Wish Upon a Book: Publishing 101 with Disney’s Frank Bumbalo

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On Monday, November 13th, we welcomed the return of the Writers’ Group series with  Wish Upon a Book: Publishing 101 with Disney’s Senior Account Executive, Frank Bumbalo. The event proved to be highly informative and interesting. Bumbalo held a question and answer session with CMA members, discussing everything from book covers to the importance of a multi-platform pitch. Below, I’ve listed the top 10 things I learned from the session (in no special order):

  1. Trends Are Everything: If there were a keyword for the night, it would be “trends.” If you are looking to enter the publishing field, you’ll first want to know what’s on trend and what’s selling. Bumbalo shared that market trends drive everything from acquisitions to cover design. So what’s hot and what’s not right now? Talking animals, adult coloring books, sick lit, fantasy, and celebrity-authored books are on a downturn. Realistic YA fiction, graphic novels, and picture books are currently the bread and butter for big publishing companies.
  2. You Have To Be Multiplatform: Books just don’t sell the way they used to. Having a multi-platform package online (website exposure, social media, and email announcements) and offline (magazine book reviews and events) can be life or death for your pitch. Besides having a distinct vision for your work, either original or acquisition, publishing companies are looking to sell properties that can easily be primed for social media and press releases.  This keys into the industry’s need for easy marketing. If you are not prepared for a multi-platform pitch, you can always self-publish. Independent books can and have picked up buzz for independent writers and publishers, which in turn have created enough talk and interest to pull in acquisitions potential.
  3. Timing Is Everything: If you are looking for a fast and easy release, think again. Like most production-heavy labors of love, publishing can also be a lengthy process. Bumbalo estimated that a typical prose novel can take 2.5 to 3 years to publish, while books bought through acquisitions can take 2 to 5 years to see the light of day.20171113_200437
  4. Sorry, but Your Book Will Get Judged By Its Cover: While we would like to believe that covers don’t sell books, the numbers speak otherwise. Trends often dictate the design, size, and profitability of books of all ages. Publishers are seeing high sells for big, colorful YA and picture books, with bold prints and eye-catching colors. While this stands as the current trend, new cover art aesthetics are always on the horizon.
  5. Original VS. Licensed: Getting started as a new writer can be tricky. Most new authors enter the publishing world with pitches for original works, but Bumbalo shared that licensed works have a better chance of making it through the initial cuts. If you are trying to pitch licensed works, publishers are often only looking for a catchy name, book size, a fun cover concept, while actual story writing takes a backseat. Licensed works come multi-platform packaged, given they already have established networks and fan bases. Original concepts, on the other hand, struggle in the pitch stages, given the publisher’s focus on full concept pitches and marketing strategies supplied by the writer.20171113_200505
  6. The Undiscovered Author: The story of the undiscovered author getting picked up by a publishing house and hoisted into the bookstores of mainstream readers is not so impossible. Although Disney only works with writers that have agents, editors are always on the lookout for exciting new reads. Bumbalo suggested that if you don’t have an agent, you can always publish your book independently. It’s not unheard of to have an independently-published book acquired by a big publishing house.
  7. New Authors Beware: With trends coming and going so quickly, it’s hard for a new author to stand out in the publishing world. Books can live in production for years, leaving new authors a narrow opportunity to either catch the wave of a trend or fall in right at the end. Bumbalo recommends pitching prose novels. He says they not only take less production time but they are also easier to pitch, given their lack of illustrations. Non-fiction also has more longevity in a publishing house. If a non-fiction book is blacklisted, it can always be brought back at a later time when the subject matter is relevant again.
  8. Series No More: The age of the YA series is over, at least for now. Authors like John Greene, who found success with one-off mega-hits like Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars, are now commonplace in YA prose. The publishing world is seeing less interest in epic fantasy series than in previous years.
  9. Cost Is Everything: Pitching your book with fancy cover effects and marketing strategies? Think again. Bumbalo shared that the potential cost of producing or acquiring a new book plays a lot into whether or not you’ll get a publisher on board. Unless you are a big name author with a following, it may prove difficult to get a book deal early on in your career. Create a pitching strategy that won’t yield high production and marketing cost and you’ll have a better chance at making it to the market.
  10. Graphic Novels Are Huge: Graphic novels are finally getting their time in the spotlight, and they are selling big for all of the major publishing houses. With greater support and backing from school libraries and literacy education advocates, graphic novels sales have soared over the last couple of years. Non-fiction and fiction with female leads has especially seen a spike in readership in current years, widening the overall demographic of graphic novel fandom across age and gender.

To catch the full recorded event, log in to our website here – event video is available to CMA members only.