Five Publishers Give an Industry-Wide Picture

Editors Debra Dorfman, Beverly Horowitz, Jennifer Hunt, Allyn Johnston, and Julie Strauss-Gabel all spoke on a panel at the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference about the current state of the children’s book industry. Big issues like self-publishing, e-books, and digital trends were discussed, but deep down it seems that content is king. The following is my transcription of the panel discussion. Please note that these are my notes and not direct quotes from the editors mouth.

Moderator: Please introduce yourself and your company.

Allyn Johnston: VP of Beach Lane Books which she runs with one other colleague. They put out 18-20 books per year. Mostly these are picture books for very young kids and a few middle grade or YA titles.

Julie Strauss Gabel: VP at Dutton Children’s Books, which she has worked at for a decade. Dutton has moved to become a boutique company that does mostly MG and YA. She acquires 10-12 books per year (more YA now) and is looking for things that are literary and commercial.

Jennifer Hunt: VP at Dial Books for Young Readers. She just moved to this new company. Previously she worked as an editor at Little Brown. She is looking to build a high-quality literary book list and is interested in partnerships that broaden what a book can be.

Beverly Horowitz:  VP at Delacorte Press. Delacorte has evolved over the years and is now focused on MG and a wide variety of YA. The Newbery winner this year came from Delacorte and is a debut author! Their books include Fallen to Maze Runner, but they’re always looking for little gems (though that’s not the norm). Looking for books that will translate into international fairs, and she likes voices from other cultures.

Debra Dorfman: VP at Scholastic where they do everything from baby books to YA. In fact, lots of YA recently. Her focus is on middle grade and chapter books. Her group does hardcover series’ and works closely with book clubs/fair for paperback series’.

Moderator: Are there any genres that are endangered or growth spurting right now? (i.e. picture book, fantasy, etc.)

Beverly: With the demise of Borders we have to begin new thinking. Genres aren’t going to die, but they do cycle. Certain strong genres lead the pack. Borders demise is a sad thing. There’s an opportunity for independents to have great potential, but we should also not be afraid of the e-book. Be nimble! Big box stores are opening up to YA (stores like Walmart), though maybe not picture books yet. Everyone is going to need to re-think the business. With that, new ideas and opportunities will arise. The adult book world may have a harder time (in the short term).

Deb: I think there will be books moving to non-bookstore markets (mass retailers).

Beverly: Be optimistic AND realistic. Walmart and Target are not innovators. Don’t be too tough on the electronic future.

Julie: There is not one way to publish a book to success. Not being in Target is not the end of the world. Each will find their way. If the content is there it will find its audience. Take your time. Target can be a skewed view of the YA market.

Jen: Kids are always at the forefront of innovation. Meanwhile books with a 30th anniversary edition is an example of content that stays. Content is king.

Beverly: Sometimes you can be before a trend. Some cycle and come around. As publishers we look to the backlist to repackage a book. Suddenly a repackaged book can become big as it’s new to the audience ten years later. The kids market has a lot of turnover. Don’t use the old system. It doesn’t work anymore.

Moderator: What kind of skills does an author or illustrator need? What do you expect from them more than just the ability to write?

Deb: Put yourself out there. Websites, school visits, etc. Talk with your publisher. It helps if you create your own buzz.

Julie: Social media only works when it’s genuine to who you are. Do you want to do it? Do what’s natural to your marketing voice. Don’t force yourself to blog and tweet. It’s not what we expect. Do what’s genuine.

Jen: I agree. There’s a lot of anxiety for writers with social media. Focus on your writing.

Moderator: What about Self Publishing?

Deb: Amanda Hocking is a really interesting self publishing phenomenon. She’s been selling her paranormal YA novel online for 99 cents and gotten herself a multi-million dollar contract out of it. There’s a lot of different ways to do things now. In Japan girls are writing  YA novels and texting them to each other. People are putting things online and when it gets enough hits publishers are taking notice. However, these guys are the outlier and not the norm.

Beverly: It’s like Justin Bieber – he’s an outlier.

Jen: Independent publishing can be good for under-represented communities. That’s important. The LA Times did an article on the shifting face of what a family is and kids want to see themselves in print.

Julie: I firmly believe in voices finding their way. But beware of the “I submitted to some houses, got no’s, so they must be idiots” attitude. I believe in editing, and gate keeping. The book can be better! Or maybe it’s the 4th book you write that get’s published. We need moments of personal honesty.

Moderator: How does New Media affect Picture books?

Allyn: I believe in the traditional format, e-book included. The enhanced book is distracting and disrupts the purity of words and pictures. I’m not interested in moving stuff unless it’s about education.

Beverly: Can we put that in YA? These are questions being asked now. It’s evolving. Some of those enhanced book elements may work better with an older audience.

Julie: The content (or value) isn’t the book (the physical book). It’s the editorial team, the intellectual property, etc. That is the value that goes into the content.

Beverly: As things get cheaper (iPads etc.) the technology changes. Even the homeless have ear-buds in their ears.

Deb:  We are publishing all our YA books simultaneously in e-book and regular book, as well as a lot of MG. A lot of adults are buying and downloading YA today.

Moderator: Can you comment on the fact that NY Times Bestseller lists are not consistent? The hardcopy and e-books have different lists and are selling differently.

Beverly: Kids books are only 4% of the e-book market, while adult books have about 30-40%. We have a lot of room to grow.

