Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Editor Round Table: Razorbill

Biographies of the Razorbill round table editors:

"Kristen Pettit has been in the publishing industry for thirteen years. She began her career at Parachute Publishing, a packager of teen and middle grade books. During her six year tenure there, she worked with mega-selling authors like R.L. Stine and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. At Razorbill, her focus has been on stand-alone teen books with original voices and undeniably broad appeal. Highlights include Kirkus-starred, Borders November Original Voices pick, and BBYA Nominee Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Barnes & Noble bestselling hardcover series Bloodline by Kate Cary, Barnes & Noble bestselling paperback Pretty Little Devils by Nancy Holder, KLIATT-starred, YALSA Popular Humor Pick, and upcoming Lifetime Original Movie True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglass, BCCB-starred Catch by New York Times columnist Will Leitch, Edgar Award-nominated middle grade series Wright and Wong by Laura Burns and Melinda Metz, and graphic novel and ALA Quick Pick Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle by Nathaniel Marunas. In the spring, she'll publish Razorbill's lead title, Audrey, Wait! by debut author Robin Benway."

"Lexa Hillyer interned at a literary agency for a few months before beginning her editorial career at HarperCollins Children's Books in March 2003, where she worked on books by Meg Cabot, Rachel Vail, Maureen Johnson, Hailey Abbott and others. She was on the editorial panel for the inaugural HarperTeen fanlit contest, brainstormed the upcoming Running Horse Ridge Series, and was on the judging panel for the Ursula Nordstrom Prize for Fiction. Lexa joined the Razorbill team in May 2007 and now edits the brand new tween series from Zoey Dean, Talent, in addition to other exciting upcoming teen projects. Her taste runs from the younger end of tween to the older end of teen; from strong, literary, voice-driven novels to fun, fast-paced, addictive series. She is mostly interested in chick lit, realistic fiction for girls and some paranormal stories, but is always looking for the next great thing with a fresh story, fun hook and impressive prose."

"Jessica Rothenberg joined Penguin as an Editorial Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher after graduating from Vassar College in 2004. While at Penguin, she worked on a variety of fiction and nonfiction titles with such bestselling authors as Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Susan Vreeland, Richard Shell, and Guillermo Martínez. Since jumping (more like skipping) across the street to Razorbill, she's had the pleasure of editing a number of truly fabulous books—including the South African sensation Spud, the cheeky and hilarious Those Girls series, and the B&N bestselling paranormal romance series Vampire Academy (excerpt)(think Twilight, but racier), to name a few. Other exciting upcoming projects include Zorgamazoo, a whimsical fantasy novel written entirely in rhyme, Hottie, a 'tween series about a Beverly Hills princess with superpowers, and the much-buzzed-about YA debut from New York Times Bestselling author Allegra Goodman, The Other Side of the Island. She's always on the lookout for fresh, funny, voice-driven fiction—whether YA or middle grade—and is most interested in teen romance, literary fiction, and hilarious, high-concept 'tween and teen series that kids can't put down."

"Laura Schechter joined the Razorbill team in January 2007. She is interested in projects as diverse as fashion manuals, literary YA fiction, and big, scary stories for boys involving many-legged monsters."

Could you give us a brief overview of Razorbill? What sorts of books do you publish?
Kristen: There are books like the one I just published, Thirteen Reasons Why, a stand-alone hardcover which is the perfect YA book. It's a fast-paced psychological thriller, but its combination of high-concept, deep meaning, and strong plot transcend genre, appealing to every teen.

Jessica: Then we do books like Spud, a hilarious coming of age novel about a boy in boarding school that appeals to kids and adults of all ages and has been compared to The Catcher in the Rye because of its original voice.

Lexa: Finally, we do books like Talent, a big contemporary paperback series with really broad appeal and a fun hook that fits right in to what teen and tween girls are reading and buying.

Do you have a certain philosophy or approach that characterizes your list?

Laura: We're looking for big, broadly appealing material with voices that are original and gripping: books kids will want to buy, pass around to each other, and stay up late at night reading. Whether it's outrageously funny, deeply moving, or edgy and unique, we're looking for the kind of read that stays with you long after you've turned the last page.

