the competition, (see above)?

• Why is this book different from the competition?

• What other books are already published on this theme or in this same space? Is the proposed title unique or has it been done before?

• Why now? What books are selling well currently in this same space? Will they continue to sell well or is the market saturated? (Remember it can take about two years minimum to produce a picture book so there is a lag between signing it and bringing it to market?) Can this topic be done in a new and different way?

• What trends are current? If there is a GAP into which the editor is proposing to publish WHY is there a gap?

Is there a gap because this book is aimed at a too niche audience, 
so it's not commercially viable, or has a new opportunity arisen?


The Fit on the Publisher’s List:
• Publishers work 2-3 years in advance, so the editor must consider how this project will sit alongside current and future publishing on their list and also know the competition.

(A big part of editors’ jobs is to keep current about forthcoming titles by reading industry publications such as Publishers’ Weekly and The Bookseller and following book blogs, social media, and review sites.)

• A new title must not compete with backlist, current or forthcoming titles by being too similar or vying for a similar slot!

The Format:
The editor will consult with the production department* on timings and formats for the book and address key questions such as:
• What is the format that is best suited for this book and what will it cost?

• Does the book need a special finish on the front cover to stand out?

• Does it have novelty elements?


(*We will cover more specifics about PRODUCTION in a separate blog post.)

Editors must consider the best format for the book, and longer term, how to extend the brand of bestselling
titles to extend their reach to different audiences and life on the publisher's backlist.



*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo
*Hands Passing Baton image by tableatny Flickr


Natascha Biebow is a children's book editor, coach and mentor and founder of Blue Elephant StoryshapingShe loves to help authors and illustrators at all levels to shape their stories and fine-tune their work pre-submission. She runs courses on picture book craft. She is the author of the award-winning nonfiction picture book The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons.


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