3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Alvina Ling, Executive Editor at Little Brown (Young Readers)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marvelous Marketer: Alvina Ling, Executive Editor at Little Brown (Young Readers)

Today Alvina Ling (Executive Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers) has stopped by to share her thoughts on marketing.

Alvina and I are were both on faculty at the Carolinas and I can say she is as cute and sweet as she is a great editor. She's funny, loves karaoke, and especially likes taking pictures of food. I think she took a snapshot of mine before each course! :) (no really I have a picture to prove it - that is MY dessert she is enamored with!)

Hey Alvina, thanks for stopping by. First, tell us about yourself as an editor.

Wow, that's quite the open-ended question! Let's see. Aside from the fact that I'm an all-around awesome editor (haha); in terms of acquisitions, I'm the type of editor that will only sign up books that I am absolutely head-over-heels in love with. Then again, most editors are like that.

I'm also the kind of editor that looks for the type of books I loved as a kid, or the type of books that I WISH existed when I was a kid. I tend to love literary writing and the so-called "quiet" book, although of course love books that straddle that sweet spot of literary writing with commercial appeal. I'm also a blogging and tweeting editor--in terms of marketing and publicity, I try to do what I can to get my books noticed and out in the world. I'm generally a very accessible, approachable editor. I'm also a Karaoke-loving editor!

Yes, I have heard karaoke is your specialty! :) I'll need to look you up for BEA. I know most editors support their author's marketing, but how does Little Brown as a publishing house support their authors in their book marketing efforts?

As with most major publishers, we have some books that have huge marketing campaigns, including publicity tours, advertising, posters, displays, mailings, events, bookmarks, etc. etc. In comparison, I think there are other books that might give the perception that we don't do much in terms of marketing, but in reality, as an editor, I'm very happy that each and every book we publish gets some type of support.

We have a passionate and creative marketing department, and we're always trying new things. We also have an amazing school and library marketing department, and books that don't necessarily have wide commercial appeal get considerable school and library marketing support--special mailings, featured at conferences such as ALA, IRA, TLA, and NCTE, etc. Also, each and every book we publish gets a marketing and publicity contact. I've been pleased that our marketing department is also open to ideas and feedback from the author, and I've seen many examples (although of course not always) of an author suggesting something that we've decided was a good idea and executed.

We also have a document that we send to authors that gives advice on what the author can do themselves to help promote their own books (blogging, Tweeting, school visits, etc.)

It's nice to hear that some publishing companies promise some marketing no matter if you are mid-lister or headliner. On that note, what do you feel is most important in promoting books? What doesn't seem to work?

This might be a cop-out answer, but I think the most important thing in promoting a book is to first have an excellent book to promote. Word-of-mouth is probably the most powerful and yet most uncontrollable element in book promotion. We can do everything we can to get the books into the right people's hands, but if they don't love the book and then recommend it to others, it ends there. I also think an appealing, commercial cover paired with a strong title goes a long
way to selling books.

To be honest, the longer I'm in the business, the more clueless I am about what works and what doesn't. It really seems like a crap shoot to me. I know this isn't a great answer--but it's the truth!

What is the acquisitions process at Little Brown? From the time a book is submitted until you offer a contract.

The standard process is this: an agent submits a MS to me. I generally take between 1-3 months to read it. If I read and love it, I'll bring it to our weekly editorial meeting to ask for some additional editorial reads. The editors who volunteer will read it for the following week's editorial meeting. If the consensus is that we all love the book, then our editorial director or editor-in-chief will read the book within a week and determine whether it's ready to go to our biweekly acquisitions meeting.

We prepare materials for this meeting a week in advance, including a memo, comp titles and sales, and a P&L. At the meeting (which is attended by all of our Directors--Sales, Marketing, Publicity, etc.), our Publisher will ask for feedback, and then make the final decision of whether we want to make an offer or not.

Generally, due to the timing of the meetings, once it goes to editorial meeting it will take 3-5 weeks for us to make a decision. Of course, if there is other interest for a manuscript, or an editor loves a book so much they want to try to preempt it, the process can move much more quickly--we can have people give the book overnight reads.

Here's a little more information about how auctions work. I'd say from the time of submission, the fastest we can turn around an offer is one day. But, the average turnaround time from submission to offer is probably 2-3 months.

What is the most exciting part of acquiring a book? What is the hardest part about wanting a book?

Hmmm. I think the most exciting part of acquiring a book is the falling in love part. Reading a new submission for the first time, feeling my heartbeat speed up, feeling the butterflies, realizing that what I'm reading is really, really wonderful. The hardest part is wondering if I will be able to acquire the book--if I'll get the support I need in-house, if other editors at other houses are also
falling in love with it, if the author will want to be with me, too.

