Sarah Odedina is a senior publishing director with Bloomsbury Children’s Books in the U.K. She has edited and published such highly-acclaimed books as, Witch Child by Celia Rees, A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and Holes by Louis Sacher. She was interviewed in November 2007 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).
What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?
SO: It was very simple. I wanted a new job, and one came up at Orchard Books. The wonderful Judith Elliot, who was publisher there at the time, offered it to me despite the fact that I had no children’s book experience. It was in the Rights Department.
After almost five years at Orchard, I knew I had found the area I wanted to work in, Children’s Books, but I wanted to move in to an editorial position at that point. I was fortunate enough to be employed in that capacity at Bloomsbury. Again, without experience!
In your opinion, what makes a good publisher?
SO: A belief in the books that they publish.
When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages, chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?
SO: I think the rule of thumb is 30 pages. If something is not exciting me by then, I reckon it probably won’t. I am just an ordinary reader after all, most readers (children especially) don’t want to keep going when things aren’t exciting quite early on.
What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?
SO: Nothing specific. I suppose I am looking for something that I find original and exciting.
What are the “realities” of children’s publishing?
SO: It is a hard market. We publish too many books. The realities of the trade in the U.K. are that fewer books are selling to fewer people, and yet we (publishers) continue to pour out thousands of titles a year.
SO: Holes by Louis Sachar. A quiet and understated masterpiece that combines a fable like quality with humor and a social setting that is utterly contemporary
No Matter What by Debi Gliori. A picture book that, in 32 pages of beautiful art and very few words, addresses the biggest question of all–enduring love.
Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?
SO: Not changed my life…but enchanted me, yes, Robinson Crusoe! I loved the adventure. I was quite a tomboy, and nothing would have thrilled me more than being stuck on a desert island building tree houses.
SO: Witch Child by Celia Rees. It is a powerful story set in the 1700s, a desperate time for some women. This story accurately deals with the historical context and does it in a passionate and compelling way that really appeals to contemporary readers. I have seen young readers at signings clutching the book with heartfelt adoration. It is a book they love about a girl they would love to either know or be!
No Matter What by Debi Gliori–a picture book with universal appeal and one I am sure people will be sitting on beds reading 50 years from now.
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley. We are always looking for something new and exciting, and, with this book, I really think we have found it!–a collection of short stories that is a novel. A classic spooky book that you can rush your way through or savor ever word.
Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?
SO: Fiction…that’s my thing!
What does the ideal cover letter say?
SO: It is brief, it outlines the submission very succinctly, and it doesn’t say “my grandchildren/children/friends’ children loved it!”
Is there any area on your list you’d like to “grow” at this time? Do you look at art samples?
SO: I think we have a very balanced list, and, no, I don’t want to grow any specific part of it. But we are always looking for new authors and great books. Yes, we look at art samples.
How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house? A YA novel? Etc.
SO: I am very involved in marketing. We don’t have an average budget, as each book has its own budget, which depends on all sorts of things, including the track record and profile of the author, what opportunities the book lends us, and how much we can rely on the author.
What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book publisher?
SO: The fact that I can work on books that are going to be read by generations of children. The fact that I work with authors of world standing. The fact that many of our books are published around the world and will be read and enjoyed by children around the world.
Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.
The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.