Monday, June 30, 2008

Allyn Johnston on Her New Simon & Schuster Imprint...

After more than two decades working at Harcourt (most recently as VP and editorial director), Allyn Johnston was relieved of her position after a corporate merger between Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin. But before she seemingly had time to pack up her office, it was announced that Johnston would be heading up a new imprint--she joined Simon & Schuster as vice president and publisher of a not-quite-named imprint (more on that below) under which she'll publish mostly picture books out of San Diego. Here Johnston talks a little about this new phase in her long and successful editorial career.

Your imprint with Simon & Schuster was announced almost immediately after you left Harcourt. Is it something you’d been considering? How did it come about so quickly?

I hadn’t been considering another job because I’d been told by Houghton that I’d still have one, even though they had decided to close the San Diego Harcourt office. Then my job was eliminated in March, and Rubin Pfeffer, Senior Vice President and Publisher at Simon & Schuster, called immediately.

After working at Harcourt for more than two decades, what’s it like doing something else? Weird? Liberating? Weirdly liberating? How has that transition been for you?

In a word, it’s been like freefall.

Will you have additional editors working with you?

Yes, Andrea Welch, with whom I worked for more than eight years at Harcourt, will be joining the imprint on July 14—and I can’t wait!

You haven’t named your imprint yet. Why did you choose not to simply go with Allyn Johnston Books? What type of name do you have in mind?

We wanted the imprint name to reflect our west-coasty-ness rather than be tied to my name. But you would not believe what a challenge it’s been to find one with the perfect simplicity and spirit and tone that wasn’t already taken! (Or didn’t sound like a Hallmark card or, worse, a real estate office.)

We do have a name now, and I wish I could tell you what it is, but I don’t want to risk jinxing it. (What I can say is we’re gonna be located in a second-floor studio space on a flower-filled lane about a block from the beach.)

Is there a philosophy behind your imprint? Tell me about what sort of books you want to publish. Are there certain qualities you’re looking for?

We want our list to be made up of the kinds of books that people buy multiple copies of and give over and over again at birthday parties.

Are you open to unsolicited submissions?

Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept unsolicited submissions.

How many books will you be publishing and when do you estimate the first book under your imprint will be released?

We’ll be publishing about 18-20 books a year, and the list will be officially launched in Summer 09 (though three books will be coming out in Spring 09). The imprint will mostly be a picture-book list, though we’ll also publish an occasional middle-grade and YA novel. Among the authors and illustrators on our list will be Mem Fox, Marla Frazee, Lois Ehlert, Douglas Florian, Cynthia Rylant, Debra Frasier, M. T. Anderson, and many others, both new and recognized.

Debut Author of the Month: Daphne Grab...

First-time author Daphne Grab's novel, Alive and Well in Prague, New York was an early June release from HarperTeen. The book's main character, Matisse Oswood, has a lot to adjust to. Her father has Parkinson's Disease and her family has just relocated from her beloved New York City to a small town so "she's taking on a whole new social scene in addition to trying to come to terms with her dad's illness," says Grab. "There are boys and evil cheerleaders involved as well."

Tell me about how you found your agent, Alyssa Eisner-Henken, and about getting your first book contract with Harper.

When I was getting my MFA at The New School our teacher had Jill Santopolo, senior editor at the Harper imprint Laura Geringer Books, do a mock submission with us. We each sent her a cover letter and five pages of our manuscripts. Mine was one of the ones she liked, so after I graduated I queried her and she ended up wanting the manuscript. It was a pretty thrilling thing!

I found Alyssa when I wanted to sell my second book (I did have an agent to handle my contract stuff with Harper but we were not a good fit and amicably parted ways). I queried about seven agents via e-mail and met with most of them, just to get a feel of how we’d work together. Everyone was nice and it’s always amazing to talk to people who like your work (not everyone did of course—one woman passed and another never had time to read it so the idea must not have really grabbed her). Ultimately I chose Alyssa because it seemed like we were on the same page career-wise and I really liked her critique of my manuscript. I wanted an agent who could edit me and Alyssa was more than up to the task. I love working with her!

