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>What does this make the future look like?

>Children’s book publishing history is marked by scandalous firings and layoffs of editors; see Leonard Marcus’s Minders of Make-Believe for some of the stories. I took one on a dozen years ago, but this latest round: wow. Emma Dryden and Kevin Lewis of Simon & Schuster are the most recent of many veteran editors and publishers who have left their positions in the past year; the list also includes Brenda Bowen, Ginee Seo, Melanie Kroupa, Michael Eisenberg, Joanna Cotler and Laura Geringer. (I’m a little leery of naming names here; when Leonard wrote last year in Minders that Susan Hirschman had been dismissed forty-five years ago from Harper Junior Books, Susan wrote to the Horn Book to correct the record, saying she had resigned. If you feel unjustly included or unmentioned, my apologies in advance.)

Beyond my sympathy and good wishes for all these individuals, I only have questions about what this disposal of proven talent means for the future of children’s publishing. And they really are questions, not opinions in disguise: Will lists get smaller? (They should.) Or, will editors need to edit more titles? Will the increased reliance on editorial freelancers or “editors at large” change what sorts of books get published? Does company history matter, and who are its custodians? What happens to a profession when many of its leaders are removed from positions of authority? Will new leaders emerge (and how will they lead?), or will everyone just get a little more gun-shy?

I’m sure you have questions of your own, so ask them here. And I’d love for anyone to take a stab at some answers.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Andrew Karre says:

    >Shantih, shantih, shantih.

  2. Michael says:

    >What happens may be that it ceases to be a profession and becomes merely an expense. So yes, everyone gets more gun-shy, takes fewer risks, exercises less taste, judgment, and leadership. Stays with the formula.

    It’s inevitable when we think the purpose of a book is to generate financial profits instead of cultural profit.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >In re Michael’s comment: unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter much money you’ve made for the company. Dryden and Lewis were responsible for proven best-sellers (some currently on the New York Times list), as did many of the other editors you listed.

  4. Julie Larios says:

    >I understand Andrew’s call for inner peace and the shantih-path, but lately I’ve found myself wishing we could all get a little more riled. As far as I’m concerned, it all started when (for some reason) people bought into the idea that what trickled down was enough, that organized labor was un-American, that greed was good, that the widening gap between CEO salaries and employees’ salaries couldn’t be stopped, and that short-term profit mattered more than quality goods and services. It might seem like a stretch to get from 11,000+ laid-off air traffic controllers to what’s happening now in publishing, but I think the parallels are strong. The people handing out the pink slips believe that experience doesn’t count – only the bottom line counts, even when the bottom line is being compromised by too much wealth at the top. These people also believe, not surprisingly, that the only people who need protection from the blood bath are the already over-entitled people at the top. So if I’m asked “Why does this happen?” my answer always comes down to this: because not only can the people at the top do it, but there are no consequences when they do – they still get their photos in the NY Times Style section each Sunday instead of being put in stocks in the Town Square with little signs on them that say, “I am a greedy sot.”

    Yikes – I’m probably going to be sorry I posted this. It’s over-simplified and a little hysterical. But there it is – I’m mad – it’s my socialist rant for the day. Capitalism in the year 2009 isn’t about nurturing people with talent and experience so that in the long run you have a quality product. It’s about getting an MBA and getting rich.

    So now I better go work in the garden, do some weeding, and forget about economic systems….a little dirt under the fingernails helps.

  5. Anonymous says:

    >Have any of the editors you mentioned found jobs with other houses?

  6. leonard marcus says:

    >Not only are individual talents being discarded. So is institutional memory: an understanding of precedent, of how intractable problems were solved in the past, how earlier crises were overcome, etc. Not to mention professional pride and the good feelings of loyalty and commitment to a group that is pulling together to produce excellent work. The owners of some of the big houses aren’t themselves in the book business and don’t particularly care about books–even as business. Overall, bigness in publishing has not worked. If book publishing is to continue it will have to reorganize itself. That won’t be easy but it is necessary.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >So what is an author to do? Former a tighter relationship with an agent and be more willing to move from house to house? Plan to stick with your editor when he or she has to find a new job? Should agents step up to be editors and editors just become acquisitions people? Should good authors start picking out small presses they want to work with instead of working with the big houses?

    I’ve worked with the same people since I started publishing. Is there some way I should be preparing myself for the firing of my editor?

  8. Anonymous says:

    >I have been listening to NPR and the conundrum many companies face. They cannot afford to carry their expenses when sales are so low (S&S down 20% last quarter), yet hesitate to lose talent knowing there will be an end to the recession and they will have to gear up again.

    I would welcome some smaller houses. What concerns me is if the bookmakers aesthetic ignores the small and unique and focuses exclusively on filling the consumer big box stores.

    Institutional sales must be falling. Although I agree that lists could be smaller – I hope it doesn't exclude quality while chasing celebrity and trends.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >Insult on injury is the announcement sent around S&S which among other things asked people to congratulate one of those who was laid off on her new role. Orwell would have blushed.

  10. Andy Laties says:

    >The new economic model for quality publishing will have to draw on the prior financial commitment of capital from readers. Independent bookselling is being reinvented in this way right now.

    Here is an article by Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, who has been creating an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, over the last five years. She is raising money from neighbors: borrowing the start-up capital for a business that will serve these local reader-lender/investors.

    This is a very old model, and it used to be extremely common in the publishing business. It was called Subscription Publishing. For instance, when bookseller Sylvia Beach, of Shakespeare & Company, in Paris, went about publishing James Joyce's unpublishable book, "Ulysses," she contacted writers and patrons of the arts throughout Europe, pre-selling copies. (She was very annoyed when Bernard Shaw refused to ante up.) The money collected was used to print the book.

    If talented editors and authors walked away from reliance on concentrated capital, and invented or revived business models whereby they evoked capital from readers prior to the publishing of books, then all this abuse of power by big corporations could find its proper response.

  11. Uma Krishnaswami says:

    >Andy that’s an interesting notion but alas editors and authors have bills to pay, are indebted to concentrated capital (does it even exist anymore? Is it in China perhaps?) and have to eat. It’s hard to get off this wheel even when we know there’s a big wobble in the spin.

  12. Andy Laties says:

    >Well, after I wrote the post, I remembered: 1) Book of the Month Club, 2) Continuity Programs, 3) Magazine Subscriptions, 4) School book clubs… That is: there are plenty of business models in active use in the world of publishing.

    We were just talking a few days ago about the power of Scholastic, due to its powerful vertical integration of publishing and distribution. Are the imprints cutting editors perhaps operating from weaker distribution paradigms?

  13. Anonymous says:

    >It isn’t only editors who are being “let go.” Sales, Production, Design (even Human Resources) are usually cut back – especially when companies are bought or “merged.” So how can an editor do her work? How can an author count on support from his publisher? To the corporate owners, the result justifies the letting-go.

    so how can an editor do her work

  14. Anonymous says:

    >Hah. I think that last line in anon 9:57’s comment was the result of incomplete editing, but I like the plaintive little echo it makes.

    Andy, I think your comments are interesting in light of e-books. How are we going to make money when someone can buy one electronic copy of our work and redistribute it to the whole world? If we make it easy enough to do the right thing– as in itunes, maybe that will work. But maybe we will move to a model such as yours where people put money into a common pot and a work is then released into the ether.

    But everything here seems either generalized (damn those greedy bastards!) or somewhat removed from the present day facts on the ground (we will have a completely different business model . . . someday.)

    Is there something that authors and illustrators and publishing employees should be doing right now to best protect their careers as the industry convulses?

  15. Chris Barton says:

    >Is there something that authors and illustrators … should be doing right now to best protect their careers as the industry convulses?If nothing else, the only thing we can truly control is getting better at authoring and illustrating. And that’s not such a bad place to start.

  16. Andy Laties says:

    >Authors and illustrators should make sure they’re familiar with their book contracts.

    Two anecdotes. When “The First Tulips In Holland” by Phyllis Krasilovsky was remaindered by Doubleday in the early 80s, Phyllis bought up a bunch of the remainders and marketed the book directly herself (she wrote in a Publishers Weekly article how she was able to place hundreds of copies with flower shops!).

    When Norton Juster began to hear from booksellers that “The Dot And The Line” — published with Random House — had been unavailable for long periods of time, on an irregular basis, he reviewed his contract and saw that if the book maintained Out Of Stock status at the publisher for 6 months or more at a time, that he could reclaim the rights. He decided to do this: he legally reclaimed the book from Random House. He arranged with David Reuther, who had been pushed out of William Morrow and who had then founded Seastar, to publish the book with Seastar (that list is now published by Chronicle). So — the book is now with Chronicle.

    That is: when the publishing house with which a book was first done is no longer properly handling the business of selling that book, then the author can sometimes step in and re-position the book in the marketplace based on willpower or skills or knowledge not possessed by the publishing house.

    Note also that in the Norton Juster story, it was the displacement and re-emergence of David Reuther that helped Norton re-position his book. Sometimes two differently weakened partners can strengthen one another’s positions.

