What are some upcoming trends for 2016?
What I’m hearing from colleagues in the industry is that there is an ongoing interest in picture books with a clever concept and few words, adult coloring books remain a strong category, and fantasy and science fiction are on the rise. We generate IP [Intellectual Property] internally at Scout Books & Media, and we’re hired by publishers and media companies to work on ideas they’ve developed. When we start on a project, we look for topics with timeless appeal and focus on how to present things in a contemporary and compelling way. We’re interested in knowing about our readers’ lives: how, when, and where they read; how they spend their days; and what they’re interested in regarding entertainment, fashion, food, and toys.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
We don’t solicit material from authors, but we do hire writers with experience and expertise in nonfiction (for adult and kids’ books) as well as genre fiction, such as mysteries—including Cold Whispers, an eight-book mystery series for emergent readers (Bearport Publishing). For nonfiction, we look for authors who are both curious and passionate about the subject matter—that always comes through in the writing. There’s a need for more STEAM (that’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) books for kids, such as Spaceopedia and Dinopedia (Discovery/Time Inc.) and Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia (Animal Planet/Liberty Street), which was named an Amazon Best Book of 2015—fresh, current, and presented in page-turning text and design. And for fiction, a good ear for dialogue is gold.
With adult [books], we tend to focus on topics and projects that will help people enjoy and improve their lives. Nonfiction books in development include a food allergy cookbook, a holiday baking book, an activity book, a travel book, and a DIY crafts book. For kids, we want them to experience the joy of a good book, to take away knowledge and understanding they want to share with others, and to inspire them to develop a lifelong reading habit.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
Writing with lots of big words and overblown descriptions. The books we love to read are ones in which the author shows us what is happening through dialogue and action, and that’s what we look for in the writers we hire. One of our editors will work with a writer to polish a manuscript, but the author needs to first read, cut, read again, and be ruthless in taking out unnecessary description and action-stopping material. Even a cookbook can have a voice, a point of view, and tell a story. Those are the things that go into a book that readers want to read, read again, and share with friends and family.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I wear several hats as a book packager, in brand development, and literary management. Unlike publishing companies, we don’t have separate children’s and adult divisions—we are all both specialists and generalists. The things we do have in common with one another are bringing together creative thinking, analytical and strategic planning, advance and on-the-fly problem-solving, and a deep curiosity and desire to learn new things. It requires a kind of flexibility and fortitude in order to do what we do on the kinds of schedules that drive our business, but we get to play in so many sandboxes that I can’t imagine a better way to spend my days.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The best and most rewarding creative endeavors involve curiosity and passion, frequent and open evaluation, an appreciation for the people you work with, and persistence above all.
Susan Knopf founded Scout Books & Media in 2011; it specializes in children’s books and adult nonfiction. It creates original projects, brings publishers’ concepts to life, develops series and brands, and provides consulting services. Previously, she was senior vice president at Parachute Publishing, where she oversaw its expansion into books for very young readers, branded and licensed publishing, and merchandise licensing; she created a new Disney mass-merchandise imprint, MouseWorks; and she was vice president and publisher of HarperAudio and Caedmon. A published author of numerous books, she serves on the board of the American Book Producers Association and is a member of the Women’s Media Group, the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, and the Women’s National Book Association, for whom she is the Lucille Micheels Pannell Award co-chair.