You’ve said that when you decided to get an MFA and read that The New School offered a concentration in writing for children, bells went off. Why do you think you suddenly realized this was the right direction for you?

Long after I’d left my middle grade and teen years I was still reading teen and middle grade books. I read adult books too but I was always drawn to teen stories and couldn’t seem to kick the habit. I’d ride the subway hiding the cover of my book so no one would see that the thirty-something woman across the aisle was reading a book for twelve year olds.

Alongside this obsession was my desire to write a book. I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a writer but I could never think of an adult story worth writing. When I saw the concentration in writing for children in the New School catalog bells went off because I realized that I was meant to write books for kids, not adults. As soon as I realized that, the ideas flowed. I now read about 95% teen and MG books, holding them up proudly on the subway so all around me can see the great books I’m reading!

Tell me about your experience in the MFA program. You worked on Alive and Well during that time, correct?

The MFA was a great experience for me. I think the two best things I got were an amazing critique group that still meets bi-monthly, and the ability to use criticism of my work to make it better. When I first started the program I felt wounded whenever a flaw was pointed out in my submissions. But over time I realized that knowing those flaws meant I could fix them and make my work better. I think my writing has improved because of it.

There were other things that were great about the program too. It gave me deadlines and the discipline to write every day, it exposed me to books I’d never have otherwise read and new ways to think about writing. I had some amazing teachers like David Levithan and Sarah Weeks who gave me advice when I sold my book. Navigating the business side of things can be overwhelming and it was really helpful to have their input. I don’t think every writer needs to do an MFA but I think I did.

Your main character Matisse moves from Manhattan to a small town; you did the opposite, growing up in a small town and ending up in New York. What are some of the most challenging small town vs. big city adjustments?

I think the hardest thing for me to adjust to is the change in pace. In the city people are sprinting for subways or walking so fast you can get stepped on if you don’t keep up. In the country there’s less of a rushed feeling in the air. Not that people don’t have places to get to fast but that hurry-up feeling isn’t pulsing the way it does in the city. Personally I love the fast pace—it makes me feel vital and alive. But I know a lot of people, including some in my family, who can’t stand it.

What’s funny to me now is the things I do wrong when I go visit my mom in my hometown in upstate New York. I always wear the wrong shoes for hiking and pack too much black in the summer (who wants to be wearing black when you’re relaxing on the deck in the sun? Black is for subways and air conditioned shows). It always surprises me how loud the birds are and how early stores close.

I love living in the city and being able to visit the country often; for me that is the perfect balance.

Another experience you have in common with Matisse is that fact that both of your fathers suffered with degenerative diseases. You’ve said that your experience during your father’s illness and passing was and is a huge influence on your writing. Did writing Alive and Well in some way play a part in your grieving and healing process?

I wrote Alive and Well four years after my dad had died so I was through with the more raw part of grieving. I missed my dad every day (as I still do now) but it wasn’t as all encompassing as it was those first years. So when I was writing it wasn’t the emotional experience I think it would’ve been had I written it closer to his death. I think if I’d written the story earlier it would’ve ended up being my story, not Matisse’s. But in making it hers I was free to channel some of my feelings in different directions and explore them in new ways, and I think that was a good thing for me.

How did the Longstockings form? When did you all start blogging? Tell me about the group.

The Longstockings are my critique group and my writing support system. We met at the New School and have been buddies and blogging partners ever since. It’s an amazing thing to be part of a group of writers who help each other every step of the way, and I feel really invested in every one else’s books because I have seen them go from scenes to drafts to an actual book. We all celebrate when another person’s book comes out.

The blog
is a place where we discuss things related to writing, be it problems we are having with different aspects of the writing process, questions we have about the business or discussing kidlit trends and ideas. We have a lot of fun doing it.

