The subject of my posts will be The Picture Book Wall. I attended a SCBWI conference last fall that focused on picture books, and one of the editors gave her presentation on the business end of things. She reminded us that although writers and illustrators may feel like they're making art, they're actually making a product that must sell. Selling books is an important part of an editor's job, she told us. She has to sell the books she's acquired to the people within her house who then sell them to bookstores, and she does this with a form she fills out for each book she edits.
As a way of being a really top-notch editor, she takes the form on weekly visits to picture book walls, where she fills it out for other house's books. She doesn't do this in a competitive spirit, she said, but because she finds it a useful way to gauge new books, as well as the industry in general. She gave conference attendees a copy of the form and suggested that we also take it to picture book walls.
The most important categories in the form are:
Let me break them down:
The Sales Handle is what the editor called "the hook." The hook isn't the plot. It's one sentence about why the book is worth opening. You'll sometimes find the sales handle on the back of the book's jacket.
The Book Description IS the plot, in brief. It's akin to the copy on the inside front cover of the jacket flap, only shorter – as in, "what is this book about?"
The Selling Points category has five bullet points on the form, with black spaces after each (of course), which is to say, there should be multiple selling points for any book. Selling Points may be interesting hooks beyond the one used for the sales handle. It should also include who the target audience is, why the hook would appeal to the target audience, who the author is, and whether he/she is published with a track record or if this is a debut. In short, anything the editor can think of to sell the book!
The Sales Competition category is basically the same as amazon.com's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought."
Lastly, the Publishing Comparisons category lists books that will complement this title, for example books that would work well on a table with it in the store: other counting books, other dog books, other fairy books.
I'm a little murky on those last two categories. Without my conference notes to keep me in line, I'd want to switch the descriptions. "Books people also bought" would seem an inclusive group to me, not the exclusive on suggested by "competition." But, whatever. Both categories seem worth thinking about.
Armed with the form, I plan to visit picture book walls and send reports in future posts. I'll be visiting four different walls up here in upstate New York's Capital District: Barnes & Noble, Borders, a well regarded independent book store with a children's book appendage called Little Book House, and my local book store, I Love Books, which also sells cards, gifts, and toys.
I believe the owner of I Love Books truly does love books and that the cards, gifts, and toys are what allow the business to thrive. Theirs is the first wall I'll visit with my form, and I'll tell you Wednesday what I've learned.