SCBWI Bologna Editor Interview: Victoria Arms of Bloomsbury USA

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Editor Victoria Arms will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), and Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information.

Victoria Arms is the Editorial Director of Bloomsbury USA. She is responsible for creating the U.S. list, overseeing manuscript acquisition and art direction. Erzsi Deàk interviewed Victoria in March 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: Please tell us a little about your background. You come from a children’s book household. Did you ever consider working in another field? If so, what?

Victoria Arms: I was briefly a chef, but missed the book world too much. Perhaps someday I will be able to combine food and children’s books.

ED: What is your all-time favorite book?

VA: I have many favorites, but no one all-time favorite. Time and Again by Jack Finney (adult) is at the top of my list. I love The Wind in the Willows [by Kenneth Grahame], The Trumpet of the Swans [by E.B. White], Marjorie Flack‘s books about Angus, Frog and Toad [by Arnold Lobel], Fox in Love (and the other Fox stories [by James Marshall]); too many favorites to list. I love them because they are beautiful, emotional and funny.

ED: What book are you proudest of having worked on and why?

VA: Some of the recent books I am proud of include of course, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2005)(a Newbery Honor Book), an upcoming cookbook for kids called Kids Cook 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold and illustrated by Sara Pinto, and another up-and-comer by Susan Vaught called Trigger (Bloomsbury, 2006), a contemporary YA novel about a boy recovering from trying to commit suicide.

ED: How would you describe the children’s publishing program at Bloomsbury?

VA: We are open-minded and always looking for something unusual, child-centered and, if possible, either funny or meaningful, or both.

ED: How linked is Bloomsbury US to Bloomsbury UK?

VA: We work very closely with our U.K. office, publishing most books simultaneously. We share about 50% of our lists, and about 25% or more also go to our German publisher for release in that market. U.S. and U.K. editors speak on a daily basis, and we have a weekly phone call to catch up on production, submissions, jackets and other details

ED: Are you aware of any major differences between the U.K. market for children’s books and the U.S. market?

VA: In the U.K., the structure of mass market and institutional publishing is very different, so we tend to try for books that are mostly going to sell in the retail market–library is a bonus. In the U.S., institutional sales are a much bigger deal. The result of this is that the British picture books are often published in paperback only, or then board, while ours start out in hardcover and often have more serious themes. We have an easier time with nonfiction in the U.S., including history, biography and science. In the U.K., upper-YA novels are also tougher to publish successfully than they are in the US. Conversely, the U.K. market for early chapter books is much stronger.

ED: What are the biggest challenges you face/have faced in building a new list in an already established and competitive market?

VA: We don’t want to steal other houses’ authors, so often we must build new authors and artists’ careers from the ground up, without being able to rely on established names in the U.S. market.

ED: Are there any books on your current list that you would consider “quintessentially Bloomsbury”? If there is a difference between a Bloomsbury US and a Bloomsbury UK book, what is it?

VA: We seem to be doing more fantasy than many other U.S. publishers, and much of it seems very Bloomsbury – from U.S.-originated titles by Shannon Hale to Anna Dale’s Whispering To Witches (Bloomsbury, 2004).

ED: What can you tell us about the Bloomsbury US publishing program?

VA: We are publishing about 60 hardcovers a year, and 20 paperback reprints. We also publish some paperback originals in the chapter book, YA and graphic novel formats. We publish books from many different countries in addition to the U.K.: Australia, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany and more. We publish for all ages, 0 to 18 and beyond.

ED: What are you looking for? What grabs your attention and makes you want to publish someone after the first “hit” of the person’s work?

VA: I look for the unusual, the funny and the emotionally strong stuff and, of course, great writing and talented artists who are consistent and easy to work with.

If it really makes me smile or cry or it seems utterly unique.

ED: Anything you are definitely not looking for?

VA: I never say never.

ED: Are your acquisition decisions influenced by co-editions?

VA: Sometimes, Bloomsbury does try to buy books for a worldwide audience.

ED: What would you consider the role of the editor in the publishing process?

VA: First, the editor is responsible for finding talent and bringing it to the publishing house. Then the editor is responsible for making sure this talent is appreciated in-house. Then beyond the office, with the sales reps, the buysers and of course, children and parents who buy and read our books. The letters of complaint come right back to us if we mess up!

ED: Are you aware of any trends in publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

VA: There seems to be a trend for older YA’s to fall into the adult market. This can be a good thing if it really serves those true young adults (age 16-22), who tend to ignore traditional YA books and only go for “real” adult books. But it can also be a problem if the YA books are seen as too adult to be safely presented by booksellers to parents.

There is also a lot of computer art out there, which is not so good.

ED: Are you involved in the marketing campaigns for your authors/illustrators and their books? What say, if any, does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

VA: Yes, our departments are small, so the publicity and marketing departments discuss all their plans with us editors constantly. I work very closely with sales and marketing, particularly on jackets and concept books, but the editing and art choices are strictly editorial. I try to listen to all opinions, however, including those of the buyers – if they don’t buy the books, we can’t sell them.

ED: Will you look at illustration samples? If so, do you advise an illustrator to send new samples every six months, or so?

VA: I love looking at illustration samples. Sending new samples periodically is always a good idea — even a postcard is nice.

ED: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

VA: Not sending an SASE, sending too many manuscripts at once, not knowing what kinds of books we publish, thinking we want books set in a faux English country village…

ED: Anything else you would like to add?

VA: Please forgive our slow response time– we are a small staff, and do try to really look at everything that comes in, but our priority is always our existing authors.

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, “The Gentleman Cowboy” as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

To Market: Learning the Ropes of PR: “Read Any Good Blogs Lately?” from Raab Associates. I’m honored that Cynsations was mentioned along with Read Roger–talk about good company!

Student Web companion to the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: Traditions in English (W.W. Norton, 2005). Features include: self-grading review quizzes; annotated web links; timeline; public domain illustrations; and additional resources for instructors. More on the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature.

“Uglies in the New York Times” from Westerblog, the blog of author Scott Westerfeld (author interview). Scott discusses “Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things” by Naomi Wolf from the March 12 New York Times.