Your book was released earlier this month, and you’ve already done some signings. How are they going? What else do you have coming up in the way of promotion?

I have done two signings so far, one at the Bank Street Bookstore in NYC and one at Merritt Books in my hometown of Red Hook, NY. In both places friends and family came out so it was a supportive and fun audience. I was still nervous, especially because the one in my hometown got filmed for the local cable channel, but I ended up really enjoying it, especially the q&a part.

In the next few weeks I’m doing a few more signings, this time in front of people I don’t know, so I’m trying to stay calm about that. I love sharing the book with people but I get shy in front of crowds. Though obviously I’m hoping for a small crowd as opposed to no one being there at all! I’m also on some panels at a couple of upcoming conferences and I’ve done a lot of blog interviews and guest blogs— those have been really fun since I can do them at home in pajamas.

Do you have any school visits lined up? Drawing on your teaching background, what advice can you give YA authors who’ve never been in front of a class of teens or tweens?

I have a few school visits lined up with fellow debut authors Donna Freitas and Courtney Sheinmel, two writers I met through the Class of 2k8. We are going to do auditorium presentations and then break off into classroom writing workshops. I’m really looking forward to it because I love talking with teens. I hope we end up scheduling more!

And my advice for doing that is to be straight and keep it honest. Kids can tell when you’re sugar coating things or when you’re holding back, so just tell it like it is, answer questions honestly and don’t be afraid to have fun. I had a great time teaching high school and am planning to do it again when my kids are a little older.

You have a healthy love of sports and your next novel has a sports element. Tell us about your second book, which will be published by Delacorte.

This book came about when my husband and I were driving home from a vacation last summer. I was going on and on about the upcoming football season and my husband, who is not a fan, suggested I write a book about a kid who is a football fan. I knew he was just hoping I’d start writing about football and stop talking about it, but the idea intrigued me and I came up with Halftime. It’s about a boy who is a big football fan and a bit of a social loser who finds out that the baby his mother gave up for adoption 22 years ago is the best college football player in the country. Ultimately it’s a coming of age story, like Alive and Well.

What’s your advice for YA writers working toward publication?

In terms of writing I’d say to write the story you have to write, not the one you think will sell. Do what you can to get critique and take it seriously. You don’t have to listen to every bit of advice but there will always be things that resonate and those are the ones to go in and adjust.

When the manuscript is as good as it can be, start querying agents. I can’t stress how important it is to have an agent—an agent is your teammate, cheerleader and the one who handles the business side so that your relationship with your editor is just about the artistic, the way it should be. Do research to find your agent, to be sure he or she reps the kind of story you are hoping to sell. Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market is the bible for this. When you have your list, start querying! And when you get that first offer, don’t jump right on it. You want to find an agent who is a good fit for you. You want to have clear communication and share the same vision for the future of your career.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Walker Clarification! Cuts in U.K. Not U.S....

It seems I posted in haste (note to self: pay close attention, even on Friday) and misunderstood the PW Children's Bookshelf report on cuts at Walker. According to Diane Roback, Bookshelf editor:

"Our story ran under the "News from London" header. Walker Books is a U.K. company, and has NO affliation with Walker & Company here in the U.S. So your blog post is misleading, and would have people think the cutbacks are for the U.S. company, which they are not."

I've edited the post below and apologize for the confusion. There will not be job cuts at Walker & Company in the U.S.

Friday, June 27, 2008

PW Reports Cuts at Walker Books in U.K....

This is from the latest PW Children's Bookshelf ("News from London"):

Walker Books is cutting its publishing output by 10% and losing 10 jobs, eight of them through voluntary redundancies. The cutbacks will be in the 2009 publishing program, when the output will be reduced from the current figure of around 300 titles a year. Walker's U.K. managing director Helen McAleer told PW, "We have been realigning and refocusing the business here at Walker and we are growing our fiction, high-end novelty lists and TV tie-in titles, and have created new and senior roles in these areas." Jane Winterbotham, Walker's publishing director, added, "The cuts are not affecting our frontlist publishing. We are making the cuts by slowing down our reissues."
While stressing the continuing importance of Walker's high-quality publishing, McAleer also cited the company's plans for diversification. "We want to be able to offer our authors and illustrators something different; hence we have set up Walker Productions to develop TV projects from our own properties, and are looking to work with partners on these projects." Walker will also relaunch its Web site to include space for children and adults to engage with the Walker authors and illustrators, and to develop e-commerce.

