Saturday, March 08, 2008

Author Interview: Cassandra Clare on City of Bones (Book One, The Mortal Instruments)

From Cassandra Clare's website: "I'm a writer from Brooklyn, New York. I am a huge fan of fantasy and Gothic horror, and my first fantasy novel for young adults, City of Bones, was published this March by Simon & Schuster. The next book in the series, City of Ashes, will be released in March 2008 and the third, City of Glass, will come out in March, 2009." Read Cassandra's journal, and visit her MySpace page. Visit the official Mortal Instruments website. Don't miss these additional related links!

What were you like as a teenager?

Really, really quiet, which is always a shocker for people who know me now. I was the quiet kid in the corner, reading a book. In elementary school, I read so much and so often during class that I was actually forbidden from reading books during school hours by my teachers. I've always thought that was something of a counterproductive measure. I mean, shouldn't you want kids to read? Admittedly maybe not during biology class.

What inspired you to write for the young adult market?

I don't think I ever intended specifically to write for the young adult market. It's just that when the idea for City of Bones came to me, I knew the main characters were teenagers. I even had an editor at some point express interest in the manuscript and ask me if I could age the characters up to make it an adult novel. I thought about it and said, "No, I don't think I could." In my mind they were just very clearly the ages they were, which turned out to mean it was a YA novel.

If you could go back to your apprentice writer self, what would you tell her?

"Don't be so hard on yourself," I guess. I thought everything had to be perfect before I could show it to anyone, which means I never got any feedback on anything, and without feedback I couldn't work on improving. It was a vicious cycle. Eventually, I learned to share work with people even when it was in its rough stages without worrying that they'd be filled with scorn and hatred. After all, I can read their rough work without turning on them like a wildebeest.

Congratulations on the publication (and best-selling status) of City of Bones (Book One, The Mortal Instruments)(McElderry, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this story?

Well, I had the idea for the romances and the twist at the end, before I had the general idea of doing a series where the magic system revolved around tattoos. And that came from a friend of mine who worked in a tattoo shop in the East Village. I was in her tattoo shop looking through the flash book--not that I have any tattoos myself, as I am not that cool, but I find them fascinating--and I got this idea about skin runes that offered protection against demons and how neat that would be. And then I thought, I should combine these two ideas.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the key events along the way?

I started writing the book in early 2004. After almost a year of endless revisions I had — not a complete book, but about ten chapters. I had met my agent, Barry Goldblatt, at a reading at the KGB Bar in Manhattan; he represented a friend of mine, and she introduced us, and told him I had this novel I was working on that she really liked. He agreed to take a look at it, and offered representation based on those ten chapters. He had me revise them again, and then we sold the book off those chapters and a detailed outline of the plot of the next two books in the series.

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

Well, City of Bones was my first novel, and I'd just never written anything like it before. It went through dozens of revisions--this was before I trained myself to write straight through, so I'd start a chapter, then go back and revise it, then write a little more, then go back and revise from the beginning again. Essentially I was just rewriting the first chapter over and over, and never figuring out what happened next.

Finally I decided to skip the beginning entirely and write through from chapter three, and for whatever reason that worked for me--I was able to work through building the world, and then go back later and establish that world more fully in the beginning, because now I really knew it.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write what you want to read. So many people think they need to write a particular kind of book, or imitate a successful style, in order to be published. I've known people who felt they had to model their book on existing blockbusters, or write in a genre that's supposed to be "hot right now" in order to get agents and publishers interested.

But if you're writing in a genre you don't like, or modeling yourself on a book you don't respect, it'll show through. You're your first, most important reader, so write the book that reader really wants to read.

How about those writing YA urban fantasy in particular?

A lot of people feel like urban fantasy is a shortcut that gets you around world-building, because it's set "in the real world." But it doesn't really work that way, as I found out. You have to come up with just as consistent an internal cosmology and magic system as you would if you were writing high fantasy.

And you have the added difficulty of choosing between a closed urban fantasy and an open one--in a closed urban fantasy, the magical world is secret and no one knows about it. In an open urban fantasy, everyone knows about it. So with a closed fantasy, you have to figure out how the world keeps itself secret, and with an open one, you have to figure out how knowledge of magic has altered the world we know.

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

I love to travel. In March I'm going to England, Ireland and Italy; in April, I'm going on book tour, and then in May, I'm going to Tuscany and to spend two weeks writing in Paris. My boyfriend always says that if it weren't for him I'd probably get rid of my apartment and live nowhere, and he's right.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, City of Ashes, the sequel to City of Bones, will be out this month. I've also got a short story coming out in the Little, Brown anthology Geektastic, about online role-playing games of all things, and then a short story in the HarperCollins anthology Vacations from Hell. Then City of Glass next March.

SCBWI Announces 2007 Golden Kite Awards

The Golden Kite Award is the only award presented to children's book authors and artists by their peers.

Golden Kite Award Winners

Fiction: Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel and Friends). Note: Katherine has also written the bestselling science fiction series Animorphs, Everworld, and Remnants.

Nonfiction: Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism by Ann Bausum (National Geographic)(author interview).

Picture Book Text: Pierre in Love by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Orchard).

Picture Book Illustration: Little Night by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook)(illustrator interview). Note: Yuyi also illustrated Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez.

Golden Kite Honor Recipients

Fiction: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis (Dial). Note: Lauran is the editor of Scholastic's Storyworks magazine. Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree is her first novel.

Nonfiction: 1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen Lange (National Geographic).

Picture Book Text: The End by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Richard Egielski (Arthur A. Levine Books)(author interview). Note: David won the 2005 Sid Fleischman Humor Award for Absolutely Positively Not.

Picture Book Illustration: Who Put the B in Ballyhoo? by Carlyn Beccia (Houghton Mifflin)(author-illustrator interview)

The Golden Kite Awards, given annually to recognize excellence in children's literature, grant cash prizes of $2,500 to author and illustrator winners in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration. Authors and illustrators will receive an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the award ceremony at the Golden Kite Luncheon at SCBWI's Annual Summer Conference in August.

The SCBWI recognizes the work of editors and art directors who play pivotal roles in shaping the Golden Kite-winning books. Editors of winning books will receive $1,000, and for the winning book in the Picture Book Illustration category, an additional $1,000 will be given to the book's art director.

The Golden Kite Awards are given each year to the most outstanding children's books published during the previous year, and written or illustrated by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Four panels of three judges each (one panel for each category, consisting of author or illustrator members of SCBWI whose own works are that of the category being judged), award the titles they feel exhibit excellence in writing or illustration, and that genuinely appeal to the interests and concerns of children. An Honor Book plaque is awarded in each category as well. A certificate of acknowledgment is presented to the author of the picture book illustration award book and the illustrator of the picture book text award book.

General Information

Founded in 1971, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers' and illustrators' organizations, with over 20,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children's literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children's book authors and leaders in the world of children's literature. Several of the most prestigious children's literature professionals sit on the SCBWI Board of Directors.

The Golden Kite Awards will be presented to the winners on Sunday, August 3rd at the Golden Kite Luncheon. This luncheon is part of the SCBWI's 37th Annual Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children, taking place at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel August 1-4, 2008.

A list of previous Golden Kite Award winners and honor books is available on the SCBWI's website.

Cynsational Notes

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Check back Monday and beyond for more insightful question-and-answer interviews with agents, editors, authors, and illustrators about the U.S. and international youth publishing scene.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Friday, March 07, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Art Director Interview: Martha Rago of HarperCollins Children's Books

Martha Rago is Executive Art Director for HarperCollins Children's Books. She has worked on such bestselling titles as 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle, Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein, Russell The Sheep by Rob Scotton and Diary Of A Spider, illustrated by Harry Bliss. Martha was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children's book publishing?

MR: Publishing as a career was not obvious to me at first, although now I cannot imagine anything for which I would be better suited. I was an Italian studies major with a great interest in European culture, language, history and art. I always drew, painted, and made art in some way without much thought about it.

I tried a few fields after college: fashion merchandising, then fashion design, among them, and soon started going to evening school for illustration with children's books in mind.

After my first course in typography, it was as though a light went on and my calling was clear. I felt passionate about combining my love of art and language with the beauty of type and the order and clarity essential to good design.

Once I realized what I wanted to do, I put all of my efforts into finding a position and began my career then as the assistant to the art director at G.P Putnam's Sons.

In your opinion, what makes a good art director?

MR: The art director I first worked with often likened her work to that of a midwife. These many years later I see that as an apt description for what is involved in bringing a book to life. The qualities one would seek in a midwife, an artist would probably want in an art director!

One would want someone with solid technical training for guidance and support in the process of creating the work and with a good understanding and a keen eye for what makes the final work successful.

Of course one needs to be organized, able to prioritize and juggle multiple tasks. But more than practical skills, a good art director needs to be sensitive to the nature and dynamic of the relationships involved in the creative process. The art director should have a positive and effective relationship with the artist, gaging when and how much information will be absorbed and useful. The editor has acquired the text for his or her own strong reasons as a viable project for the publisher. Their point of view and vision about the work is key, though not less than the author who may have his or her own feelings about the imagery.

Everyone brings to the work their personal response, even the art director. So the art director needs to have a good understanding of the dynamics of all the relationships involved. This includes a clear sense of the marketplace toward which the work is being directed, to bring out the best, most appropriate work to satisfy all these needs.

The art director's task is to apply a broader perspective, with consideration of technical, and practical aspects of the work, to mediate and unify all the points of view into harmony.

A good art director is technically savvy, an effective and sensitive communicator, and then, as needed, a counselor, nurturer, cheerleader, task-master, expediter, and even, yes, a trusted midwife.

Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?

MR: Absolutely, I refer to websites every day!

What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?

MR: Material that is inappropriate and clearly not for children's picture books or illustrated books for children such as non-narrative or not character-driven images like still lifes, landscapes, adult-themed pictures.

What do you believe is the most important part of your job?

MR: What is important for an art director differs from publisher to publisher.

At HarperCollins, a major part of my job is managing: keeping the design department on track, inspired, and creative; keeping work flowing on schedule; solving any kind of internal problems as they come and go.

I am at heart, however, a designer. To be happy in my work, I need to feed my own creative spark. I do this by designing a few books every year, so I don't ever lose touch with the designer in me and to stay on top of ever-changing technology.

