SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author Interview: Stephen Mooser of SCBWI

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hi Stephen, it is my pleasure to have the chance to ask you some questions today in preparation for the upcoming 2010 SCBWI Bologna Symposium. The conference is certainly shaping up to be another exemplary SCBWI event. Before getting into some questions about your writing craft, I’d like to start with a few questions about your role as co-founder of SCBWI.

In anticipation of the upcoming Bologna event, what are important takeaways that you hope SCBWI conference-goers will get from this or any SCBWI international event?

At all SCBWI events, we strive to impart as much practical information as possible. We mix in some inspiration, hopefully a little humor and lots of opportunities for networking.

What are some of the reasons that you, Lin Oliver and so many others, invest so much time, energy and care into the annual conferences that SCBWI offers?

I think it is because of the organization we all belong to. More than a professional association, more than a club of like-minded people (though it is certainly both of those things), it is a community of friends, actively involved in helping one another improve their craft.

We spend time putting together events because we, too, want to go to those events, to learn things, to see old friends, and meet new ones.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about how SCBWI was begun, looking back now to those early days, do you feel you’ve achieved all the things you set out to do back then? Did you have any idea how long-lasting and influential this organization would be?

We had no idea what we were creating, certainly no concept we would still be involved forty years later. The minimal goals we set–put out a newsletter, put on a conference–were met years ago. We could have never envisioned the electronic world we live in now, so could never have imagined how the Internet could have helped us became a worldwide organization.

What other things do you have in mind for SCBWI in the coming years?

We want to expand our online presence, be able to bring national, international and regional events into member’s homes. We want to increase our services to the professional membership, and to improve and increase communications between authors, illustrators and the publishing industry.

What is one of the aspects of membership in SCBWI that you feel benefits members most?

Currently, I think it is the services available on the website from the Discussion Board Forums, the Online Publications, the live blogs from the Summer and Winter Conferences, to the online Illustrator’s Gallery to just mention a few of those benefits that can be found on our web site

SCBWI reaches out to around 22,000 members in more than 30 countries through the various regional chapters of SCBWI, which are run by an army of talented, well-known and often award-winning writers, illustrators and other champions of children’s books. What are some of the things you see the SCBWI regional chapters do that you applaud?

We constantly look to the regions for suggestions and ideas. New Regional writing and illustrating awards–the Silver Kites–were first proposed by Christopher Cheng in Australia; small-scale retreats in other areas that focus on a specific aspect of writing or illustrating are other innovations.

Some regions have also led the way in partnering with book related gatherings such as IRA, BEA and others.

[The Silver Kite Peer Awards will be given annually for best book as chosen by the members of each SCBWI Regional Division, beginning in 2011 for books published during the 2010 calendar year.]

You’ve undoubtedly witnessed a variety of changes taking place in publishing over the last many years since you began writing books for children. Is it harder for authors to get published in today’s book market than in previous years?

It has always been hard. It is not easy now, but there have been times in the past 40 years when it was equally as difficult.

What I have observed, however, over the years is that a unique, well-written project, or a distinctive art style, will find a publisher. Persistence, study and hard work does pay off.

You’ve also likely watched a number of people cross that line from unpublished to published. Are there any qualities you continue to observe time and again in the people who manage to find success as a writer or illustrator?

The qualities that I outlined above. Persistence, hard work and the ability to come up with something special and unique—something that makes an editor or art director sit up, wake up, and say, “Wow—I’ve never seen that before!”

What are some of the most common questions that new authors or illustrators ask you, and how do you answer?

How do I get an agent? I answer that getting a legitimate agent is nearly as hard as finding a publisher–maybe harder. Look for an agent if you want, but at the same time start sending out your work. It may take longer for an editor to read your work, but if it is really good, they will buy it. Having it come from an agent won’t sell it, if it is not great.

In a previous interview conducted by Anna Olswanger, you said, “My books are now character-based rather than plot-based, although I still have strong plots.” Can you tell us more about the what it means to write books with strong plots and books with strong characters?

I think both plot and character are important. A really good plot with weak characters will still probably sell. But it is always character that will lift the book above the ordinary.

A book with a distinctive character–someone no one has ever seen before–will almost always find a publisher. The same can’t be said for a distinctive plot. However, combining great character and great plot will really bring your manuscript out of the shadows.

I was intrigued by a link I found to a compilation of “Stephen Mooser Papers,” which contains a remarkable collection of correspondence, composition notes, proofs, and illustrative material from writing you did between 1967 and 2005. Four linear feet of writing to be exact! Can you tell us the process that led to you donating this rich resource to the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature?

The Curator of the Arne Nixon center is Angelica Carpenter. Her mother was our first Florida RA, and so our relationship goes way back.

When she became Curator at Fresno State, I was quick to offer my papers because I grew up in Fresno, where my mother had been a librarian.

I actually never thought the papers were very important until I saw the way that they organized and cataloged them. I’m delighted to give them my papers, and even more delighted that they were interested in receiving them in to their wonderful collection.

In addition to the long list of published work during that time period, I was also amazed to note the list of unpublished books, series books, short fiction and short nonfiction that you wrote and that was not published for a variety of reasons.

What lesson can writers take from this example? How did you know when it was time to abandon a writing idea and move on to something new?

I’ve sold maybe 60 books, but there were at least another 60 I never sold. Some I still believe in, but most I realized were just not good enough.

At that point, I had to decide whether to try to make them good enough or abandon them for another idea that may have popped into my head.

Someone once said, maybe the illustrator Don Freeman, “Ideas are easy. It is the execution that is hard.”

In an earlier interview with SCBWI France, you talked a bit about your writing and editing process. Are there any skills, strategies or methods with regard to the writing process that you have learned throughout the course of your career and that you wish you’d known earlier?

Not really. The education of a writer, including trial and error, is important, I think. Perhaps, the one thing I wished I’d learned earlier was the importance of character.

And last, you talked in your interview with Anna Olswanger at about your real-life adventures going treasure hunting, which has also been an inspiration to you as a writer.

Can you tell us, for fun, about one of your favorite adventures hunting for treasure or visiting ghost towns or about an adventure you had that ended up in one of your books?

I spent four or five years looking for treasure, some of that time in Panama, searching for a buried shipment of goods from long ago, and the rest of the time in Utah searching out the locale of a Butch Cassidy stash of stolen silver.

We found the mesa where the silver was, but never the precise spot. The search turned out to be my first published piece, in “True Treasure Magazine.”

It was only later I learned that it was a famous treasure, and because I had inside information from one of the descendants of Butch’s gang, I was supplying the magazine’s readers with some crucial missing pieces of the puzzle. So, I may have lost the silver, but embarked on a writing career. I think things worked out for the best—in fact, forty years later, I know it.

Thank you so much, Stephen, for sharing your time for this interview. It’s been an honor to interview someone who has made such a lasting impact on literature for children and those who love it.

Cynsational Notes

Stephen Mooser is the author of more than 60 books for children, from picture book titles such as The Ghost With The Halloween Hiccups, illustrated by Tomie dePaola to nonfiction, Lights! Camera! Scream! How To Make Your Own Monster Movies, series and chapter books, The All-Star Meatballs, The Treasure Hounds, The Creepy Creature Club, Young Marian’s Adventures in Sherwood Forest, and novels such as The Hitchhiking Vampire and It’s A Weird, Weird School. A former filmmaker and treasure hunter, he is co-founder of the SCBWI and currently serves as the organization’s president.

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Publisher Interview: Sarah Foster of Walker Books Australia and New Zealand

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Sarah, you’re a publisher and managing director with Walker Books in Australia. Could you tell us a little about your career and what path you took to reach this position?

I joined Walker Books in 1986 as their first Export Manager and spent the following three years traveling five months per annum for the company in to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East in particular.

Part of that role was spending time with Walker authors in those territories, which Sebastian Walker felt I was good at and I enjoyed doing; good practise for what was to come!

In 1988, after a messy break-up in the U.K., I was offered the opportunity to run the domestic sales team for Scholastic Australia and emigrated in 1989; it felt just far enough away at the time, though I was sad to leave Walker.

I left Scholastic in 1992 to spend time with my first child and shortly after, was offered the job by Walker to set up the Australian company from scratch. We founded Walker Books Australia in 1993 and went in to New Zealand in 1999.

I have always had to have a number of roles at Walker Australia, in addition to simply running the business. Initially, I looked after all the product and the special sales and managed the sales team. Gradually, I divested myself of all those roles as we grew and took on more staff and then would adapt my role to whatever we needed.

We decided the time was right to set up our local list in 2006.

In 2007, we published our first five books; the list grew to 26 titles in 2008 and has been a similar size since. I took on the role of publisher partly as, with years of sales and marketing experience, I felt I knew our market and knew what we could successfully publish better than anyone who could come into the business would.

Also from a practical view, I knew I couldn’t edit or design a book to save my life and wanted to spend money employing some good editors.

What might you do during a typical week at work these days? Which part of the job do you enjoy most?

I never have two days the same–which is one of the joys of my job and one of the frustrations. I always think I’d love more routine, but in truth, I’ve come to realise that I thrive on the variety of it.

I have some set meetings–staff meeting runs on to a product meeting where we look at stock and print runs and new material on a Monday.

On Wednesdays, we have publishing and covers and marketing meetings.

I can be a Jack of all trades–I was on the phone last week to an aspiring author whose unsolicited offerings weren’t right but whose writing, with work and re-direction, could fit a particular range of books we publish. Whilst on that (long) call, I had two interruptions; one from our landlord about our lease being renewed and another from Toyota about a fleet car I was in the middle of purchasing for a rep. That sort of juxtaposition is quite typical.

I will think I have a day during which I can get on with working on some books, and one of my team will come and see me with a systems or staff issue, and there is the morning gone!

The nectar–the juicy bit–for me in my role comes from staff, working with them and seeing them grow in their roles and in the books. And I suppose seeing the same sort of development from our authors and illustrators.

What kind of direct contact do you have with your authors and illustrators?

Recently, I had three days in Perth. During that time, I saw all but one of our 11 authors or illustrators from WA. It was really rewarding, for me, anyway! And generated a lot of ideas and new opportunities.

So I tend to grab the opportunity when I have it, to see people.

With NSW- or Sydney-based creators, I like to get them in to the office as often as possible.

I am a big believer in phoning and talking an issue through rather than sending an e-mail. I am also aware that a lot of authors and illustrators work in isolation, and it is good for them to come in to the office and see the team behind the book–to meet everyone.

When I was in sales, I never felt I spent enough time with our customers. Now, as a publisher I have to say I feel I never spend enough time with our authors.

And do you have many opportunities to meet your target audience, the young readers?

Yes, to start with, I have four very different (in interests and reading ability) avid readers at home aged 17, 15, 10 and 5 (who is with us part time). I bother their friends with books for feedback. Also, I am one of those people who talks to kids in libraries, book shops–anywhere. Especially if I see them reading something, I want to know what they think of the book.

What is your submissions policy? Do you have a slush pile? If so, do you personally consider new submissions?