Note that Walker Books in the U.K. and Walker & Company in the U.S. are not affiliated.

Friday, June 20, 2008

More on the Glenn Beck/Ted Bell Interview...

Here's an interesting discussion on Guys Lit Wire.

Entertainment Weekly's 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years...

I zipped home for lunch this afternoon, and found the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly in my mailbox (a happy surprise--it usually comes on Saturday) featuring The New Classics--The 1000 Best Movies, TV Shows, Albums, Books & More of the Last 25 Years. I almost didn't make it back to the office I was having so much fun reading it. And look at Daniel Radcliffe/Harry Potter smack in the middle of the cover! I immediately turned to their book list.

Now, as EW would say:


If you want to read these yourself leave my blog right now (or at least shut your eyes and scroll way down).

Here are five books of note that made the list:

#2: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because J.K. Rowling "went epic and evil."
#21: On Writing because Stephen King offers "some of the soundest advice to writers set to paper."
#40: His Dark Materials trilogy because Phillip Pulman offers "a grand, intellectually daring adventure through the cosmos."
#65: The Giver, by Lois Lowry because they agree with the Newbery committee (and it's a fantastic book).
#84: Holes, by Louis Sachar, because they continue to agree with the Newbery committee (and it's also a fantastic book).

Mixed in with the many fiction and nonfiction titles were several graphic novels such as Art Spiegelman's Maus, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Fact that surprised me: The Da Vinci Code was on the New York Times Hardcover Best-Seller List longer than HP and the Goblet of Fire (166 weeks vs. 148 weeks--3 years-ish for each!)

My Saturday afternoon is officially taken--I have a date with this double issue.

Firebrand Launches Book Packager Tinderbox...

Auden Media Corporation, parent company of Firebrand Literary, recently announced the launch of Tinderbox--"a book packager of superior quality, high-concept teen and middle grade fiction."

According to the company's press release:

Tinderbox prides itself on offering more equitable terms to its writers than the traditional book packager, offering competitive splits of the advance, royalties and subrights. "We want to ensure that our writers are as invested financially as they are creatively," says Nadia Cornier, who co-founded Tinderbox with Michael Stearns.

Their website will go live in the fall, offering detailed info for publishers and agents, and the scoop on current and upcoming projects. As far as submissions, Tinderbox is not accepting writing samples from unagented authors, "but welcomes inquiries and samples from agents on behalf of their clients."

Click here for the lowdown on the Tinderbox launch party, including a photo of some staff members, as reported by GalleyCat.

Guide to Literary Agents Blog New Agent Alert...

Editor Chuck Sambuchino (who is currently in Austin and had a birthday yesterday--Happy Birthday Chuck!) offers news on new agents whenever he finds it. Check out this recent post by GLA blog contributor Kristen Howe on Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky Literary--he's interested in YA books. (Be sure to bookmark Chuck's blog if you're in the market for an agent. It's chock full of agent-related news including lots of conference info.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Books for Boys...

I saw this on Galley Cat, but the sound didn't work, so rather than linking to it, I've included the video below (because I just figured out how to do that).

Here's Glenn Beck on CNN "laying all the politically incorrect cards on the table" discussing books for boys with Nick of Time author Ted Bell. Oh boy (with the emphasis on oy)!

Rolling Through Stop Stop Signs: Stop the Madness!...

