Tim Travaglini, Editor
Walker and Company (2004)
Tim Travaglini graduated from the University of Richmond with a major in English and a minor in psychology. He came to Walker five years ago after 3 1/2 years at Henry Holt and Company; nine months at Books of Wonder, an all-children's bookstore in Manhattan; and one year in trade marketing at Scholastic.
Walker accepts unsolicited manuscripts addressed to Submissions Editor, Walker and Company, 104 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011.
How many books does Walker publish every year and what kind of books are they?
Walker Books for Young Readers publishes approximately 28 titles every year; 70% picture books (story books and nonfiction), and 30% middle-grade (fiction and nonfiction) and teen (fiction).
How many do you edit per year?
I edit approximately 10-14 per year.
What have you edited recently?
Looking at our Fall 2004 list: I edited WAKE THE DEAD by Monica A. Harris,illustrations by Susan Estelle Kwas; THE MYSTERIOUS COLLECTION OF DR. DAVID HARLEYSON by Jean Cassels; and LIFE, LOVE, AND THE PURSUIT OF FREE THROWS by Janette Rallison. Looking toward Spring 2005: I edited CAPTAIN RAPTOR AND THE MOON MYSTERY, by Kevin O'Malley, illustrations by Patrick O'Brien; and GIRL VS. WAVE by Scott Bass, illustrations by Julie Collins.
Were any manuscripts you edited from the slush pile?
From the "slush" pile I have acquired and edited MARTIN MACGREGOR'S SNOWMAN by Lisa Broadie Cook, WAKE THE DEAD (mentioned above), and CITY OF SNOW: THE GREAT BLIZZARD OF 1888 by Linda Oatman High.
Is the slush pile an actual pile? Where is it? How many manuscripts are in it?
Yes, although it's more like a series of piles. Each editor has his or her own pile(s). Mine are in my office. Currently, I'd make a rough estimate of 400 or more.
What percentage of manuscripts from the slush pile do you estimate get published?
Two to three percent at worse estimate. Three to five percent at best estimate.
Why does so much NOT get published?
That's perhaps not the right way to look at it. The question may easily be "why does so much GET published." Various sources give various statistics, but I recall hearing that ten thousand new CHILDREN'S books are published in the United States every year. That's a staggering amount of new titles that flood the marketplace each and every year to join the tens of thousands of book already out there. Obviously, that's a lot of material, and in a never-ending stream.
How long does it take Walker to read a manuscript?
We aim for 3-4 months, but admittedly it sometimes takes longer.
Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!
I'm not sure I can be that specific as there isn't really such thing as a "typical" day. I spend a staggering amount of time in front of the computer; dealing with emails, writing letters, writing acquisition proposals, researching topics, researching competition, compiling data, analyzing data, writing memos, writing reader's reports. I spend some time on the telephone. And I spend quite a lot of time reading - reading, reading, reading - submissions, manuscripts I am editing, competition, past titles, relevant titles, periodicals.
Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?
I usually read manuscripts during my commute, at home in the evenings, and on weekends, although I'm also reading a lot in the office.
What kinds of books do you like to work on?
I like to work on things that make me laugh, or make me say "that is SO cool."
What was your favorite book as a child?
IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN.
Do you have any favorites now?
I have a lot of favorites.
Is it every editor's dream to discover the next J.K. Rowling?
It's every editor's dream to publish a book that you love more than anything and to have the whole world learn to love it as much as you do. If this happened more often then there would be more than a few books that sell as well as Harry Potter.
What must a manuscript have to get your attention?
I have to think that I haven't seen it before. For a picture book, the text has to plant the seed of the images in my imagination. For nonfiction (picture book or middle-grade), the passion of the author for the subject has to infect me. For middle-grade and teen, I have to be engaged by the voice, care for the narrator, lose myself in the story.
Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?
I read enough to make a decision as the whether or not I'd like to pursue it.
Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!
For me to acquire any project I need the approval of the publisher. She shares all acquisitions with the president before giving me the green light. But, typically, if she agrees with my assessment of its potential, I can then proceed.
Do you think “celebrity books” are on the rise? Why?
"Celebrity books" are absolutely on the rise. One reason is that they can get away with it; their fame gives them the clout. Another reason is that the publishing model of the largest houses are more and more resembling their adult division counterparts. They actively seek the blockbuster bestsellers as a primary goal of their programs, and celebrity sells.
Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down? Why?
If I cannot convince the publisher of the merits of a given project, then it doesn't matter how much I love it. Thankfully, if there's a reason I love it in the first place, other people can usually see the potential.
Do you read manuscripts addressed to you or do you have an assistant?
I read manuscripts addressed to me. I do not have an assistant.