What is the history of the imprint? What inspired its launch? How has it evolved?

Kristen: Razorbill was formed in 2003 to give Penguin a real focus on YA stand alone titles and series. Under the direction of Ben Schrank, Razorbill has continued to hone the nature of the books and the public awareness of the imprint.

Lexa: It's a continuing process and we're all excited to be involved in it.

Jessica: In the past year we've worked hard to be as dynamic and exciting and fresh as possible. Our goal is always to be at the front of this area of the industry.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

Lexa: Everything!

Kristen: It varies from author to author. In some cases we get involved at the concept level and help authors step by step to build and plot their books. It's tremendously exciting--a gift really--to be that much involved in the story.

Jessica: We're friends, mentors, cheerleaders and therapists by turns.

Lexa: We're also the spokesperson in-house for the author and the book, building enthusiasm with the sales and design teams and looking out for the best way to find success for the book and develop the author's career.

Kristen: Because we are the ones who are closest to the book, we also do our best to help marketing with cutting edge ideas for how to build buzz and grow interest.

Jessica: Also we sneak into Barnes & Noble and rearrange the books on the shelves, hand copies out to everyone we know, and...

Kristin: … Occasionally dream about the characters.

What are its challenges?

Lexa: Everything! It's a challenge to balance the author's vision for the book with the other needs the book often requires in order to make the biggest splash possible in a very complex and crowded marketplace.

Jess: ...To get people in-house excited about the book when they have to think about every other book in every other imprint just at Penguin alone.

Kristen: You have to pick between your children as well, and you want every author to feel special and getting the attention he or she deserves.

Laura: Sophie's choice!

What do you love about it?

Jessica: Working with the authors so closely, collaborating with them at every stage. Seeing a manuscript turn into a beautiful finished book is incredibly rewarding.

Kristen: So few people actually make something anymore: we turn an idea into a physical object that goes out into the world and makes people's lives nicer.

Laura: Discovering authors who can become beloved by a whole world of readers--paving the way for them to reach a big audience.

Lexa: Yes, and inspiring kids to read.

Laura: Plus the salary. Not!

How has publishing changed--for better and worse--since you entered the field?

Kristen: I think YA publishing has changed for the better. Our readers are very sophisticated. Our industry has discovered and addressed that in the last 10 years.

Jess: Our books deal with things that kids really go through.

Lexa: And there's a much stronger awareness of what makes a satisfying story. We don't take for granted the attention of the readership because there's so much competition with other media now. People realize editing a book for a teen may even require more rigorous work than editing an adult book because teens have so much else pulling their attention away constantly. We have to fully understand what they're interested in and how that's evolving.

Jess: We have a whole new way of accessing kids now via the Internet, which has really changed the nature of how teens read and how we get the books into the world.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript?

Lexa: A voice I haven't heard before, a story I want to know the ending to, and something in the character that surprises me.

Laura: A very detailed, well-articulated world full of convincing elements.

Jess: A voice I respond to emotionally--either laughing or simply caring enough for the characters that I want to see what happens to them.

Kristen: For me plot is king. I really want something that's going to sweep me up and take me out of my surroundings, rendering me unable to stop.

Jess: And a concept that's totally fresh and appealing with a great hook.

Laura: You want to be transported: either by the voice, the world, the plot, or the characters (and hopefully all of the above).

Lexa: And something that feels like it will awaken excitement in teens because it fits what's happening culturally.

Kristen: The book needs to reflect the emotions and experiences of the average teen reader.

How can writers/illustrators get in touch with you/the house?

Lexa: Through their terrific, hardworking agents.

Any submission recommendations or pet peeves?

Laura: Sending submissions that are clearly outside the scope of what we publish, showing me that no research has been done about our imprint.

Kristen: Multi-media submissions: your work should speak for itself.

Lexa: Unrealistic expectations.

Kristen: Defensiveness or justification about writing a teen book (we know why it's a good idea to write for teens!).

Lexa: Comparing your book to Harry Potter. That and getting my name spelled wrong on the letter. Oh, and lies! Don't lie in your letter.

