SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editor Interview: Fiammetta Giorgi of Mondadori Children’s Books

Fiammetta Giorgi is an editor at Mondadori Children’s Books in Italy. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in December 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?

FG: In 1996, I began translating fiction from German and English into Italian (translating, among others, a few titles by Christine Nöstlinger and The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares) and it was thus, almost by chance, that I discovered my passion for children’s literature.

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

FG: You must of course study, know your market, and understand what children usually like; but more than anything, you must have the ability to fall completely in love with a book.

When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approx. how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?

FG: I’d say 50-70 pages.

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

FG: When I feel a book is artificial, when it is written on purpose to teach you something or to achieve a certain goal, when it is boring and not lively, when the characters feel false…

What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book editor?

FG: Children’s books (and the people working in the field) are often funnier, more spontaneous and creative than adult books (and those creating books for adults).

What are some of your favorite books and why?

FG: Just to name a few, Spinelli‘s Stargirl for the warm and spontaneous realism of the main character; Selznick‘s The Invention of Hugo Cabret for the innovative and extremely expressive way of mixing text and wonderful illustrations; Brennan’s Faerie Wars and Colfer’s Artemis Fowl for their humor.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

FG: I could not say that she “changed my life,” but Pippi Longstocking was for sure a fascinating model when I was a child.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

FG: There are many books that can make you feel proud, because you give children the chance to discover something precious: I’m proud to have in my catalog Hawkings’ George’s Secret Key to the Universe, for its optimism and the way in which it expresses amazing and complex concepts with immediate images. I’m proud to have La composición by Antonio Skarmeta, dealing with the difficult theme of civil war and dictatorship; but I’m also proud to have masterpieces such as Sabuda’s pop ups. I also love working with Italian authors because you feel involved in the creation of the book.

Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?

FG: Yes, I work with both. I like non-fiction because usually you can work a lot with the authors and suggest new ways of organizing and developing projects, but I prefer fiction because it is more emotional.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

FG: It is difficult to find a standard because I prefer “surprising” cover letters that can express what is new in each book.

Is there any area on your list you’d like to “grow” at this time? Do you look at art samples?

FG: I’d like to work more with Italian authors. As for the art samples, I’m working a lot with our art director and we like looking for new artists.

How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house? A YA novel? Etc.

FG: I work a lot with our marketing department because we are trying to present each important book with a different approach. We work together to enhance the content and spirit of each book. Picture books in Italy represent a tiny part of the market, so we usually do not have a specific budget for a single book. For a YA novel, we can invest much more.

Cynsational Notes

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.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

Friend Mondadori at JacketFlap.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editor-Publisher Interview: Carmen Diana Dearden of Ediciones Ekaré

Carmen Diana Dearden is editor and publisher of Ediciones Ekaré, a Venezuelan Publishing House founded in 1978, which pioneered children’s book publishing in Latin America. She is also President of the Banco del Libro, which won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2007 for their profound impact on children’s reading in Venezuela and other Latin American countries. She was president of IBBY from 1992 to 1998. Carmen has three children who grew up with Ekaré books, and they have always been willing and creative participants in the process of producing them (and Carmen claims they are the fiercest critics). She was interviewed in December 2007 by Anita Loughrey, 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?

CDD: My father was a walking encyclopedia, my mother a storyteller. I grew up surrounded by books and stories, and loved rewriting them or inventing new ones.

I studied anthropology because I was fascinated by different cultures and their oral traditions. When our work in the Banco del Libro’s libraries in Venezuela showed us there was a scarcity of good books for children that reflected our culture, setting up a children’s book publishing house seemed the natural thing to do. It was a challenge and a joy and a wonderful pioneering time.

I always wanted to work with words. And I still believe in magic.

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

CDD: A good “nose,” i.e. intuition to know what books will work; vision and the capacity to imbue others with it; timing, teamwork, and the power of persuasion.

When you are reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?

CDD: The first page is usually the vital one.

What turns you off a manuscript right away?

CDD: Bad writing, long-winded explanations, stories with obvious messages, sugar-coated themes.

What are the “realities” of children’s book publishing?

CDD: Are there such things? I know there are practical aspects of the markets, the big conglomerates, the competition, the fads, the imitations, the “politically correct” frenzies, but the best part about children’s book publishing is that it is serendipitous and surprising.

