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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

WIP — from Besty’s Editor

The Inside Story On How a Book Is Made

I’m Jill Davis, Betsy’s editor at Bloomsbury. Here’s how our acquistion
meeting works: I’ll bring a proposal to an editorial meeting (just editors!).   

 In the case of the Pete Seeger proposal, I’d have to admit that I wasn’t too worried
about what the group would think. It felt like the perfect project for Betsy–
whose writing about the arts, and specifically music–
has a strong reputation.


I have the notes from our acquistions meeting that day,
and I’ll try to mention some of the discussion. Everyone was
warm to the idea of Pete Seeger. They felt it was a good match for
Betsy. One concern that was raised had to do with readership.
Some of the group felt  the book wouldn’t have much of
a younger readership (ages 3-5) but would attract an older
readership (6-9), which can be a challenge.

I brought up older picture books, such as Walt Whitman,
by Brian Selznick, and all of his picture book biographies.
Also Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan
 and Robert Andrew Parker. These were good examples of
award-winning picture book biographies,  and it made the
group feel better about a genre that Bloomsbury hasn’t yet

We discussed that the story will work on two levels. Level one:
The way Pete Seeger’s songs and song lyrics and
groundbreaking talent for getting all kinds of people to sing will
appeal to younger kids. (After all, Pete Seeger is the KING
of singing animal sounds, just think about his version of
I Had a Rooster!) Level Two: The story of his life, his career,
the things he noticed, the people he knew (Woody!)–those will appeal
to older kids who are more interested in (and are being
asked to read) biography.

I explained a few ideas for the structure of the book as
well–that it might work if each spread featured lyrics from one
song, maybe even woven into the art. This made everyone realize
that even though the book we were "acquiring" wasn’t written yet,
we were already thinking about a dynamic structure whereby one song
would represent a period of Pete’s life, and together, all the
songs would create a framework for the book.  (Of course,
that was one part of the the planning stage, and in the end,
Betsy may choose not to stick to this.)

Everyone agreed that the illustrator will have to be top notch–that
design and art will be very, very important to the success of the book.
They also raised the reasonable concern that permissions for songs
might be involved–but I assured them that permissions would be cleared, since
Betsy is the queen of permissions after her three biographies, all of
which required extensive permissions.

The group wondered if a CD would be a natural addition to the package,
But they weren’t convinced it would be worth doing. That can still be considered.

After the acquistions meeting, I got pricing for the book in the format I
described — and with those numbers, and some ideas for how many
we might be able to se ll in its lifetime, I g o t onto the computer to do a P&L,
the profit and loss statement on an xl spreadsheet program with
all of our costs built in. This is the official way of trying to see
how successful a book might be, based on sales potential
and  paper,  printing and binding costs, marketing costs, company
overhead, royalty paid out, and other considerations.

After all of these steps, I went into the process of negotiating with
Betsy’s agent, and we finally had a contract. And now here we are.


  1. Dear Jill,

    You and Betsy offer a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.

    Would you be willing to describe what is involved in the process of choosing an illustrator? What are your considerations? How early is an illustrator involved in the bookmaking?


  2. Marc Aronson says:

    I suspect that Jill is off to Midwinter, but I will pass this request on to her.

  3. Elizabeth Partridge says:

    Jill’s in Florida, so I’ll put in my two cents. Picking the illustrator is the well-deserved and pleasurable job of the editor. If your editor is Truly Cool, they will discuss with you various people they are thinking about. Jill, being Truly Cool, tosses around art styles, names, dreams and wishes with me. Usually, until there is a manuscript to show an illustrator, the editor doesn’t query them to ask if they’d like to do the illustrations. Jill and I are in the tossing-around-ideas-and-dreaming stage.

  4. Jill Davis says:

    Hello, I am back… To answer your question about illustrators, we choose simply by thinking about who we like for the project. We think about style: realistic? Watercolor? Collage? We zero in on a few “dream” illustrators, and if we all agree (art director, editor, author, editorial director) we submit the manuscript to the illustrators one at a time. If our number one says no, we find a new number one and ask that one. Many times we’ll get turned down over and over. Illustrators have busy schedules, and some are tied up with contracts for years in advance. Sometimes it’s worth the wait. Other times it’s better to move on for timeliness.