Our submissions policy is that we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, until recently, we did read manuscripts that arrived unsolicited, and we have just decided to no longer do that as we felt it was taking up so much time and so few of the submissions were worth even considering. Our editors would share the reading, and then if something looked of interest, I’d get to see it.

Invariably, I do read material that gets personally sent to me because I have met someone at a conference or through some personal connection, and two such instances have led to us publishing a book. One is a picture book we are in the process of signing up, and the other is a fiction title we published last year.

The difficult thing for me is that I have to read all the Walker, Candlewick and agency (i.e. Frances Lincoln/Gullane) titles that we publish in addition to the local manuscripts; a lot of reading, so I am very slow at getting to our local books.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers and illustrators who are hoping to catch a publisher’s attention?

Yes! First rule–don’t harass publishers to get back to you. There is nothing worse than the unpublished author hassling you for feedback, who can very very quickly fall in to the “too hard/why bother” basket. We tell authors it will take three-to-six months, probably six…because it will!

Secondly, if you write picture books, never send in a picture book with your friend, neighbour, cousins’, etc. illustrations. Just send the story!

Work on your manuscript. When you have written something, put it away until you can look at it again with impartial eyes. Then re-work on it, and then look at sending it in.

What publishers respect most of all in an unpublished author is restraint. The two authors I have worked with who went on to win awards with their first books had both in fact written–and binned–a number of earlier manuscripts.

Would you say that the Australian/N.Z. market differs in any way from, say, the British market or the U.S. market? Or do the same good books sell everywhere in the English-language market?

The A.N.Z. market differs very much from the U.K. and U.S. markets. N.Z. is more similar in it’s taste to the U.K. market than Australia.

Australia really straddles between U.K. and U.S. sensibilities.

In the A.N.Z. market, we love the funny and ironic books published out of the U.K. that often don’t sell in the U.S. However, we also do well with longer/older picture book texts, which tend not to work in the U.K. but have such a strong tradition in the U.S.

It is very rare to get young, illustrated fiction that works in all markets.

In the series realm, Megan MacDonald with her Judy Moody series has worked in all markets for Walker/CWP over an amazing ten-year period, and the Scream Street series [by Tommy Donbavand] is currently selling very well across all markets.

Quality writing from the likes of Kate Di Camillo crosses all borders, but it really is the top-notch writers that have the appeal at that level of readership.

YA and young picture books travel better as the themes and experiences at those age levels are more universal; whether you are looking at first love or potty training!

Primary schooling is a more diverse and culturally specific experience, and so it is harder for those books to travel.

What are your readers really enthusiastic about right now?

We do not have one set of readers. We have readers who love fantasy, readers who are pre-schoolers, readers who love pink books…. I think the only thing they have in common is that they expect quality and value for money.

Do you have a particular focus on books by writers from Australia and New Zealand or do you accept submissions from all over the world?

We buy in a few books by overseas publishers, particularly of the sort that we are not able to make ourselves, i.e. pop-ups/nonfiction, plus books in translation are of interest.

However, where we publish locally, as a matter of policy, I will always match an Aussie author with an Aussie illustrator, or a kiwi author with a kiwi illustrator as that way they will be eligible for the local awards, and being shortlisted for them is the single best way of establishing a book in the domestic market where the sales and royalties are premium for the author/illustrator.

Would you care to speculate about the way the children’s publishing world might develop over the next five years or so? Any important trends you see developing?

The technology for e-books is developing faster than any publisher can keep up with; especially in the realm of picture books, which are so slow to make anyway! E-readers are becoming lighter, brighter more attractive to children.

I think formats will change. Many books, just as they go through formats – hbk, pbk, board, etc. will develop an extra format: e-book. Other styles of book will develop just for the digital format. Everything is in a state of flux.

It is an exciting time; rather nerve-racking for those of us who aren’t hugely techno-savvy, but I think we just have to have an open mind as everything is changing so fast.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which books have stayed with you since childhood, and did they influence your decision to work in children’s publishing?

An old family friend tells stories about how I played at bookshops with her sons as a young child (we moved opposite them when I was seven!), and she would have to run out and bring the books in when it started raining. So I guess I was destined to work in books!

I was a voracious reader.

I loved Anne of Green Gables [by Lucy Maud Montgomery (L. C. Page & Co., 1908)] and Little House on The Prairie [by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-2006)] best of all, but also loved Lorna Doone [by Richard Doddridge Blackmore (Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, 1869)] and The Children of the New Forest [by Frederick Marryat (1847)].

I hated C.S. Lewis–didn’t enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia (Harper, 1950-1956) or Alice in Wonderland [by Lewis Carroll (Macmillan, 1865)] till I read them to my children.

From the age of 11, I read Neville Shute and Georgette Heyer for my introduction to romance and Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy.

The nearest thing I read to a teenage novel was Edna O’Brien.

Which Australian/N.Z. authors and illustrators would you recommend for our reading lists?

Of our own, I would definitely say Sandy Fussell for upper primary readers – boys and girls; Brian Falkner for boys especially–that 10-to-15-year-old market.

We have a number of fab writers for upper primary/teenage girls: Aimee Said, Gerry Bobsien, Elsbeth Edgar and Elizabeth Pulford.

Meg McKinlay and Pamela Freeman write fantastic young illustrated fiction.

Sally Murphy has broken all the rules by writing verse novels that sell and are being published universally.

Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac are producing some wonderful illustrated narrative nonfiction.

We have a range of really strong new illustrators; Mark Johnson and Heather Potter, Cassandra Allen, Sue deGennaro and of course Brian Lovelock from N.Z.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer or illustrator who is visiting Bologna for the first time? Do you remember your own first visit to the book fair?

Don’t get put off by the immense output of children’s books. It can be really daunting being here. Just focus on what you do and think how you can do it better. Don’t look at what other people are doing other than out of stimulation or interest.

If there are things you like and are impressed by that you see around you at the fair, ask yourself what is novel about what you see, why do you like it. That sort of stimulus can help clarify your own tastes and interests

My first visit to Bologna was one of utter joy–just seeing how much nicer it was than Frankfurt!

Cynsational Notes

An Interview with Sarah Foster from We Love YA, and we talk about it! Peek: “The most wonderful books won’t always get publicity beyond reviewing in all the children’s literature journals, the book trade mags, etc. For a book to get general print media, it really needs to have a story to why or how the book came about. The book itself isn’t a story for the media.”

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children’s books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the U.K. and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She’s a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Kristin, thank you for taking the time to share some of your knowledge with us in preparation for the upcoming SCBWI Bologna 2010 conference.

I’d like to first mention what fun it was reading the many interviews with you posted around the web. I easily found six amazing interviews, and I feel like I already know so much about you. I think anyone interested in knowing more about you and the Nelson Literary Agency would be well served by doing a quick Google search. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Let me jump right in by asking about the kinds of submissions your agency accepts. Your agency website says that you accept young adult and middle grade fiction in addition to adult fiction. Are there any differences in the way you must represent clients in these two genres or in the way that you approach children’s publishers vs. publishers of adult fiction?

If the manuscript is well-written with an original concept, we are interested in all submissions for young adult and middle grade. Don’t look at our current list and make assumptions that we wouldn’t like dark or wouldn’t like a male protagonist or anything like that. We love everything in the YA and MG field.

We actually don’t have a whole lot of clients in the field and so are looking to grow.

As for our approach, that in and of itself isn’t necessarily any different from when we handle an adult submission. Editors in the children’s world are a heck of a lot more fun though.

After all, how seriously can you take yourself if you have a huge life-size cut-out of Glinda the Good Witch in your office? There is a sense that we are all doing children’s publishing because we are passionate about it! Sometimes that is missing on the adult side.

I’ve heard it said, of late, that in many ways book genres are merging and the line between young adult and adult fiction is becoming more obscure. Do you find this true in the case of your clients as well? Do you ever get a manuscript written for one genre and suggest the author send it our under another label?

Now this an interesting question! On one hand, I totally agree that a lot of adults are finding out that there is a lot of cool stuff being done in YA and so are picking up YA novels as part of their reading list. I’m not sure I would say the line is becoming obscure though.

The biggest difficulty agents and authors face is the limited amount of shelf space given to young adult in any major bookstore (outside the indies that is!). It’s a finite amount. Borders recently expanded their section, but Barnes & Noble has not (and has no plans to). If the line was becoming more obscure, than shelving wouldn’t be an issue. It still is.

However, I think you mean along the lines of whether a novel could be shopped as adult rather than YA or vice versa. Yes, that is certainly happening. There are many titles that can crossover easily. I think of Prep [by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, 2005)] as something that could have been done either way. Nick Hornby‘s Slam (Putnam, 2007) as well.

Some books are being branded in both markets (Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002) as an example).

The Book Thief [by Markus Zusak (Knopf, 2007)(was an adult book in the author’s home turf of Australia, but here in the U.S., it was sold as young adult. So those lines are blurring a bit. In fact, St. Martin’s Press just opened a new imprint to capture titles that do just that!

In a recent interview with Kerri Flannigan posted at the Guide to Literary Agents, you mention that currently you would “love to see more literary fiction with a strong commercial bent.” For those not familiar with this term, can you tell us some of the characteristics that give a novel a commercial flair?

For me, the “commercial bent” is in the plotting. I love a good literary novel with a great plot that drives the story. A great example is Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto (Harper, 2005). Wonderful book. Literary but also commercial.

Just recently my book club read The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Putnam, 2009). Loved it. Literary writing coupled with a terrific plot. I couldn’t stop reading. That’s what I’m looking for.

In that same interview, you mention a book by your client and bestselling author Jamie Ford, Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (Ballantine, 2009), as an example of the type of story you would like to see come across your computer screen. What were some of the first qualities you discovered in reading this submission that made you feel that it was something you wanted to represent?

When I started hyperventilating after the first chapter, I knew it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime type of book. I started reading around 8 p.m. and read until I finished around 1 a.m. That’s when you know.

I called the author the earliest possible minute that would be considered decent—like 7 a.m. I figured calling any earlier his time would be rude.

Your amazing blog, Pub Rants, has some of the most insightful information around for those interested in the publishing industry. Your honesty and openness via this forum is delightful and refreshing.

I’m curious about the relationships that develop between followers and blogging book industry professionals. Do you ever find new clients by interacting with people who read your blog?

Absolutely! It was one of the reasons why I started blogging in 2006. My agency has only been around eight years. I can’t compete with agencies that have been around since 1970 and have a huge reputation because of longevity and bestselling clients because of those 40+ years.

One of the ways to “level” the playing field was to give writers an inside look at who I am. That, yes, I’m nice but I’m also hard as nails when it comes to negotiation. Yes, we are a small agency, but we play as well as the big guys.

Or that’s what I was attempting to do! I’ve actually landed quite a few wonderful clients who knew me via reading the blog. That makes every minute of writing it worthwhile.

Besides, I like helping writers. This is my way of giving back.

Going back to Jamie Ford for just a moment, you posted on your blog a fascinating entry with his query letter and your assessment of each part of what he wrote. You also mentioned that the title of the book wasn’t always “Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” but that it started out as “The Panama Hotel.”

