Chapter Two: International Skype Session with Suzanne Murphy and Cristina Cappelluto

Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books USA

Suzanne Murphy, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books USA

We had the pleasure of seeing Christina Cappelluto in the flesh and Suzanne Murphy via Skype for this session. Susanne Gervay chaired the session with her wit and pertinent questions.

Overview of HarperCollins global?

  • Suzanne said they publish 600 books a year.
  • They have branches all over the world. Soon they will be celebrating 200 years of publishing.
  • The Harper Brothers started Harper & Rowe, amalgamated with William Collins in UK, and Angus & Robertson in Australia back in 1879.
  • They are the home of literary and contemporary legends.
  • The A & R imprint still exists. All Australian imprints are published under A & R.  
  • Since acquisition of Harlequin and ABC Books, now seeing more authors published into international foreign countries. It is a very exciting time to be published with HC internationally.

Their goal is to promote authors worldwide. They always look to acquire world rights; coordinating global publications is more and more important nowadays because of worldwide reach of social media. For example, Epic Reads has 2 million (young adult) audience.

Susanne asked if there is an opportunity for middle grade in social media.

Cristina Cappelluto, Children's Publishing Director HarperCollins Australia   

Cristina Cappelluto, Children's Publishing Director HarperCollins Australia


Suzanne said there is, for example, Rick Riordan who has been very successful using these platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook). They encourage authors to promote themselves online. There are gatekeepers such as teachers, librarians and parents. Whatever age group you have you should try to have an authentic online presence. Teachers, librarians and parents are online so worthwhile pursuing.

Christina said the middle grade platform is Instagram rather than Facebook. She said it is important to be aware of the platforms your target audience are using.

What are the strategies for publishing globally in Australia and America?

  • Barnes & Nobles is their biggest bookshops chain.
  • Amazon dominate in print and ebooks. Independent booksellers have had a decrease in book sales but recently they are reviving.
  • They’ve always had solid sales selling into schools.
  • Much of their sales are driven by the backlist such as ‘Where the Wild Things Are’; these backlists feed new talent.
  • From a publicity and marketing perspective there hasn’t been a better time to introduce new authors.

Christina said they’re always looking for the next best books and keep working with their authors and building their careers. This is a very long game and they approach it as a partnership.

If you find an Australian star will it go globally or is it more generated from the USA?

More books come out of the USA market because it is a bigger market. They love to work with HarperCollins Australia and their authors. Always looking for great authors and great stories wherever they come from.

How are you pursuing multi-platforms?

  • Christina said they have been acquiring more film and TV rights when they sign up new novels or works. They’ve been having some success with that.
  • They have connections with Fox (which is owned by Murdoch).
  • Harper Lee Film World are looking for books frequently. They can see the value of building on the book world fan interest. Her favourite in local market is ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry. Up until the film release, retail sales were minimal in comparison to the educational sales. Once the film came out that changed.
  • She said sometimes it is like a lottery getting your books made into films.

Christina said they are collaborating with HC USA at the point of acquisition. Recently they had a middle grade author’s new book series that they were very excited about. They immediately communicated with HC USA and asked them to look at it and they came back and said yes, they absolutely wanted it. It works better for all of them if they collaborate like this.

The next best option is to secure world rights if HC USA is not interested, they then on sell it to other publishing houses.

What are you looking for?

  • People should write what they are compelled to right.
  • They are always looking for great stories and unique voices.
  • You need to be aware of the market but write what you are inspired to write. There are certain markets, demographics and trends that are happening but you have to be very careful.
  • It all comes down to the story and if it moves the editor and sales person.
  • You need to be savvy to break in but when it comes to your writing – you need to write what you are compelled to write whether it is from your experience or your imagination.

There has been a growth in celebrity publishing is that happening there?

  • There are many trends in publishing; the new celebrities are You Tube stars. They’ve had tremendous success with those stars.
  • They are self-made, they get involved with their books more than you might think.
  • Not every celebrity can get a book deal, unless they’ve got millions of fans online.
  • There are some celebrities who are good writers and it is of course easier for them to get published.

Are they open to stories set in Asia? Is that included in ‘we love diversity’?