I need also to keep on top of the trends and changes in the industry, to be well-informed so my guidance of others is meaningful and I have the fuel to generate creative ideas all around. I visit bookstores and attend conferences and events. I assess the competition and mine the illustration world in any way I can for inspiration and ideas.

What is your favorite thing about being an art director?

MR: Being part of the creative process is tremendously satisfying for me. I really enjoy the discovery of different points of view and personalities through the work we do together. Often the discussions are full of humor and positive energy, simply because making art can be such a pleasure! Not every relationship is complex or fraught with problems--very few, really. And some are almost magical in the way they go so smoothly. Even the challenging ones give you a great sense of accomplishment in the end. The struggle often inspires deeper respect and stronger connections with those involved.

And in the end, when you make a book that you feel is well-crafted, that you are proud of, that will affect the readers in a positive way for many years to come, it is very, very pleasing.

Do you make suggestions for revisions to artwork? What sort of suggestions have you made and how in your opinion how have they improved the final product?

MR: The nature of my relationship with artists is to be a sounding board and offer feedback when I think my suggestions will be valuable and improve the work or give it the best chance in the marketplace. Sometimes requested changes are minor, sometimes they require rethinking a spread or series of images. Of course, we try to vet the sketches and dummies thoroughly so major changes are not made to final art. My input (and really it is the combined input of myself, the editor, and sometimes the publisher and sales department) is most observable in our work on the jacket, the book's most important sales tool.

David Weisner recently re-illustrated the jackets for the seven classic titles comprising C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. In his first sketch for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, David created a beautiful image of the open wardrobe, with the fur coats parted, snowy footsteps leading from the opening into the magical wintery world. It was stunning.

David and I carefully considered the concept further, and we agreed it was static and lacked the energy and the emotion of the story. We wanted something dramatic and that would appeal to both young and old readers, and we needed to follow this direction for six more titles in the collection.

Because of the collaborative nature of the work, I cannot say precisely who came up with what ideas to suggest to him, but when David was presented with the problem, he thought carefully about the solution and came back with his own ideas. He focused on the heart and soul of the story rather than on a symbol and depicted a powerful Aslan with Lucy and Susan at each side nuzzling into his mane. In doing this, he got right to the emotional core of the story in a fresh way. The characters add a sense of tenderness to the grouping, but the focus is on the magnetic gaze and the power and majesty of the lion.

It is appealing to children, but, with its archetypal feel, also works on an adult level. And artistically, the detail and color of the rendering is impeccable. This set a high bar for the rest of the jackets, but it helped make the direction clear and resulted in seven stunning, dramatic and effective jackets, giving a fresh look to these beloved classics.

I never tell an artist what to paint but make observations, present the need for change as a problem to be solved and invite the artists to solve it using their own vocabulary and ideas. I cannot say my suggestions make the jacket work, but it is the artist's response to my comments that makes the ultimate difference.

How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?

MR: It is more often an illustrator is matched with an existing text, rather than putting two creative people together and hoping for the right dynamic. But when it works after careful consideration of artist matched to text, such as Jamie Lee Curtis with Laura Cornell, the publisher will want to continue that relationship as long as possible.

After reading the text, I have an immediate visual sense of what it could be as a finished book in terms of artist's style and often even the feel of the design--it's a personal, instinctive response. I'll have in mind a short list of potential artists based on that.

Then I usually frame it within the context of children's publishing: have I seen this before or is it totally new; what are the comparisons and competitive books available currently; how would this fit into the world in a practical way; what kind of impact could it have? The editor and I discuss our reactions and agree on a direction. Sometimes we spend a lot of time researching and looking at various artists' work, and other times it's a clear choice.

What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?

MR: I love pretty much anything written and illustrated by William Steig, who never wrote down to children or became overly sentimental. He used language beautifully and wrote with humor and tenderness. His use of line and color is unmatched.

Dr. DeSoto still makes me laugh, Brave Irene pulls at your heartstrings, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble will definitely make you cry and laugh at the same time.

Others that I consider classics I couldn't imagine life without: Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, The Trip, Peter's Chair; Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown; Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats; The Story of Ferdinand (Munroe Leaf and Robert Lawson); Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson; Marc Simont's re-illustrated picture book of George Thurber's Many Moons.

Why do I love these? Distinctive voices, characters, stories that feel true and/or bring you to a new awareness, and wonderful art.

More contemporary favorites are Paul Zelinsky's Swamp Angel (Anne Issacs, author) and Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann--both tall tales in their own way, with great characters and a surprising, engaging storyline.

This is just a smattering of the books I love, and more come to my attention every day!

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on?

MR: Last fall, we published Not a Box by first time author-illustrator Antoinette Portis, and we are following up with Not a Stick this winter. I am proud of these books because they are solid conceptually, fresh and distinctive in their approach and style and were for me a satisfying collaborative venture between the artist, editor, and myself.

Antoinette approached the editor, Margaret Anastas, with her idea, based on the endless imagination a child uses playing with a simple box. We both agreed we had something special that we could develop successfully: a strong concept, an appealing character, and a clear, distinct voice in both the style of writing and in drawing technique.