This may be a rant apropo of nothing, but here it goes:

Why why why why why does no one stop at stop signs? WHY? I'm a pretty laid back kinda gal. I go with the flow, roll with the punches, all that stuff. But numerous times each day during my 3-mile round trip commute, none of the other driver seem to ever stop at stop signs. And at the 4-way stops--they don't take turns! It's anarchy! Today on my way to lunch the lady coming the other way didn't even bother to slow down, even a little. I'm on the brink of road rage.

I have a vivid memory from Kindergarten of the very first time in my entire life that I ever raised my hand in class to answer a question. (This was a big deal; I was painfully shy.) We were talking about stop signs and traffic lights and my teacher Mrs. Hill asked why it's important that cars stop at red lights and stop signs when they are supposed to. It was quiet for a spell and when no one else answered, my tiny hand tentatively went up. "Because a car might be coming the other way and you could get in an accident," I said. How very wise I was. If 5-year-old me can figure this out, why can't everyone in the greater Nati area who is on the road when I am?

Perhaps if all teachers go over this stuff in Kindergarten and each subsequent year of school and parents start talking about traffic laws at an early age, I'll be a happier commuter. I've spent a little time on Amazon to see if there are any kids books that would be helpful, and I found a few to share with all of you (who I'm sure are very good and conscientious drivers). I might have to stop in a bookstore soon to check these out, so I can start to read to Murray about the rules of traffic. He'll remember it all when he's 16, right? (At this point I'm sure he's onto the stop sign thing--he generally witnesses my rants to other drivers from his car seat).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lisa Holton's New Venture...

PW reports that Lisa Holton, formerly of Scholastic, is launching Fourth Story Media:

Fourth Story will produce stories and content that spans multiple formats, including books, Web sites, online games, DVDs, audio/digital downloads and social networks. Its first series is The Amanda Project, an interactive, collaborative fictional mystery series for girls aged 12 to 14, told across a variety of different media including books, a Web site that features games and a social networking platform, a related series of blogs and satellite sites, music, and merchandise. Fourth Story, which owns all rights for the property, will produce the content for The Amanda Project with a creative team including Web design agency Happy Cog, young adult authors, artists and graphic designers. The project’s Web site will be up and running by the end of this year. Throughout the spring of 2009 Fourth Story will continue to build it, adding more features, and the first book—published under the HarperCollins flagship imprint—will come out in fall 2009. Seven more will follow.

Click here for the full report on Publishers Weekly's website.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scholastic's Report on the Reading Habits of Kids & Teens...

From PW Daily today:

A new report released today from Scholastic corroborates the findings of the company’s 2006 report on children’s reading habits, finding that pleasure reading in children begins to decline at age eight and continues to do so into the teen years. The study found that a majority of children (68%) think it is “extremely” or “very” important to read for pleasure, and “like” or “love” doing so. However, that number decreases with age: 82% percent of children ages five to eight “like” or “love” reading, compared to 55% for children ages 15 to 17. It also found that although children can readily envision a future in which reading and technology are increasingly intertwined, nearly two thirds prefer to read physical books, rather than on a computer screen or digital device.

The Harry Potter-related findings are interesting:

As to the influence of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, of the children who had read the books, almost three-quarters said the series had made them interested in reading other books. Some, however, would be happy simply to have more Harry in their lives: 31% of children don’t believe the series is over.

Click here to read the whole article on Publishers Weekly's website.

Authors Offer Summer Reading Tips for Kids...

Check out this interview from WABC-TV featuring three authors who share tips for getting kids to read over the summer. Picture book author Jane O'Connor (Fancy Nancy), middle-grade author MAC (Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink) , and YA author Scott Westerfeld (Uglies) are interviewed.

My favorite tip came from MAC, a new author who recently sold out of her debut novel at its sneak preview during NY Comic Con, who advises parents to run over the video game console with the vacuum cleaner. Here's her book cover.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Have the Carus People Ever Actually Seen a Cicada?...

