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Alessandra Balzer is Vice-President, co-publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books. She edits everything from picture books to novels for teens.
Allyn Johnston is Vice-President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, a San Diego-Based imprint of Simon & Schuster. She publishes books "for all ages and across all genres" with a "primary focus on lyrical, emotionally engaging, highly visual picture books for young children."
The theme of the panel is for each editor to share their three must-sees and their three really-don't-want-to-see elements of a manuscript. Here are highlights of Alessandra and Allyn's comments:
Alessandra shares "I'm a sucker for voice." She needs to see voice, it conveys age, point of view, gender… it all comes through voice, and she must see that.
Allyn Johnson shares that she's looking for the unexpected. "If it has the ability to give me goosebumps" that's a really good thing. She also says that she's not a fan of long cover letters (she'd rather be surprised by the manuscript,)
As far as the what not to dos,
Alessandra cautions that the effort to not be boring can backfire if you overload the start of your manuscript with so much action and sex and drama that it's overwhelming… "introduce us to your characters."
And Allyn says, "Don't be weird." Don't submit your manuscript inside a plastic toy fish - which she s now holding up to prove that actually happened to her! [translation: your manuscript shouldn't need the gimmick to grab their attention.]
There's so much information and insights being shared!
Two last points, one for each:
Allyn Johnston - she asks herself of a picture book manuscript: Is it irresistible to read aloud? It must be, for her to acquire it.
Alessandra Balzer - in talking about having a hook, says, "what hook really means is the ability for the book to stand out." There's so much out there, what's going to make someone say, oh, you have to read this book - and that's yours?
Allyn Johnston is the Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Allyn and Marla Frazee have worked on a number of pictures books together (ROLLER COASTER, WALK ON, MRS. BIDDLEBOX, A COUPLE OF BOYS HAVE THE BEST WEEK EVER, BOSS BABY and more.)
Marla read the manuscript for an upcoming picture book called STARS. Allyn points out the unexpected language, that fact that is doesn't call out how it should be illustrated. It intrigues her.
Picture books, Allyn says, need to tell the story with both the text and the illustrations. The artist has to figure out how to do page turns, when to ramp up the emotions. A picture book has to build to a satisfying ending. They are written to be performed--and this is something that a lot of new writers forget. You have to think about the fact that you're writing something that will be read aloud. That's the key goal.
In the manuscripts Allyn gets, bad rhyme is a common problem. She also sees lot of manuscripts that aren't picture books but feel like they should be part of a chapter book. She's looking for manuscripts that give her "the feeling" a good picture book should. It's a rare manuscript that has that kind of strength, she says.
Allyn says writers should not send illustrations notes with their manuscripts--99.9% of the time, they are not necessary.
Marla disagrees with the notion that readers should be able to follow the story of a picture book without text. For books like ALL THE WORLD, she tries to think about what the text feels like when she's approaching the illustrations, allowing her illustrations to evoke a feeling rather than offering a literal interpretation of the text. She's prefers text that is not specific.
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Looking Back on CWIM: The 2000 Edition An Interview with S.E. Hinton...
This edition of CWIM saw the addition of Agents & Art Reps and section devoted to SCBWI Conferences. Among the publishing professionals interviewed: Caldecott Winner Jacqueline Briggs Martin; Allyn Johnston, then editor at Harcourt (who now has her own S&S imprint, Beach Lane Books); YA novelist Francesca Lia Block; SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver; Writers House agent Steven Malk; and more than half a dozen others including a feature with the iconic author of The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton who at the time was coming out with her first picture book.
Here's an excerpt from the Q&A by Anne Bowling:
You were 15 when you started writing The Outsiders, and wrote 4 full drafts for the next year and a half before you had the manuscript. Did you have a mentor at that time, or was someone guiding your revisions?
No. I love to write. Actually, The Outsiders was the third book I had written, it was just the first one I had tried to publish. The first two ended up in drawers somewhere--I used characters from them later in other books, but I certainly didn't go back and rework them. Everybody's got to practice.
When I was writing The Outsiders I would go to school and say "Well, I'm writing a book, and this has happened so far, and what should happen next?," 'cause I'd get stuck. Someone would say, "Oh, make the church burn down." And I'd say, "That sounds good, I'll make the church burn down." I was just doing it because I liked doing it.
Because there was very little being published at that time for young adults that included such violent content and emotional depth, were you concerned at all that the book was really pushing the envelope?