From the moment we started working together the three of us shared ideas, batted around large and small changes, experimented with colors and techniques, design approaches and production materials. The collaborative spirit of the work together was exciting, and we were thrilled with the final product. It is especially satisfying, too, that Not a Box won the Theodore Geisel Award this year, went on to the New York Times Best Seller list and was chosen as one of the ten Best Illustrated Books from the Times for 2007.

Is there an area on your list that you would like to "grow" at this time?

MR: I would love to find more artists-authors who can create strong character-driven stories.

What is the ideal art sample submission?

MR: As I become busier, portfolio reviews can be cumbersome, and I like to cut to the chase. First impressions are significant. I know within the first two pieces if an artist has the level of skill I am looking for and the individual style that will pull them out from the pack.

An artist should try to evaluate the work with this in mind. It's important to look at one's own work critically, and pull out weaker pieces. Keep the selection focused on one's strengths and on the kinds of projects for which one would want to be considered.

I like to see eight-to-12 pieces of art, less if the artist supplies a complete dummy with sketches and text blocked in. In that case, I would want to see two-to-three finished samples of color work related to the dummy and then a few pieces that show the artist's range--different characters and settings.

The ideal portfolio showcases the artist's best work. Don't create a dummy if you don't have a fresh idea, don't stretch it out to 12 pieces if four of them are weak. A picture book must have 17-32 terrific images, and I need to see a portfolio that shows me the artist can deliver all the way through.

What makes an artist's illustrations stand out for you?

MR: I would not underestimate technical skills, which are very, very important: anatomy, composition, and perspective, good use of color and line, and effective use of materials. But I am always looking for someone who has not just the technical skills but a distinct individual style, a clear voice and images that suggest narrative, through context, emotional tone, and the way they relate sequentially.

I look for work that demonstrates a strong narrative and clear characterizations, more than cartoon-y or exaggerated stylization. I appreciate distinctive characters, whether human or animal, that feel "true." Placed in a context that tells a story and creates a whole world and works sequentially, the work then has the essentials of a good story: character, place, narrative.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cynsational News & Links

Motivating Young Readers: An Interview with Famed Children's Book Author Joseph Bruchac by Claus E. von Zastrow from Public School Insights. "Bruchac spoke...about strategies for motivating children to read. He offered ideas for helping struggling readers, resources parents and teachers can use to combat stereotypes in children's literature, thoughts on the promise and perils of the internet, observations the shortcomings of standardized assessments, and a preview of his forthcoming books." See also Internet Resources on Native American Children's Literature, also from Public School Insights. Note: leave a comment!

"Zondervan, the evangelical Christian unit of HarperCollins, will begin publishing YA this spring. They plan to publish 10 titles a year." Source: Children's Book Biz News.

Meg Rosoff, Eoin Colfer, Melvin Burgess and Jonathan Stroud introduce Puffin's finest classics... from Times Online. Source: Achockablog.

Update from Blooming Tree Press from Miriam Hees at A Publisher's Life. Note: New successes, new imprints, a new award ("The Bloom Award") for unpublished writers! Congratulations, Blooming Tree! Read a Cynsations interview with Miriam.

Congratulations to Marla Frazee on the publication of A Couple of Boys Have the Best Weekend Ever (Harcourt, 2008). Read an interview with Marla about this book! Win your own copy of the book! Also, look for Walk On! by Marla (Harcourt, April 2008), which is a fun, spirited, spot-on baby-centric baby book. Read a Cynsations interview with Marla.

TeensReadToo is giving away 100 prizes in March. Enter to win books by such wonderful authors as Dorian Cirrone, Carrie Jones, Sarah Dessen, and more!

To Cheer or To Covet by Liz Garton Scanlon from Liz In Ink. Here's a sneak peek: "I'm here to admit right now that I've been on both sides of this thorny fence." Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Check out the delightfully kid-friendly new header at The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story (above). Note: if you have not already linked to this site, please consider doing so now. Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf. Visit The Brown Bookshelf at MySpace!

Concept Books: a bibliography of recommendations from the Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with Philip Yates on the recommended title Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 2003). Read a Cynsations interview with Roger Sutton of the Horn Book.

Dealing with the Newbies: Five Tips for Handling People Who Want You To Critique Their Manuscript (for free, of course) by Jonathan Moeller from Absolute Write. Looking for a reader? See: Perspiration: Professional Critiques from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's-YA Literature Resources. Note: a listing for editor Deborah Brodie is forthcoming.

Simon Pulse Blogfest 2008 will be hosted March 14 to March 27 by Simon & Schuster. Featured authors include: Marc Aronson, Franny Billingsley, Holly Black, Judy Blume, Marina Budhos, Niki Burnham, Janet Lee Carey, Cassandra Clare, Rachel Cohn, Melissa de la Cruz, Kathleen Duey, Susan Fletcher, Lorie Ann Grover, Cynthia Kadohata, Annette Curtis Klause, D. Anne Love, Amanda Marrone, Alex Sanchez, Scott Westerfeld, Ellen Wittlinger, and many more! Note: most of the links above lead to Cynsations interviews.

Author Interview: Sara Zarr from Teen Troves. Here's a sneak peek: "Most teens have already accumulated a lot of thoughts, opinions, and experiences having to do with religion and faith, but I rarely see that reflected in YA unless the topic is explicitly about something related to religion. I like to give my characters spiritual lives or spiritual thoughts. Everyone has them!" Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: fights censorship and defends First Amendment rights of comic book professionals.