Jen: Kids aren’t mini-adults. They are going to interact with technology in their own way.

Beverly: Browsing is the part of the e-book technology that hasn’t been figured out yet.

Moderator: Have you noticed a change in the reading habits of kids?

Deb: Looking to publish earlier chapter books, girls are jumping to chapter books rather than picture books.

Bev: I think it comes down to content. When someone says “My kid is reading Dostoevsky,” sure they understand the words, but do they understand the content? There are emotional needs of a child that need to be nurtured.

Julie: They are sophisticated readers but not emotionally ready. What do we give them? It’s a challenge. What are they ready for as a reader, but not as a person? We need to speak to the head and heart of a child. Older YA can be distinguished through voice or content. Some jump ship to adult books, but they don’t “get it.” They are not a mini-adults.

Jen: Something about the word “crossover” makes me bristle. I’d hate for us to ever not make the best book for that reader in the MG or YA market.

Moderator: Tell us about one of your upcoming books?

Deb: Ghost Buddy – it’s funny, heartfelt, and funny!

Bev: All the Earth Thrown to the Skythis is by an author who was originally an adult writer. It’s literary, compelling, and a lovely story. It’s a little game. I love the beauty of the writing and the passion.

Jen: Counting by Sevens is about exploring family identity and your place in the world.

Julie: I have two. The first is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It will blow open everything you know about John Green. And The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour which is a road trip book about figuring out what happens next once you discover that you’ve grown up. There’s a complexity and clarity in how she tells a story.

Allyn:  10 Little Caterpillars which is a poem picture book and Stars by Mary Lynne Rae which is an exploration of all things star.

Debra Dorfman is VP, Publisher Paperbacks, Non-Fiction & Licensed Publishing at Scholastic. She worked in the Scholastic Book Club division for twelve years, then move to Penguin Young Readers Group as President and Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap for seven years. In 2008, she came back to Scholastic. Some of her favorite books include Go, Dog, Go!, Stargirl, and Looking for Alaska.

Jennifer Hunt is VP of Acquisitions and Editor-at-Large for Dial Books. She was formerly Editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She is the editor of many award winning books including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacugalupi, and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.

Allyn Johnston is VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books which focuses on emotionally engaging, lyrical, and highly visual picture books for young readers. Allyn has worked with Mem Fox, Lois Ehlert, Marla Frazee, Avi, and M.T. Anderson.

Beverly Horowitz is VP Publisher of Delacorte Press. She began her career in the editorial department of Little, Brown in Boston. She’s held positions in all aspects of publishing including publicity and promotions, school and library marketing, and editorial. She has worked with Judy Blume, Louis Sachar, and many more!

Julie Strauss-Gabel is VP at Dutton Children’s Books.  A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard University she worked at Hyperion Books and Clarion Books before joining Dutton in 1992. She has worked with the authors: John Green, Galye Forman, Stephanie Perkins, Nina LaCour, Lauren Myracle, and many more.

Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 2)

In Part 1, Editor Krista Marino explained how YA Voice is related to diction, perspective, dialog, interior monologue, and character. In this second section she explains what makes a young adult voice unique and different from an adult writing voice.

Let’s Talk about the Teen/YA Voice in Particular:

  • YA is specific in terms of voice.
  • YA is teen experience, outlook, and their limited life experiences.
  • YA is about teen beliefs, likes and dislikes, etc.
  • Think about how small your life was when you were a teenager. Remember when you believed in Santa? What did you believe when you were in high school? Did you think you were going to marry your high school boyfriend?
  • An adult looking back on the teen experience is an adult book.
  • “When you’re young everything feels like it’s the end of the world.” – movie quote. Teens have no reference to know that things will get better in their lives, where as adults bring life experiences with them.
  • Teens are not making stupid decisions. They are making their decisions because they have only been on the planet for 16 years and don’t have any life experience.
  • Teens have nothing else to compare their experiences to.
  • When you are writing you need to erase the worldliness you’ve experienced over the years.
  • Your protagonist can’t be simple.
  • Every teen is questioning how other teens view them.
  • Your character must evolve. Voice can change as a character grows and learns over the course of the book. Voice must change with the evolution and movement of the book.

Exercises to Get to Know Your Character:

  • Exercise: List three character traits about your protagonist (i.e. sassy, romantic, uptight) then push yourself to go deeper and find out who they really are under those traits.
  • Exercise: Write two pages that tell you something new about your character. These pages do not need to go into the manuscript. See what they will tell you.
  • Exercise: Go to a public place and eavesdrop on teens. Write down their conversations exactly as you hear them. Now try to use that conversation in a scene you are writing. Watch how your characters interact.

Telling about Character in the Writing:

  • Weave info about your character into the story, but make it invisible.
  • In the writing insinuate how a character looks without listing everything they are wearing. Pick a particular trait to embody a greater image of the character. Example: A character wearing skull rings.
  • You can’t assume the reader knows what is going on inside your character. You need to clue them in. Is the character tired? Excited?
  • Layer your characters actions. Stomping could mean a character is angry, but they could also be embarrassed. Sometimes more is more.
  • It’s better for someone to tell you to cut than add.
  • Beware of too much telling, it will sound like you (the author) are speaking to the reader rather than the character.

Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 1)

Editor Krista Marino spoke at the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference and shared the following insight on how to perfect your YA voice:

There are Two Types of Voice:

  • Authorial Voice – this is when you know a book is by a certain author. For example you know when you’re reading a John Irving or Meg Cabot book.
  • Narrative Voice – This is the voice invented by the author and the voice of the protagonist.

What is Voice?

  • Voice is illusive and hard to define.
  • Marino’s says voice is made up of: diction, perspective, characterization, and dialog.

Diction as Voice:

  • Diction is vocabulary choices and a style of expression.
  • Think word choice!
  • Marino used an example from The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. She pointed out how the author does not use contractions in the novel to reflect the “old fashioned” sensibility of the town/people, but when a scene started to pick up in pace the author would begin to use contractions (Cannot vx. Can’t).
  • Focus on your character’s distinct vocabulary or expression. This doesn’t mean slang. This will reveal how the protagonist relates to the world.
  • Does your character use cultural references (X-men, animal planet) to define how they relate to the world? This is part of his or her diction.
  • Beware of leaning on cultural references too much for your voice. That will become a crutch. Take a look at Frank Portman’s King Dork as an example of teen voice that feels current without using specific cultural references.

Perspective as Voice:

  • This is the mental view of the character and how it affects the storytelling.
  • This is not point of view.
  • How does the limited teen experience influence how they view the world and the way they speak? For example look at the movies BIG and 17 Again. In Big you have a kid in an adult body. How does this “adult” act and speak to reveal they are really a kid? Or in 17 Again you have an adult in a kid’s body, how does action/speech reveal that they are really an adult with an adult way of thinking?
  • How does the setting (historical fiction or futuristic) change the experiences of your character?

Character as Voice:

  • Voice can convey info about character, age, gender, hobbies, religion, motivation, ambitions, looks, etc.
  • You must know everything about your protagonist.
  • Everything in the book with be filtered through the protagonist.
  • Character driven books are amazing because the character feels real and you (the reader) will follow them anywhere. The secret is to have an amazing character and a plot to sell to a larger audience.
  • Think about the protagonist in your favorite book and write down reasons why you like them. Why did they come to life for you? Was it their speech? Actions?
  • A solid 3D character will come to life and have a believable voice.
  • You need to know your characters and you want to know them emotionally.

Dialog as Voice:

  • This is about the verbal exchange in the book (not interior monologue).
  • Dialog directly reflects a character’s voice and personality.
  • This is about more than just the words.
  • Dialog needs to feel real, not like on a sitcom.
  • Dialog doesn’t exist just hanging there in space. If they just say something but there is no context for it, the reader won’t understand who they are and what they are thinking.

Interior Monologue as Voice:

  • Interior monologue is what the character is thinking and gives context to the dialog.
  • The #1 thing that Krista Marino finds is missing in manuscripts is interior dialog or interior monologue.
  • Interior monologue is important, if not most important to conveying the feelings, reactions, and judgments of your character.
  • Interior monologue shows a character’s perception of a scene and their feelings.
  • Without interior monologue we lose the inner emotional stakes of the scene.
  • All dramatic irony is lost without interior monologue.
  • You need interior monologue to create empathy, rather than having the reader observe and make guesses about the character.
  • You loose back-story, sarcasm, and emotion without interior monologue.
  • We always want to know what a character (on the page) is thinking.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 – Coming Soon!

Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

To Plot or Not to Plot?

Three Act Structure (from http://www.themoleskin.com)

I’m currently working on an essay on the differences between narrative, story, plot, and structure. I promise to share all of my findings in the near future, including all sorts of graphs and alternative plot structures than the good old Aristotelian model.

In my research, however, I came across a transcript from a lecture given by Scholastic Editor Cheryl Klein. If you are a little fuzzy on what Aristotelian plot is and how it manifests itself in YA and MG literature, I highly suggest checking out the links below. It covers all sorts of great topics including types of action plot, emotional plot, catharsis, and structure. It also uses great examples from YA and MG books! Don’t miss it! And it’s a great “brush up” if you already know about Aristotelian structure/plot.

Find the Transcript of Scholastic Editor Cheryl Klein’s Lecture Here: The Essentials of Plot  and Aristotelian Plot Checklist

The Quick Take Away: 2011 SoCal SCBWI Writer’s Day

It’s been awhile since I reported on a conference event, but never fear I’ve got lots of good information coming your way. I attended the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day this past Saturday with a variety of speakers from Susan Patron to Bruce Coville. Here’s a few quick take-away’s from the event:

Susan Patron Newbery Award Winning Author said:

  • Writing a novel is a thrill, it’s like riding off on a runaway horse, it’s thrilling and terrifying.
  • For children growing up is something that happens in the tiny details of everyday.
  • More on to come on winning the Newbery, new projects, and finding the heart of your story.

Tony Johnston author of almost 125 Picture Books shared:

  • If I keep alive to everything, a story will find me.
  • Keep it simple. But writing simply does not mean words must be short and easy. It should be the words that belong.
  • Don’t play it safe. Writing is about risk taking!
  • More to come on being inspired by your own emotions, the essence of childhood, and where to begin when writing a picture book.

Rachel Cohn New York Times Bestselling Young Adult Author said:

  • First impressions are really important with teen readers. You must get it right from page one.
  • Everything feels so big to a teen. It’s epic! It’s biblical!
  • Voice is the way you speak on paper.
  • More to come on what makes a good first page, working with a writing partner, and how to keep your teen voice authentic.