When you make an offer to an author, do you expect the author to negotiate the terms or accept the offer on the spot?
I always advise a new author that they do not have to give me a answer right away, that they can take some time to think it over. However I cannot say that I EXPECT an author to negotiate terms. Walker's contracts are very reasonable.
Are offers made by telephone or email?
Offers are made by telephone, and typically followed up immediately by something in writing.
How often do you send “personal rejection letters” versus “form rejection letters”?
I send fewer and fewer personal rejection letters as the sheer volume of submissions precludes this.
What is the approximate print run of a picture book these days? A novel?
It can vary greatly. For Walker, picture books can vary from 5,000-6,000 to 10,000 copies typically. Novels average 4,000-6,000 for first printings.
Is it true that most books lose money for the publisher if they don't sell out their first printing? Why?
Fifty percent of all books — all books — lose money for the publisher. Roughly 45% of all books might break even, leaving five percent or less at the top that pay the way for everything else. It has ever been so, and is little changed these days. It's basic math. It costs a lot of money to produce a book. Depending on the production cost of the book, the advance paid, and the retail price of the book, one can calculate to the last copy when a given book will break even. The question might better be asked, "Why do not more books sell more copies?" But there is no simple answer. See 10,000 new books mentioned above and extrapolate from there.
How long can the average picture book be expected to stay in print these days? The average novel?
Ouch. Very difficult question. What used to be an automatic answer of "three years" is no longer the case. Even "one year" can be a dicey proposition. Every book has a completely different life than the one next to it, but the truth is that the time span than books are given to either sink or swim has gotten shorter and shorter. If, of course, a book doesn't sell at all, then it will be in stock for a relatively long time. If it's clearly a bestseller then it will reprint and reprint. It's that smaller percentage of titles near the middle, that sell through their first printings in the first year or two, that run the risk of not reprinting if the demand has dried up and thus have shorter life spans than their more successful and, ironically, less successful brethren.
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”?
I'd wager that editors NEVER had any time. We're all shackled to our desks, long past midnight, with nothing but the stub of a candle to see by, and one lonely coal to keep us warm.
How has the field changed since you've been an editor?
I've only been in children's publishing for ten years, but even in that time your question is much too open-ended to answer in less than five thousand words. Let's say, in brief, that in recent years the gulf between the largest houses and all other publishers has widened to the point that it may soon be completely unbridgeable; in terms of how their publishing programs work, in terms of their sales expectations, in terms of the pressure they can bring to bear on the marketplace and in the chain stores. Also, the bottleneck through which the great majority of all books published must pass has narrowed considerably. Meaning that an ever diminishing number of key people - in the trade, in critical circles — control the "extended" success of nearly every book that is coming out from every publishing house. Any book still has a shot to succeed. But the books that are hand-selected to become blockbusters in the United States is a small group indeed.
How has Harry Potter changed the field?
There has been so much written in the past five years or so on how Harry Potter has changed the field, I hardly think I could add anything to the discussion — or, in fact, add anything that doesn't derive directly from someone else's analysis of the phenomenon.
Have big chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, changed the field? How?
Substantially. But then they have been doing so for more than a decade. The independent stores, in a sense, like water have found their own level. And the negative impact that the chains had on independents appears to have stabilized some time ago. But, the way the big chains dominate the market, they clearly are responsible for the most significant impact on the life of any given book. To paraphrase Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau about living next door to the United States, "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant: No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." What I mean is that the chains' impact, good or bad for a book, is tremendous. They can't help it, in a sense. And, of course, they are part of what I mean about the narrowing bottleneck through which all books, new or old, good or bad, big press or small, must pass.
Have Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed things?
I'm much less versed on the overall impact that Internet sites have had. But as a consumer, and as someone who uses them to examine the entire breadth of the field of what titles are TRULY available, I can't imagine how we ever got along without them.
Do you think these changes are for the better or worse?
"Change" is what we make of it. We can allow things to change for the worse, or we can collectively work toward circumventing the negative effects. I don't need to drag out a tired adage such as "the only constant is change," but, alas, that it is all too true. Many of the old ways that worked in favor of authors and illustrators and their books have been lost forever. But, then again, many of the changes of the past ten to twenty years have been a blessing. Ask a veteran (a real veteran) illustrator about pre-separated art someday. And while corporate consolidation and the rise of the changes have had many unfavorable side effects, don't complain about them to an author or illustrator whose book is selling in the hundreds of thousands, in quantities that earlier generations would have taken much, much longer to reach. There are two sides to every "change," but as long as writers are devoted to crafting their stories, and illustrators are devoted to creatingtheir art, and publishing has enough competition, and enough creative and talented people devoted to putting out the best possible material for their audiences, collectively, as a society, we should all benefit in the end.