The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle (Atheneum, 2008): a review by Norah Piehl from BookPage. Here's a sneak peek: "Life in the suburb might seem orderly, but there's a darker side. What happens to the people who suddenly disappear? And why is the government threatening to recall the latest batch of Wonder Children, the precocious kids—like Martin's sister Cassie—who are asking too many questions?"

Surviving A Writer's Hard Times: A Conversation With Bruce Balan from

Author & Illustrator Visits from Toni Buzzeo: Author, Library Media Specialist. Features include author wish list, visit tips, article links, resources, contacts, and more. Read a two-part Cynsations interview with Toni about school visits.

Farm life holds lessons for little ones by Katie Lewis from BookPage. A round-up of recent picture books with farm settings.

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything": "assisting Indian Communities in Increasing Literacy Skills While Preserving Native American Identity."

What I'm Working on Now (Viewer's Choice Blog) from Libba Bray. Note: WriteFest Update Alert! Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.

For younger fans of The Princess Diaries, a series all their own: an interview with Meg Cabot by Linda Castellitto from BookPage. Highlights Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day (Scholastic, 2008).

Teacher Guides by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Authors, illustrators, and publishers may contact Tracie to order a guide for a specific book. Read a Cynsations interview with Tracie.

Wide-Eyed and Curious: Working with Young Children in Groups by Shutta Crum. Some great advice for public speaking. Read a Cynsations interview with Shutta.

Glossary: book and publishing terminology from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog offers recommendations of Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, May 2008) and Thaw by Monica M. Roe (Front Street, April 2008), both by debut novelists. Read an interview with Greg from Debbi Michiko Florence. GregLSBlog is syndicated at LiveJournal.

Cranky by Justine Larbalestier on the question of whether YA writers include "edgy" elements to increase sales. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Author Interview: Rosemary Clement-Moore interviewed by her character Maggie Quinn. Read a Cynsations interview with Rosemary.

Congratulations to Michelle Lord, author of A Song for Cambodia, illustrated by Shino Arihara (Lee & Low, 2008). From the flap copy: "A Song for Cambodia is the touching true story of Arn Chorn-Pond. His heartfelt music created beauty in a time of darkness and turned tragedy into healing." Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Congratulations to Mélanie Watt on the publication in the latest in the Scaredy Squirrel series, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach (Kids Can, 2008). From the promotional copy: "...the lure of the genuine beach is strong--even a dedicated homebody such as Scaredy can't resist it forever. Can his back–up plans save him from its perils? Will his No.65 sunscreen protect his delicate complexion?" Read a Cynsations interview with Mélanie.

Do you love Austin, Texas? Do you love YA books? Visit BookPeople Teens, new at MySpace!


This month, my heroes at readergirlz are featuring author Sarah Dessen. Read the current issue of readergirlz. Note: if you have not already linked to this site, please consider doing so now.

Check out the limited edition readergirlz pendant at gypsywings. "Part of the proceeds will help underwrite all the fun free readergirlz programming to celebrate teen reading."

Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah, a Cynsations interview with the readergirlz Divas, and an interview with the latest diva Mitali Perkins by Jocelyn at Teen Book Review. Visit readergirlz at MySpace!


The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Did you read today's interview with Nancy Miles of Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency in the U.K. yet? Take note: she represents Roaring Brook Press and U.S. agents Rosemary Stimola [interview] and Barry Goldblatt [interview], with whom she has a reciprocal relationship.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

More Personally

Of late, I took the challenge to offer up 15 odd trivia facts about myself and tagged a few local friends. Don at Devas T Rants and Raves answered with 15 Random Things, Jo at Jo's Journal responded with 15 for Team, and Alison at Alison's Journal shared her own Funky 15 (bonus points for her son's Yoda impression). Read Cynsations interviews with Jo Whittemore and Don Tate. Visit Jo and Don at MySpace.

Question of the Week Thursday: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks me: "What's it like to write so many different kinds of books?" and I discuss pros and cons. Thanks, Robin!

Visit Robin's official author site, Facebook, and MySpace. Learn more about The Girlfriend Project (Bloomsbury, 2007), and watch her eat ribs on YouTube. Read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Agent Interview: Nancy Miles of the Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency

Nancy Miles is the founder of the Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency. She represents many highly acclaimed authors, including: Ronda Armitage, who wrote The Lighthouse Keeper series; Dominic Barker, who wrote Blart; and Justin Richards, who has adapted the television series, "Dr. Who." She was interviewed in November 2007 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What is the book experience that made you want to work in children's literature as a literary agent?

NM: I sold rights in children's books for 15 years. Specializing in children’s literature seemed a natural thing, and negotiating terms is what I knew!

Do you have a background in publishing?

NM: Yes. I worked for various children's book publishers in London over a 15-year period. My career was preceded by a three-year Diploma in Book Publishing at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes). So publishing has been the plan all the way through.

How did you get your start as an agent?

NM: I made my own start. My family decamped from London to the depths of west Wales with the birth of our third child. I didn't feel ready to stop working in the industry, and, with limited publishing opportunities in this part of the world, I had to look to myself for inspiration. With a background in rights selling and technology at my fingertips, I couldn't think of a good enough reason not to start my own agency.