What is Little Brown looking for?

We're looking for quality books for children and teens. We're very YA heavy right now, and although that doesn't mean we're not still looking for wonderful YA books (that's what's selling right now, after all!), I think we're more actively looking for Middle Grade and picture books to balance our list. We don't publish much nonfiction, but of course will publish nonfiction that we all fall in love with, particularly if it has trade (bookstore/commercial) appeal.

We're looking to fall in love!

Thanks Alvina!

You can follow Alvina on her blog or Twitter.

ASK a question or comment and I will giveaway a few Little Brown YR ARCS that just came out in late fall. I will leave the post open until Tuesday night at midnight EST


Shannon O'Donnell said...

This was a fantastic interview, and I learned so much. The explanation of MS to offer was fascinating. Thanks, ladies! :-)

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Great interview! Thanks for the insights.

Blazer67 said...

Another great interview, Shelli.

Thanks for your time, Alvina. This was priceless just for the facts about how quickly (or slowly) manuscripts run through a house.


Unknown said...

Hi Alvina and Shelli. It was a pleasure to meet you both back at the SCBWI Carolinas conference. This was a great interview and post. I actually have one question that may or may not be on other people's minds.

How difficult is it to find works that do an adequate job of straddling literary and commercial- or rather literary writing that has commercial appeal?


Kerri Cuev said...

HI Alvina and Shelli! Great interview and interesting insight :)

throuthehaze said...

Great interview! It was very interesting to read about the acquisitions process :)

Riv Re said...

I've always loved Little Brown. Maybe not by looking for them specifically on the shelves, but in hindsight, I remember reading some great ones as a kid.
Enjoy singing away :)
And thanks for the contest, Shelli!

Heather Hellmann said...

It's interesting to hear about this process.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. Alvina Ling's description of the acquisition process was so interesting.

I've always loved Little Brown. I was really excited when they signed Cornelia Funke, one of my favorite authors.

storyqueen said...

Great interview. I love getting to hear about how things are on the other side of the desk.


Tess said...

wonderful interview...and a good reminder that so much of this process is subjective and personal. thanks for the peek!

alvinaling said...

Thanks, everyone! Shelli, thanks for having me! Christopher, the answer is: moderately difficult, but there are many authors who do straddle that sweet spot between literary and commercial.

mariska said...

This was a great interview !

Jennifer said...

Great interview! I was lucky enough to meet Alvina at the SCBWI FL Orlando conference last year. You gave a great talk!

A question for you, Alvina -- Do editors like authors who are able to write in different genres, or do you pretty much write one genre and stick with it your entire career? And if you can change genres, when does that happen? After you've established yourself in one genre first?
Thanks for answering this!

Gail said...

Great interview with Alvina, Shelli! I love YA but it's good to hear that some publishers are looking for PB and MG books, since that's what I write :-)

alvinaling said...

Hi Jennifer--great questions. The truth is, I think many editors are excited when authors try different things. However, from a marketing/publicity standpoint, it's much easier to "brand" an author if she sticks to one genre. If you're the type of writer who likes to mix things up, you may want to find a different publishing house for each genre, or you may want to stick with one genre for 3-4 books, and then try something new for a few books. But I think that editors and publishers can be flexible to the author's passion. I've definitely worked with authors who write for different age groups, different genres, etc.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great interview! A lot of people really have to love a MS before it is purchased, don't they?

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent interview. Interesting insights of the world of publishing!

Laura Pauling said...

I guess it's just like when I pick up an already published book and know I'm going to love it! Thanks for the inside look!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview ladies! It's great to hear about the process from someone in the industry.

Jess said...

It's nice to hear from an editor that she likes the literary, so-called "quiet" books :) This was a wonderful interview--very informative and with a photo of a dessert too! Thanks to Alvina and Shelli.

Anonymous said...

I love hearing that Alvina enjoys books she wished existed when she was young. My motivation is to fulfill the daydreams I had about fantasy lands from my childhood - the experiences I wished I had and the people I wanted to become. Thanks for the informative insights.

Kristi Valiant said...

Great to hear Little Brown is actively looking for picture books, and it was interesting to hear about the acquisitions process there and why it takes the time it does. Thanks for the interview!

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban said...

Great interview.

I love her candid answer on what work.

Julie Hedlund said...

What a treat to get an inside look into the acquisition process. I, too, am glad to hear that LB might be picking up more PBs. Thanks for a great interview!