I love the new title so much that it’s hard to think it wasn’t always called this.

Can you tell us a little about the process you went through with Jamie to land on this new title?

Oi! Jamie and I would love to forget about the title process. (Grin.) We knew that the project needed a new title before going out on submission, but coming up with a new one was quite a process. We wanted something that gave the reader that Asian feel but still sounded literary.

We kept making lists and shooting it back and forth to each other. At the title peak, we considered about 100 different titles. We finally narrowed it down to about 10 choices, and then we took the scientific approach. We sent it to people we trusted and asked them to vote on the title they liked best. We got a whole slew of responses to that. There wasn’t any consensus.

I finally said, “I like ‘Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet’ the best. If the publisher doesn’t like it, they can change it later.” So we went with it for submission.

At one point, Random House actually considered changing that title. They didn’t, and I’m not sure why they ended up sticking with it. Jamie and I are so glad they did as the title feedback has been tremendous. No one can imagine that novel titled anything else!

Regarding your submission policy, I love that your agency only accepts queries via email and requested manuscripts via your electronic submission database. This seems like a totally sensible practice, and yet, I think you may be one of the enlightened ones among us.

Why do you think it is that there are still so few in the book business who accept queries and submissions via email? In your experience, how do electronic submissions compare to paper and snail mail submissions in terms of time spent reading, sorting and responding to each?

Really? There are agents who want a mailed submission? Talk about living in the Stone Age.

For us, it was a way to get a jump on the competition. Do it electronically; we were seeing it first and so could contact an author quickly. In the early years, I read on my tablet PC, which I liked. Now I have a Kindle and am eying the iPad. I also read on my iPhone.

Bring it on. This is how the world will be reading in 10 years. Not to mention, we agents always submit electronically to the editors these days. Paper is too slow!

In an interview with Dear Author, you were asked if you print out and read manuscripts from your computer. Your response, “Goodness, no!” made me laugh. When you mentioned that you use a tablet PC, my thoughts went immediately to the news of the recently released iPad, and I wondered what your thoughts are about it. Is this a tool that you might use at some point?

See above answer! I will probably wait for the second generation of iPad to see what they do. After all, I can read just fine on my iPhone. The iPad strikes me as simply a larger version of my iPhone except I can’t make a call with it. Yet.

You wrote a discerning post on your Pub Rants blog about the release of Apple’s iPad, calling it a “game changer.” Do you anticipate that new eBook technologies and emerging eBook online stores will significantly impact the way you negotiate deals with publishers in the future?

They already are. It wasn’t Apple’s iPad per se but their desire to switch to an Agency commission model rather than a wholesale model that’s the game changer.

In the long run, I think this new royalty structure is better for publishers and authors. I’m just not in agreement that the percentage to authors should be 25% of net.

Why should the distributor get a bigger percentage than the author? It’s not like there is huge overhead for the selling of the ebook version (although I completely get that publishing houses still have overhead in association with buying, editing, and producing the book—even for an eFormat).

With regard to clients and technology, what are some of the ways you have observed that a web presence and social networking expertise can help a writer in today’s market?

If you can’t navigate the Internet world, you are at a significant disadvantage in comparison to your competition—especially in the realm of children’s books.

Where do you think the young readers are? You as an author had better be there too!

Do you check out a writer’s web presence before pursuing contact? What components of an author’s website impress you when you visit?

I actually do—if the writer includes that info with a submission. But only when I’m actually interested in pursuing a full or offering representation. And it isn’t a deal breaker.

If I think the author’s web presence needs work, I’m pretty blunt about saying so. It’s your “face” to the reading world. It needs to be professional.

In other words, unless you are a graphic artist or web designer, this is not a do-it-yourself-er.

What are some suggestions you might have for ways that authors can leverage the Internet in their favor?

Find out what the fuss is about regarding social networking on the web. If done right, it can be a huge factor in sales. Find the authors who are great at promoting online and find out what they do. A lot of those writers actually blog about what worked and what didn’t for them.

And finally, who are some of the exciting YA or middle grade authors we should look for coming from Nelson Literary Agency in 2010?

My favorite part! Readers should check out Ally Carter’s new book called Heist Society (Hyperion, 2010)(excerpt). It’s the first novel outside of her Gallagher Girl series. It’s fast paced with a ton of action. Well worth the read.

A rising star? Simone Elkeles. Her fourth novel Perfect Chemistry (Walker) came out in December 2008, but boy, does it have a following. Even a year and three months later, this book just sells and sells. The sequel is going to be published next month (April)—Rules of Attraction (Walker).

I only have two middle grade authors, Janice Hardy and Helen Stringer. Huge talents to be on your watch list. Janice’s first middle grade is called The Shifter (HarperCollins, 2009)(The Pain Merchants (The Healing Wars: Book One) in the U.K.)(excerpt). Her second novel in this series, Blue Fire, releases this fall.

Helen’s debut is Spellbinder here in the U.S. (Feiwel & Friends, 2009)(The Last Ghost in the U.K.). Her second novel releases in spring 2011. We are still debating the title.

Also, I absolutely adore Megan Crewe’s Give Up The Ghost (Henry Holt, 2009)(author interview).

Thank you so much, Kristin, for taking time to share your knowledge and expertise with us. We look forward to hearing more great things from you at this year’s SCBWI Bologna event.

Cynsational Notes

Kristin established Nelson Literary Agency in 2002. In such a short time, she has sold over a 100 books to all the major publishers. She has landed several film deals and has contracted foreign rights on behalf of her clients in many territories.

She specializes in representing commercial fiction (mainstream, women’s fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, young adult & middle grade) and literary fiction with a commercial bent. In general, she does not handle nonfiction projects with the exception of an occasional memoir.

Clients include New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal bestselling author Ally Carter (I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Hyperion, 2007)), New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jamie Ford (Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (Ballantine, 2009)), 2010 American Library Association’s Top Ten Books for Young Adults author Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon (McElderry, 2009)) as well as 2010 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers author Simone Elkeles (Perfect Chemistry (Walker, 2008)), Locus bestselling authors Lisa Shearin (Armed & Magical (Ace, 2008)) and Gail Carriger (Soulless (Orbit, 2009)). Member: AAR, RWA, SFWA, SCBWI. Please visit Nelson Literary Agency before submitting and also check out Kristin’s popular blog, Pub Rants.

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Editor Interview: Neal Porter of Neal Porter Books (Roaring Brook)

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Your experience in the book publishing industry spans more than 30 years. Over this time, have you observed that many book trends and topics come and go, or do you think there are classic themes in children’s storytelling that never go out of style?

Both. Great stories and great themes never go out of style. But I’ve been in the business long enough to observe that most everything in this business is cyclical. I’ve seen entire genres come into fashion, go out again, and then return with a vengeance.

I was at Atheneum in the early ’80s when Jean Karl and Margaret McElderry were publishing brilliant work by Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper, and Andre Norton.

Then we went through a period when fantasy was pronounced dead, at least until the arrival of a certain boy wizard.

Historical fiction was thought a difficult sell . . . until Sarah, Plain and Tall [by Patricia Maclachlan (HarperCollins, 1985)] came along. Now it’s tough again.

Children’s nonfiction was almost by definition an “institutional sale” until DK re-invented the category with Eyewitness.

In the ’80s, picture books were the machine that drove the industry; sadly, that category has been difficult for a number of years, for a variety of reasons, but I think the tide is turning. I hope so, because most of the books I publish are visual.

I’ve never paid much attention to trends and simply published books I found irresistible, on the assumption that other people would too. And I’m still employed, so I guess my track record must be pretty good.

As the Editorial Director of Neal Porter Books at Roaring Brook Press, what are some of the specific ways you’re involved in finding new authors?

Well, that title sounds awfully grand, especially when you consider that Neal Porter Books consists of myself and an assistant. I wish I could say I spent my days burrowing through material that comes in over the transom, but I live and work in a small New York apartment and I simply do not have the space, or support, to deal with mountains of unsolicited material.

About 60 percent of the books I publish are agented; 20 percent are by authors or artists whom I’ve long admired who don’t happen to have an agent (that usually involves a phone call or query on my part), and the rest have been referred by people I already publish. I love finding new artists.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve worked with the same designer, the wonderful Jennifer Browne, for the last 16 years. Jennifer has a great eye, and together we scour the Internet, student shows, websites, etc. For me, there are few things as satisfying as finding the right artist for a text, then watching the whole book come together.

Can you tell us what a typical day at work is like for you?

As I’ve mentioned, for the last ten years I’ve worked at home, so unlike most people in publishing, my commute consists of walking from my bedroom to a walk-in closet off my living room that serves as my office. Once I’ve scanned the New York Times, I head for the closet and my computer, and check my e-mail, which often includes messages from European publishers working five or six hours ahead of us.

Just dealing with e-mail is a huge task; I’m glad it’s there but am skeptical about whether it’s made us more productive as editors. I check in with the office and also with Jennifer, who works from home in New Jersey.

We’re small, but we’re far flung. Jennifer and I do a lot of our work over the Internet. She’ll send me a PDF of a jacket design or a page layout, and then we’ll go over it on the phone.

Meetings with authors or artists take place throughout the week, and it’s nice to be working around a coffee table in my living room, rather than in a sterile office. The downside is that I have to vacuum more often than if I were left to my own devices.

The day zips by pretty quickly–punctuated by many, many phone calls–some welcome, some not–and occasional trips to the Roaring Brook offices, usually to deliver final art to production.

We have a weekly editorial meeting at Roaring Brook, which I very much enjoy. It’s a chance to see what my colleagues are up to and also to get feedback on books I’m either thinking of acquiring or that are in process. It’s not an acquisitions meeting per se, just an opportunity to solicit opinions and offer advice.

We also have a production meeting once every other week, where our managing editor attempts to keep all of our books on track.

Sometimes I’ll have lunch with an author or agent, but more often than not I’ll simply forget to eat. There’s flap copy, catalog copy, tip sheet copy to write–the least favorite thing I do because it feels too much like homework.

I save the evenings for reading, and sometimes for answering yet more e-mails. Given the time difference, I often get messages from Australia at around midnight, and I love shocking them (at least those who don’t know I work at home) by responding immediately.

Your Wikipedia entry mentions that multiple books edited by you have received top awards and citations every year for at least the last seven years, including awards last year going to the amazing Laura Vaccaro Seeger for One Boy (Neal Porter, 2008) and Yuyi Morales for Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book (Neal Porter, 2008).

I’m curious to know what happens next–after a book receives one of the American Library Association’s coveted awards, what changes occur in the author’s and editor’s world, aside from much celebrating, of course? Also, I think it’s pretty cool that you have your own Wikipedia entry!

The Wikipedia entry was filed by a good friend who also happens to be an author I publish. I think it just goes to show you that anybody can have a Wikipedia entry.

As for the awards, they’re lovely things, and can open many doors, especially if they’re given early in an author or artist’s career.

The Newbery and Caldecott have an immediate effect on sales, more dramatic than any other literary award, including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, and even the Nobel. But the less well known awards, the Sibert, the Geisel, et al, also bring excellent work to the attention of a much larger audience, and that’s a very good thing.

I have mixed feelings about all of the blogging and tweeting that goes on in the run up to the announcements. It’s nice to see so many people excited about children’s books. But an author whose book wins the Mock Newbery in Des Moines can be set up for a major disappointment on the morning when the ALA calls are actually made.

I try to ignore it as much as possible and suggest that authors do the same.

Speaking of Laura Vaccaro Seeger, I read an interview by the School Library Journal (July 1, 2007) where she talked about the inspiration for her book, Dog and Bear: Two Friends – Three Stories (Neal Porter, 2007). She mentioned that in this book, you are Bear. That must be pretty special! Can you tell us more about how this story came about and the role you played in helping her shape these characters?

Laura had published three brilliant “concept” books at that point, and we both wanted to do a simple, narrative picture book. I happened to be visiting her one afternoon and encountered a peculiar-looking stuffed bear perched on a high chair in her living room.

I said something highly intelligent and probing like, “What’s with this bear?”

And she told me that she’d found him in a thrift shop.

I said, “Maybe he needs a story.”

At that point, her frisky dachshund Copper bolted into the living room. And Dog and Bear were born.

Since the stories were so simple, I thought it was important that we get an absolute bead on who these characters were, and suggested that she make a list of personality traits for each.

When she read the list for Dog–excitable, energetic, creative, etc., I said, “That sounds just like you.”

And when she read the list for Bear–quiet, thoughtful, timid, a little formal, etc., she said, “That sounds like you!”

And so they were.

When you publish the work of a client, do you generally work with that person throughout their career, or is it more common to work together on a book-by-book basis?

I’m not crazy about the word “client” – it makes me sound like I’m doing all the work, and I really view it more as a collaboration. That depends on so many factors–financial as well as artistic.

Let’s just say that the most satisfying relationships are long term.

I reviewed the Roaring Brook Press Spring 2010 catalog (PDF) on the Internet and was excited to see an array of wonderful and interesting titles in the pipeline. I’ve already made out my wish list of titles that I’ll definitely own. What are some of the books you are most enthusiastic about this year?

Laura has a new picture book this spring, What If?, that’s really about making choices, and the consequences of those choices. It’s also about a boy, a ball, and three seals. The same story is told three times, with three possible resolutions. It’s kind of a picture book version of “Rashomon,” if you know that movie. And I think it’s extraordinary.

Charles R. Smith Jr.
and Shane Evans have done a smashing picture book biography of Jack Johnson, the first Black Heavyweight Champion, that we’re publishing on July 4, 2010, the 100th anniversary of “The Fight of the Century.” [See Black Jack: The Ballad of Jack Johnson.]

A fall book that I’m very excited about is Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan‘s Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, with wonderful paintings by Brian Floca. It’s a book about three great collaborators–Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isamu Noguchi, that’s been written and illustrated by three great collaborators.

And my pick for quirkiest book of the year is Brains for Lunch, a zombie novel set in middle school that’s written entirely in haiku! The author is K. A. Holt [shown], and the pictures are by Gahan Wilson, the great New Yorker cartoonist.

And last, what are some of the personal or professional goals you have for attending SCBWI Bologna and the Bologna International Children’s Fair this year?

I have but one goal at Bologna: to be utterly seduced by a book and to publish it. That happened three years ago with Marion Bataille‘s ABC3D and who knows? Maybe lightning will strike again.

Thank you so much, Neal, for taking time to share your knowledge and expertise with us. We look forward to learning great things from you at this year’s SCBWI Bologna event.

My pleasure.

Cynsational Notes

Neal Porter has been in and around the book publishing industry for more than 30 years. After a brief stint in the college textbook department of St. Martin’s Press, he moved into trade publishing, where he held marketing positions at Avon Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Atheneum and Scribners.

In 1985, he became Editorial Director of Aladdin Books at Macmillan, and in 1987, he moved to London to become Joint Managing Director of Walker Books in London. He returned to the United States in 1989 as Vice President and Publisher of Macmillan Children’s Books and subsequently held executive positions at Orchard Books and Dorling Kindersley.

In 2000, he decided to step away from administration and focus exclusively on editing books. That year he helped to found Roaring Brook Press, where he is currently Editorial Director of Neal Porter Books.

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Editor & Art Director Interview: Deidre McDermott of Walker Books (UK)

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hello, Deirdre. You are the picture book publisher at Walker Books. Could you talk us through your day at work?

I get up reluctantly, shower, then after breakfast (either a bowl of porridge or wheat-germ toast with peanut butter and a banana), I’ll get a lift to the tube station, squeeze into a train to go over the river to Vauxhall, where I stop to buy a coffee (more for the social interaction than the quality of the coffee), hurry down the embankment along the river Thames to Walker Books, and climb five flights of stairs to the studio.

The picture-book team consists of three editors–Lucy, Penny and Maria–plus three designers–Audrey, Julia and me–and sometimes also Daniel, a freelance designer and creative-techie, who comes in one day a week.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, David Lloyd, our editor-at-large, comes in to create picture books with us, talk loudly, give advice, encourage thinking and, most importantly, tell good jokes. Together we all laugh a lot.

Between us, we manage a list averaging around 70 books a year–front-list hardbacks, paperbacks, re-issues and also, very importantly, buy-ins from our sister companies, Candlewick Press in the U.S., and Walker Books Australia.

There is never a typical day. Usually, I’ll read my emails, respond to the most urgent and then try to move swiftly on to the best part: downloading any images or attachments that have arrived overnight from the artists I’m working with. I’m currently collaborating with illustrators living in Australia, Taiwan, N.Y.C. and Northern Ireland as well as artists in the U.K. Not everybody works by email; some still prefer to work by sketch and post.

The picture books I’m working on at any one time are at different stages. Right now, for instance, I’m still finishing books for this autumn, while running in parallel are the lists we’re creating for 2011, 2012 and beyond.

The very worst and most interruptive calls are the frantic last-minute requests from the printer–usually in the Far East–saying that a file is missing a layer or some type has disappeared from the electronic file; any of these can make your blood literally run cold–cue frantic search and triple checking of computer files to avoid the dreaded “permanently printed typo.” Eek.

Management meetings frequently interrupt the working day, which can be very frustrating.

The best part of my job as a publisher involves concentrated immersion with the words, the pictures and the editor on a book’s actual pages. I like designing picture books; visualizing layouts and using type make me happy.

The most valuable meetings are the creative meetings with the bookmakers themselves–this is what I think of as real work. I invariably prefer the beginning of a project: matching texts with artists, deciding on the formats, supporting the vision of authorial illustrators–the creators of the picture books–and trying to make the best books happen. This is a publisher’s true reward.

Could you tell us about a few writers and illustrators that you are especially proud to have discovered or worked with?

I’ve worked with brand-new artists on their very first books, all the way through to the most established artists and writers. These include Bob Graham, Anita Jeram, John Burningham, Allan Ahlberg, Patrick Benson, Jimmy Liao, Viviane Schwarz, Carll Cneut, Chinlun Lee, Kevin Waldron and Helen Oxenbury.

Do you think that the picture book is one type of book that will resist the advance of the eBook format? Or do you have plans for new electronic developments?

Digital books have the same value and objectives as regular picture books; they’re just delivered differently. As both bookmakers and book customers, we have to recognize that digital books are just another form of expression; ebooks won’t replace physical books, but can and should run parallel to the picture-book experience.

Picture books can thrive in an interactive environment; it’s reductive to believe that a reading experience is solely about a book’s physical form; it is also about the quality of the content.

There seems to be a perception that digital/electronic bookmaking somehow leads to an inferior, lower-quality read, a cheaper experience. But I believe that regardless of the form, a good story is always going to be a good story, a good picture will remain a good picture, and the value of the reading experience will be undiminished.

Walker have produced DVDs and board games based on Walker picture books. Could you tell us a little about your current plans for non-book formats?

At Walker, we will continue to explore non-book formats for key brands. Across the whole range of our list, we’re looking at a variety of tremendously exciting opportunities, including our work with a company to bring some of our best picture books to the iPhone and iPad. These picture-book apps have been uniquely designed to sit side by side with their physical counterparts; they aim to extend the picture-book experience rather than replace it.

You’re a trustee at the fantastic Seven Stories, the centre for children’s books in Newcastle. What does that position involve? And what does the future hold for Seven Stories?

My involvement with Seven Stories (I was formally made a trustee in November 2009) is extremely rewarding; I love the place and admire the people who work there.

My position involves attending meetings of the board and the acquisition subcommittee. I find it incredibly stimulating to work with and share the museum’s aims with non-publishing professionals: the other trustees come from a wide variety of different fields, including the law, banking, education, drama and the Arts Council. I think of them as True Book Believers, and I’m pleased to play even a small part in Seven Stories’ collective and unique experience.

Seven Stories is the first and only museum in the U.K. dedicated to the art of the children’s book, protecting and celebrating children’s literary heritage. Visitors to the museum explore the world of children’s books through a changing programme of exhibitions, events, performances, workshops and hands-on activities inspired by the original manuscripts and artwork of Britain’s favourite children’s authors and illustrators.

When Seven Stories was founded in 1996, there was no other literature, academic, heritage or arts institution in the U.K. with a similar remit, so authors and illustrators were selling or donating their archives to institutions overseas (especially in the U.S.) or to private collectors, or were simply disposing of them.

Walker Books were involved right from the heady beginning and since those early days, the Seven Stories Collection has grown rapidly, and is now the U.K.’s largest collection of its type in public ownership, comprising the original artwork and manuscripts of over 70 writers and illustrators for children.

Seven Stories are now working towards achieving national-museum status, to affirm the Collection’s importance to the nation’s heritage and to recognize its innovative approaches to engaging children, families and educators in the art of children’s books.

You’ve worked with Carll Cneut, a fantastic Flemish illustrator with a very distinctive style. How did you come across his work? Do you work with many illustrators from outside the English-speaking world?

Carll simply sent his work in, saying he was going to be in London and wondering if he could pay us a visit. We loved his painting, and–very unusually and serendipitously–we had a text, Antonio on the Other Side of the World Getting Smaller, that we thought would complement Carll’s vision. Luckily, its author Malachy Doyle thought so too!

My work with illustrators from the non-native English-speaking world is very enjoyable. As well as Carll, Jimmy Liao and Chinlun Lee, both from Taiwan, are two such artists I’ve worked with a lot. Working with an artist for whom English is a second language is a different, and equally rewarding, bookmaking experience.

Interestingly–and I’m realizing this only as I write–all three, Carll, Jimmy and Chinlun, have become great personal friends, whom I continue to see and communicate with quite apart from our professional lives.

What are your thoughts on stories in rhyme? I’ve heard that writers are discouraged from creating rhyming stories for picture books, as they’re tricky to translate and so it’s difficult to sell the rights abroad. Is that true? Would you encourage a new writer who wanted to present a story in rhyme?

Good rhyme, like good writing, will always work. Everything depends on the story you’re trying to tell and how that story works with the pictures. What we find with stories submitted in rhyme is that the author can get taken over by the cleverness of the rhyme, and end up forcing the story to serve the rhyme rather than the other way around.

You said in a Booktrust interview that “we are in a golden age of publishing.” It’s wonderful to hear such enthusiasm. Could you perhaps expand a little?

There are ever more authorial artists creating and telling stories–perhaps especially in this digital age. The ease and immediacy of digital technology mean that stories can now be told and visualized in many different ways. Illustrators are able to work very quickly and explore their vision rapidly. Publishing can be far more immediate and reach a much wider audience almost instantaneously–it’s exciting!

One tip that you’ve given for illustrators is to “leave space,” so that books don’t get too busy and confuse readers. Do you have any other helpful tips for writers and illustrators of picture books who are hoping to make it past the slush pile?

What I really meant about leaving space is for writers and illustrators to be aware of the “emotional space”–that invisible space between the words and the pictures.

That’s what the editor and the designer aim to do: leave space. We’re sort of in charge of that invisible space, working between the words and the pictures, reading the text aloud, editing by ear–what we hear and the sound of the rhythm in the language–good language and how this interacts on the page with what we see in the pictures. The story is in the words, in the sounds, and the story is also in the picture.

Words and pictures should serve each other, but they don’t both have to fulfill exactly the same function. An illustrator doesn’t have to draw exactly what the words are telling the reader, and the author doesn’t have to describe exactly what the pictures are showing the reader.

Simply, there should be a gap, an invisible space left for the reader’s imagination to expand and interpret the story in his or her own way.

Anthony Browne, the current Children’s Laureate, is published by Walker and, of course, he’s an author and illustrator of picture books. Could you talk a little about the role of Children’s Laureate?

It’s particularly great for picture books that Anthony Browne is the current Children’s Laureate in the U.K. His own pictures are so powerful, and he speaks so well about them, that his Laureateship can only publicly affirm the importance of illustration and the value and need for visual literacy.

Writing and illustrating can be lonely activities. The SCBWI helps people to connect and provides opportunities for networking and professional development. Do you have any suggestions as to how writers and illustrations can make the most of these events and connections to build up a network for support and feedback?

Make good friends who have similar values, find points of interest and reference with each other, share your experiences and, most important, be creatively generous with your peers.

When you think back to your own childhood, which picture books still stand out?

There weren’t very many picture books to buy in Ireland in the ’70s, so the grey-and-blue mobile library was an extremely important part of my week. I distinctly remember climbing the steep red steps of the bus to its book-lined interior and choosing my very own books to take home with me.

Miffy stories, anything by Dr. Seuss and the large Richard Scarry compendiums were among the first books I had…the smell of the pages, the thick cellophane covers and the saturated colours of the interiors remain particularly vivid in my memory.

Sometimes, I received yellow parcels of books from my Uncle Pat, who lived in Mississippi; inside were small squarish books with shiny golden spines, and I loved these American stories about raccoons, puppies, bears and princesses.

American picture books from the ’50s and ’60s remain very inspiring to my own work now. These books have an immediacy and freshness that’s very compelling. The child, the reader, is cared about.

At Walker, we try always to be similarly conscious of what the child ultimately reading the book is going to enjoy.

Comics also played a huge part in my childhood. My two brothers and I devoured (and fought over)–Twinkle, The Dandy, The Beano, Whizzer and Chips, Bunty, Mandy, Judy, Misty, Warlord, 2000 AD–all bought with our weekly pocket money in the next town on Saturday morning. I suppose that I learnt to draw from the pages of these comics, and I learnt humour and how to tell stories and jokes, and also how to read words and pictures together, side by side.

And do you have any recommendations of great new picture books for our reading lists? Which new Walker picture books are you particularly excited about?

Check out a young German bookmaker living in England, Viviane Schwarz. Viv also has a brilliant new book, on which she collaborated with Alexis Deacon, coming out next spring.

Kevin Waldron and Chris Haughton are both brand-new Irish illustrators whose vision I much admire.

Polly Dunbar is a prolific bookmaker; she makes picture books that are full of humour and wit for the under-4s. See Doodle Bites and Penguin as prime examples of her work.

Nonfiction picture books for the very young are another way of capturing a child’s imagination, and the books by Martin Jenkins and Vicky White are no exception.

I adore Lucy Cousins’s art, and her two recent books Yummy and I’m the Best are fine examples of pure and powerful storytelling for the very young.

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton is very charming and amusing.

Any picture book by the lively and anarchic team of Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman will make you laugh out loud. The Pencil and The Runaway Dinner are just two examples.

And finally, a book that I’ve been very privileged to work on–the first-ever collaboration between John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury–There’s Going to Be a Baby, which is a truly tremendous picture book; look for it this autumn in your local bookshop (or mobile library).

Finally, what advice would you give to writers and illustrators who are visiting the Book Fair in Bologna for the first time?

Do exactly what I’ll be doing myself: see everything you can in all the different halls. Note the publishers whose books you like. Look at picture books in a language different from your own; see if you’re able to read the story through the pictures. If you can, take heed and pay attention to what that illustrator is doing in their visual storytelling.

Cynsational Notes

Deirdre McDermott is the Picture Book Publisher at Walker Books, the largest independent children’s publisher in the U.K. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, she has been designing picture books for Walker for over 20 years. After completing a Visual Communication degree at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Deirdre traveled and lived in Toronto for a year before coming to London, where she joined Walker Books as a junior designer. Not long afterward, she became assistant designer to Amelia Edwards, the founder Art Director. Deirdre was appointed Picture Book Publisher and Associate Director in 2002.

Within the small, dedicated picture book team of designers and editors at Walker, Deirdre has worked closely with scores of brilliant bookmakers including Anita Jeram, Helen Oxenbury, Thacher Hurd, Michael Rosen, Carll Cneut, Bob Graham, John Burningham, Allan Ahlberg, Jimmy Liao and many others. [See author/illustrator links above.]

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children’s books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the U.K. and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She’s a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author Interview: Richard Peck

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Richard Peck has received a Newbery Medal, a Newbery Honor, and many other remarkable awards and citations for literary work. He is also the first children’s writer to receive a National Humanities Medal.

SCBWI members and supporters feel a special connection with Richard, not only due to his long list of remarkable books for young readers, but also because many have had the pleasure of watching Lin Oliver interview Richard for the SCBWI Master Class DVD [see video below].

First, thank you so much Richard, for agreeing to answer some questions in advance of your upcoming appearance at SCBWI’s 2010 Bologna Symposium.

The Washington Post calls you “America’s best living author for young adults.” You’ve written and published an impressive 37 novels for young readers over the span of the last 37 years, and the continuity of your writing fills other writers with confidence in the knowledge that a writing career can have longevity. Is there an underlying motivation or passion that propels you?

What are the passions that still propel me, even now after thirty-seven years?

Admiring the work of younger writers and wanting to stay in their game and learning from them–M.T. Anderson, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, David Levithan, and more coming.

We’re in a golden age; I want to stay here.

And the other incentive? I was a teacher once. I learned that I wanted to be there at the beginning of all those young lives–a new crop every year.

Not because I had answers for them, but because I had questions.

And as it happens, a novel is always a question. Two questions, in fact:

l. What if I were the character in this story? What would I do?

2. And the big one: How much longer do I dare be this young?

In a September 2009 Publisher’s Weekly Q & A, you talked about one of your most beloved characters, Grandma Dowdel. In this age of digital cities and wireless connectivity, why do you think this remarkable character from days gone by resonates so profoundly with readers?

I’m moved by your inquiring after Grandma Dowdel in this electronic age.

As you know, she’s back after eight years and by popular demand (I’d have let her rest.) Why does this woman, looming out of the low-tech past in her Lane Bryant dress, still command the allegiance of the young?

Maybe it’s the web itself—“wireless connectivity”–and the two scariest words in the English language: social networking.

The dream of adolescence is to replace your family with your friends. In this new revolution–the biggest since the revolutions of the 1960s/’70s–the young have discovered new electronic ways to eliminate parents, with the electronics paid for by parents.

Yet we write a literature of family life to a readership who can text at the dinner table.

I have to believe the secret of Grandma Dowdel’s popularity is that she’s as strong as the young quietly want their adults to be…if they can find them–at home, in the neighborhood, up their at the front of the classroom.

In an interview published in Delta Chi Quarterly’s Fall/Winter 2001 edition (PDF), you said that some of your young readers send letters asking you to write more horror. Is this what prompted you to switch gears from writing nostalgia, as you’ve done in your last several books, to writing in the horror genre again with your 2010 book release of Three Quarters Dead (Dial, 2010)? Can you tell us a little about this new book we can expect in the Fall?

I appreciate the depth of your questions. Anybody who has researched me all the way to The Delta Chi Quarterly deserves awed respect. Wouldn’t you have thought I’d be over having been a frat boy? But, actually…no.

I do have a new book coming in the autumn, Three Quarters Dead, and, believe me, it’s no Grandma Dowdel.

It’s told as paranormal horror, not because I’m trying to ride that wave but because it was a story I couldn’t pull off as realistic fiction, despite the fact that it’s being enacted in every town I now visit. It’s a deadly serious story about those two inter-reacting killers: distracted driving and peer-group allegiance.

I couldn’t tell it straight without preaching; I had to tell it slant.

It’s a story about a girl with a cell phone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, and that’s a horror story right there.

At the Ezra Jack Keats Lectures in 2000, you gave a remarkable and profound speech. One of the many beautiful things you said was something that struck me as good advice for new writers. You said, “You have to read a thousand books before you can write one.”

Your writing and revision process must be perfected down to a fine art now. Can you tell us a little about both, and is it true that you write everything on an electric typewriter?

Enough! I cannot discuss my electric typewriter. It might hear me and cease functioning, and then so would I. It makes a noise to fill this silent room.

Love to you for all your kind questions,

Cynsational Screening Room

Hosted by SCBWI Executive Director and best-selling childrens book author Lin Oliver, each SCBWI Master Class offers a one-of-a-kind conversation with the most important writers and illustrators working in children’s literature today. See video excerpt below.

Cynsational Notes

Richard Peck’s newest novel is A Season of Gifts (Dial, 2009), third in the sequence starring Grandma Dowdel. The first, A Long Way from Chicago (Dial, 1998)(Il Fucile di Nonna Dowdel in Italy) was the 1999 Newbery silver medalist. The second, A Year down Yonder (Dial, 2000) was the Newbery gold medal winner in 2001. Two of his novels, A Year Down Yonder and The River Between Us (Dial, 2003), were National Book Award finalists. He was the first children’s writer to receive a National Humanities Medal, in a White House ceremony in 2002. His forthcoming title, in the fall of 2010, is Three Quarters Dead (Dial).

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author-Editor Interview: Sara Grant of Working Partners

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hello, Sara. You wear a number of different hats. You’re both a commissioning editor and a published writer. Which came first, the writing or the publishing? How do you combine the two?

I’ve created stories since I was a little girl, imagining epic dramas for my Barbie dolls. When I was young, I was convinced I couldn’t be a writer because my spelling was appalling. (I must admit that the invention of spell check saved me.)

I wrote my first story for children when my niece was born; she’s graduating from high school this year, so it has taken me a long time and continual learning to get my first book deal.

I worked in public relations for seventeen years. During that time, I had limited success writing short stories for children. Then I moved to London, completed a degree in creative writing and changed my career. Now I feel very privileged to get to do what I love.

At Working Partners, I get to experiment with genres and develop stories for different age groups. I work on rainy-day adventures for five year olds, girly romantic comedies, and action-adventure stories for teen boys.

It’s quite a buzz to develop a new idea with other people who love children’s books as much as I do. I work with an incredibly talented group of editors and accomplished writers. I am challenged and learn from them every day.

My time at Working Partners has made me a better writer and knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of the slush pile makes me a better editor.

The more I surround myself with stories–whether it’s reading, editing or writing–the more ideas bubble to the surface. By working collaboratively with my fellow writers/editors at Working Partners, I’ve learned that there are endless ways to tell a story. I write and re-write and change and revise storylines on a daily basis. This helps me to see the same fluidity in my own writing.

When my Little, Brown editor has concerns about a plot point, I don’t despair (okay, I despair a little). I brainstorm and come with other ideas to solve the problem. A good story evolves, and it’s great when you feel the freedom of trial and error.

You have a master’s degree in creative writing from Goldsmiths College in London. Would you recommend the study route for aspiring writers? What do you think people should look for when they’re choosing a creative-writing course?

My time at Goldsmiths was by far the best educational experience of my life. I had been attending writing workshops for years–some a few hours to a week long. I knew I had a lot to learn but was at the point where I didn’t think I could improve on my own.

The two years I spent at Goldsmiths gave me loads of one-on-one tutorials as well as pushed me to read and learn from an impressive group of diverse writers. It was inspiring and helped me take my writing to the next level. They also showed me how to continually read, analyse and improve. I am still in contact with the tutors and writers I met on the course.

When looking for a creative-writing course, be clear about your objectives. I didn’t want a course that only focused on writing for children. I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone.

Be open minded and willing to experiment. Talk to the students who have graduated from the course. It’s like anything else; you get out of it what you put into it.

You’ve had stories published in children’s magazines. Could you tell us a little about this market?

There are several high-quality children’s magazines in the States that publish fiction. It’s a competitive market but a great opportunity to build your writing résumé.

For example, the Cricket Magazine Group has a series of “bug-named” publications for children from two years to teens–“Babybug,” “Ladybug,” “Spider,” “Cricket” and “Cicada.” Check out its web site, get its writers guidelines and read the publications. Many of these publications strive to be multicultural, so experiences from outside the U.S. could make you more marketable.

If you can, buy the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writers Digest) from Amazon [or any U.S. bookstore] for a complete list and author guidelines. There are hundreds of publications for a variety of interests and genres.

Tell us a little about Dark Parties, your YA novel, which is coming out in 2011. What was your path to publication?

Dark Parties is a dystopian novel about a country that generations ago closed its borders to people and ideas. No one knows what exists outside their protected society. Neva and her best friend secretly plot to force the government to open its borders. Anyone who threatens the government seems to disappear mysteriously. Neva receives a message from her grandma who vanished without a trace 10 years ago, inviting her to escape to the outside. Now she has a choice–stay and save her country or leave and save herself.

I initially wrote Dark Parties as a short story for the British SCBWI Undiscovered Voices anthology in 2008. I was intrigued by the idea but didn’t know if the story had legs. It’s much different than anything I’ve tried to write before. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.

I asked my then 15-year-old niece and another editor at Working Partners to read the short story and tell me if I was crazy. Both gave me encouraging feedback and asked, “what happens next?”

All of a sudden I had loads of ideas for the story. I thought, if it gets chosen for the anthology then I’ll write the novel. I was lucky enough to be one of the twelve chosen for the anthology, and then the work really began.

I received interest from a few editors and agents who read the anthology. The British SCBWI regional advisor gave Jenny Savill at Andrew Nurnberg and Associates a copy of the anthology at Bologna in 2008. Jenny has been an incredible partner in this long and sometimes frustrating process. She’s offered insightful editorial feedback as well as reasoned business advice.

Before I received the offer from Little, Brown, I had the chance to chat with the Little, Brown editor who was taking my book to acquisitions. She had some excellent feedback. I knew then that she really understood what I was trying to do and would unquestionably make Dark Parties a better book. And I have not been disappointed.

I revised nearly 50 percent of the book after it was acquired. It’s been a great give-and-take with my editors at Little, Brown. I feel so honoured to have such experienced and talented editors giving my book so much care and attention.

The most important insight I can share with other writers is: Your first draft is only the beginning. No one seems to talk about how many revisions it takes to get a publishable novel. So I’m more than happy to be honest about my bumpy path to publication. Yes, there are those who write one draft and go straight to typesetting, but those people are few and far between.

In 1996, Hillary Clinton wrote a book declaring it takes a village to raise a child. I feel the same about books. It takes a community to bring a book to publication. Pick your partners in this process carefully.

Has your experience in publishing taught you any useful tricks for making it past the slush pile as a writer? Do you have any tips you could share with us?

Most of my advice comes more from being an unpublished writer than an editor:

• Network. Editors who work in children’s fiction are by and large a pretty lovely group. Get critiques from editors when you can.

• Go to writers’ events. SCBWI is a great source for these.

• Form a writers group. Get feedback on your writing from more than your family and friends.

• Never, ever stop learning and improving.

• Be willing to set a story aside and try something new. Then don’t be afraid to revise, revise and revise. Most writers don’t get the first book they write published.

• Read. Read. Read. Know and support the children’s market. Buy children’s books for yourself and every young reader you know. Writers who write for children should be reading every book in their genre they can get their hands on.

• And most importantly, if it’s your passion–never, ever give up! It took me 17 years to get my first book deal. Here’s wishing you a shorter learning curve!

Could you tell us more about Working Partners and how you go about creating new series fiction? What do you look for in new writers who approach Working Partners? Are you looking for writers at the moment?

An idea will come from one of our editors or from a publisher. A team of editors hold a one-hour brainstorming to see if the idea has legs. If the brainstorming goes well, then a team of two editors will somehow take the wild and wacky ideas we come up with and shape it into a storyline.

A storyline goes through a number of revisions until the team is satisfied that the story and characters are there.

Then we look for writers. We will invite up to ten writers to try out for the project. We provide each writer with a proposal document, which includes a short pitch, a cast list, a complete storyline for the first book and often ideas for future books. We also give them an idea of what we are looking for with regard to tone, point of view, etc. We will typically ask writers to write three chapters.

It’s always exciting to see how different writers bring the storyline to life. We look for a strong, appropriate voice for the series and originality. We like when writers invest in the story and add appropriate character and setting details while sticking to our storyline.

Sometimes you receive a sample and it’s magic. The voice is perfect, the characters sparkle and you can’t wait to turn the page–even though you know what happens next. Sometimes it’s tough to select the writer because we have a number of great samples.

We like to have four or more editors read each of the samples. We often have a meeting to discuss the merits of each sample. It’s amazing how passionate we can get about the samples we love.

Sometimes we ask one or two writers to revise their sample based on some editorial notes. We need this extra round to make our decision and to see if the writer can take direction. We look for writers who want to work as part of a team.

Our managing director will share the writing sample and a proposal with publishers in the U.S., U.K. and sometimes other markets. Once a publisher has bought the series, we contract the writer and begin to write and edit the books. Sometimes we will need more than one writer on a series. It’s the editor’s job to maintain consistency among writers.

What are Working Partners’ most popular books right now? What do you think it is about your titles that appeals to young readers?

In the U.S., we have had great success with our Warriors series.

In the U.K., Beast Quest is quite popular with boys seven plus. Other series include: Dinosaur Cove, Faerie Path, Unicorn School, Animal Ark, Chestnut Hill, Spelling B, My Sister The Vampire, Spartan Warrior, and Vampire Beach.

Working Partners taps into the power of collaboration–not only internally but collaboration with our writers and publishers. We work with so many incredible editors at publishers around the world. We benefit from learning from all these groups.

We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach. We love stories and try to create the best series for appropriate target markets.

Could you tell us about some new Working Partners projects that are particularly exciting for you?

I have two series that will be published later this year. They are a great example of the diversity in my job:

One is a charming series from Ladybird titled Puddle the Naughtiest Puppy. It’s a series of rainy-day adventures for five-to-eight year olds. The editorial team and our two talented writers have thoroughly enjoyed taking Ruby and Harry on magical adventures–from a race on a magic carpet to peril on a pirate ship sailing the high seas.

In June, Egmont will publish Striker, a new action-adventure series for teen boys. My fellow editor and I have had and absolute blast marrying the wonderful world of British football with international intrigue. Jake learns in the first book that his dad, a retired English football legend, is also a spy for MI6. Jake has natural instincts for both the football and spy game.

What are the big developments in children’s/YA fiction at the moment? Do you see any new trends developing?

It’s exciting to see bookstores creating separate sections for young adult fiction. It’s also really rewarding to see so many adults reading young adult fiction and sharing this experience with their children. (Or, if you’re childless like me, reading it for the pure joy of it!)

Paranormal romance has been huge recently. I keep thinking that surely the tide will turn, but it seems to have staying power. Like everything else, fiction has a cycle. What goes around comes around.

I think it may have something do with the age of the writers and editors tapping into the books they loved as a children. I don’t have a crystal ball for trends. I also don’t think writers should try to follow trends. Publishers are looking for originality and voice. You need a unique hook. Writers should try to pave their own way.

Do you think the eBook format or other new electronic formats will have much effect on the children’s/YA market?

I think they will, but we don’t fully understand what this will mean to young readers, but look how the iPod has revolutionized the way we purchase and listen to music. I don’t think anyone has figured the eBook out yet. But I think young readers will most likely be some of the first adapters to this new technology.

Remember the “choose your own adventure” books. Imagine how exciting that would be to have endless plot options for the book you’re reading.

I also think we might see the providers of content multiply. Distribution will change. I must admit that I’m old fashioned. I love the printed book.

Are you working on any exciting writing projects of your own at the moment? Will there be a sequel to Dark Parties?

I have ideas for a sequel to Dark Parties, but right now I’m working on another dystopian novel. It’s at that really wonderful “first love” phase of the creation process. I’m getting to know the characters and creating the setting. It’s all new and promising. The story is continuing to evolve.
I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas and everything seems to swirl around the new book. I’m trying to write two connected stories in different time periods with intertwined plot lines. There are lots of new challenges ahead.

Do you remember your own first visit to the book fair in Bologna? Do you have any tips for first-time visitors to the book fair who are hoping to be published?

This is my first visit to the book fair! I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s really overwhelming but exciting to see the world of children’s books.

Cynsational Notes

Sara Grant is a commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. Her publication credits include stories in “Spider” and “Pockets” children’s magazines, Goldfish anthology, and Undiscovered Voices, an anthology highlighting U.K. children’s writers. She also wrote on assignment for “U.S. Kids” and “Indianapolis Monthly” magazines and Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market. She earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College in 2007. Her young-adult, futuristic novel, titled Dark Parties, was recently acquired by Little, Brown and will be published in 2011.

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children’s books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the U.K. and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She’s a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Illustrator Interview: John Shelley

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hello, John. Could you tell us a little about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m currently developing some picture book dummy ideas, later in the Spring I’ll be working on Volume 2 of the Zipper-kun series for Rironsha in Japan.

As a successful illustrator, how do you organise your time? Can you choose to concentrate on one project at a time and see it through to the end, or do you prefer to work on lots of different projects at the same time? Are you happy with the balance between commercial work and children’s books?

Once I begin on a book project I ideally prefer to see it through to the end with no interruptions from other work, however, the market is rarely that obliging!

Commercial jobs have short deadlines but are often pretty straightforward so can be worked on at the same time as books. I don’t mix work on books together though.

When you think back to your childhood, which illustrators do you remember from back then? Do you think that they influenced your development as an illustrator?

I don’t really recall my earliest books, but around the age of 8 to 10, I remember being a fan of Beatrix Potter, Quentin Blake and Edward Ardizzone. I think all influenced my development.

At a slightly older age, the Golden Age illustrators (Arthur Rackham, William Heath-Robinson, Edmund Dulac, Aubrey Beardsley, etc.) had a major impact on me, discovering Rackham’s work made me want to be an illustrator.

Which of your projects do you feel is most representative of your style and the way you want to work? How much freedom do you have to create the kind of illustrations that you want? Which of your projects would you recommend to someone who wants to find out what John Shelley’s work is all about?

That’s a tough one. I’m pretty versatile; there’s no one book that sums me up. I tend to adapt my style to match the text of the books, there are stylistic variations, but they are all fundamentally “me.”

I suppose for picture books The Boat in the Tree [by Tim Wynne-Jones (Front Street, 2007)] is quite representative of a certain approach; in black and white, the Charlie Bone books (Tokuma Shoten).

Regarding freedom, again it depends on the publisher and the book. As a general rule, Japanese editors tend to be more controlling than those in the U.K. and U.S., they often have an agenda and firm ideas how they want me to visualise the book.

Then again deadline can be a factor too.

What do you look for when you’re considering whether to accept a new project? Are there any dream projects out there that you’d drop everything else to do?

I look for text that matches my style and general subject matter, which, on first reading, inspires strong mental images.

Dream projects? Many many. Any great works of fantasy. I’m always interested in illustrating classic literature – Andersen, Grimm, Dickens, etc.

Do you represent yourself or do you have an agent to look after your interests? What advice would you give to a new illustrator who is trying to find an agent?

I have an agent in the U.S., but not anywhere else. I’m not really qualified to advise on agents.

As a freelance illustrator, do you try to plan your career or do you prefer to see what projects come your way? Do you have any tips for other freelance illustrators who are attempting to make a career for themselves? Or any advice for aspiring illustrators who are hoping to catch a publisher’s attention?

Naturally, I try to focus in directions I’d like my career to take, though it sometimes works out that you become successful in areas you haven’t anticipated.

You need to be flexible, able to seize opportunities for new areas and appreciate where and how your work fits in without compromising your overall creative integrity. Successful illustrators know how to exploit their talents in areas they are best suited to.

Be versatile, be aware of the needs of the market, expand into fields you find work, but don’t lose track of your core interests. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with a reputation for work you don’t enjoy doing, or conversely a portfolio of lovingly crafted images for which there’s no market.

On your website, you mention Mervyn Peake as an inspiration. I love his art, too, and I’d be very interested to hear about your experience of his work. Which other artists have been important for you?

I first came across Peake’s work at art college and was instantly transfixed; I’ve been a fan ever since.

Other artists, it’s a long list – as mentioned above, Ardizzione, Rackham, Heath Robinson and other Golden Age illustrators, the great heritage of pen and ink illustrators from the U.K.

Also Jose Maria Jorge (when I was a teenager), Ralph Steadman, Michael Foreman, E. H. Shephard, Hergé, Albin Brunovsky, Hokusai, Utamaro, etc. There are too many names to list here, I get inspired by a lot of work.

Most enjoyable part of illustrating for you?

Finishing the last pen lines or the last brush stroke on a picture that’s come out really well.

Also – posting the invoice!

Do you have many opportunities to meet your target audience, the young readers?

Only my daughter.

I’ve recently translated a book to accompany “An Elephant Came By,” a travelling exhibition of work by children’s illustrators from the Netherlands. One of the questions in the book was whether there’s such a thing as a “typical” Dutch style of illustration. What do you think? Is there, say, a typically British style? Or do illustrators transcend geopolitical borders?

There’s a definite English tradition of pen-and-ink illustration stemming from Hogarth to Rowlandson and through the 19th and 20th century; I think you can trace a thread with some U.K. artists to this. But not all by any means.

Following on from the previous question, you’ve lived and worked in Japan. What influence has that country had on your work and career?

Sense of design, use of space, economy, the power of expressive line, and much more. In many subtle ways I’ve been influenced by Japan, though my style remains fundamentally English.

You still do a lot of work for the Japanese market. Do Japanese customers have different expectations of you than, say, publishers in the U.K.?


Living in the Netherlands, I’m interested to hear which Dutch and Flemish illustrators have attracted your attention. I love Carll Cneut’s work, and I think Charlotte Dematons is a phenomenal artist, too. And of course there’s Dick Bruna, with his Miffy books, which I believe are very popular in Japan. Have you had much contact with children’s illustrators from the Netherlands and Flanders?

To be honest, not really, though I met Max Velthuijs several times.

Would you care to speculate about the way the children’s publishing world might develop over the next five years or so? Any important trends you see developing?

Everyone is talking about the digitalisation of books, but I’m not convinced. I can’t see this ever replacing “real” books. Who knows where the market will lead?

What are you hoping that this year’s visit to Bologna will bring? Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators who are visiting Bologna for the first time? Do you remember your own first visit to the book fair?

Hopefully some cracking commissions, lots of inspiration and many pleasant memories.

For first time visitors – make appointments before you arrive, publishers have full schedules at Bologna. Bring plenty of handouts, and keep your portfolios light and handy.

Cynsational Notes

John Shelley began his illustration career in London, his first picture book The Secret in the Matchbox [by Val Willis (FSG, 1988)] being shortlisted for the Mother Goose Award. From 1987, he lived in Tokyo for over 20 years, receiving awards for commercial illustration while illustrating over 40 children’s books for Western and Japanese markets. The former Illustrator Coordinator and Assistant Regional Advisor of SCBWI Tokyo, he returned to the U.K. in 2008, but still maintains close ties with Japan.

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children’s books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the U.K. and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She’s a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Art Director Interview: Martha Rago of HarperCollins

Interview by Rachelle Meyer for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Beyond being exposed to new talent and books, what does participation in SCBWI events provide for you? What benefits do you see for illustrators?

First and foremost its fun! Participating in SCBWI reminds me of the things I love about my work and keeps my passion kindled. The participants are equally enthusiastic about this field and the work they do, whether they have made it or not. That’s catchy.

Analyzing the industry and its rapid changes and trends is also great way to stay sharp and keep my work focused and effective. We are so busy, and there are so many distractions day to day, to stop and evaluate what and how you work best and what is important to you can be very clarifying and energizing.

For artists, I hope it gives them a realistic and practical perspective on the field, so they get a good sense of how to best to use their skills, develop contacts and be resourceful, whether just breaking in or trying to invigorate their careers.

Do you see a difference in the portfolios or personalities of illustrators who are active in communities like SCBWI or SOI [Society of Illustrators]?

In SCBWI, the level of talent varies quite a bit, from students and novices to established artists. That helps make it a great community for sharing information, experience, and mutual encouragement. I find their attitudes and camaraderie very upbeat and positive.

In SOI exhibitions, the artists are published and the shows are juried, so this is a select group and consistently shows very high caliber work. The artists also really believe in what they are doing and are respectful and generous with each other, which is great to see

Do you have some new discoveries you’d like to share: artists, books, resources?

I enjoy reading about individual artist’s experiences and their process of bookmaking.

Dilys Evans, who created the Original Art Show to celebrate Children’s Illustration more than 25 years ago, recently wrote a wonderful book, called Show & Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Illustration (Chronicle, 2008), which I highly recommend.

At Harper, I am working on some really special projects and am excited to see them publish this summer.

Mo Willems created a new character in his book, Cat the Cat, Who Is That? and Let’s Say Hi To Friends Who Fly!, which we published this winter. He has added two more books to the series: What’s Your Sound, Hound the Hound? and Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep for our summer 2010 list.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this artist and have learned so much from him in the process. Mo Willems has amazing instincts about what children will respond to and endless ideas to bring to the table.

There is also a great new book from Antoinette Portis (Not A Box (2006)) called Kindergarten Diary, showcasing an inventive new style, and that really captures the experience of early days in kindergarten through the eyes of one charming child.

It’s been a lot of fun to be involved in these projects, and I am happy to be able to share in my enthusiasm by mentioning them to you!

What are some of the benefits of developing long-term relationships with an illustrator? Do you develop a working shorthand, or can you still be surprised by a familiar artist’s creative solutions?

In a longstanding relationship, the artist trusts me, knows what to expect from me and is generally more comfortable sharing rough ideas or with experimentation. It frees both of us up. We don’t have to sweat the small stuff and can spend time honing an idea, refining a concept.

And yes, even an artist I know well will continue to surprise me, as they are often always developing, refining a style or trying out new approaches.

On a practical level–and art directors do need to be practical-minded–I can better anticipate the ways I will be involved with an artist I know well and can plan my time and the schedules accordingly. Some stages I know will progress very quickly. Others will be more slow-paced. Some will require a very deep kind of involvement; others less.

With a new artist, you never know what to expect—will first sketches nail the direction and characters or will it need lots of reworking? Will the editor and I need to supply ideas and direction, or will they bring their own to the table right away? How much direction do they need on fundamentals like how to page out a 32-page book, leaving space for type and keeping images out of the gutter?

As a designer, a hat many art directors also wear, it’s also helpful to know how much an artist will trust you to make decisions about layout details and overall design.

Most artists appreciate and are grateful for the designer’s role, but each one responds differently. Some co-design with you, some have strong opinions that need to be considered; still others put it entirely in your hands.

How much freedom and influence you have to affect the presentation versus how much you have to prove yourself to earn that influence is also part of the process and can be a big and often very positive part of the relationship of artist to art director.

In this respect, a comfortable and proven working relationship is certainly a boon.

Can you give an example of a recent release and the creative process? What did the illustrator approach you with, and how did you contribute to shaping it?

At an SCBWI conference in Paris, I met a young illustrator, Daniel Jannewein, who struck me as very talented and very fresh in his approach. He caught my eye again at the SCBWI Bologna symposium two years ago.