In your opinion, what makes a good agent?

NM: I think one of the most important things for an agent to be is a good communicator. An author or illustrator needs to feel that his/her agent is at the end of the phone to listen, to discuss ideas and career paths, and to fight his/her corner where necessary.

Equally your client must feel confident that his/her agent has good relationships with publishers and other third parties to ensure that the right homes are found for their work.

Keeping your client in touch is really important.

Do you represent writers and illustrators?

NM: Yes, but mostly writers.

Do you look at art samples?

NM: Yes. I'd love to have one or two more fabulous illustrators on my list. But probably not more than that.

Do you also represent other publishers or agents abroad? If so, can you tell us which publishers and agents?

NM: Yes. I represent one New York based publisher--Roaring Brook Press. I also represent U.S. agents Rosemary Stimola [interview] and Barry Goldblatt [interview]. I have a reciprocal arrangement with Barry.

How many clients do you represent?

NM: I currently represent 14 individuals, plus publisher and U.S. agents as above.

Do you represent on a project-by-project basis, or do you take on the "whole" writer or the illustrator or even the entire list of a publisher?

NM: I always commit to the "whole" writer or illustrator. Developing a working relationship with your client, working out a career strategy, considering changes of direction, etc., happens over time. I wouldn't want to share my investment with anyone else, and it's hard to see how a project-by-project arrangement wouldn't leave all parties dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

On the other hand, I do take on the entire list of a publisher, though I will cherry pick from that list. It doesn't do agent or client publisher any good to submit material indiscriminately. And you would try the patience of the U.K. publisher if you were to persist in submitting material which is unsuitable for their list, the U.K. market, or whatever.

At what point in a manuscript do you "know" you either want the project or not?

NM: Usually almost instantly, if it's a "no."

The "maybes" are far trickier to judge. In my experience, it's rare to read an unsolicited manuscript that blows your socks off. More common is the text that shows promise but needs lots of work. You have a stay of execution by limiting the first submission to three chapters. So if it's a "maybe" you can ask for more--or the whole book if it's written--and this will invariably answer the question for you.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

NM: Not very much. A brief line or two about who you are, what you're submitting, and who it's for. If the author/illustrator has been published, this is always good to know. And, unless there's artwork involved, I can't understand why people want their material returned. It's a waste of everything. So ideally I'd like the letter to say, "don't bother to return the manuscript!"

What kinds of things "turn you off" a manuscript right away?

NM: Quite often it's the covering letter. I loathe it when people compare their work to books written by established authors. A dreadful title will also put me off. Poor sentence structure and spelling mistakes are the voices of doom.

From an agent's point of view, what are the "realities" of children's book publishing?

NM: That's a big question. One of the first things that seem to surprise a lot of aspirant authors is how difficult it is to write a good children's book. Writing for children is not the easy option it's often believed it to be.

Although children's books have enjoyed a tremendously exciting 10 years or so with an increasing number of high-profile authors making headlines, the market remains intensely competitive, and publishers will expect and require a very good reason to acquire a title, especially from a new author.

There are tons of children's books out there, and, with publishers spending limited amounts on marketing most children's titles, it's incredibly difficult to sell books in volume.

Picture books have been having a particularly tough time, and publishers will rely heavily on co-edition success to make them profitable. Young adult novels suffer from being neither children's or adult books, and few book stores seem to know how to sell them well. It's not easy to get published. It's a long, hard slog, and there are no short cuts.

What was the easiest book to sell and why?

NM: A good book is easy to sell, and a book is good for all sorts of reasons.

Have you ever represented a book that you loved but couldn't convince an editor to publish? What advice do you give authors in this situation?

NM: Yes. I submitted a lovely, touching novel by an unknown author a few years ago that I could not persuade any publisher to take on. Most of the rejections were "good" ones, and it was a difficult book to pin down in terms of who it was for. Although it could be read on several levels, it was perhaps pitched a bit too high for the target age. It was probably a bit overwritten, too, which is a common problem with less-experienced authors.

In this particular situation, I showed the author the publisher responses I felt were constructive. I encouraged him to come up with new synopsis, taking on board the editorial feedback he'd received.

Are you accepting new clients now?

NM: Yes, especially for authors of young, middle grade, and young adult fiction to balance out my list. I've got enough picture book authors for the moment but would love another illustrator or two.

Do you get involved with the marketing aspect of the book?

NM: Yes. Where appropriate, I'll ask a publisher for their marketing plans at negotiation stage. Although these do not go into the contract, it does concentrate the mind.

By the time publication time arrives, everyone's forgotten what's been promised, and you do have to ask questions well in advance of publication. And keep asking them.

Marketing performance will certainly affect my decision on whether to place titles with a publisher.

Do you give any pre-submission editing and revision requests to your clients?

NM: Yes, though this will vary from client to client and from project to project. An established author with an on-going publisher/editor relationship will need less input from me than a first timer. But I will always offer suggestions for revisions, even with an established author, if I feel it will improve the submission and attract a better quality offer.

Do you specialize in any particular genre and/or are you looking for anything in particular at the moment? What are publishers telling you about the market and what they'd like to see?

No and no. I'm always looking for a strong voice and a good, satisfying story, preferably with a good dose of humor. The combination is not easy to find, but it is possible to tease a book out of a good story, even if the voice needs to be brought out. But you need to be prepared to put the work in.