Bruce Coville Fantasy author of almost 100 books shared:

  • “Fairytale is the best way to tell the truth.” – C.S. Lewis
  • The world has become too small for the heart of a ten year-old. Fantasy liberates kids, it sweeps them off to a new place.
  • Ask the tough questions. Why are we here? What do we need? These are the riddles of our lives.
  • More to come on the difference between Sci-fi and Fantasy, tips for writing fantasy, and how to find the courage to dream.

10 Tests to Prove Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission

You’ve re-written your novel twenty times and you are about to poke your eye balls out, but is it really ready? How do you know when it’s time to start sending out submissions? Award winning author, and editor Deborah Halverson spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA conference about this very subject. She offered up the following ten tests to help you find out if you are ready for prime time.

1. Stop “Looking” — Voice

  • Looking reveals passive voice and generic narratives. I.E. smile, frown, face (as verb), glance, nod. Replace these reactions/actions in between bits of dialogue with dynamic action and body language.

Fix These Issues by:

  • Using dynamic language.
  • Inject more personality into your characters.
  • Change the character’s behavior
  • Change the entire scene – move the character around.

YA’s Most Used Words:

  • Look
  • Stare
  • Gaze
  • Turn to smile
  • Frown
  • Laugh
  • Great
  • Very
  • Wearing
  • Seem
  • Really
  • Just
  • Feel (show it instead)

2.  Twist & Drop — Characterization

  • Take the main character from your final chapter and drop him/her into the first scene (write or imagine). When he/she lands there, he/she should behave differently. Otherwise, reveals flat character
  • In MG and YA readers are looking for growth.
  • Tells – did I give an arc?

Ways to Fix These Issues:

  • Put larger obstacles in his/her path. Force the issue and be extreme.
  • Put more at stake, and make the loss more important. This adds emotional depth and will force epiphany
  • Stop playing it safe. Add flaws! You can still have a character that is likable and sympathetic.
  • Your character needs a core center – purity

3.  CIP Challenge — Cataloging the Concept (in the front of the book).

  • This reveals how focused you are, and the book’s place in the marketplace.
  • Hook: If you have a universal issue, have you provided a fresh approach. If not, it lacks focus and uniqueness.
  • Understand how to distinguish your book. Editors look for this right away.
  • TEST: Write one statement about your book include character(s), main theme and problem.

How to Fix This Issue:

  • Examine your theme.
  • Make your problems more defined, articulate your goal.

4. Read With Your Fingers  — Plot and Characterization

  • Read only the 1st paragraph of each of your chapters
  • i.e. The Golden Compass – there is NO stuttering, no time lost.
  • Look for escalation of plot, movement, things must be progressing.
  • Don’t meander.

How to Fix This Issue:

  • Scene Switch – cut of change “kill your darlings.”

5. “Blah, Blah” Bleck! — Dialogue

  • With a highlighter, highlight statement of plot facts.
  • You want dialogue to reveal personality and illuminate character.
  • Reveal emotion with dialogue. One character leading/influencing, awareness or behavior.
  • DO NOT state plot facts in dialogue.

How to Fix This:

  • Use broken statements, fragments in dialogue to reveal plot facts, and are more active and organic.
  • Show characters reacting to each other. You want back and forth dialogue.

6. Check For “As” — Voice

  • Reveals passive voice, distances narrative, less immediate voice
  • Search for “as”. If you have too many this is a red flag!

How to Fix This:

  • Make your voice more active.
  • Use direct sentences as they are more immediate.
  • Use sentence variety and length. Don’t describe how someone said something.
  • Use beats to add action. Do something!

7.  Scratch & Sniff — Setting

  • Do you have Ambiance? A sense of place ads depth.
  • Highlight sensual references. Anytime a passages engages one of the five senses in a tactile way is good.
  • Look for three highlights per chapter

How to Fix This:

  • Show your character interacting with the setting.

8.  The Italics Detector — Voice

  • Keep italics for internal thought.
  • Search for italics.
  • Really there is no reason for italics when used for emphasis. It creates a melodramatic feeling

How to Fix This:

  • Delete them.
  • Replace with dialogue.

9. Check Your Sleeve — Emotional Resonance and Narrative Sensibility

  • Beware of an adult sensibility. This comes from telling instead of showing.
  • Teens see judge, act, react, deal with consequences.
  • Scan for statements of feeling – telling, being adult.

How to Fix This:

  • Judge it youthfully and deal with consequences.

10.  The Eagle Eyes of Igor – Mechanics

  • Proofread! Look for errors/typos.
  • Ask someone objective – ideally someone you don’t know.
  • Not your critique group.

If you’ve passed all these tests then you are ready for submission! Good luck!

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth (Delacorte/Random House). She edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Books for ten years before leaving to write books full-time.

The Master List: 2010 SCBWI LA Conference

I’ve finally posted all of my notes from the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference!

For your convenience I have listed below and linked all of the keynote speeches and breakout sessions I attended to their corresponding posts. Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference!

2010 SCBWI LA Conference Keynote Speech and Breakout Session List:


FRIDAY:

SATURDAY:

SUNDAY:

MONDAY:

To learn more about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and their events visit them online at: www.scbwi.org

A View From The Top

From the top things look pretty good! But from such a high angle one has a different point of view of the marketplace. Four senior editors were kind enough to share their view of the current children’s book  marketplace at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference. This star studded cast included editors: Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney/Hyperion), Francesco Sedita (Grosset & Dunlap, and Price Stern Sloan), Jennifer Hunt (Little Brown), and Justin Chada (VP and publisher at: Simon and Schuster, Anthem, and Margaret K. McElderly Books).

