Eva Mills—Publishing Director, Books for Children and Young Adults, Allen & Unwin
Which books from your childhood do you still have on your shelf today?
I was a little obsessed with ‘box sets’ so my parents bought me entire series each Christmas. I still have them: Winnie-the-Pooh, the Moomins, Little House on the Prairie, Narnia, The Dark is Rising, Lord of the Rings …
How did you get your first break in publishing and what important lessons have you learned along the way?
I spent 10 years working in the public service, thinking I wanted to write young adult fiction. When I finally enrolled in a course at RMIT, it included editing subjects and I found that was my real passion. My first and biggest break was landing a work placement at Allen & Unwin with Rosalind Price. It felt like coming home! At the time she warned me the placement was unlikely to lead to a permanent position, but somehow it all fell into place and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve learned so much from so many wonderful people; children’s publishing in Australia is a very generous and collaborative place. I’ve learned that publishing is a business, so we often have to make difficult and sometimes painful decisions for commercial reasons. But that publishing is also an art, and the many creators I’ve worked with pour their talent and passion into their work, so that must be remembered and respected at all times.
What do you think makes Allen and Unwin different from other publishing Houses?
We are independent and Australian-owned. We have been publishing wonderful children’s books for over 25 years. And we have a big in-house team of editors who spend a lot of time working with their authors and illustrators, taking great care to make our books the very best they can be.
How do you know when you’ve found a truly great book?
Sometimes it happens the first time you read a manuscript. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until you see the finished artwork for a picture book. But always you get a little shiver of excitement up and down your spine that says you have something special …
Without giving away any secrets, can you tell us about the Allen and Unwin process of choosing books to publish?
It’s a mix of intuition and science! We have quite a big list, so we do need to track the number of titles we’re publishing each month and into which categories – e.g. how many picture books, how many fantasy series, how many books featuring skateboarding grandmothers! We also keep an eye on the market and whether there are any gaps we’d like to fill, so sometimes we will commission a title or series from scratch. But most of the time we are simply responding to submissions – many from existing authors, but also brand new projects that arrive via agents or through ‘Friday Pitch’, our online submissions process. If an individual publisher or editor loves a manuscript or a proposal, then they’ll usually discuss it with the rest of the publishing team first, before circulating a formal ‘publishing proposal’ around the company for broader feedback. If everyone is still keen, then we make an offer!
What advice would you offer illustrators and authors hoping to pitch to Allen and Unwin?
Have a look at our ‘Friday Pitch’ submission guidelines on www.allenandunwin.com. (NB: we are closed for all of September and October but will be open for submissions again in November.) Research our list and familiarise yourself with everything we publish – is your project likely to fit with the style of our list? Or is it too similar to something we’ve already published? Write a truly beautiful, moving and authentic novel for 8 to 12 year olds in a realistic setting, as these are the hardest to write so the easiest to get published!
How do you see the future of kids’ book publishing?
There’ll be even more emphasis on the ‘book as beautiful object’, particularly in picture books. I think we’ve spent enough time now in the digital age to realise that reading a picture book to a child is as much about the time spent together as it is about the reading experience, and that teenagers actually like to have some time out from their digital devices by reading a real book – so while e-books definitely have an important place in children’s publishing, they’re never going to replace the physical book. I think we’ll continue to see an increase in adults reading young adult fiction – and why wouldn’t you, when there is so much wonderful YA being written?! But we’ll also continue to see an increase in competition for children’s time and attention from social and electronic media.