It depends who you talk to! Picture-book publishers are telling me that the market is tough and there's a dearth of good texts. The market for YA fiction is shrinking, and booksellers struggle to position them effectively in the stores. Strong, commercial series for middle graders are in demand as is fantasy (as ever) and action packed thrillers, especially for boys.

How many new clients do you take on each year?

There's no pattern. If I have the opportunity to sign up someone fantastic, I will.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Historian-Critic Interview: Leonard S. Marcus

Leonard S. Marcus is one of the children's book world's most respected and versatile writers, historians, and critics. He has written many highly acclaimed books about children's literature, and the authors and artists who create it. Leonard's book reviews have been featured in many U.S. magazines including Parenting magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and Publishers Weekly. He was interviewed in January 2008 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Did you always want to be a writer?

LM: I started writing when I was in the second grade, and I always knew I enjoyed writing. Around fifth grade, I was a big fan of "Perry Mason" on TV and thought I wanted to be a lawyer like him. Then for a brief time I wanted to be president of the United States. But a love of writing was a constant thread, even though it was a long time before I had any idea of how to go about making a living or a life as writer.

What other jobs have you had (that led to being a writer)?

LM: For my first three years in New York, I was a lowly copywriter for Dover Books, a New York paperback publisher specializing in reissues of out-of-print classics. I learned a great deal about art and bookmaking there, and a lot about the stinginess of publishers. After that I freelanced, writing book reviews and also teaching courses on children's books at the School of Visual Arts and elsewhere while trying to get started as an author.

What are you working on at the moment?

LM: I'm just finishing a book I've worked on for the last 14 years. It's called Minders of Make-Believe and is a history of American children's book publishing. I'm also finishing up a book of conversations with funny writers for children called Don't Make Me Laugh.

If you could be a character from one of your books, who would it be and why this particular character?

LM: I mostly write nonfiction. Of all the people I've written about as characters I might pick Feodor Rojankovsky, the great Russian illustrator of Golden Books, because his art has so much energy and he traveled so much and led such an adventurous life.

How has your childhood influenced what you write?

LM: As the youngest of three children, I spent plenty of time being "the child of the family" and thinking about childhood. Although very verbal, I started out as a painfully slow reader. Then the reading specialist who was assigned to help me at school suggested that I try writing poems to read to her. It was then that I began my writing and reading life. Thanks to that teacher, I experienced a feeling of great satisfaction because I found that it was easy to read what I myself had written and that made me want to write more and more.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

LM: My favorite picture book was a Little Golden Book called Laddie and the Little Rabbit. It had photographic illustrations by Bill Gottlieb, a photographer who took some of the best known pictures of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. I think I loved the book because I wanted to have a dog and wasn't allow to. Laddie was a springer spaniel.

I recently met Bill Gottlieb's widow Delia and--all these years later--learned that the dog in the photos was her dog and that his real name was James Thurber! During my "presidential" phase, the book I treasured was the Young People's edition of President Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

Is there a book already published that you wish you had written? Why?

LM: Goodnight Moon would be nice. I value clarity and musicality in writing, and that book is one of the ultimate examples.

How long does it take you to write a book? [See listing of Leonard S. Marcus's books.]

LM: It really depends. I spent maybe six to nine months on each of the three shorter books I have published with Walker (A Caldecott Celebration; Side by Side; and Pass It Down). My biography of Margaret Wise Brown took ten years. I spent about two years editing Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

LM: Saying exactly what I mean.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea or in isolation?

LM: I sometimes listen to dreamy background music, not because it puts me in a dreamy mood but because it serves as a kind of company, in the way that having a cat around does.

How much do you think a writer needs to market his/herself/the work? What do you suggest?

LM: Shel Silverstein did none of that and had bestseller after bestseller. But I think that most writers do need to make an effort. I enjoy giving talks and readings and try to do as many of them as possible. Lately, I have been making more of an effort to group these programs so that I get the most out of a trip to another city or region. Publishers appreciate (or at least they should appreciate) an author's own promotional efforts and sometimes can be persuaded to help, for instance by contacting a public radio station in the city where a talk is about to take place.

Do you have a blog, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get lots of feedback from readers?

LM: No. But I do have a Web site.

Can you share your favorite fan mail, if you have one?

LM: My favorite fan comment came from the wife of the illustrator of Goodnight Moon. After reading my biography of Margaret Wise Brown, Edith Hurd said to me: "You know us better than we knew ourselves."

When reviewing children's books, what qualities make the book stand out from the crowd?

LM: I look for a book that feels like one I've never read or seen before; one that has been done as well as it possibly could be done.

Why did you decide to write books about the creation, marketing, and world-wide impact of popular children's literature?

LM: As a history major in college, I got interested in early 19th-century American children's books as a mirror of life in America when it was still a pretty new nation. I enjoyed the history side of this study, and it also stirred memories of my own childhood.

After a while, I realized that because children's books are usually illustrated I would have the chance while writing about them to write about art as well as literature. I became fascinated by the challenge of telling stories in two different media, and by all the many different ways that artists and writers have found to do this effectively. I began to wonder why children's book art wasn't exhibited in museums.

