David Saylor is Vice President, Creative Director for the Trade Book Group of Scholastic Inc. and has guided the art direction and design of hardcover and paperback trade book publishing since 1996. He has worked closely with many award-winning illustrators and authors, including Saxton Freyman, Christopher Myers, Stephen Savage, Maurice Sendak, Lauren Thompson, and Walter Wick. Anita Loughrey interviewed David in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).
What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?
DS: I loved books, and so I worked my way into publishing. But my first experience with children’s publishing was at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. That’s where I recognized that I loved children’s books and had a strong connection to the books I read as a child.
In your opinion, what makes a good art director?
DS: A good art director is able to guide an artist through the process of making a book by offering great feedback, encouragement, advice, sound judgment, enthusiasm, honesty, and sometimes, love. Appreciating and understanding an artist’s work gives that artist a great sense of confidence to create their best work.
What makes an artist’s illustrations stand out for you?
DS: Illustrations always stand out for me if they make me feel something or provoke a response: laughter, sadness, joy, insight. I love artwork that expresses life in distilled moments.
Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?
DS: I think websites are great for artists, and I would encourage anyone who is starting out (and established artists, for that matter) to think about setting up a site. I look at websites every day and find them incredibly helpful.
What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?
DS: Portfolios that are uneven are distressing, meaning that there’s a mix of good work but too much that’s not up to par. I’m not a fan of gimmicky portfolios either: let the work speak for itself.
What do you believe is the most important part of your job?
DS: Encouraging and developing talent.
What is your favorite thing about being an art director?
DS: Helping talented artists make great books that we’re both proud of and knowing that the result will have an impact on a child’s life.
Do you make suggestions for revisions to art work? What sort of suggestions have you made and how, in your opinion, how have they improved the final product?
DS: I do make suggestions on revising artwork. I can’t solve problems of technique, but I can offer opinions and suggestions that might spur an artist to improve something.
How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?
DS: I read the story first, sometimes many times; then I think about my own emotional response to the words and imagine how a particular illustrator might interpret those words.
What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?
DS: I loved Alice in Wonderland very much when I was eight-years old: it made me laugh and I loved memorizing the verse parts and reciting them for my family. To my mind, the John Tenniel drawings are the work of a genius. And, like many children, I wept after reading Charlotte’s Web. I couldn’t believe that she died!
DS: I’m very proud of having launched the GRAPHIX imprint of graphic novels for Scholastic in 2005. I think there’s tremendous talent in this area, and I’m so excited to bring great narrative and character-driven comics to kids. And there are many, many individual books that I’ve been very proud to have worked on, though I have to say that working on the Harry Potter books has been a wonderful experience.
Is there an area on your list that you would like to grow at this time?
DS: Graphic novels for children.
What is the ideal art sample submission?
DS: I suppose one could say the best sample is one that leads to a book being made.
How involved in the marketing of the book(s) are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house?
DS: I see the marketing plans for my books and sometimes offer opinions, but mostly I leave that to the marketing group who knows what they’re doing much more than I do. Our budgets vary so much from book to book that I couldn’t say what the average budget is.
Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.
The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.