Christina said they are interested. They have Harper 360 to distribute/export Australian books into the UK, America and Asia. Suzanne said they are interested too.

Australia is looking at the removal of parallel importation making free trade – fair use – we are wondering how that will impact on Australian book sales.

Christina said they’ve been fighting against it. It undervalues intellectual copyright. It has two impacts on publishers.

  1. Firstly, it removes territorial copyright, and opens it up for retailers to source books anywhere from the world.
  2. Secondly, it could influence more successful authors as a retailer can buy their books more cheaply in the US than here. (Not necessarily cheaper in USA, but they might be remaindered or effectively dumped internationally.)

Presently we can protect our market and don’t have territorial rights. Under the new changes we can’t stop that at all. The return to you all as creators would be diminished as well. You’d get export royalties which are often considerably less than local royalties.

Is America open to Australian landscapes and animals?

Suzanne said yes they’re open to great stories. Not necessarily a non-fiction book about that setting or animals but if it is a great fictional story.

The audience talked afterwards about how reassuring it is that Australian stories can travel globally if written well.

Maria Gill Roving Reporter


Chapter One Keynote Address by Tara Weikum - The State of the Market

Tara Weikum delivering her Keynote Address

Tara Weikum delivering her Keynote Address

The state of the market for illustrators and authors with Tara Weikum, Vice President of HarperCollins USA.

The SCBWI delegates were very excited to welcome Tara Weikum to the stage. She is the vice-president of Harper Collins USA, as well as editorial director of HC children’s books. She has worked in publishing for over 20 years and publishes middle grade and YA (teen).

Tara told us that Harper Collins is the second biggest publisher of children’s books. They publish about 500 books a year including backlists and are celebrating 200 years of publishing this year.

Tara’s team of six people publish 10-15 books a year. Her passion has always been for YA.

She shared some of her favourites. For example, ‘Big Mouth Ugly Girl‘ by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘Inside Out and Back Again’ by Thanhha Lai, and showed us the covers of other junior fiction and teen fiction.

A few years ago Tara said she only had a few middle grade on her list. However, in 1996, the National Book Foundation began a category for teens. Now just about every publisher in the states has a category just for teens. YA had been very popular but there has been a tipping point and middle grade began making new ground. For example, ‘The One and Only Ivan’ has sold over 1 million copies. It was on the bookseller list before it won awards. Tara didn’t publish Ivan but is working with Kathryn on a new series in 2018.

Several factors have helped improve sales for children’s books.

  • The Times began a children’s book list and there are now six lists. It enabled the children’s list to become more competitive.
  • There has also been teen movies adapted from books which has resulted in lots more sales.
  • Social media also promotes books and enables authors to promote to their target audience.

During the years there was a downfall in selling children’s books, some booksellers blamed Amazon for the fall out in bookstores. Just recently, however, Amazon set up stores in America. E-books sales were also blamed, but recently there has been a downfall in this market. Based on research e-books peaked in 2014. Some books sell well in e-books, but now e-books are not so cheap. There is also screen fatigue, a lot of people like holding a book in their hands. Tara said they still expect to see some growth with ebooks but not like it has been.



We were all interested to know what was the biggest trend and groaned when Tara said colouring books are still selling extremely well. They are even selling colouring-in books to go with children’s books. We perked up when she said highly illustrated books such as The Dork Diaries and graphic novels are bestsellers, as well as novels and non-fiction with girls as main characters. Also books about science and computer coding. In 2014 people tweeted on the Internet about the lack of diversity in children’s books. Since then a hashtag and a formal organisation are addressing that issue and more diversity books are being published.

We Need Diverse Books #weneeddiversebooks


Tara ended with the following wise words. Don’t follow trends". It’s a good idea to read outside of your area, even if you are not writing those books.”

Someone from the audience asked whether American publishers were interested in publishing Australian stories. Tara answered that most publishers in the States only work with agents. There are hundreds of agents in the States. Agents are keen to take a chance with Australian authors, but there is a barrier if something doesn’t feel American. It depends if the humour and characters etc cross-over.

Maria Gill Roving Reporter