Please describe your dream author.

Laura: A dead one! Ha, just kidding. But we did just acquire a zombie novel so I've got the dead on the brain.

Kristen: Two words: Jay Asher. But seriously! Someone who is talented, unpretentious, and devoted to the cause of promoting his own words.

Jessica: An author who trusts you and knows you're doing everything you can to make the book successful.

Kristen: A partner, someone who doesn't sit back and wait for you to do the work

Jessica: Someone who understands it's about more than just writing a book, it's about getting it out there

Lexa: I always admire an author who is timely and professional in addition to endlessly passionate about their story. Writers who understand that writing is a project--it's hard work, it involves stress and angst and it's worth all of that and more to make the book great. Not just okay, here's my first draft. . .

Kristen: ...Right. "My mom loves it, it's truly a perfect novel as is.”

Jess: ...If that were the case we'd all be out of jobs!

Please describe your dream illustrator.

Laura: We don't work with them extensively, but . . .

Kristen: People who add a new dimension to the story.

Jess: Illustrators who bring something creative to the book and enrich it.

Do most of your books begin as submissions from writers, writer-illustrators, or agents? Why?

Lexa: Agents. We don't accept unagented material.

What do you do when you're not reading, writing, or editing?

Kristen: Funny! My husband just asked me that same question last night.

Lexa: Breathe and sleep

Laura: What do you mean? Are there other things to do?

Everyone: Drinking heavily and in each other's company.

Jess: "Gilmore Girls."

Lexa: Tune into to what's hot in the rest of the world, so we can steal it and put it right back into our books.

Kristen: Ruin the plots of TV shows and movies for those I love.

Lexa: Me too! So true.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Author Interview: Verla Kay on Rough, Tough Charley

Verla Kay writes historical picture books in a special kind of poetry she calls "cryptic rhyme." She has sold a total of eleven picture books, three of which are still "in the works."

All eight of the books that have been published have received recognition, including Tattered Sails, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Putnam, 2001), which was named a Child's Best Book of the Year by Child Magazine.

The text of Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails (Putnam, 2000) will be in an upcoming second grade social studies program in schools. Verla's newest book, Rough, Tough Charley (Tricycle, 2007), received a starred review by PW.

Verla Kay's website, which she designed and maintains herself, was named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2000 and again in 2005 by Writer's Digest. Her message board page has gotten an average of over 600,000 hits per month since January of 2007.

Besides writing award-winning picture books, Verla is an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature.

Congratulations on the release of Rough, Tough Charley, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Tricyle, 2007). Could you fill us in on the story?

Charley was a renowned stagecoach driver from the 1850's and 60's, who was best known after death when the doctor preparing Charley's body for burial discovered "he" was a "she!" Charley was acclaimed as the best and fastest stagecoach driver in the motherlode (gold country in California) and was so well-respected as a "man" that she was buried with full Odd Fellow's Lodge honors even though she was a woman.

Charley's grave was two blocks from the home I lived in as a teenager, and I thought everyone knew about her until I moved away from Watsonville, California. She was one of the first women to ever vote for a president (might even have been "the" first!), voting 52 years before women were given the vote.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I have been captivated by Charley's story ever since I first heard it. When I learned that everyone didn't know about Charley, I wanted to share it--especially with children, who could derive inspiration and hope from it.

Charley seems to tell kids, "You can do anything with your life you want to do, as long as you are willing to sacrifice and work hard for it." Charley wanted to drive stagecoaches in a day when women were "just" housewives and mothers. In order to do what she wanted to do, she had to "become" a man. So she did.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Since 1994 I have written this story four times--as a picture book, an easy reader, a short 10 chapter book, and again as a picture in my own style of cryptic rhyme. It sold in 1998 in its chapter book form.

I waited five years for it to be published, and the week it was going to print, it was canceled, as Millbrook Press was being bought out by Lerner and the new publishing company didn't want to pick it up. That's when I rewrote it in cryptic rhyme.