MODERATOR: Tell us a little about yourselves.

FRANCESCO: I’m the publisher of two imprints at Penguin. I was at Scholastic for 8 years before, an also worked at Knoph adult before that. “Leading by Instinct” is my motto. The spirit of a project is what is most important to me. I also went to school for writing and am the author of Miss Popularity.

STEPHANIE: The school library introduced me to Little House On the Prairie, and later my heart was stolen by Harriet the Spy. I worked at Little Brown for 12 years, then Simon and Schuster for 6 years. Dutton for 9 years, and now I’m with Disney Hyperion. I was interested in working with an entertainment company and a smaller staff.

JENNIFER: I work at Little Brown. Initially I started on the marketing side, and I also did an internship with Beacon Press. I’ve also worked at Time and Money Magazines, and Random House Adult, as well as with Lee and Low’s multi-cultural picture books. I’ve been with Little Brown for the past 9 years. We are a small boutique house and we “strive to be the best in the class.”

JUSTIN: I work at Simon and Schuster. I work on the fourth floor.  I oversee 250 titles per year, and work with a staff of 15 editors and assistants. I used to write for kids television and this is my 12th year in publishing!

MODERATOR: Characterize what you do at each of your imprints.

FRANCESCO: Grosset and Dunlap was a licensed publisher for awhile, and did things like Star Wars, etc. We are trying to develop books for 1-10 years old and middle grade. Price Stern Sloan is the original publisher of madlibs, and is thought of as the obnoxious little brother to Grosset. We like to try to new things with format and develop new ideas. We are trying out a $9.99 picture book. We are playing with margins to make books easier to read. Some of our books include: Frankly Frannie, George Brown Class Clown, and Katie Kazoo Switch-a-roo.

STEPHANIE: Disney Press publishes all things related to Disney. But Disney Hyperion does non-Disney related content.  We publish everything from Pre-School to YA, and things that are high concept. We are author focused and have people like Mo Willems, Clementine (book), Rick Riordan, Ally Carter, Melissa De La Cruz’s Blue Bloods. We publish 100 books a year, including literary fiction through series. 80% of our titles (per year) are commercial, and 20% are literary.

JENNIFER: Our Imprint Poppy publishes Gossip Girl, It Girl, and other series of that nature. Little Brown Kids is our licensing and novelty imprint, and Little Brown Young Readers is our core list with picturebooks through YA. We are about quality, thoughtful work from editorial to marketing. We are a house that an author can find a career at. We want you to grow with us. We really like debut authors. We don’t give up on books. For example How to Train Your Dragon took a while to find its audience.

JUSTIN: Each imprint for us has its own team and is its own entity. Our philosophy is not all literary books are not commercial, and not all commercial books are not literary. Commercial = Kids are reading it. Books for young readers publishes series, picture books, and commercial stuff. Atheneum is our literary imprint. That’s where our Newberry’s come from. McElderly is a boutique imprint that does poetry and literary work, fantasy, and publishes authors like Ellen Hopkins. It’s very versatile.  We have no policy against sending things to multiple imprints, but research and find out who is right for you. We also have Simon Pulse and Aladdin, but I don’t oversee those imprints.

MODERATOR: What role does the Children’s Book Division play in your overall company?

JUSTIN: Children’s books used to be “cute,” but now we are a major presence. Children’s books actually float many companies. We are a major player!

JENNIFER: Children’s books plays a major role in our company. After all we did publish Twilight, which has gained a lot of respect for our imprint. But you never know what will be a blockbuster.

STEPHANIE: “Where’s Our Twilight?” (Joke). At Hyperion we are the only children’s book division and we are separate from Hyperion adult. We have actually made more money than Disney Press.

FRANCESCO: Children’s books are the sleeping giant, and we are slowly waking up. “If you’re not make mistakes you’re not taking any risks.” That is our philosophy.

JENNIFER: It feels great to be innovative!

MODERATOR: What is your allocation of resources in terms of advances, promotion, etc.?

JUSTIN: It’s different than it was before. There are less human resources and less marketing resources. For example if no one comes to a book tour then it was wasted money. Some of the bestsellers actually come from word of mouth and reviews. You need every dollar to count. Marketing online makes things more possible. Facebook and Twitter are great way to promote directly to consumers.

JENNIFER: We have a smaller list 100-120 books per year including series. We think a lot about each book and want to see where it fits in. I love our marketing team! But we try to be thoughtful for each book.

MODERATOR: How do you make acquisition choices?

STEPHANIE: We have A, B, and C books. Big, strong, and developing. We want authors to deliver year after year. Our resources are bad news. It feels like our work load has tripled. But we are a small enough company to keep and author in house. We want them to have a home and we pick our authors carefully. We like to see good ideas, strong execution, and then we think about compatibility.

FRANCESCO: We have low price points ($9.99) so we like to take on new voices.  We like successful series. For example the Frank Frannie books are $4.99. I hate the word mass market, I like to think about it more as a project that opens a lot of doors. It’s tricky all over the place. We do market every book, but we don’t have tons of money to promote books instead we have lots of smart people to help push it forward.

