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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Kent L. Brown, Publisher

Boyds Mills Press (2003)

Kent L. Brown is a former farmer. In fact, his friends call him "Farmer Brown." He has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in elementary education.

He started at Highlights as an editorial assistant, reading proofs and manuscripts, he says "forever." Kent's grandparents founded Highlights in 1946. The editor in 1971, Walter B. Barbe, hired Kent to fill a vacancy.

Boyds Mills Press was a logical extension of serving kids, and was started in 1991 by Larry Rosler, now the editorial director, Clay Winters, now the president, and Kent.

Kent says Boyds Mills Press LIVES on unsolicited manuscripts. Send them to Boyds Mills Press, 815 Church Street, Honesdale, PA 18431.

How many books does Boyds Mills Press publish every year and what kind of books are they?

We do picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, some novels, and craft and activity books. Also some YA history and nonfiction. Total is about 70 titles per year.

How many do you edit per year?

I only edit one or less. Larry edits much of what we publish. We use a few outside editors.

What have you edited recently?

I worked on a manuscript that didn't make it.

Were any manuscripts you edited from the slush pile?

About 75% of what we publish is from an author doing a second book who we originally found there.

Is the slush pile an actual pile? Where is it? How many manuscripts are in it?

No, it's a series of stacks. Usually there are 400-700 lurking around.

What percentage of manuscripts from the slush pile do you estimate get published?

Two percent.

Why does so much NOT get published?

Every publisher has a size limit of list. So there are many good things we cannot do, as we cannot do them all. And in many cases the manuscript is not fresh and new or it is misdirected to us.

How long does it take Boyds Mills Press to read a manuscript?

Not long. It's the problem of when we get to it with all that we do.

Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!

You really don't want to know! I come to work. Shuffle through a pile of things not finished yesterday. Answer the phone. Make calls. Attend meetings. Eat lunch. Forgo nap. Add to yesterday's pile. Shuffle some more. More phone, emails. Just keep getting more behind. At 5 o'clock, I give up and come back tomorrow, unless it's the weekend.

Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?

I almost never read a manuscript at work. If they are good enough, I read them in bed before I fall asleep. If they are not that good, I just fall asleep. I also have a recliner at home with a pile beside it.

What kinds of books do you like to work on?

I particularly like books about agriculture.

What was your favorite book as a child?

"The Little Engine That Could." Honestly.

Do you have any favorites now?

I have a favorite: "Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye" by Lois Lowry. I love the novels of Laurence Yep and Pam Conrad. And a vast number of picture books.

Is it every editor's dream to discover the next Sharon Creech or Avi?

Ah, we all have discovered such people, but sometimes return the manuscript.

What must a manuscript have to get your attention?

A strong start, a new approach, a clever and satisfying ending.

Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?

It varies by the manuscript. I like to read all the way through if there is promise. Most newer authors put a page or several chapters at the beginning that mask the story, so you need to get to the meat.

Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!

Larry mostly does the recommendation, but whoever recommends, we have a meeting and agree, then call up the author to make a contract, etc.

Do you think "celebrity books" are on the rise? Why?

Yes, they are on the rise. Because the egos of the celebrities are so big, and the big publishers think they can sell a ton and make a buck. Which has proven often to be true. "There is no accounting for taste," said the man when he saw the monkey eating glue....

Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down? Why?

I cannot think of a book we loved that we had to turn down. There have been some that we liked very much but in the end we don't have room to do everything.

What is the approximate print run of a book these days?

We do as few as 3,000 of some titles. If it were possible, I would print every book by the dozen, believing that reprinting is good and remaindering is bad and that big print runs cause remainders. There are plenty of chances to reprint.

Is it true that most books lose money for the publisher if they don't sell out their first printing? Why?

Well, all first printings lose money for us; we don't print enough to cover all the costs on the first time out. But we reprint often. We do not publish books which will not sell 10,000 in the first two or three years. But we are not foolish enough to print them all at once.

How long can the average book be expected to stay in print these days?

So far, our average is 7 years.

Is it true that today's books stay in print less time than yesterday's books?

I've heard that said and I believe it's true for the industry, but not for us.

Is it true that editors have little time to "edit" these days? Is it true that they are looking for manuscripts that are more "finished"?

I do not know if that is true or not. There is a tendency in all things to think the old days were different. I think editors always have had to work long and hard. Larry, our editorial director, works hard at editing. He likes it when he has a more finished book, but I suspect he gets more psychic reward when he takes the author further.

How has the field changed since you've been an editor?

More conglomeration, which is probably good for us.

How has Harry Potter changed the field?

I don't think it has. That's a marketing coup and a phenomenon that doesn't come along much. It has caused some imitation but we do not believe in chasing trends with mediocre stuff.

Have big chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, changed the field? How?

Fewer titles get more exposure, harder for eclectic and quality books which are not blockbusters to have much of a presence.

Have Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed things?

Sure. All publishers have a ready reference without buying "Books in Print."

Do you think these changes are for the better or worst?

We cannot stop progress, but we don't have to like it.