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?
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.
--POSTED BY ALICE
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."
Allyn mentioned a great new interview with faboo Marla Frazee which you should all read.
--Posted by Jaime
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