No, I wasn't. One reason I wrote it was I wanted to read it. I couldn't find anything that dealt realistically with teenage life. I've always been a good reader, but I wasn't ready for adult books, they didn't interest me, and I was through with all the horse books. If you wanted to read about your peer group, there was nothing to read except Mary Jane Goes to the Prom or
A knockout first session with the VP and Publisher of Simon & Schuster's Beach Lane Books. Allyn spent the session talking only about the words in a picture book with a focus on great opening lines. She handmade a bazillion blank dummies which the audience borrowed. As a group we turned the 'pages' of the books that Allyn read aloud which helped us all experience the rhythm and pacing of each picture book.
Some of the titles Allyn read (she is a SUPERB storyteller!) included: Mem Fox's HATTIE AND THE FOX, Debra Frasier's ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN, and Laurie Keller's SCRAMBLED STATES OF AMERICA
Allyn stressed that all of the titles above were gifts to the adult reader, setting them up to be mesmerizing tale tellers for our target audience. She asked that everyone read READING MAGIC by Mem Fox For Allyn, "Picture books are an extremely emotional art form. When they work – why they work, is because they make you feel something." She then quoted Mem Fox, "You want the audience's emotional temperature to be changed throughout the reading experience."
Lin: What did you see today? Allyn: I didn't ask to buy anything today. I did ask everyone who sat at my table to send me something, but that thing might not be the thing we talked about today. Everyone should go home and think about that.
Ari: I got a lot out of being in a critique group and hearing the comments of the writers who brought up things I didn't think of. It just goes to show that every editor is going to thing a little differently about your work.
Lin: What advice would you offer writers on using the comments they got today?
Wendy: Go home and think about the comments you got today and decide what resonates with you. If you're consistently getting the same feedback, those may be the things you should concentrate on.
Ari: There's always a lot of negotiating between and editor and a writer. Think about the comments you got and if you don't think they'll work for your story, think of another way to solve them.
Jaime interviewed the always awesome Allyn Johnston, Vice President & Publisher of Beach Lane Books, who will be offering three breakout sessions on THE REAL DEAL ABOUT PICTURE BOOKS. Click here to read the interview with Allyn.
And be sure to tune in *RIGHT HERE* starting Friday, for exclusive live Winter Conference coverage by our crack team of bloggers, Jaime, Jolie, Lee, Suzanne and Alice!
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the SCBWI Houston Editor’s Day, where five editors — Simon & Schuster’s Alexandra Penfold, Beach Lane Books’ Allyn Johnston, Golden Books/Random House’s Diane Muldrow, Egmont USA’s Elizabeth Law and Sleeping Bear Press’ Amy Lennex — talked about what they look for when they’re considering a book to publish, and the theme that came out of the day was books that resonate. Everyone seems to want books that kids will want to read over and over again, even when they become adults.
So what are these books that resonate? CNN yesterday posted an article offering some excellent examples: Children’s books: Classic reading for fans. The article talks about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, the Madeline books and Where the Wild Things Are.
The interesting thing is, the article says that often these books weren’t shoe-ins to publication. Dr. Seuss, perhaps one of the most famous picture book writer, was rejected 25 times before his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was picked up. And Where the Wild Things Are, although a Caldecott Medal winner, was controversial for its artwork.
For all of you who have gotten rejections, remember, DON’T GIVE UP.
If you have a story that you love with all your heart, even if it’s a little unorthodox for the genre — within reason, of course, in the case of children’s books — don’t let rejections get you down. Keep sending it out. One day, you’ll find the right editor and/or agent who will be the book’s champion, just like these books did.
Another interesting point of the CNN article is a quote by Alida Allison of the San Diego State University, who says all these classic books describe stories that follow a pattern of “home, away, home.” hmm Here are some other classic books that follow that pattern: Peter Pan; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (in fact all the Narnia books); and Wizard of Oz. Maybe there’s something in that.
In the CNN article, Allison says: “If you think of all those stories, there’s a loving parent … allowing a transgressive kid a leash to investigate the world and come back.” And through the child’s eyes, parents find their sense of wonder renewed, she adds.
When I was a kid — and still now, I have to admit — any book is exactly that: an opportunity to investigate the world, any world, and come back.
Ginee Seo, v-p and editorial director of Ginee Seo Books, an imprint of Atheneum Books for Young Readers at Simon & Schuster, has resigned from her position with the publisher, according to an internal memo sent earlier this week by Atheneum v-p and publisher Emma Dryden.
The short PW piece recalls some other recent changes in editor-driven children's imprints:
The past year has seen several changes at editor-driven children’s imprints at major houses, including the resignations of Laura Geringer and Joanna Cotler from their eponymous imprints at HarperCollins, as well as the formation of two new imprints, HarperCollins’s Bowen Press, headed by Brenda Bowen, and S&S’s Beach Lane Books, with Allyn Johnston at the helm.