It so happened that shortly after I came back I was shown a picture book text that really seemed right for him. (Those are the sorts of moments that make my day)

So I got in touch, and fairly quickly we got him working on the book: Is your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? [written by Audrey Vernick].

Daniel has great instincts, and I knew he had the right sensibility for this funny, quirky book, Is your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, coming out this summer.

My initial guidance was mainly to focus him in on the style I thought best suited for the story—his portfolio showed a number of approaches—and create a sample piece that would sell the editor and the acquisition group on his ability to do the job.

It would also be his guide stylistically for the whole book assuming he got the gig, which happily, he did.

Then we focused on character studies to get the cast just right: a teacher and a classroom of kindergarteners and of course a buffalo! We went through maybe two rounds of sketching for the whole book, but Daniel had great ideas right from the start that really augmented the text just as I hoped it would. He took suggestions very well too, so it was a very smooth process.

I can’t think of just a single thing that I asked him to do or change, but in a general way, we encouraged him to push the humor, develop the individual characterizations more fully, adjust the pacing to add drama where possible.

This is a good example of how key it is to get the right match of artist and author and to be clear in your goals and expectations for the project.

I didn’t have to push and pull to get things to work–only a little nudge here and there–because Daniel was just the right fit. It was his first book, but it progressed very effectively.

How have the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Jacketflap affected your job and your relationships with artists?

The Internet has been extremely useful, and become essential to my everyday work. I look up artist’s websites all day long. I check Barnes & Noble or Amazon for competitive or comparative titles. I check in on blogs, discussion boards, and design sites for trends in style and imagery for novel jackets.

I am less interested in the social networking sites and have to be careful about spending too much time and coming away with nothing to show for it, but Facebook is an interesting sort of bulletin board on which to see what artists are up to and useful for networking.

All of this ease of access accelerates the response to any idea or finished project that is put out there, so I, in turn, can react more quickly and apply those insights to whatever is in development.

Can you isolate some elements that tend to appear in a really good picture book?

A good picture book must begin with a good story, no matter how creative and talented the artist may be. But like an author, artists have a voice, a unique vision that comes through in their work. If their style is the right complement to the text, the visuals give the story additional interest and resonance.

I look for artists that will add another dimension to the text in that way. The images need to be narrative, tell a story and work sequentially.

Next credible, believable characters are essential. They have to engage and win the reader over.

And of course, the artist must have skill in their medium, to render the images well and with appeal.

(For an example, look at Dr. De Soto by William Steig (FSG); note the charming way the characters are rendered, and the clever, humorous details that define them as individuals such as the way the tiny mouse dentist reaches a donkey’s mouth with the aid of a pulley!)

There are many nuances and sub-categories of these elements. But to put it simply, I find there are five essentials: story, style, narrative quality, character, and good technique that always come into play.

I’ve noticed a lot of good illustrators once held positions as art directors before going freelance. Which skills do good art directors and illustrators share in common? And what talents are unique to each profession?

I think there is a lot of overlap in our skills and would not want to make too many generalizations on that subject. Artists and art directors are both imaginative and need to rely on the combination of our instincts and our creative vision to communicate our ideas well.

But an illustrator brings a personal response to their work, and uses technical skill to turn it into imagery that is meaningful to the viewer. It’s their unique vision and skill in their craft that only they can bring to a project.

A good art director brings a subjective response to the work as well, but understands how to channel that into the design or into guidance for the artist.

Generally, the art director has to be able to encourage the artist’s creativity but keep the project on track and within the bounds of viability. We have to mediate and balance many things—the realities of budget, schedule, editor and publisher’s goals and market expectation, and at the same time, allow the artist to feel free and supported in their vision. Having said that, many artists are also realistic, practical and organized, so the answer is not black and white.

What’s an example of a perfect workday for you?

Any day at the Bologna Book Fair!

I read a previous interview with you by Anita Loughrey for the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 where you compared your role as an art director to being a midwife. Do you feel as though a book is partially your creative “baby”? Or do you see your role mostly as an advisor and coach?

I do get attached to the projects I am involved in. While I am in the process they often feel as much like mine as the artists. But I am just helping them stay focused and comfortable so they can deliver!

I am happy to hand over a healthy bouncing baby to its rightful creator. It’s the artist’s work and their legacy.

You majored in Italian studies in college. You must love coming to Bologna! What are some of your favorite things to do in Bologna and around Italy when you’re not attending the book fair?

I can’t think of a better way to combine my passions: being around children’s books and the wonderful, talented people who make them, and being in a country when the language, art, and simple act of living are all about beauty and enjoyment.

I take long walks when I can find the time, and try to get lost. Then I find a café, order a prosecco and take in whatever is around me. Sometimes I skip the walk part.

Cynsational Notes

Martha Rago is the Associate Creative Director for HarperCollins Children’s Books. Martha oversees the development and design of HarperCollins picture books, including those in the Rayo and Katherine Tegen imprints, the estate programs of C.S. Lewis and Shel Silverstein, and the Blazer & Bray imprint. Prior to her position at HarperCollins, which Martha has held for seven years, she was the Creative Director at Henry Holt.

Rachelle Meyer is an illustrator whose recent books include My Favourite Children’s Songs and Mijn Grote Sprookjesboek (Kid’s Marketeers). She also writes her own picture books and has an interest in expanding into graphic novels for adults and children. She moved to Amsterdam in 2006 after living in New York City for eight years, and originally hails from the fine city of Austin, Texas. She volunteers as the Illustrator Coordinator for The Netherlands chapter of SCBWI.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author-Illustrator Interview: Doug Cushman

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hello, Doug. You’re both an illustrator and a writer. How does combining these skills work for you? Do you prefer projects where you’re responsible for creating the whole story, both the words and the pictures? Or do you enjoy the challenge of putting your own spin on someone else’s words?

It’s all different. Another writer’s words will make me stretch my art a little more, which is good. I love to illustrate my own work, but I tend to write the same kind of book as most authors do, so I tend to paint the same kind of pictures.

Of course doing both the writing and illustration of a book lets me keep more of the royalties….

Which picture books that you read as a child have stayed with you? Do you think any of those early encounters influenced your art and your decision to work as a professional author and illustrator?

I grew up with a lot of the old Golden Books. I read the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [by L. Frank Baum (George M. Hill, 1900)], etc.

Of course my biggest influences were the newspaper comics and comic books.

I’m still a fan of Sendak.

My heroes are Arnold Lobel and James Marshall, to name a couple others, but I still go back to some of the old masters of painting and drawing, A.B. Frost, N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer, etc.

But there is a lot of non-art influences as well, music, music, music and food with some travel and the occasional art gallery and music and a museum visit thrown in. And music.

Cafes are a great inspiration with all the weird characters strolling in.

Did I mention music?

Which modern illustrators and artists do you particularly admire? Are there any up-and-coming illustrators or writers of books for young readers that you would recommend we keep an eye open for?

I confess that I haven’t kept up with any of the new trends and new talent.

I work pretty much in a bubble which is a good and bad thing, I suppose. It keeps one focused but also out of the loop.

Do you find that as you’ve advanced in your career you’ve had more freedom to select the projects you work on and the style you want to use? Is there a particular project that you’re most proud of? Which of your books prompts most responses from readers?

I love mysteries and love to play with the genre.

My most successful books have been variations on the mystery genre; the beginning reader Aunt Eater series and Inspector Hopper I Can Reads for Harper have done well.

My Dirk Bones I Can Reads are another variation, a detective character, but this time he’s a skeleton in a spooky town.

Then of course there’s The Mystery at the Club Sandwich (Clarion, 2004), my take on hard-boiled detectives, this time with an elephant P.I.

One of the first full-blown picture books I wrote and illustrated was The ABC Mystery (HarperCollins), an ABC book with rhyming couplets and anthropomorphic antagonists.

Could you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? What new books are we going to see from you in 2010?

I’ve a new book with Henry Holt I wrote and illustrated that will be out in fall called Halloween Good Night and a book with Harper written by Arthur Yorinks called The Invisible Man.

You divide your time between northern California and Paris, France. Could you tell us a little about how these two different places have influenced your art and your career?

To use the old cliché, I draw for the child I was. I’ve always believed that there is no drawing, no art, especially geared for children. It’s all either good art or bad art.

I think it was Sendak who said, “You cannot write for children…you can only write books that will interest them.”

So, environment doesn’t matter a whole lot.

I’m an American, born and bred, so those cultural influences and experiences will always be with me. For instance, one of my memories of sixth grade was my science-fair project.

Do French school kids have science fairs? I have no idea.

So whether I live in California, Connecticut, Paris, Texas; or East Chicken Back, Pango Pongo; I’ll always be writing with an American sensibility.

Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators and authors who are hoping to catch the attention of a publisher or agent?

Patience! And never be afraid to utterly fail; one can learn more from one failure than a string of successes.

Don’t be afraid to try something new.

And avoid getting involved with trends. Trends are just that, something hot one moment and cold the next.

Write and illustrate what interests you, and be honest; what you’re after (I’m assuming) is longevity. A book is something you’ll have to live with almost daily for a least two-to-three years before it’s published; and that’s assuming it’s been sold. I’ve had projects making the rounds for six-to-seven-plus years….and counting.

Can you still be enthusiastic about a book after seven years?

Have you visited the book fair in Bologna often before? What have your experiences there been like? Do you have any advice for illustrators who are visiting Bologna for the first time?

The Bologna Book Fair can be overwhelming for a first-timer; it was for me. I’ve been there four or five times now and it’s still an amazing event; five halls each the size of a football field filled with children’s books from all over the world.

It’s a veritable orgy of children’s literature. I’d suggest for a first timer to take time and just slowly look at specifically what interests them; picture books, YAs, merchandising, whatever.

Look at what is being done by each publisher; see if you can pick out a trend or a philosophy (the worse thing is to submit a story about a duck in a bathrobe to a publisher that has a forty-book series of a duck with a bathrobe).

Bologna is a rights fair so not many air directors or editors show up; it’s very focused on selling rights. But one can talk to a sales person, if only for a few minutes between meetings. Ask for cards and catalogs and study websites.

Cynsational Notes

Doug Cushman was born in Springfield, Ohio; and moved to Connecticut with his family when he was 14 years old.

While in junior high and high school, he created comic books lampooning his teachers, selling them to his classmates for a nickel a piece.

Since 1978 he has illustrated over 100 children’s books, thirty or so of which he wrote as well.

Among his many honors, he has gained a place on the New York Times Children’s Best-Sellers list and on the 2003 Children’s Literature Choice list. He has received a National Cartoonist’s Society Reuben award, the 2004 Christopher Award for his book illustrations, the 2007 Maryland Blue Crab Award and the 2009 California Young Readers Medal.

He is a fan of mystery novels and enjoys cooking, traveling, eating and absorbing French culture and inspiration, as well as a few extra kilos, in his new part-time home in Paris, France.

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children’s books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the U.K. and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She’s a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.