I remember the days when the Carus Publishing Company only published a few mags, like Cricket, Ladybug and Spider. I always liked that their publications were named after bugs. Then ten years ago, they started a literary magazine for teens and called it Cicada.

I loved the idea of the magazine, and the word "cicada" has a nice ring. But--oh--those bugs.

I Do Not Like Them.

I bring this up because the Nati, where I live, is currently abuzz--loudly abuzz--with five billion Brood X cicadas (and I do not exaggerate--it's Biblical). They are noisy and big and have red eyes. They fly at car windows and splatt unpleasantly. They try to mate with weed whackers and lawn mowers. And piles and piles of their shells and their dead bodies in the 90-degree-plus heat does not smell particularly nice. (And I suppose the Carus crew has seen real cicadas--my googling shows that cicadas do occasionally rear their buggy heads near the Carus HQ.)

I swiped some pictures of my unwanted insect companions to share with you.

First here are cicadas popping out of their shells.

Look at those eyes--very horror movie.

Can you tell how big it is compared to this person's hand? I think they're bigger than hummingbirds.
This is what all the trees in my yard look like only my trees have piles of dead bugs and shells around the bottom.

If you're interested in learning more about the bugs that are currently bugging me, click here. Be sure to check out the Cicada links, especially the Cicada chorus--that's truly what my world sounds like.

And here's the listing for Cicada magazine that will appear in the 2009 CWIM (which is being printed as I type.)

Carus Publishing Company, P.O. Box 300, 315 Fifth St., Peru IL 61354. (815)224-5803. Fax: (815)224-6615. Submissions address: 70 East Lake Street, Suite 300, Chicago IL 60601. E-mail: Web site: Editor-in-Chief: Marianne Carus. Executive Editor: Deborah Vetter. Art Director: John Sandford. Bimonthly magazine. Estab. 1998. Cicada publishes fiction and poetry with a genuine teen sensibility, aimed at the high school and college-age market.The editors are looking for stories and poems that are thought-provoking but entertaining.

Young adults: adventure, animal, contemporary, fantasy, history, humorous, multicultural, nature/environment, romance, science fiction, sports, suspense/mystery, stories that will adapt themselves to a sophisticated cartoon, or graphic novel format. Buys up to 60 mss/year. Average word length: about 5,000 words for short stories; up to 15,000 for novellas (one novella per issue).

Young adults: first-person, coming-of-age experiences that are relevant to teens and young adults (example: life in the Peace Corps). Buys 6 mss/year. Average word length: about 5,000 words. Byline given.

Reviews serious, humorous, free verse, rhyming (if done well) poetry. Maximum length: up to 25 lines. Limit submissions to 5 poems.

How to Contact/Writers
Fiction/nonfiction: send complete ms. Responds to mss in 3 months. Publishes ms 1-2 years after acceptance. Will consider simultaneous submissions if author lets us know.

Buys 20 illustrations/issue; 120 illustrations/year. Uses color artwork for cover; b&w for interior. Works on assignment only. Reviews ms/illustration packages from artists. Send ms with 1-2 sketches and samples of other finished art. Illustrations only: Query with samples. Responds in 6 weeks. Samples returned with SASE; samples filed. Credit line given.

Wants documentary photos (clear shots that illustrate specific artifacts, persons, locations, phenomena, etc., cited in the text) and "art" shots of teens in photo montage/lighting effects etc. Uses b&w 4×5 glossy prints. Submit portfolio for review. Responds in 6 weeks.

Pays on publication. Rights purchased vary. Pays up to 25¢/word for mss; up to $3/line for poetry. Pays illustrators $750 for color cover; $50-150 for b&w inside. Pays photographers per photo (range: $50-150). Sample copies for $8.50. Writer's/illustrator's/photo guidelines for SASE.

"Cicada is currently closed to unsolicited submissions. Please see our current issues for submission guidelines for writing and artwork by readers ages 14-23. The Slam, our online microfiction and poetry forum, is also open to young people ages 14-23. Check for updates on our submissions policy."