While it was under negotiation for publication by Tricycle Press, Lerner contacted me via email and asked if they could publish it. Ha! Too late. After Tricycle Press bought it, it came out within 1 1/2 years--in May of 2007.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

This was a tough story to bring to life, not because of Charley, who was a very colorful character in her own right, but because of the restrictions of writing a non-fiction historical biography about a person of whom so little was ever written. There's no one left alive who ever knew Charley in person, so the only material available is the little that was written about her by a novelist who once rode with Charley, and the obituary notices in the newspapers of her time, an affidavit from the grandson of the doctor who laid Charley out for burial, etc.

You can only write what is known and some of the facts that have been written about Charley since her death are conflicting, making it even more difficult to know what was really "true." Some things I just left out of her story altogether, rather than possibly tell something that might not be accurate.

What did Adam Gustavson's illustrations bring to your text?

Adam's illustrations are incredible and I am so pleased with them! They added depth, excitement, drama, and historical details that I could never have fit into my spare text. They truly brought the book to life.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Learn! Learn all you can about what makes a good, strong children's story. Learn all you can about the marketing aspect of the business, because you can write the best story in the world, but if you don't know how to get it onto the desk of the editor who will love it, you may find it impossible to sell. And finally, if you truly believe in your story, never give up on it. Rewrite it if you need to. More than once if you need to, but keep sending it out if you honestly believe in it.

You have one of the premier author websites! Could you tell us a bit about it? What's new and exciting?

The most active part of my website is its message board. It's been averaging over 600,000 hits per month every month since January of 2007. It's become a very well-known forum for children's writers and illustrators to gather and share information.

What do you do when you're not writing or doing writing-related activities?

For the past five years we have been renovating our old farmhouse style home, which we were finally able to move into two years ago. There's still one more major construction job to do inside the house (an 8 foot wide, 9 foot tall wooden and marble fireplace surround) and then the inside will be mostly done. Hooray!

I love, love, love to play Puzzle Pirates online and can be found there sailing and pillaging with other online pirates most nights after the rest of my work is done.

I spend many hours a day working with new writers, teaching through the Institute of Children's Literature--a correspondence course known by most writers as ICL.

Whenever possible, I play games and spend time with my teenaged grandchildren, entertain overnight guests, and I love watching Nicie in "Clean House" on TV. (Maybe some day her clean house habits will overflow into my home? I hope so! I'm definitely a "clutterbug" by nature.)

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, website, etc.) of being an author?

That's a toughie. I don't. I just do what I have to do when I have to do it. Sometimes it involves pulling almost an "overnighter," which isn't easy for me now that I'm getting older.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The next book scheduled to come out is Pony Express, which will be released in 2010. Putnam have two artists working on it, as it's a "double" book. There's one story in the cryptic rhyme text and a second story that will be in the letters going back and forth between a brother and his sister in the artwork. I'm very excited to see what the artists will be doing with this book!

Another book that's "in the works" is Hornbooks & Inkwells. Putnam has just hired an artist for it. I'm very pleased to know that S.D. Schindler, the same artist that illustrated Gold Fever and Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails will be illustrating that book, too. I haven't heard yet when this might be scheduled for publication. It will depend on Mr. Schindler's schedule and when he will have time to finish it.

There's one more book under contract--Drummer Boy. This will be the Civil War through a drummer boy's eyes, and it's also written in cryptic rhyme. The text has recently been finalized for it, and Putnam is currently (I hope!) searching for just the right illustrator for it. After an illustrator has been found for this book, it will be scheduled for a future publication date (usually about two or three years after the illustrator has been hired.)

I'm currently working on a very different kind of story--my father's WWII POW story. He was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft I prison camp in Barth, Germany for the better part of two years during he war. I plan a totally different kind of book for this one, encompassing several different kinds of writing, and some unusual artwork. You'll have to wait until it's done to see what I'm doing with it.

Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure 2007: Auction 1

Auction 1 will begin accepting bids on Monday, Nov. 19 at 9 a.m. with a starting bid of $50 for each snowflake. All bids must be placed before the close of Auction 1 on Nov. 23 at 5 pm. Don't forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)
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