Joan Powers, Editor-at-Large
Candlewick Press (2005)
Joan Powers graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with a bachelor’s degree in literature. Her first job in publishing was at Macmillan. She also worked at Orchard, then Dutton for ten years, before coming to Candlewick five years ago.
Candlewick does NOT accept unsolicited submissions.
How many books does Candlewick publish every year and what kind of books are they?
We publish everything from board books to YA fiction. We publish novelty, readers, and some nonfiction, too.
How many do you edit per year?
Twelve to fifteen books.
What have you edited recently?
CORNELIUS P. MUD ARE YOU READY FOR BED? by Barney Saltzberg; PIGGY AND DAD GO FISHING by David Martin; illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz.
Were any of the manuscripts you edited from the "slush pile"?
Is the slush pile an actual pile? Where is it? How many manuscripts are in it?
I work from home, do I don't see the overall Candlewick pile very often. It is smaller than it used to be.
What percentage of manuscripts from the slush pile do you estimate get published?
Less than 1%.
Why does so much NOT get published?
Most slush manuscripts aren't original and they aren't well written. It seems aspiring writers don't really research the business.
How long does it take Candlewick to read a manuscript?
It varies, but it can take three to four months.
Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!
I work from home in New York every day except Thursday, when I go to our Cambridge office. A typical day involves lots of back-and-forth on the phone and via email with authors and agents, writing editorial letters, reviewing dummies, attending phone-conference meetings. A typical day in Cambridge is jam-packed with editorial meetings, designer meetings, all the in-person things I can't do every other day.
Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?
I read when I travel and on weekends.
What kinds of books do you like to work on?
I love picture books, but have begun editing some fiction as well.
What was your favorite book as a child?
HARRIET THE SPY.
Do you have any favorites now?
FEED by M.T. Anderson and everything by Bob Graham.
Is it every editor's dream to discover the next J.K. Rowling?
Sure, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to obsess over it!
What must a manuscript have to get your attention?
Originality, heart, an honest voice.
Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?
I read most things at least halfway through.
Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!
I will share the text with our publisher, propose terms, and sign it up. We have a weekly meeting where editors bring texts that need discussion. It's a great opportunity to get feedback on something about which the editor may be uncertain. Often the manuscript has something that has really "spoken" to the editor, but plenty of problems, too. It's a terrific forum for pinpointing the issues.
Do you think “celebrity books” are on the rise? Why?
Celebrities' names sell books, even if they are often not very good books.
Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down?
No, but I have had to turn down the work of authors I'm fond of.
Do you read manuscripts addressed to you or do you have an assistant?
I read most of them, but there is an assistant editor in the Cambridge office who assists me as well.
When you make an offer to an author, do you expect the author to negotiate the terms or to accept the offer on the spot?
It varies. There is often some degree of discussion, particularly if the author has published before.
Are offers made by telephone or email?
We do not make offers via e-mail. We generally communicate via phone or fax.
Which parts of a publishing contract is the publisher most flexible about?
It varies tremendously.
How often do you send “personal rejection letters” versus “form rejection letters”?
I send personal letters to anyone who sends a manuscript I have previously agreed to read.
What is the approximate print run of a picture book these days? A novel?
Picture books can be 8,000 to 15,000 copies. Novels can be 5,000 to 15,000 copies.
Is it true that most books lose money for the publisher if they don't sell out their first printing?
We are pretty careful to print and market each title appropriately, but first printings — particularly of picture books — bear the start-up costs, so they do carry a certain financial burden.
How long can the average picture book be expected to stay in print these days? The average novel?
Again, this varies quite a bit.
Is it true that today's books stay in print less time than yesterday's books?
Is it true that editors have little time to “edit” these days? Is it true that they are looking for manuscripts that are more “finished”?
Not really. We're always looking for manuscripts that are of high quality, or at least demonstrate considerable potential. But there is always time to work with an author you believe can create important work.
How has the field changed since you've been an editor?
The current slump in picture book sales has made us much more selective in acquisition and conservative in expectation. There used to be much more buying-in from the UK and Europe. Publishers are bringing in only the strongest titles now.
How has Harry Potter changed the field?
Fiction, fiction, fiction.
Have big chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, changed the field? How?
They exert a lot more influence than they did in years past. And they don't buy backlist like they once did (and should still).
Have Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed things?
Of course! While Internet browsing can never replace real-book shopping, readers can locate titles immediately, which certainly has its advantages. I do it all the time.
Do you think these changes are for the better or worse?
I really can't say — there are pluses and minuses. Certainly, as everyone knows, independent booksellers have suffered.