Saturday Morning Panel: Today in Children's Publishing...
Since I stayed up past two a.m. last night, I didn't make it to the first morning ballroom session on picture books with Arthur Levine, but I did end up having a serendipitious breakfast with illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg (who was sporting some great temporary tattoos of mermaids in support of her book Mermaids in Parade) and we talked about picture books, so I kept to the morning theme.
After some sub-par $8 oatmeal, I made it to the Today in Children's Publishing panel featuring Brenda Bowen of The Bowen Press and Walden Pond Press, Debra Dorfman of Scholastic, David Gale of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Dianne Hess of Blue Sky and Scholastic Press, Elizabeth Law of Egmont Books USA, and Allyn Johnston of S&S imprint Beach Lane Books. (Interesting to note the the majority of the panel have recently taken on their current positions and several--Bowen Press, Egmont and Beach Lane--are brand new imprints.)
Lin Oliver moderated the panel. One question she asked was What's different now in the industry--what defines children's publishing today?
Here's a little from each panelist:
David Gale: He said publishing now is more complicated and kind of schizophrenic, without rules. The picture book market is still soft. The cost of producing a book is more challenging--tighter P/Ls--it's more difficult to make books earn money on paper when they are trying to get them approved. There's a lot of contradiction, and publishing a book is more of a gamble than ever.
Elizabeth Law: She discussed the fact that a company is always looking for more growth and more cash. And with higher numbers come more pressure.
Dianne Hess: She said marketing is at the forefront of publishing now.
Debra Dorfman: She talked about mass market accounts (Toys'R'Us, Wal-Mart) trying to dictate to them what they should be publishing as well as designs for products and price points.
Brenda Bowen: She said everyone can get their material out there now--as opposed to 10 years ago--via the Internet.
Allyn Johnston: She said, during her days at Harcourt, everything was lumped together in terms of sales. Now, at her new imprint, she feels like there's a spotlight on the outstanding expenses and the pressures on e to sell when their debut list materializes.
Lin Oliver asked if publishers track what's going on online--and they definitely do. They all talked about ways their companies are trying to attract kids to books online, create book projects with interactive elements, finding readers on MySpace, etc. Social networking sites are definitely on publishers' radar it seems.
Allyn Johnston, formerly editorial director at Harcourt in San Diego, where she worked for 22 years, spoke at a CLN event here in Minneapolis last week. I had heard her speak before, and I was interested to hear what she would share about her new imprint (still unnamed) at Simon & Schuster, where she accepted a position after her job at Harcourt was eliminated.
About 40 area writers and illustrators gathered at Debra Frasier's house to hear Allyn talk, ask questions, and catch up with colleagues and friends we hadn't seen in a while. Allyn's talk was informal, funny, and passionate. She spoke about the trauma of losing her job and the challenge of starting a new one with some very different responsibilities in such an open, honest way. It was an intimate setting, and it would feel rude to recount the conversation in which she really shared her own hopes, fears, and frustrations with us.
But there are a few things I can share, especially for those of you who aren't acquainted with Allyn and her tastes.
Allyn's real love is picture books. That's what she's passionate about.
She looks to picture books to forge a connection between the adult and the child.
Picture books are like miniature pieces of theatre, with each page turn moving to a new scene. That last page turn, from 30-31 to 32, that's the one that has to have the strongest emotional impact. That's where the arrow "goes right in there" (thumping chest).
Picture books are also like poems, due to their spareness and emotional density.
She used to not like rhyming books, until her son (now 12 years old) was born. Now she publishes quite a few of them.
Andrea Welsh (also from Harcourt, formerly Andrea Beebe) will be working with Allyn starting in mid-July.
The imprint will publish 20-25 books per year, mostly picture books, but some novels and nonfiction, as well.
She doesn't like illo notes unless they are ABSOLUTELY necessary.
A few books will come out in spring of 09, but they won't have the imprint name on them.
The official launch will be in summer of 09, with a 3-book launch.
She likes the briefest possible cover letter. Include your credits, but not a big summary of your story. Try to pretend you're writing a sales handle for your manuscript. But, don't open with something like: "Dear Allyn Johnston: All children love dogs."
In addition to Allyn Johnston leaving Harcourt, the company's acquisition by Houghton Mifflin has brought about a number of other changes as well. Here's the scoop I've gotten at this point.
Harcourt Children's Books, now an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group, will be moving all operations to New York by the end of June (same address as Clarion Books). Betsy Groban is the senior vice president and publisher of the HMH Children's Book Group, and Jennifer Haller is associate publisher. Art director Michele Wetherbee is leaving the company.