MODERATOR: What’s your opinion about multi-media and the importance of platforms? Specifically in the near future?

JUSTIN: E-books are great, and everyone else who doesn’t think so is wrong – in my opinion! All our hardcover books go into e-books now. There’s a growing audience. Adults are reading teen books on kindle now too. But there’s a weird discussion going on about apps vs. digital books. We are trying not to make the betamax. We want the VHS! “Looser Queen” is an online publisher.

FRANCESCO: Take a look at any proposal that’s direct to video. Read the digital stuff like The 39 Clues. Learn from it. We need your help too.

JENNIFER: We do think about digital assets even from the acquisitions point. Enhanced books, etc. The question is does the story lend itself to creative marketing?

STEPHANIE: Kingdom Keeper Series created a trans-media game where you have to read the book to get keys to the video game. The third book sold 70% more than the other two that did not have the game element.

FRANCESCO: The apps need to serve the story. If they do then tell me about it as part of the project proposal. Otherwise we have a whole marketing team who can dream up the other stuff.

JENNIFER: It’s about great writing for me!

STEPHANIE: Yes, first start with the story. Then get me with the second part about the marketing. But only if it is essential to the story.

JENNIFER: Focus on writing. Tell a great story.

MODERATIOR: Can you leave us with a word of council to everyone?

FRANCESCO: When you write, write for yourself first. Shut the door on what you’ve learned. Write what you want to write.

JUSTIN: Don’t write to trends. If you write to the trend then the Vampires win!

JENNIFER: Think about your own excellence and write toward that.

STEPHANIE: Write what you think is cool! Remember the child you once were.

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

Jennifer Hunt oversees the acquisition and development of all middle grade and young adult fiction for the Little Brown for Young Readers list. She edits a wide range of books including titles with Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, Cornelia Funke, Pseudonymous Bosch, Walter Mosley, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Francesco Sedita is an accomplished writer whose work includes an ongoing children’s book series; his literary career also includes his role as Publisher of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan. He developed and oversaw the marketing campaign  for the final book in the Harry Potter Series. He also recently edited the first young adult novel by author Ann Hood.

Justin Chada is the VP and Publisher at S&S Books for Young Readers, Atheneum Books, and Margaret K McElderry Books. He is an editor at Atheneum books. He has worked with authors and illustrators such as David Shannon, Jon Scieszka, Loren Long, Kenneth Oppel, Adam Rex, and Eric Wright.

Your Voice is Your Voice: Keeping It Real

An amazing voice is the number one “must-have” on every agent and editors list. So what is this odd and illusive thing known as voice? How do you find it? What does it sound like? Why is it so gosh darn important? Scholastic editor Jennifer Rees (The Hunger Games, Purge) spoke on this exact subject at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference. The following is her two cents on why you’ve got to have a knock-out voice and how to develop it.

The Importance of Voice…

  • Voice is the most powerful and prized possession in a writer’s tool box.
  • Voice is that amazing thing that taps you on the shoulder (the character) and asks you to come with them on a journey.
  • Great voice is not reserved for fiction alone. It can also be in non-fiction.

What is Voice?

  • When writing you are concerned about: What is the story? How do you tell it? What are you conveying? How do you maintain audience interest? Voice is what makes all of these things POWERFUL!
  • Voice is what the author has in common with all of their books. Rees sees a good voice as a sign that the author will be able to write other great books too.
  • Your voice is you. It is a reflection of you.  And you must write the story that only you can write.
  • You have a unique view of the world. Who is in your world and what do they have to say about it?
  • Voice is the writer’s presence on the page. (About writing with voice by Tom Ramano)
  • Voice is not concrete or tangible and yet it is the most important part of the book.
  • Voice is the hook that gets us interested from page one. It determines the audience and points back to the author.

Voice Example…

  • Complete this sentence:   When I was young in the…
  • The way in which you complete that sentence tells us about your voice. Everyone will complete it differently.

Voice and Character:

  • Voice is often talked about in the creation of your character. What is it the character notices? What is it that your character leaves out?
  • Characters need flaws. But what is their surprise? What will keep them on their toes?
  • In the book Purge it speaks to a specific topic (bulimia), it’s edgy, and the tension is high. There’s a lot going on in the book. But the surprise of the book is the humor. It’s a grim topic with a funny spin.
  • A voice will change depending upon the audience for a comment. For example if you quit your job. The way you tell this story will be different if you are talking to your best friend or talking to a future employer.
  • Character and voice are so interconnected! If the voice doesn’t work – is it fixable? It can point to a thin character. It might me a character that you (the writer) are not connecting with and thus the reader is not connecting with as well.
  • The voice of the narrator is not necessarily the voice of the book. There is more to it.

What I Learned As a Bookseller about Voice…

  • Rees spent years watching how customers would buy a book. Everyone will open the first page and decided if they will buy the book or not. That is the big ticket! This is stronger than the photos or back flap. It’s about the voice they see on the first page.

Common Pit-Falls in Voice:

  • Teen Speak – don’t go overboard with your jargon. Jargon often has little or nothing to do with voice. Voice is only believable if the character would actually say it.
  • Uneven Voice – When you are not sure how to say something. The voice seems to wobble. Strong voice plunges forward despite knowing where one is going, or how to say it.
  • Describing everything – use of excessive language and detail bout almost everything is a problem. Choose what is interesting about the specific place.
  • Lack of Voice in your Query – you want to infuse your query and synopsis with personality! Otherwise it is boring.