  17. Andy Laties says:

    >As to the question of what the impact of e-books and their piracy will be on authors' income and publishers' profits — I think the answers lie in historical analysis. For the first several hundred years of the history of printing, book piracy was a huge issue. I recommend "Publishing & Bookselling" by Frank Mumby and "The Coming of the Book" by Lucien Febvre on this subject. Publisher/Printers often had a relatively short window within which to earn money from books, because pirated editions would appear quite rapidly. However in some cases, piracy actually helped. For instance "Candide" by Voltaire was banned by the Church soon after its release, but because it was being released in pirate editions, so widely, in practice the book was impossible to successfully suppress. So — piracy can help ensure that books will be read under social or economic conditions when they otherwise might not find readers.

    Back in those days, many authors were supported by wealthy patrons of the arts. Some authors, like Erasmus dunned a large number of patrons for every book. That is, before writing a book, he would send out letters to his list, requesting funds that he would use to live on while writing the book. When he'd collected the money, he'd write the book. He'd dedicate the book to the lead patron of that particular book.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >Nina Paley has had some success–releasing Sita Sings the Blues after receiving donations sufficient to cover the cost of using copyrighted music in the flash animated movie. But I don’t think she made any money herself on the deal.

  19. Andy Laties says:

    >Yes, I really enjoyed that film. And the animator Signe Baumane recently was able to complete a film using money she raised from her fans, on the internet.

    Nina didn’t make money because she was unable to negotiate with the music’s copyright holders such as to receive a low royalty payment rate. The rightsholders wanted her to pay full fare, even though she was using the music in an art film. So — this was her decision, to put herself in a position where she wouldn’t be able to do a fullscale release of the film. However, the way in which she went about raising money from her fans and supporters — THIS is what’s significant. It can be done. If she hadn’t relied on copyrighted music I think she could very well have made money with a film she made. But she loved that music, and wanted to pay tribute to a favorite musician.

  20. Micol Ostow says:

    >Thanks, Gwenda. This last re-org really surprised me; S&S was my very first home in publishing (and my current publisher), and my heart goes out to those who are weathering out stormy days. As to the question posed by anonymous about broadening relationships–yes, indeedy. Which is not to say that one can't or shouldn't build friendships or build oneself as a house author–there are many advantages to that situation–but to also recognize the state of the industry and be prepared, and resilient. That goes for your editors, too.

  21. KATE COOMBS says:

    >Two observations:
    1. I work for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the place is just convulsing with distrust and pain over huge budget cuts and lay-offs right now. Not saying misery loves company, but the ax is falling rather indiscriminately this year.
    2. I go to bookstores to check out the new picture books (and other genres) on a regular basis and wonder, “Where are the GOOD books?” There are always a few amazing books, but then there are so many bland ones that I’m repeatedly gobsmacked. I just hope, as has been expressed above, that the current changes don’t increase the blandness instead of raising the bar.

  22. Julie Larios says:

    >As Anonymous said, my comments were too black & white ("Damn the greedy bastards" was a pretty good summary of them, actually.) I did say so myself when I posted them. But it felt very nice to say them, and my main point was not that I had a solution nor that I was particularly articulate about economics, but that I wished we could all get a little madder instead of getting increasingly despondent.

    I'm glad the conversation here has gotten more optimistic and that people are looking for solutions. Publishing is changing, no doubt about it. But telling authors to come up with creative marketing strategies in order to make a living is jumping too far ahead. To me, it doesn't feel radical to suggest that a necessary first step would be for writers/teachers/librarians/readers/cultural leaders/legislators/the citizenry in general to tell a few CEO's in this country that the profit margin would be higher (and the need for pink slips lower) if the greedy bastards at the top earned less. There. It still feels good to say it. What the logical second step is, I'm not sure. But let's at least get it into the history books that we were mad and that we said so with one voice, no?

  23. Andy Laties says:

    >I think the “Mad As Hell And Not Going To Take It Anymore” approach is fruitful. But then…?

    Andre Schiffrin got it so completely right, founding The New Press after being pushed out of Pantheon. He used a non-profit model, raised foundation money, and had great success.

  24. Anonymous says:

    >I ditto the comment of Anon May 9 1:14. Blush-worthy, indeed.

    And the industry does seem to be “convulsing”.

    Anger can feel empowering for a short time.

    Perhaps booksellers, educators, librarians, authors and illustrators could band together to create more book events. Parents must be looking for wholesome, inexpensive ways to entertain children, especially with summer coming along. I believe these events could benefit everyone.

  25. Anonymous says:

    >In recognition of Children’s Book Week,the Norther California Booksellers have created an event, Kids Otter Read. On Saturday, May 16th, authors and illustrators will be appearing at bookstores all over the Bay Area. Check it out.

  26. Roger Sutton says:

    >While we have seen similar shakeups before, it seems that most people landed new jobs–not so easy now. It seems like there is a lot more freelancing going on, and I’m reminded of an old editorial by Lillian Gerhardt warning about the overuse of adjunct faculty in library schools: it won’t do.

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