Books, Editors, Publishing

Editor Nancy Feresten on the future of publishing

Revision update: Still on chapter 22 of 30, thanks to a car that needed an alignment and wheel balancing (why do these things take so long), laundry and some others. Don’t you hate the way the nitty gritty of life gets in the way of your writing? πŸ™‚ I’ve got eight chapters to do this weekend to keep my goal, and I’m thinking I won’t make it. But I’m going to try.

In my fourth report from the Houston SCBWI conference, National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten talks about the future of publishing.

If you missed my earlier reports, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself; Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talked about making your query letter package stand out; and Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talked about what makes a great book.

First off, Nancy said that National Geographic has become one of the few major publishing houses to reverse its policy of not accepting unsolicited queries from writers. She said she wants to hear from writers, which is why they’ve opened their doors again. But, she said their team is too small to respond to every query, so they have instituted a policy that they will only respond if they’re interested in your work.

Nancy tackled the subject of the publishing itself, and she had some interesting things to say. Quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Nancy gave these stats:

  • Kids spend 7.5 hours a day with some kind of media, up from 6.5 hours a year ago.
  • They spend 38 minutes a day out of school time with some sort of print media (books, magazines, comics).
  • Most of their time is spent with TV, over videogames, music and movies.
  • Over the past five years, time spent reading books is up, whereas magazines is down.
  • Girls read more than books, which has been a constant in the study for years.
  • If a child watches a lot of TV, that does not correlate with a drop in reading unless the child has a TV in his or her bedroom.

This shows that kids are busy, but as Nancy said, “Our big challenge is to figure out what they want to read.”

She said that studies show that being smart is now more important to children than being popular, a switch from past years.

In non-fiction, children want facts, photos, true unexpected stories and to laugh and have fun.

To that end, National Geographic is looking to publish:

  • Serious reference books that are fun and educational. They’re looking for writers and illustrators for this on a work for hire basis;
  • Innovative narrative non-fiction that are smaller stories, potential award winners. They’re accepting proposals for this, but again, will only respond if they’re interested;
  • Fun reference books, which offer photos, facts and fun at a low price. These will be written on a work for hire basis.

With all the new technology available now, with ebooks, etc., Nancy said the market is changing, but challenges bring opportunities.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both print and digital, but she sees a future when the best of both will be combined for a different kind of market than one we know now. Children will have their own ereader, which will be big enough to accommodate the beautiful pictures in children’s books. Families will go to libraries and see print-on-demand version of books, choose the ones they like best and download them to the child’s ereader. These type of ereaders also will be useful in classrooms, with children having less to carry, and teachers being able to make changes to textbooks as they go along.

No matter how technology changes, however, Nancy emphasized that it will be up to writers to create the future. Children will always want good stories, information and fun. Writers will be the ones experimenting with the best ways to use the new technology to tell these stories in the best ways possible.

Sounds like a great future. What do you think about the future with ebooks?

Check in tomorrow for my final report from the Houston SCBWI conference, with literary agent Sara Crowe.

Write On!

0 thoughts on “Editor Nancy Feresten on the future of publishing”

  1. I own a Kindle so I’m not against ebooks in general, but I have to admit that lately I’ve been feeling a bit down about the idea that print media may go away. I was in a Barnes and Noble a couple of days ago, and as I stared at the books all around me I thought about how each one represented months, if not years of work. Not by just the author, but by art designers, copy editors, sales people, etc. When you pick up a book you can feel how much has gone into it. But on an e-reader only the story comes through. This doesn’t hurt the author of the story, but I think it makes the book seem less magical. So there’s my completely unscientific, emotional response to the issue. πŸ˜‰

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