It is always interesting to attend a large conference where there are a lot of editors and agents in attendance. When you attend such an event, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes and ears open to see what you can learn about what is happening in the industry. While attending such a conference recently, I did learn a few things I can pass on.
First, is that the children’s book market—especially picture books—is really flat right now. Even successful picture book authors are finding the doors closed at most publishing houses.
Another thing I learned—or at least was reminded of—is that what we think are hard and fast rules in this industry are actually always changing. For years, I have both heard and taught that when you prepare a book proposal you double-space the sample chapters, but single-space all the rest. However, I overheard one agent say that the whole thing should be double-spaced. When I took an informal poll of the 25 editors and agents in attendance, they all confirmed that they preferred double-spacing throughout. When you’re tired and facing a stack of proposals, it’s much easier on the eyes to read with double-spacing.
In a session where I was presenting brief proposals to editors for their one-the-spot reactions (submitted by professional authors), I noticed that one such proposal included words that were either bold or in italics for emphasis. I have always believed that this was a sign of a new writer—having been taught that the author was supposed to write in such a way as to indicate where the emphasis should be—but when I asked the editors how they felt about it, they all said it didn’t bother them at all. I didn’t get the chance to ask, but would be curious to know whether the same is true in the manuscript itself.
One more thing that I heard over and over at this conference is that more and more of the major publishers—many of which were represented there—are now going to conferences specifically to find new writers. Since their companies are no longer open to freelance submissions except through agents, they are depending on such conference contacts to fill any remaining needs they have for book manuscripts. Any advanced writer who is not attending one of the major conferences each year is going to miss many opportunities to make those invaluable contacts for future projects.
And finally, I would note that I saw far fewer magazines represented at this conference—as well as at many of the others I attend. Article writers are typically frustrated by this fact and often ask me why. I am guessing that the underlying cause is that many magazines are struggling financially so cannot afford to send editors to conferences, or that because periodicals typically have smaller staffs, the editors can’t afford that many days away from the office.