Q&A with Disney Hyperion Editor Stephanie Owens Lurie

Disney Hyperion editor Stephanie Owens Lurie was one of the faculty members at the 2010 SCBWI LA National Conference. I attended her breakout session on How To Think Like a Publisher and the below question and answer session followed her presentation.

Q: Can you comment on the rights landscape?

A: You need to think about property in multiple ways. Everything is so new, and we are all exploring the possibilities. Yes, there will be rights discussions and fights. We are all working through this.

Q: How should one implement new technology?

A: Get your story down first, then think about technology. Share it with your editor and feel them out on the subject. It is not the authors idea to execute these ideas. Share them with the publisher. The publisher will produce the product.

Q: Why did you move to Disney Hyperion and how does it compare to other houses you’ve worked at?

A:  I love that Disney Hyperion is both a book publisher and an entertainment company.  I was interested in seeing how books can branch into new areas. For example Disney has just acquired Marvel, and so we will be making graphic novels! We are also a much smaller company than some of the others I’ve worked at, and I enjoy that aspect.

Q: Can We Submit Our Work To You?

A: No. Disney Hyperion has a very strict policy about non-agented work. We don’t accept it. Because Disney is a big company we are often getting sued about copyrights and plagiarism. Therefore we do not accept unsolicited work. Even if we win the lawsuits, we still have to pay for them in the first place.

Q: If you’re an illustrator and not a writer, what is your elevator pitch?

A: Look for a character in your portfolio that has the potential to become a book. Develop that character into a story. Become a writer/illustrator!

Q: In a recent New Yorker article it was quoted that 70% of all books don’t make back their advance. Is that true for children’s books?

A: It varies depending upon the advance.  In general if an editor continues to buy books that don’t sell out their advance, then the editor will get fired and the author dropped. Books last about two years now, which is less time than in the past.  We are hoping that the digital landscape will help to create new opportunities.

Q: What is the ideal number of book for a YA series?

A: It is better to have too few than too many. Limited series are always better. I would shoot for 3 or 4. You can always do a spin off later.

Q: With all the new opportunities for digital arenas, what is your thoughts on self publishing?

A: Publishers really help in so many ways – editing, distribution, expertise, know book sellers, etc.  But there doesn’t seem to be any harm in self publishing. However, if your book has been reviewed by a lot of people (yourself published book) then it can be hard to get it reviewed again later if a larger publisher publishes it.

Q: How has the iPad changed the game?

A: There’s all sorts of new apps now. Things like a marketing app, a Dr. Seuss App, a monetized app (which is a version of any sort of book with some type of game play). I suggest you click around and explore to see what is out there.

Q: What should an author have on their website?

A: Author info, a biography, information about how teachers can use your book, game play, etc. The key is to keep the content coming so someone will continue to revisit your site. Book content is always good. Websites are really essential for illustrators. I am always trolling online for illustrators. I don’t keep/use printed materials anymore.

Q: How does one contact their market?

A: Use Facebook, or do school appearances. Twitter it turns out is an older person’s thing, but you can still interact with other writers with twitter. Think about contact with your market as a pebble thrown in a pond. Everything you do causes ripples of some sort.

Q: Should authors make their own book trailers?

A: I am not a fan of authors making their own book trailers, unless you are a film student or have film experience. Otherwise they will end up looking very amateur. Book trailers are great for YA books. If you have an idea for a book trailer share it with your editor. If they like it the publisher will put up the cost to create a trailer for the book. Often book trailers will cost between 5 and 15 thousand dollars to make.

Q: What are some of your favorite current books?

A: I love M.T. Anderson’s Feed, The Book Theif by Marcus Zusak. Some of the new stuff Rick Ryerden is doing is very exciting. He’s really stretching himself.

Q: What are your thoughts on edgy content in YA novels?

A: Teens buy their own novels so using edgy content is less of an issue.  But I did hear some teen reader say recently that “We are not all depressed you know.” So feel free to move away from edgy content. Personally I am often looking for books that are uplifting and entertaining.

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.

Teens in Turmoil

Not all teen novels are about popularity and dating, some novels delve into darker themes like death, suicide, and war. In fact, darker issues have become more an more popular in recently published books. Death was on the forefront of the Teens in Turmoil panel at the LA Times Festival of Books where three daring young adult authors Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, and Cynthia Kadohata all discussed how they handled such delicate subjects. The following anecdotes where shared:

  • It is a misconception that writing a difficult or heavy book will not be a pleasant experience. Even if a book revolves around a difficult theme the process of writing the book is often very joyous. Some even felt a sense of joy and transcendence in the process.
  • Writing is about re-writing. Jandy Nelson went through 10 drafts of her novel The Sky is Everywhere before she even submitted it to agents. Cynthia Kadohata has gone through at least 7 drafts on all of her novels except Kira Kira. Gayle Forman wrote 12 drafts of the current book she’s writing before showing it to her editor. Write! Write! Write!
  • “I don’t believe in writer’s block!” – Forman. Writing is about momentum. Writers block doesn’t exist. Just write something, the energy of writing will transfer. The more you write the more the momentum builds. Momentum breeds momentum. Inertia breeds inertia.
  • “This is the golden age of young adult editors right now!” – Nelson. Young adult novels are getting a lot of attention right now, and there are amazing editors in the field!
  • “I didn’t know how the book would end, or what decision she would make.” – Forman. Sometimes characters have to make gut-wrenching decisions in books that deal with death. In Forman’s, If I Stay, her protagonist must decide if she wants to live or die after she’s lost all of her family. Indeed, the author herself didn’t know how the story would end. Sometimes the characters have to make those decisions for the author.
  • When writing for teens be careful of your adult voice. Often times authors can’t make the jump from adult literature to young adult (or vice versa) because their voice for one genre is so strong. Some of the authors present felt like they actually couldn’t write an authentic adult voice.
  • The difference between an adult book and a young adult book (other than the age of the characters) is a sense of hope and redemption in the end of the novel. Young adult books often have that hopeful quality, where adult literature can have a dismal or dark outcome.

Gayle, Jandy, Cynthia

Gayle Forman is the author of the young adult novels If I Stay, and Sisters in Sanity.

Jandy Nelson has just published her debut novel The Sky is Everywhere.

Cynthia Kadohata is the Newberry Award winning author of Kira Kira, as well as other novels for young adults including A Million Shades of Grey, and Weedflower.