This in turn raised questions about the value our society places on childhood and the things of children's culture. From there, one thing led to another as a searched for projects that interested me and that someone was willing to pay me to do.

What has been the most interesting and insightful interview you have ever conducted?

LM: That would be hard to say. Lloyd Alexander, who I interviewed for my book The Wand in the Word, was possibly the gentlest and, if I can say this, most humane person I have ever met.

William Steig, who I interviewed for two books, was feisty and very funny and deeply serious all at the same time.

I talked with Ursula Nordstrom when I was just starting work on my Margaret Wise Brown biography. She was retired by then, but sly as ever, and she did her best to turn the tables by interviewing me. She kept asking me personal questions and made me feel that she really wanted to know the answers.

I realized that that was how she drew her authors out, got them to write about the things that mattered the most to them. This was years before I knew that I was going to have the chance to edit a book of her letters.

When it came time to start in on that huge project (there were more than 100,000 letters to choose from in the Harper files), it helped a lot to have actually met her and to have heard her voice.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editorial Director Interview: Katherine Halligan of Scholastic UK

Katherine Halligan is currently Editorial Director for Picture Books and Novelty at Scholastic U.K. She joined Scholastic in September 2006, and since then has been responsible for re-launching their picture book list. She has worked with authors such as Angela McAllister and Malachy Doyle, and illustrators such as Gary Blythe, Charles Fuge, Caroline Jayne Church and Ross Collins. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children's book publishing?

KH: At the risk of sounding obvious, a childhood passion for books and a love of words and pictures made it a clear choice for me--I can't imagine doing anything else. I began my publishing career in foreign rights, as I had studied languages, but quickly realized I needed to be part of the creative process. My job now is a perfect outlet for my overactive imagination!

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

KH: A good editor is something of a chameleon: a sympathetic listener and champion of her authors and illustrators; a constructive critic; a creative and resourceful problem-solver; an energetic and effective communicator; an optimist and also a realist. Above all, a keen eye and a discerning ear are crucial.

When you're reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it's something you want to pursue?

KH: Picture book manuscripts are of course very short, but usually I know after the few lines of text whether I even want to finish reading--and by the end it is very clear whether it's a "yes" or a "no." Every word counts, and the best writers' voices are immediately apparent.

What kinds of things "turn you off" a manuscript right away?

KH: I lose interest when I read anything that sounds overly contrived; anything that doesn't have a child's interests and sensibilities at its heart; anything that is overly long or over-explained.

What are the "realities" of children's publishing?

KH: Ever since I started in publishing, I’ve heard about what a "tough market" we're in, but I've been lucky enough to work on some very successful books. The reality is that not every book can be a bestseller, but if you publish every book with the belief that it might be, then you will have created an excellent book--and that can only be a good thing.

Another reality is that publishers are always looking for new talent and new ideas, and that children will always read books, so however difficult the current market there is always scope for growth. Yet, at the same time, it is certainly a reality that the market is incredibly competitive, so we have to be incredibly discerning about what we do publish.

What is your favorite thing about being a children's book editor?

KH: Do I have to pick just one thing?! I love the moment an idea hatches, the moment a brilliant manuscript lands on my desk, the moment an illustrator's first roughs arrive, the moment their final artwork is delivered, the moment the proofs come in... All part of this process that is ultimately about creating books--and that is my very favorite thing.

What are some of your favorite books and why?

KH: There are far too many to list here, but many of my favorites are books I loved as a child, such as Marcia Brown's Cinderella; Anno's Journey, Eloise, Goodnight, Moon and Ferdinand. All of these books share a richness of language, or imagery, or both--and all invite a child (or an adult!) into a particular world that is immediate and true.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

KH: Peter Pan. When my younger sister was born, she came home from the hospital with a copy of the book--and, for the next year or so, I thought I was Peter Pan... If I am still in touch with my "inner child" then it's because of him.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

KH: Recently, I have been very proud of the deliciously silly Aliens Love Underpants, by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, which I commissioned at Simon & Schuster. When it was featured on the "Richard and Judy" show (where it was a category award winner), I was delighted that it was brought to the attention of such a wide audience across the U.K. I have been proud of it all along because of its unfailing ability to make everyone who reads it--parents, children, publishers, booksellers--laugh out loud.

Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?

KH: So far, I have only worked on fiction. I think I would find it very difficult to stick to the facts!

What does the ideal cover letter say?

KH: Very little. The manuscript or artwork is what matters, and nothing you can say in a cover letter is going to make up for a submission that isn't good enough. Any other information that is needed (biographies, bibliographies, etc) can be gleaned later. In the first instance, it's best to let the words or pictures do the talking.

Is there any area on your list you'd like to "grow" at this time? Do you look at art samples?

KH: As I was brought to Scholastic to re-launch the picture book and novelty list almost from scratch, we've been in a continual pattern of growth. I look at art samples constantly--it is completely fundamental to what I do.

How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house? A YA novel? Etc.

KH: Our average marketing budget for a picture book is usually very modest, although the occasional big book does get a bigger, dedicated marketing campaign. We have a general budget for marketing all our picture books, much of which is dedicated to promotional spend, as well as creating postcards and brochures. I am in close touch with the marketing team, and for big titles we brainstorm plans together.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?
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