What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book editor?

CDD: Watching a work of art unfold, and guiding the whole process. Enjoying the unexpected, crazy things that usually happen.

What are some of your favorite books and why?

CDD: There are so many. From Ekaré: El rabipelado burlado, (The Hoodwinked Possum, retold from the Pemón ethnic group, illustrated by Vicky Sempere) because it was the first book we published; Margarita, (by Ruben Darío, illustrated by Monica Doppert) because it is a rounded little gem; La calle es libre (The Streets are Free, by Kurusa, illustrated by Monica Doppert), because it came from a small, urban “barrio’s” real needs and the research process was so fulfilling; El libro de oro de los abuelos, (The little Latin American Book of Fairy Tales) because they are the traditional fairy tales retold with Venezuelan craftiness and part of my family tradition.

The Wind in the Willows, because I found it soothing; Sendak‘s Nut Shell Library for its humor and wonderful zany verses; Susan Cooper‘s The Dark is Rising series; Alan Garner‘s The Owl Service; Ray Bradbury‘s The Illustrated Man and Asimov‘s Foundation books because I am fascinated by fantasy and science fiction; Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mocking Bird because I wish I had written it; Steinbeck‘s Sweet Thursday for its irreverent and appealing characters; Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter for its crazy, gory verses; Walt Kelly‘s Pogo Possum and Quino’s Mafalda comic strips for their humor and wiseness; Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Raven” for its spookiness and rhythm; fairy tales, legends and mythology; mysteries for obvious reasons, especially Dorothy Sayer‘s The Nine Tailors which is so well written; dictionaries, because I love words.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, not only for what it’s done to children’s book publishing but because I was riveted from the start and tried to get the Spanish rights long before it became a cult.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

CDD: Struwwelpeter. My mother gave me the book because I would never let anybody comb my hair and she thought the sight of Struwwelpeter with his unruly hair and long nails would persuade me, but it had the opposite effect. I thought it was wonderful, and all the horrible things that happened to the children in the book seemed fantastic fun. I think it gave me the power to be a rebel in many things.

What books are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

CDD: The four mentioned above: Margarita, El rabipelado burlado, La calle es libre, El libro de oro de los abuelos. All our Indian tales–Narraciones Indígenas collection — (to which El rabipelado belongs) because we were the first to start such a collection and worked with missionaries, anthropologists, and primary sources to select and rewrite them and sent the illustrators out into the field for a first-hand experience.

Our poetry collection–Rimas y Adivinanzas–(Rhymes and Riddles, to which Margarita belongs) was also a first, started with the purpose of making poetry fun in classrooms by choosing a poem and turning it into a small picture book (they are 15cm x 15cm format). The idea worked very well and it is still one of our best-selling collections.

Our Asi Vivimos collection (The Way We Live,) which was done with the intention of describing issues of our Latin American culture in which children were protagonists. Issues such as no space to play in densely populated urban “barrios”(La calle es libre); the clash between a poet and a military man in elections in a small Andean town (El robo de las Ae’s, The Theft of the A’s); the plight of an escaped slave in Puerto Rico (La peineta colorada, The Red Shell Comb); the clash between and indigenous and “white man’s” culture (Ni era vaca ni era caballo, Neither Horse nor Cow). It has also worked very well, has been the most translated one, and was totally fascinating to do.

As unique translation experiences: Ana María Machado’s El perro del cerro y la rana de la sabana. It was more of a rewrite and recreation than a translation because we had to change the characters (from cat to dog, for instance) to make the language rhyme and play in Spanish as well as it had done in Portuguese. It was done with the author herself during a book fair in Mexico; Fox by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ron Brooks, because Ron helped us choose and work on the font to be used (his original was hand done)–a wonderfully funny and creative virtual experience!

Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?

CDD: Mostly fiction. We did a nature and ecology collection (four books) and started a social studies collection which was fascinating but never made it to press.

Non-fiction is much more time consuming and rigorous, but also fascinating in the research put into it and the new things you learn. The “field work” needed in non-fiction is particularly interesting to me as an anthropologist.

Fiction can be done from an “armchair,” but tends to be more fraught with sensibilities and emotions. It sometimes feels like walking on eggshells.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

CDD: I don’t think there is such a thing because every writer is different. But basically, something short, to the point, and original.

Is there any area in your list you’d like to “grow” at this time?

CDD: Restart the non-fiction series based on social studies. Novels for ages 10 and up.

Do you look at art samples?

CDD: Yes, I look at art samples. It’s a primary source of the sort of books we publish (picture books and illustrated books). It is also enthralling, and we have discovered many wonderful illustrators that way.

How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at you house?

CDD: I am involved in the overall process and the strategies, but the real work is done by our marketing and promotion team, who are always full of ideas. They do it with enthusiasm and enjoyment. (I think). Another characteristic of a good editor is to have confidence in her team. It works in Ekaré.

We don’t have a budget for individual books per se, just an overall budget for marketing which we usually calculate at about 7% of yearly sales.

Cynsational Notes

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.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Agent Interview: Steven Chudney of The Chudney Agency

After more than fifteen years in book publishing, Steven Chudney founded The Chudney Agency, specializing in children’s books. He is based is New York. Anita Loughrey interviewed him 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 want to work in children’s literature as a literary agent?

SC: I’ve always loved books, of course, and I had long enjoyed working in children’’s book marketing. For me, it was also a timing issue. I had committed the cardinal sin of resigning from a job without another one already lined up. This was three days before September 11, 2000. Needless to say, all of New York and the world came to a standstill and most NY companies were not hiring for many months.

A wise friend urged me, again, to consider being an agent. In the past, I had dismissed the idea, but in 2001 it seemed like a good plan and I was ready for the challenge. So, I had my letterhead and business cards printed, made some calls, sent out tons of emails, and hung my agency shingle outside my door–The Chudney Agency was born.

My first job was selling paperbacks for Dell Publishing in their small telemarketing department. I have always believed that if I can sell a book over the phone from New York, sight unseen, to a book buyer somewhere in Des Moines or Anchorage, then I can sell just about anything.

Since then I have held various sales and marketing positions at Viking Penguin, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Simon & Schuster where I was the marketing director for the children’s division and then director of licensing development. My last publishing position was with the (now defunct) Winslow Press where I held the position of Senior Director of Marketing, Sales & Subsidiary Rights.

Throughout my career, I have sold and marketed every imaginable type of book: adult and children’s, hardcovers, pop-up books, and paperbacks to a variety of sources: wholesalers, independent bookstores, and chain stores. The last ten years of corporate publishing experience was in children’s books.

In your opinion, what makes a good agent?

SC: Love of literature, knowledge of the children’s publishing industry, tenaciousness, patience, and knowledge of the individual tastes of editors

Do you represent writers and illustrators?

SC: I represent writers and author/illustrators–an individual who both writes and illustrates picture books or novels. I do not represent individuals who only illustrate.

Do you look at art samples?

SC: Yes, from prospective author/illustrator clients.

Do you also represent other publishers or agents abroad? If so, can you tell us which publishers and agents?

SC: I have a reciprocal relationship with the Watson, Little Agency in London. I also represent Ireland’s The O’Brien Press here in the U.S., and I represent Marshall Cavendish in the international marketplace.

Do you represent on a project-by-project basis or do you take on the “whole” writer or author/illustrator (i.e., everything they produce)?

SC: I rarely take on a client based only on one project, as I’m interested in folks who have lots of books in them so I can build their careers.

At what point in a manuscript do you “know” you either want to work on the project or not?

SC: It depends, but sometimes I can tell within about 15 to 20 pages–at least about the quality of the writing and voice. With picture books it, of course, takes fewer pages and I also need to love the illustrations.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

SC: The ideal cover letter should be pretty brief (no more than one page, and not in six point typeface!) and tell me a little about the project being submitted–just enough to whet my appetite. A brief and relevant bio about the writer is needed, too.

Don’t get too personal. We aren’t interested in how friends or family members reacted to your manuscript or an author’s hobbies, etc.

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

SC: Writing that really isn’t ready to be submitted, sloppy presentation, and manuscripts that aren’t properly formatted. Also, it never is a good idea to submit material not requested by the agent–make sure you send what was requested.

What was the easiest book to sell and why?

SC: I sold a first-time picture book called Sir Ryan’s Adventures by Jason Deeble (2009) to Neal Porter at Roaring Brook Press within hours after the editor opened the envelope! A simple case of selecting the right editor for the right manuscript at the right time.

Have you ever represented a book that you loved but couldn’t convince an editor to publish? What advice do you give your authors in this situation?

SC: Of course! This happens all the time, unfortunately. Sometimes it just takes a heck of a long time to place a manuscript you love, and sometimes it never finds a home.

I’ll continue to work to try to place a novel for as long as I continue to believe in it–and for as long as I can find houses/imprints to send it to. I had a middle grade novel I loved and believed it–and I finally sold it on the eighteenth submission! Other times I’ll have a frank conversation with an author, and we’ll decide to shelve a challenging novel and work on another–in hopes that one day in the future we’ll be able to go back to it.

Are you accepting new clients now?

SC: My submission status changes from time to time, and for the most up-to-date information, please go to my website.

Do you get involved with the marketing aspect of the books you represent?

SC: A little. I do discuss and suggest marketing and promotion plans with my clients, and I hope they are interested in doing as much as they can for their books. At times, I also liaise with the editor/publisher on such concerns, as needed.

Do you give editing and revision requests to your clients?

SC: Absolutely: everything that is submitted by my agency has been revised as many times as needed to strengthen it for acceptance by a publisher.

Do you specialize in any particular genre and/or are you looking for anything in particular at the moment? What are publishers telling you about the market and what they’d like to see?

SC: I handle all literature for children and teens, from young picture books all the way up to teen fiction.

Editors are always looking for wonderful, engaging, well-written books for kids: all age levels and in all genres and categories. At the moment, I feel that the era of big fantasy series being bought for a lot of money has dimmed–I think many were bought as a result of the Harry Potter success. Some performed well, but many didn’t fare as well.

So, I think publishers are looking for something other than fantasy, but can still be commercially viable and exciting for kids. I’m seeing some more interest in historical fiction. Subgenres like paranormal and vampire-themed books have emerged as a very strong fiction category.

For a while, teen novels were very hot–at the expense of middle grade novels. I think now we’re seeing a bit more demand for the forgotten middle grade category, but I think eventually things will level off, and we’ll always have demand for both wonderful middle grade and teen fiction. The picture book market still is pretty soft, and I hope we’ll see it turn around in 2008 and beyond.

How many new clients do you take on each year?

SC: This varies from year to year, so it’s difficult to say. As I work alone, you can imagine how careful I need to be with my time. I can only take on new clients if I feel I have enough time to devote to all my other clients as well.

Cynsational Notes

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.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org

See also a previous Cynsations interview with Steven Chudney.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Agent Interview: Tracey Adams of Adams Literary

Tracey Adams is co-founder of Adams Literary, which exclusively represents children’s book authors and artists. She founded Adams Literary in the U.S. in 2004. The agency is affiliated to David Higham in the U.K.

Anita Loughrey interviewed her, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What is the book or experience that made you want to work in children’s literature as a literary agent?

TA: From my years in publishing houses, I learned that I love working directly with authors and artists, and during my early agenting years at Writers House, I discovered the joy of being on the front lines. It is tremendously exciting to me that I’m often the first to read a manuscript, and that it’s my responsibility to find just the right home for it. And it doesn’t end in the U.S. I love working with our co-agents to bring our books to young readers around the world. I have the most amazing job!

Do you have a background in publishing?

TA: Yes. I was an English major at Mount Holyoke College, and during my college years I interned at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Greenwillow Books.

After graduation I worked in marketing at William Morrow and then in editorial at Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Before starting my own agency four years ago, I spent ten years at two large New York literary agencies. By the way, my family owned a printing company in New York City for generations, so I grew up visiting the printing presses in SoHo. It’s been said that we have ink in our veins.

How did you get your start as an agent?

TA: In editorial, I saw firsthand that agented manuscripts went to the top of the reading pile. This was somewhat mysterious to me, so when a spot opened at Writers House, I took it to explore. It was a great place to really learn all aspects of the agenting side of the business–which is quite different!

In your opinion, what makes a good agent?

TA: The best agents are passionate about children’s books, are excellent communicators, good readers, and fair negotiators. An accomplished agent knows that you never burn a bridge, and maintains many strong industry relationships.

Do you represent writers and illustrators?

TA: Yes.

Do you look at art samples?

TA: Yes, though I’m careful to say I’m not a trained artist. I’m a literary agent, and I do not rep art outside the publishing industry, unlike artist representatives.

Do you also represent other publishers or agents abroad? If so, can you tell us which publishers and agents?

TA: We represent U.S. rights for the children’s list at David Higham Associates in London.

How many clients do you represent?

TA: Approximately 50.

Do you represent on a project-by-project basis, or do you take on the “whole” writer or the illustrator or even the entire list of a publisher (i.e., everything they produce)?

TA: Our philosophy has always been (and will always be) that we represent authors, not books. We take on a client because we love and believe in their work. That doesn’t change book by book, or year by year.

At what point in a manuscript do you “know” you either want to work on the project or not?

TA: If I can easily put down a manuscript, and I’m not thinking about the story while away from it, I know it’s not clicking for me. If I don’t want to stop reading, if it has me laughing or crying or thrilled, I’m already shopping the manuscript to editors in my head as I read. If I dream about it, I know I need to rep it.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

TA: I throw away anything that says “Dear Sir” immediately. It should be properly addressed, include a one paragraph summary (think flap copy) of the work, and list any professional credentials relevant to children’s book publishing. The ideal cover letter shows that the writer has done research on my agency, and perhaps even mentions specific authors we represent.

What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?

TA: Of course a picture book should never be illustrated by someone who is not an artist, and a rhyming text needs to rhyme. In novels, I’m turned off by telling rather than showing, whiny main characters, too much directly addressing the reader, and violence and profanity when it’s only there for shock value.

From an agent’s point of view, what are the “realities” of children’s book publishing?

TA: Patience and Fortitude. A manuscript may take time to sell, and when it does sell, there will be a lot of waiting: for the contract, for your advance, edits, another round of edits, galleys, the actual book, reviews, your royalty statements…

Some books will take off immediately, others will slowly find an audience, and others, sadly, don’t catch on. Since there is so much uncertainly in this industry, my best advice to authors is to let an agent do the business work for you–the author’s job is to do what she is best at: write. Keep writing.

What was the easiest book to sell and why?

TA: The next book by a major award winner and/or a bestselling author! No explanation needed, right?!

Have you ever represented a book that you loved but couldn’t convince an editor to publish? What advice do you give your authors in this situation?

TA: Oh, yes! I tell my authors that we haven’t yet found the right match. If it’s taking a long time to find a home for a book, the client usually will have another manuscript ready to market. We’ll put the tricky one on the back burner and start from scratch with the new one–of course we’ll first approach anyone who was interested in seeing more of the author’s work. We may very well dust off the challenging manuscript down the road!

Are you accepting new clients now?

TA: Always.

Do you get involved with the marketing aspect of the book?

TA: We are in touch with the publisher about marketing plans, we keep the dialogue going, and we communicate clients’ wishes. In certain situations, specific things may be discussed prior to acquisition. Adams Literary enjoys promoting our clients’ works through our own e-newsletter, website, and rights lists for the Bologna and Frankurt fairs. If a client is interested in additional marketing beyond their publishing house, we can refer them to freelance specialists with whom we are in contact.

Do you give any pre-submission editing and revision requests to your clients?

TA: Because I was in editorial, I value the role of the editor and I will not get in the way editorially. That said, I’m happy to read and offer suggestions before submitting–but with a light hand. I’ll do what it takes to help make it the strongest it can be, and the most marketable. I usually will not have taken on a client that isn’t going to send me a work that is ready, or almost ready, to submit.

Do you specialize in any particular genre and/or are you looking for anything in particular at the moment?

TA: We specialize in children’s–we don’t handle any adult books. Within children’s, we represent picture books, middle-grade, and teen. We don’t handle very much nonfiction. At the moment we are especially eager for middle-grade novels.

What are publishers telling you about the market and what they’d like to see?

TA: The picture book market remains tough. We are being asked mostly for middle grade and chapter books. From our perspective, the market has become more competitive for teen novels in the past year because the shelves are getting crowded.

Cynsational Notes

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.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit http://scbwi.org/events.htm and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries? Bologna@SCBWI.org