On Developing Your Voice:

  • Be fearless with language. Write about what you are emotionally moved by!
  • Say the rude-truth. Don’t be afraid.
  • The choice between first and third person are a personal preference, and reflects the type of story you are telling. First person tends to be easier to start with when you begin writing.
  • When you find your voice! Send it to me! (Rees)

Specific Books Discussed in Rees’ Presentation:

  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  • Wish I Might and Sunny Holiday by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
  • When I was Young In the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
  • The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins
  • Purge by Sarah Darer Littman
  • Finally by  Wendy Mass
  • Owen and Mzee by Craig Hatkoff

About Jennifer Rees and What She Looks for in a Submission:

  • Voice is the #1 thing that Rees responds to in book submissions.
  • Hook me on the first page with an unstoppable voice!
  • The voice of Katniss (The Hunger Games) was so powerful that Rees missed 3 subways and a bus while reading the submission.
  • Rees will read a submission until she gets bored and then stop.
  • She loves the work of Anne Lamott
  • Beware of “voice copies.” She gets a lot of these in her submissions. These are books that are copying the voice of another book on her list. This happened with the book Clementine. (Clementine is also one of her favorite books – ever!)
  • Rees has readers who go through her submissions.
  • She is looking for literary books! If you have one, send it to her!
  • The new book Purge by Sarah Derra Litman is one she is really excited about.
  • Rees does not work on series books.
  • If you want to query her you can send your submission to 557 Broadway, NY NY 10012. Write SCBWILA10 on it and mention that you were at her session. Just sent a query letter! If she requests the book then send a cover letter with the manuscript and include a SASE.
  • DO NOT CALL HER!
  • If you are an author/illustrator she likes to see a book dummy.
  • Feel free to send a SASE Postcard if you would like to know she got your submission.
  • Great non-fiction book that she likes is Chasing Lincolns Killer
  • Looking for: out of the box fantasy, and middle grade boy books.

The Difference Between Scholastic and Scholastic Press:

  • Scholastic publishes books like Harry Potter, Clifford, 39 Clues, The Magic School Bus. I didn’t work on any of those!
  • Scholastic press is the literary side of Scholastic. We publish things like: The Invention of Hugo Caberet, Rules, Drum Girls Dang Pies, and Mt. Anderson.
  • Out of the Dust was a book that really influenced Rees and Scholastic Press published it (before she was there.)

Editor Jennifer Rees

Books Jennifer Rees has Edited:

  • Picture Books: Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon, Swim! Swim! By Lerch, Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Craig Hatkoff, and Jibberwillies at Night by Rachel Vail.
  • Middle Grade: Sunny Holiday and Sweet and Sunny by Coleen Murtagh Paratore, Forget Me Not and Wish I Might by Coleen Murtagh Paratore, 11 Birthdays and Finally by Wendy Mass, Elvis and Olive by Stephanie Watson, and Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson.
  • Young Adult: Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins, Purge and Life After by Sarah Darer Littman, After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick, Everlasting by Angie Frazier, Forever Crumb by Philip Reeve, and The Hunger Games trilogy by Susanne Collins.

Learn More about Rees at:

Jennifer Rees got her start in children’s books as a children’s bookseller in Ohio. Since then, she’s found great joy in working as an editor at Scholastic Press, where she acquires and edits fiction and nonfiction picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels. A sampling of projects she’s edited include The Hunger Games Series, Winter’s Tail, 11 Birthdays, Purge, and Girls and Dangerous Pie.

Demistifying the Graphic Novel

Scholastic editor Nick Eliopulos is a graphic novel fanatic! At the 2010 SCBWI LA conference he shared his experience making the graphic novel The Sons of Liberty. He had so much insight into the graphic novel universe that I couldn’t fit it into one post! So if you have even an inkling about writing your own graphic novel then read on my fearless friends!

Publishers Want Graphic Novels!

  • Graphic Novels have gotten bigger and bigger in the publishing world in the last ten years. But progress is slow. Publishers are still trying to figure out how it all works.
  • Publishers see graphic novels as a way to expand their current market and get new readers.
  • Graphix is the Scholastic imprint that publishes graphic novels. They published Bone.
  • Graphic novels is growing in the publishing industry, everyone want to do one, but they are being picky due to cost.
  • Manga has hit a wall.

What Kind of Stories Can Be Graphic Novels?

  • The question to ask yourself is: is your story visual? This is the number one reason to tell your story as a graphic novel. If you have a lot of people sitting around and talking, then it may not be the right medium. Think about what the visual element brings to the story and how that can help it to be unique.
  • Plot, character, and voice are all the same when it comes to a graphic novel. Keep these story elements in your book. They are still just as important.
  • The media can accommodate all genres, even non-fiction. So be creative!
  • Not all graphic novels are action adventure. A lot are because it is visual, but it is not exclusive.
  • Baby Mouse is one of the youngest books (age group) Scholastic has created as a graphic novel.
  • Yes, Graphix has published girl young adult graphic novels.
  • Graphic Novels can really adapt within the market. They flow well between middle grade, young adult, or genre fiction. If one genre is hot, you can make a graphic novel in it.

