|Jennifer Besser, the newly-appointed VP and Publisher for G.P. Putnam's Sons (an imprint of Penguin) introduced herself to writers and illustrators in the room and talked a little about her background then swiftly moved on to answering questions.
"First of all," she said. "I am always a reader and always have been a reader."
Jennifer was Executive Editor at Disney Hyperion before joining Penguin Group in April, 2010.
"We are always looking for new talent so you are in the right place!" she said. "I like solving problems, and working with authors. I’m still an editor."
Jennifer still acquires manuscripts in her new role and is still an editor but she also manages the other editors in the imprint. Here's an at-a-glance look at what she takes care of, and looks for:
"We take from agents only. If an editor likes a project, he/she will send it to the five editors," she said. "We talk about it have some great discussions-it's all about voice, voice, voice!"
Jennifer is always on the lookout for a distinctive, authentic, voice-a voice she wants to trust. She works across the genres from picture books to YA, including a lot of fantasy and paranormal.
"It’s all about world building," Jennifer said. "Avoid lazy world building. What are the rules of your world? We want to feel like we are in a fully realized world."
Jennifer then moved on to answering questions from audience members:
Question: What about chapter books?
Answer: Go to the store and see the characters that take up the shelf space. We are always looking for strong characters.
Q: How many titles do you publish?
A: We publish 45-50 hardback books per year.We try to keep a balance and it seems to always naturally work out that way.
Q: What re you currently looking for?
A: We could use some middle grade boy series. We are looking for something fresh—always. Avoid the danger of chasing trends. Once you follow a trend it’s already too late.
Q: Are there rules on titles for books?
A: You want something evocative in a title. Titles and covers are hard to write.
Q: If a manuscript is not right for you, do you pass it along to another edior within the imprint?.
A: It is so subjective. What doesn’t work for me might work for another editor. We meet editorially, weekly and we all know each others tastes, so absolutely we’ll pass along and share.
Q: Is it in politic to send a manuscript if rejected from one imprint to another within the same publishing house?
A: Yes, we do [see manuscripts go to other imprints]. But you might want to talk to your agent about it first before making your move.
Q: Does poetry have a place?
A: Yes it does. If we believe enough in a book, then yes, we’ll publish the poetry. If you write picture books, understand meter and rhyme, and understand the basics of poetry.
Q: What about self-illustrated manuscripts?
A: I am looking at just manuscripts. It can be a detriment where we might like the text but feel the illustrations don’t match.
Q: Line breaks, page breaks-do we indicate those on the manuscript?
A: Don’t worry too much about the technical aspects when submitting. Some authors submit with double line breaks when author imagines the breakdown. We don't need copyright and dedication info. We really just want to read the story.
Q: Do I mention it to you if I have another editor at a fellow imprint looking at my manuscript?
A: It's good to mention in your cover letter if you have submitted to an editor in another imprint, under same umbrella, just so I know.
Q: Can you elaborate on the boy series genre and what makes those work?
A: You can’t underestimate a sense of humor. But it has to be your voice. Don’t force it if you write with a different voice. Think about pacing, too.
Q: Can you talk a little more about the Percy Jackson series and the library school support that you received?
A: We got support from retailers, but it was a debut author. We have a great school marketing coordinator. And the author was tireless—he does more than 200 visits in a year; blogs; makes T-Shirts, etc. Plus the books are based on Greek Mythology so they are a good resource and have presence in the curriculum and schools. John Rocco was the illustrator. By the time the movie came out though, the book had already built momentum. We really struggled with the cover and the original cover wasn’t working then along came John Rocco with a little thumbnail and we knew that was it! An indie book store in Texas called The Book People, has also been behind the book right from the start.
Q: Can you tell us about any clichés, subjects that make you groan?
A: I don’t like to be told the lesson I am going to learn from the book. Let the reader do that on their own. Overly didactic books are a turn off. I like stories that don’t aim at the reader. Seems like a personal more cathartic exercise. KNOW your characters inside out. Create studies of your characters, everything from their favorite food to whom they’d most likely want to get a phone call from. All that background matter that might not make it into the book helps build the ules of that world. Hunger Games is a good example.
Q: Is it good or bad to submit a book that is already self-published?
A: It depends on the story. But it’s not good or bad.
Q: Do authors need to have an online platform?
A: It's a good idea to have a website ready for when your book is coming out.
Q: Can you talk about the digital changes that are happening?
A: It’s been happening very fast. It’s been great. We are seeing a lot of change. Nooks, iPads, etc. We have a department to create apps, too which is great. We want to get it right and look at quality the best way. We want to be pro-active about this stuff, but it is still about protecting the quality and integrity of te book, so it still has to be about great storytelling and it has to be right for the book.
Q: is there room for a science fiction manuscripts aimed at 10- to 12-year-olds as a picture book?
A: I can’t really answer that without seeing the manuscript, but again, it has to be right and good text. Our picture books age up to eight years. But no, don’t aim picture books toward ten- and twelve-year-olds.
Q: How long does it take to respond to a submission and should we follow up?
A: Don’t worry about following up. We only respond if interested
Q: I hear editors say to stay away from rhyming picture books, but what if my manuscript is rhyming?
A: That’s because there are a lot of bad rhyming books, which is basically lazy poetry. Just look at what’s out there and who is publishing what. If it’s good it is going to transcend all these rules.
Q: Can you name any favorite picture books?
A: Wow, that’s tough! Anything that is funny and slightly irreverant. I am a big Mo Willems fan. He really gets his audience. Peggy Rathman (Goodnight, Gorilla) is another favorite.
To read more about G.P. Putnam's Sons, click here.