At this point, the status of imprints Voyager Paperback, Odyssey Paperbacks and Red Wagon Books are under consideration. Harcourt Children's Books will be publishing only hardcover picture books and fiction. The company continues to not accept unsolicited manuscripts, preferring agented material.
Here is the current Harcourt information as it stands:
HARCOURT CHILDREN’S BOOKS Imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group, 215 Park Ave South, New York, NY 10003. Web site: www.harcourtbooks.com. Senior Vice President and Publisher: Betsy Groban. Associate Publisher: Jennifer Haller. 20% of books by first-time authors; 50% of books from agented writers. "Harcourt Children’s Books publishes hardcover picture books and fiction only.”
Harcourt Children's Books no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts, queries or illustrations. Recent Harcourt titles Tails, by Matthew Van Fleet; Leaf Man, by Lois Ehlert; The Great Fuzz Frenzy, by Janet Stevens and Susan Steven Crummel; How I Became a Pirate and Pirates Don't Change Diapers, by Melinda Long, illustrated by David Shannon; and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, by Adam Rex, are all New York Times bestsellers. Other Harcourt titles include Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks; and Each Little Bird That Sings, by Deborah Wiles, a 2005 finalist for the National Book Award.
How to Contact/Writers Only interested in agented material. Illustration Only interested in agented material. Photography Works on assignment only. Terms Pays authors and illustrators royalty based on retail price. Pays photographers by the project. Sends galleys to authors; dummies to illustrators. Original artwork returned at job's completion.
I had a feeling in wouldn't take Allyn Johnston long to find a new position. (Yay!) This just in from PW:
Allyn Johnston is joining Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing as v-p and publisher of a yet-to-be named imprint, effective immediately. Her imprint, which will concentrate on picture books and middle-grade fiction, will be located in San Diego. She will report to Rubin Pfeffer, senior v-p and publisher of Children's Trade Publishing.
I've known since last week that Editor-in-Chief Allyn Johnston was leaving Harcourt after 22 years there. The news just broke in PW Children's Bookshelf yesterday. Today is Allyn's last day at Harcourt. Over the years she's worked with authors and illustrators the likes of Jane Dyer, Lois Ehlert, Mem Fox, Cynthia Rylant, Debra Frasier and Marla Frazee.
Allyn wrote a wonderful piece for me focusing on picture books for the 2009 CWIM, finishing it up soon after she was let go. Reading her piece, feeling her love of picture books, getting a glimpse of what an insightful editor she is, made me sad to think that someone who it seems was put on this earth to edit picture books could be let go as a result of a corporate merger (Houghton with Harcourt).
Here's a excerpt of her CWIM piece:
“Authors and illustrators are our most important resource. Without them none of us would be here. Our primary job in the editorial department is to maintain—and build—strong, trusting, collaborative relationships with them so they keep bringing their projects to us. And when those projects are wonderful, great. The editorial development process is relatively smooth. But when talented folks bring us weaker ideas—or ideas that don’t quite make sense yet—we must try our best to help them figure out how to make the project work and to coax it out of them without being discouraging. I think our biggest role, then, is to believe in our authors and illustrators, to believe great things can happen.”
I wish great things for Allyn as she moves on to the next phase of her career. As soon as I have news about what she'll be doing next I'll let you know in this space. In the meantime, you can contact her here.
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Featured speakers include: LIN OLIVER, a Co-Founder of SCBWI and a sensational speaker, is joining us for the weekend and will kick off the conference with an Opening Talk on Saturday morning. Lin will also lead a workshop on dialogue. Julie Strauss-Gabel, Dutton Children’s Books, Sr. Editor (just announced Assistant Editorial Director) Caitlyn Dlouhy, Simon and Schuster, Associate Editorial Director Joy Neaves, Front Street Books, Sr. Editor Molly O’Neill, HarperCollins, School and Library Marketing Associate (just announced moving to editorial side!) Carole Boston Weatherford, author of many books, but most recently, MOSES, a Caldecott Honor Book, New York Times Best Seller List Frances O’Roark Dowell, author of Chicken Boy, Dovey Coe, and Where I’d Like to Be, among other middle grade novels
Special Events include: *Friday Editors’ Evening. This new and exciting addition to our fall conference will allow attendees to meet and mingle with all of the guest speakers on Friday evening while enjoying hors d’oeuvres, and then listen to Julie Strauss-Gabel, Joy Neaves, and Caitlyn Dloughy talk about what they think makes a good book, and why, plus read from their favorite book or work-in-progress. *The Saturday Night Crystal Ball. All conference attendees are invited to get together for two-hours of a light dinner buffet and lots more, to help celebrate our 15th anniversary.
...and much, much more! Download registration form here.