Tips on Writing and Pacing Your Graphic Novel:

  • Writers should draw out some of what you are writing so that you can get a sense of how the book is working and the pacing. Use stick figures if you want.
  • A page in a graphic novel is a piece of artwork in and of itself, but that isn’t so with a novel. So you really need to consider what goes on each page and why.
  • Scene changes in the middle of a page can be very awkward visually.
  • End the page with a beat. This can be a cliff-hanger to get you to turn the page, but it doesn’t hallways have to be. An emotional beat works too.
  • The left page is different than the right page. Be aware of where a reveal is in your images. Turning a page is a good way to reveal something. But if you put the reveal on the right side, the viewer will skip everything on the left page and go straight to the reveal.
  • Can you show the transition from day to night visually? Do you need the word “Meanwhile” instead?
  • Will you use thought balloons? Whose thoughts do we get to see? Think about point of view. It is best to stay with the protagonist. Often we don’t want to know what is happening inside the bad guy’s thoughts. This can sometimes be done in movies, but it is harder to pull off in a graphic novel.
  • Sex and violence can get a book censored quickly. Anyone can open up a graphic novel and see a sexual picture and immediately take it out of context. With a novel, you usually have to read the book to find the dirty parts. Pictures are found much faster.

Finding an Artist for Your Graphic Novel Project:

  • Often submissions come in with an artist attached to a project. The process is different than a normal picture book project.
  • To find an artist, a great place to go is a comic book convention. Most of these conventions have an “artist’s ally” where you can view portfolios and talk to artists in person.
  • It’s best to find an artist who isn’t also a writer because they will often be less dedicated to your project.
  • Author David Levithan found his artist for his and Holly Black’s graphic novel through the San Diego Comic-Con.
  • You want to find an artist with an artistic vision that is similar to yours. There will be lots of cooks in the kitchen, so make sure you work well together and have a cohesive vision.
  • You could pay an artist to do some sample artwork for you, but be open to a new artist if the publisher isn’t hot about the artwork. But always work this out with your artist first.

What Do Publishers Want in a Manuscript Submission?

  • Include sample art if you are working with an artist.
  • Include a full (complete) script. Feel free to use a screenwriting program/software to format your script.
  • Check out the Marvel Website and see what they ask for in a submission. This is a great guideline.
  • Make sure you note page breaks in your manuscript as this is very important.
  • You do not need to thumbnail your whole book. If someone asks you to do that, they are really asking way too much of you. The problem is some publishers don’t know how to go about this process, so they just want to see more and more.
  • It’s good to illustrate the first five pages of the manuscript so the publisher can get a sense of the pacing and look of the book.
  • In general, higher profile agents send packages that include: 5-20 pages of art with the finished script. Publishers should probably take a clue from these agents.
  • All houses are making graphic novels and accepting submission differently. Try and research each house.

Great Ways to Promote Your Graphic Novel:

  • Put your work on the web. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was discovered online as a free web-comic, as was the new graphic novel Smile.
  • Websites are great for artists.
  • Yes, it is okay to put out a free digital comic book online. The publisher can always re-package a product. This was done with the book  Bone.

How Have Digital Mediums Changed Graphic Novels?

  • The iPad is a big game changer. Now you can read an entire graphic novel digitally and at high resolution.
  • There’s a lot of talk, but not much action yet to back it up. Scholastic talked about doing a middle grade graphic novel series as an e-book stunt, prior to the book coming out, but marketing wasn’t excited about it.

How Long Does It Take To Make A Graphic Novel?

  • Eliopulos wanted Sons of Liberty to take a year, but it actually too two and a half years.
  • Time line will depend mostly on your artist.
  • If it’s part of a series, a good way to work is to start writing the second book while the artist is making the art for the first book.
  • The typical page count of a graphic novel is under 200 pages. Sons of Liberty was 176 pages. Remember that pages cost money (for artwork, lettering, etc.).

Other Great Info:

  • Translated projects (with art already completed) are cheaper to produce in the US.
  • Some agents that represent graphic novelists are: Dan Lazar, and Jill Grinburg.
  • In general, Eliopulos sees submissions from writer/illustrators, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect quality so much as quantity.
  • If you’re an artist developing a portfolio, a great thing to do is to go online and check out Marvel’s website. They have sample scripts online that you can illustrate. They like these because it shows them how different artists will interpret the same text.
  • Payment for graphic novels is something that is still being hashed out. It seems to be moving toward a picture book model where the cut is 50/50 (writer/artist). But that can be tricky when you have different colorists and inkers, etc.
  • Rights are also a tricky issue. Whose work is it? The Authors? Did the illustrator add so much that really the property is theirs as well? It can be confusing.
  • Yes you can make a black and white graphic novel. In general, this is better for older age groups as children really respond to color, particularly little kids.

Graphic Novel Terminology:

  • Graphic Novel – This is a long form sequential art story with a book binding.
  • Sequential Art – A sequence of static panels.
  • Comic Book – Classic 32 page superhero thin book. It is made on thinner paper and comes out in episodic stories.
  • Manga – Eastern comics with a specific trim size.

Nick Eliopulos is an editor with Scholastic, following a 5-year stint with Random House Children’s Books. He has edited many middle-grade and young-adult titles, including the Tapestry series, The Pricker Boy, Unfamiliar Magic, and the forthcoming Sons of Liberty graphic novel. He has also worked on chapter books, cutting his teeth as an assistant on the Magic Tree House series.