Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 13, 2012

Editor Answers Questions

Catherine Onder, Senior Editor at Disney Hyperion answered some questions from writers last year that appeared in Sprouts Magazine. They are still relevant today, so I thought I would share Catherine’s answer with you.

1. It seems fantasy stories are seldom seen in the picture book market. I know it is successful in middle grade, but couldn’t it work in picture books as well?

This is a great question and could probably be discussed endlessly. There are some reasons that immediately leap to mind as to why fantasy is more common in middle grade novels than picture books. First off, fantasy requires significant world-building. Aspects such as how the book’s fantasy world is different than ours; how the characters’ culture might be different, and how the magic works all must be carefully worked out and clearly communicated in fantasy. The elements are just the tip of the iceberg.

In a middle grade book, you have an entire novel’s worth of words to create your world and make it believable. With a picture book’s limited word count, there isn’t the same opportunity to establish a sophisticated fantasy foundation.

Another approach to this question may be to ask, what are the subjects in really good picture books—the ones that stand the test of time? When I look around, I find that perennially popular picture books are often based on the real life preoccupations of young children, including bedtime, sharing school, the surrounding world, fears, and the imagination, to name a few. These topics resonate strongly with young children, and it may be that fantasy doesn’t tie into their needs and concerns deeply enough at such an early age.

2. When you submit a manuscript and an editor writes back that “hardcover children’s literature is difficult to sell in this economy and therefore not the right market for our house at this time,” does that mean it would be okay to try again to resubmit at a later date, or is that a permanent “no?”

When I want to review a manuscript a second time, I will say so explicitly. This happens when there’s a lot that I appreciate about a project, but it’s not ready for acquisition. In these cases, I have revision suggestions and editorial thoughts for the author that I hope are helpful, and I invite him or her to share the manuscript with me again after revising. If I do not specifically request to see a revised manuscript, I would not expect the same project to be submitted to me again.

3. If I sent something to an editor and I haven’t heard back in over a year, can I submit it to another editor at the same house who wants to see it?

Every house has a different policy on submissions, and so I know this can be challenging to navigate! Speaking for myself, if I’ve had a manuscript for a very long time, I certainly understand when an author checks in about it. While I can’t speak to what would be acceptable to everyone, the best advice I can give is to communicate the situation with the editor. I can give is to communicate the situation with the editor. Let the editor who originally received the manuscript know that another editor has expressed interest and that you’d like to share it with him or her. Many houses have policies that two editors cannot consider a manuscript simultaneously, so it’s always a good idea to let the editors know exactly what the situation is.

4. In the current environment, do you think a writer has a chance of getting published if he or she doesn’t have an agent?

Yes, I do. Since many houses have closed submission policies, attending conferences is a great way to open the door for submissions. Editors will often accept submissions from attendees of the conferences where they participate. These conferences are also a good opportunity to connect with agents.

5. How many submissions do you receive each week, and how many do you read in a week?

While submissions fluctuate greatly, I generally get between five and ten submissions a week. I try to stay on top of them by reading about five a week, but this can change depending on the length of the Manuscript and my level of interest.

6. I know that agent submissions get placed at the top of an editor’s pile. With all the new agents entering the market, does a regular submission have a chance of making it to the top?

Agented submissions often take precedence for review because editors and agents work on building professional relationships so that an agent can “fit” a manuscript to the right editor. Agents also pre-screen submissions and only take on clients whose work has potential to sell. For these reasons, a higher percentage of agents’ submissions have a better chance of being acquired. However, in the past I have prioritized un-agented submissions when I’ve been intrigued by a project from an author I’ve met at a conference.

7. Do you ever get word from the top asking for a specific type of manuscript?

While specific directives from above are extremely rare, as an editor it is a part of my job to keep apprised of what’s working in the marketplace and of “stickier” trends. I keep my eye on the bestseller lists and visit the bookstore often. I also need to be aware of the types of projects that are a good fit to the house and to my list.

8. Have you ever recommended a new illustrator to your art director to consider?

Yes, I always keep my eye out for new artists, be it from conferences, mailings, exploring online on my own, and even keeping an eye out for interesting work while I’m walking around. When I come across something I like, I’m happy to share an artist’s work with our art director.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great article, Kathy 🙂 I could’ve sworn I read all the Sprouts, but this one didn’t ring a bell. I’m sure I would’ve remembered it with so much useful info 🙂


  2. So helpful, thanks for getting these questions answered!


  3. Great article, Kathy…thanks for reposting it…it’s hard to keep on top of everything that’s out there. One more reason I MUST get to a conference soon. 🙂 It won’t be this year…but I’ve set a goal to do one next year. 🙂


  4. Hi and thanks for this great article! I learned a lot of really useful information.


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