See You on the Bookshelf

6. The (Internal) Launch


Jack: See You in the Cosmos comes out this week in the english-speaking world. To coincide with our launch week, we have a short episode about another launch – the internal launch that happens inside a publishing house. These are big events – dozens of people from across the different departments gather inside a big conference room – and it’s at these launches that the editor first presents the novel.

This week on, See You on the Bookshelf. We talk about the room where it happens.

Jess: Oh, the room where it happens.
Jack: I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack –
Jess: Yeah, that was a Hamilton reference! I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Fortunately, there are a lot of people in the room where it happens so, you know, there’s a lot of good perspective. History will show.

Jess: We call it launch, where we’re sort of launching the book before our sales and marketing and publicity, et cetera teams.

Jack: You probably know that voice by now – that’s Jess Garrison, my editor in the US.

Jess: It’s a big room where the imprints will sit up at a table at the front of the room. Everyone who has books to present will sit there. And then there’s one of those – you know, if you went to a hotel for a big offsite meeting, the tables would be sort of arranged in like a U-shape, or like a rectangle with one side missing? It’s kind of that kind of setup where you have all of your salespeople, your marketing people, your school and library marketing people, your publicity people, your international sales people, audio … it’s pretty much everyone who has a stake in the books and a hand in getting them out to their readers, is present.
Maybe not full departments – certainly not full departments – but a lot of people. And then there’s a little bit of seating around for people who aren’t necessarily contributing to the conversation, but are there to hear what’s on tap for the coming season. You know, whatever season is being launched.

Jack: So these launch meetings – at least where Jess is, at Penguin in the US – happen once a season. Publishers typically work in seasons; it’s kind of like in fashion when you’ll have a fall or summer collection. And something that editors think about, even when they’re acquiring a book is, okay, here’s where it might fit in the list of books that we’re publishing for an upcoming season.

Anthea: So I think it works slightly differently between Jess and I.

Jack: And that, once again, is Anthea Townsend, my editor in the UK.

Anthea: For me, it’s quite a small group initially. I mean, bearing in mind, everybody – a wider group – will have heard about the novel and/or read some of it as we’re acquiring. So they’ve kind of had a sneak peek, if you will, when everyone’s got on board and got excited at that very first stage. And then later down the line – usually on my end it’s about twelve months pre-pub –

Jack: That’s pre-publication.

Anthea:  – it’s probably a group of like, twenty-five, thirty? And it’s where I will give a quick rundown of why I acquired the novel, what I first saw in it … and then I would circulate the manuscript, and then there’s a little bit of time, and then I present it in – which I think is more similar to Jess’s launch meetings – where I present it to our sales team very specifically for their purposes of selling on.

Jack: So it might vary slightly in terms of the order of things, but I think the idea behind Jess’s launch and Anthea’s meetings is the same.

Jess: It’s really the first time that you, as an editor, get to have everyone together in one room and make it happen. You are presenting a book that you’ve worked on with an author – and in this case, another editor – for a really long time. For months.

Jack: And the editor’s trying to convince them not only to read it, but also to get excited about it – as excited as she is. It reminds me of what my agent Jessica said:

Jessica Craig:  The most important thing is that the book is matched with an editor who is at a publishing house and in a position to make their passion amount to more people getting passionate about it.

Jack: That’s why it’s so important for an editor to love your book from the very beginning – from the moment of acquisition. And with that passion, the challenge then becomes trying to help their colleagues see what they see in the book.

Jess: You want to make sure everybody understands why – just like Anthea said – why you love it, why you signed it up, what’s special about it. And it really is about – at least over here and I think it’s the same for you, Anthea – it’s about expressing the feel of the book.
You don’t get up there and talk about every nuance of the plot. In fact, I try not to talk about the plot at all. I really just try to get across why this book made me feel. Like, who this character is who’s going to pull you through. What this book does that’s new or different or fresh.
I was really bad, I feel like, at launch as a young editor when I didn’t have a lot of experience. And then I suddenly realized, oh, I should just tell them what I would tell a friend who doesn’t know anything about children’s books specifically. I mean, our teams obviously do, but if you get down to just what made it impactful for you – if you compare it to another book, if you compare it to a movie – you just kind of get people to understand what it is that you see in it. And that’s what you do when you’re having dinner with a friend. You’re like, oh, I read this book, it’s kind of like this, but it’s also like this. You know, if you read this, you would like it …
Anthea: Sometimes it’s funny details that I’ll choose to tell the group, like the fact that I read this manuscript in one night, on a Sunday night at home when I couldn’t start reading sections of it out to my spouse.
You know, it’s something like that that the people go, right, okay. It kind of lodges. And then you go on to talk about – Jess, you put it rightly – what it made you feel, why you felt it’s so special. Not the necessarily the nuts and bolts of every single plot event.
I know when I’m really excited presenting something, it’s like, there’s so many things I could say. And actually the challenge is picking out three things, or four things, about the novel and about the book or the character that will really land.
Jess: Yeah. And you’re talking about the author a little bit, obviously. The person who created it and, you know, who they are and what they bring to this. Your goal is to tantalize people to want to read the story. I mean, they will end up reading everything, but you want to get them to be excited. You’re treating them like a customer basically. You want to get them on board to read the novel, and then they’ll go back with their teams and brainstorm about the plan to get the book out in front of teachers, librarians, booksellers, and ultimately kids.

Jack: One way I’ve come to think about this is that publishing houses are like a sandbox for the real world. That if an editor is really excited about your book, and that editor can get everyone on her team  – and then the broader team – to be genuinely excited about it too, then that’s a pretty good test for how a book might do out in the wild.

Of course, it doesn’t always translate like that. Sometimes a book has a lot of support in-house, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t catch on once it gets published. Other times, publishers turn down perfectly good manuscripts that ended up becoming these viral self-published hits.

But in general, I think, when that passion and enthusiasm is there and you see it becoming contagious, even within the publishing house? That’s a good sign.

Anthea: That, for an editor, is sometimes one of the most thrilling moments – when you’re in a meeting, and it’s your publicist, or a designer or someone, who speaks up about how much they’ve loved the book and where they could see it going.
Jess: Yeah. I definitely have the same experience you have, Anthea, in terms of seeing other people become excited about a book and run with their own ideas.
Anthea: Totally. And that’s a really fun part, to suddenly sit down that first moment when you know someone else is reading … you get their feedback and it starts to trickle in from across the team – of how much they’re enjoying it. And that is just really thrilling.

Jack: Speaking of feedback trickling in, as the book goes on sale this week, I’d love to see and hear yours. You can tweet, Instagram, et cetera, at me on your various social medias. I’m @jackcheng. You can also use the hashtag #seeyouinthecosmos. Thanks once again to Jess Dandino Garrison and Anthea Townsend and Jessica Craig. Music for this podcast is by Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory).