Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting, and please let me know how this blog served you.
Kim Tomsic

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fast Five: Interview with Atheneum Editor, Emma Ledbetter

Fast Five with Editor Emma Ledbetter
Emma Ledbetter is an associate editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers. She is also on the faculty for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI fall conference scheduled September 19-20, 2015. Registration can be found here:  Follow this link or type in: https://rmc.scbwi.org
Hi, Emma.
Thank you for serving on the faculty for the upcoming RMC SCBWI fall conference, and for agreeing to this interview. I want to let our participants feel like they know you even before your plane lands at Denver International Airport, so again, thank you for taking the time to answer the following questions:

Here’s the bio info I hijacked off of Atheneum’s website:
Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor
Emma joined Simon and Schuster in 2011 following internships at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Nickelodeon, and Nick Jr. She graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Art History, where she wrote her thesis on the art of Little Golden Books and (re)discovered her passion for children's literature. Books that Emma has edited include The Backwards Birthday Party, a picture book by singer/songwriter Tom Chapin and John Forster and illustrated by Chuck Groenink, and I Don't Like Koala, a hilarious picture book-noir from Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso. She continues to look for captivating voices, enchanting artwork, humor, and charm in a range of formats—particularly picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. She is especially fond of Edward Gorey, Clementine, and Frances the Badger. 
The Backwards Birthday Party by Tom Chapinand John Forster. Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

ICE BREAKER: You attended Yale, wow! And you have impressive internships under your belt, too,
not to mention the fun titles you’ve edited (here’s another to add to the list above, What About Moose by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi). Now that I’m in awe of you, please tell me something to make me feel like your BFF. Something only the insiders in your life know:

Thanks Kim, you’re very kind! I love ice cream and frozen yogurt, and my preferences tend toward those of a small child: eg. chocolate with sour patch kids (gross, I know), and strawberry with rainbow sprinkles.

Nice, sounds like my kind of breakfast (we are talking breakfast foods, right?).

1.  In your 2014 interview with the MD/SE region of the SCBWI, you said you have a particular love for “picture books of all stripes”. That’s awesome news for our picture book authors. I’d love to hear more. Please provide depth about what captivates you.
Also, does “all stripes” include fiction and nonfiction? Rhyming? Concept books?

I really do love it all when it comes to picture books: stripes, solids, and polka dots. A manuscript or dummy doesn’t have to fall into a particular category to captivate me; I’m looking for things like stellar writing and originality. I want that heart-melty feeling you get when you read something totally fresh and clever, beautifully written and/or illustrated; these qualities can come from all sorts of places. Here are three differently striped examples from my list:
1. What About Moose, which you mention above, is a picture book in rhyme. I bought it because I love the character of Moose, I love the non-didactic, witty message about teamwork, and I’m captivated by the verse, which is lively and fun, uses unexpected rhymes, and reads completely naturally. I’m very sensitive to clunky meter—which never does a story any favors—but Corey and Rebecca’s flows perfectly.
2. A really special book I have coming out this spring is called Ida, Always, written by Caron Levis
and illustrated by Charles Santoso. It’s a fictional story about two polar bears from the Central Park Zoo: Gus learns about grief when his friend Ida becomes very sick and dies. It’s quite a tough subject, but the writing is absolutely stunning (as are the illustrations!). This book captivates me because its story is really needed, and importantly, because Caron’s approach is just right—gentle and appropriate and honest.
3. In the nonfiction realm, I recently bought a picture book biography about illustrator and Disney concept artist Mary Blair: Pocket Full of Colors by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, to be illustrated by Brigette Barrager. The manuscript captivated me because a) Mary Blair is a little-known figure who led a fascinating life, and b) Amy and Jacqueline use a clever framework to tell her story—it’s all about color and imagination, and being a girl in a boy’s world, and it’s written with a creative young audience in mind; at no point does it feel like a dull info-dump. (It didn’t hurt that I studied Mary Blair in college and am actually quite obsessed with her, but Amy and Jacqueline didn’t know that when they submitted their project to me!)

(Please excuse this brief pause in the interview as I run to Boulder Bookstore to purchase a copy of What About Moose right now!)

2.      To Note or not to Note, This is the Question.  I often hear a lot of conflicting chatter centered on making illustration notes. I understand the writer should not dictate to the illustrator about what a character looks like or how to lay out a scene, but sometimes jokes in the writer’s mind are held not in the text but in the illustration (i.e. the text may say, “Mommy loves it when I help” but the illustrations must show the exact opposite in order for the joke to work). How do you feel about the use of illustration notes (art notes) and how do you suggest a writer handle making these notes?

Yes, this is a tough question. If you see the illustrations as portraying the opposite of what the text says, yep, that’s important, not only to the illustrator when s/he comes on board, but also to the heart of your story, and to my understanding of it as I consider your manuscript. So if you write “Mommy loves it when I help,” but you don’t want that to be interpreted literally, you should absolutely include something like: “Art note: Bob is actually doing the exact opposite of helping.” What you should NOT write is “Art note: while Mommy is mixing cake batter in the background, Bob is crawling on the counter, with one hand in the sprinkles, and the other hand smearing pink icing all over the wall.” The first gives us crucial information about the story’s intention and the nature of Bob as a character; the second is encroaching on the illustrator’s freedom to interpret your text.

If you do have that specific of a vision, and there’s a good (GOOD) reason behind it—say, it’s important to the plot that Mommy and Bob make a cake, or even that its icing has to be pink—go ahead and write that. Just think carefully about your reasoning behind each note, and don’t go overboard. Since I’m being totally honest here, if I don’t see certain art notes as strictly necessary, sometimes I just delete them before sending a manuscript to an illustrator to consider. Most artists won’t want to take on a project that doesn’t leave them room to breathe and be creative. Picture books are the ultimate team effort!

3.      Please tell me about the list you’re currently building—what you’ve recently acquired, for what publication year, and how you plan to shape that list (pb, er, mg, ya/fiction or nonfiction), including how many books you acquire per year. 

See #1 for some examples of what I have coming up. I have a few awesome books trickling out in 2016 (starting with Ida, Always), and my list kicks into gear in 2017, where I currently have 17 books scheduled to publish—mostly picture books, a couple chapter books and a couple middle grades. I’m aiming to have about 10-15 books publish a year (whoops, sorry 2017!) and continue to be most interested in acquiring middle grade novels and picture books.

4.      How much importance do you place on authors needing a social media platform, and if you consider a platform extremely important, which forms of social media do you recommend?
Also, I’m scratching my head over your Twitter handle @brdnjamforemma in longspeak, is that “Board and jam for Emma,” or “Bird ‘n jam for Emma” or am I not even close?

            I don’t see it as a do-or-die scenario—you should do what you’re comfortable with and natural at—but being an active and creative self-promoter is a definite plus once your book is on the path to publication, because it can really help get the word out.
            And I’m glad you asked that! It’s “Bread and Jam for Emma,” a play on Bread and Jam for Frances, which is one of my all-time favorite picture books. #picturebooknerd!
(Ugh! I can't believe I didn't figure that out. I LOVED that book when I was little. I still have my tattered copy!)

   5.      I recently attended the SCBWI International conference in California where Wendy Loggia peppered a panel of editors with a series of questions. I’m asking you and all members of our RMC faculty to pretend you’re on that California panel, too—picture Los Angeles, the sun warms your face, and you’re about to dash out to the pool bar and order something exotic, but first you must dazzle the audience with answers to the following questions:
a.     What hooks you in a manuscript?
Creativity and originality; something I’ve never seen before. Manuscripts that are surprising, exciting, touching, hilarious, charming, sly, weird. (Maybe not all those things at once, but kudos to you if you pull that off).

b.      What turns you off when reading a manuscript?
I’ll give a picture book-specific answer: manuscripts that feel formulaic; manuscripts that make me suspect the author hasn’t actually read very many picture books (I can tell); manuscripts that haven’t given any thought to the visual opportunities (eg. an entire story that takes place in one room between two characters will not usually lend itself to good page turns and variety in the illustrations).
I’m also pretty sick of picture book manuscripts that are written as lists, eg. “Eight Easy Ways to Annoy Your Little Brother!” Books of this nature can be very clever, certainly—but they often seem to be formatted this way as an excuse to avoid getting into the good stuff, like character and plot, and therefore they have become a personal pet peeve.

c.       What’s on your #MSWL (for those of you on Twitter, #MSWL is where agents and editors post their Manuscript Wish List)?
I’m not so into the #MSWL. On mine are books I don’t even think to want, and then desperately want when they appear in my inbox. These include a picture book about firefighting ducks; a practically-wordless book about a grandmother who uses elaborate methods to deliver a box of cookies to her grandson; a lyrical and thoughtful picture book about all the different parts of a house and where each came from, once; and one about honeybees written in gorgeous, buzzy verse. (I already have these, though; they’ll all be out in 2017).

Can I please have a strawberry daiquiri?
You deserve one (with rainbow sprinkles). Thank you so much for your time!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fast Five with Andrew Karre, Dutton Books For Young Readers

Fast Five with Editor Andrew Karre

Andrew Karre is the executive editor at Dutton Books for Young Readers. He is also on the faculty for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI fall conference
WHEN:  September 19-20, 2015
WHERE: Marriott Denver West, 1717 West Denver Blvd., Golden, CO
How to Register:  Follow this link to Register or type in: https://rmc.scbwi.org
Hi, Andrew!
Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I have about ninety-nine questions I’d like to ask you, but I’ll keep it to this fast-five (ummm, so I cheated a little with multiple questions wrapped in one, but I’m excited. That’s how I roll J).

1.      Me:  Help! Nobody wants to come across as a rookie. I noticed in your interview in 2013 with Ashley Hope Pérez she asked “What are rookie mistakes you see first-time authors make?” Your answer was, “Rushing through revisions.” Please give us another rookie mistake to avoid.

Andrew:  Valuing information over intrigue, especially in first chapters. Where the beginnings of novels are concerned, I value intrigue over information, feeling over knowing, magical confusion over mundane clarity.

Much like a good magician, an experienced novelist knows that she must keep things moving quickly and perch at the ragged edge of comprehension in the beginning of a novel. There is a sweet spot of confusion that an inexperienced writer will shy away from but the master will aim for.

(Andrew edited Ashley’s books, What Can’t Wait (2011, Carolrhoda Books),  The Knife and the Butterfly (2012, Carolrhoda Books) and Out of Darkness (2015, Carolrhoda LAB)

2.       I recently attended the SCBWI International conference in California where a panel of editors was asked a series of questions. Let’s imagine you are part of that panel—you’re  in Los Angeles, the sun is shining, and you’re about to go to the pool bar and order something exotic, but first you must indulge and dazzle the audience with answers to the following questions:
a.        What hooks you in a manuscript?
A confident, bewildering, and enthralling first chapter. If I read the first pages and am completely confused but my heart rate is elevated, I know I’m reading something special.

b.      What turns you off when reading a manuscript?
Condescension and careless clichés. Children and teenagers who fulfill adult wishes.

c.       What’s on your #MSWL (for those of you on Twitter, #MSWL is where agents and editors post their Manuscript Wish List)?
I try to avoid specific topics or subgenre wishes. I rarely find them helpful. There are qualities and characteristics that I wish for though: Stories of children and teenagers from authors whose stories and life experiences are outside the white mainstream of children’s lit. Books by serious writers who know in their bones that writing about children is as high a calling as any in fiction.

3.      Please tell us about your move from Carolrhoda to Dutton Books for Young Readers, and also please tell us about the shape and plan for your list.
I am very proud of what I accomplished in my six years at Lerner and am grateful for the creative freedom I had there. When the opportunity arose to work for Julie Strauss-Gabel and contribute to a list as exciting and discerning as Dutton’s (and to do so without leaving my home in St. Paul) presented itself, however, I knew I had to take it.

I intend to publish a diverse list of risk-taking, provocative, and thoroughly entertaining YA and MG fiction and nonfiction (probably around nine titles a year, eventually). I hope the books will continue to be surprising, and I plan to value care and craftsmanship in writing and storytelling as highly as I always have.

Follow up question:  How does working remotely affect your job?
After more than a decade spent working in various offices surrounded by colleagues, I now work in the attic of my home in St. Paul (“attic” is probably misleading. It’s finished and quite nice). Working remotely has gone well—even more smoothly than I’d hoped. The Dutton team is small and used to being flexible. They’ve been great about keeping me in the loop. (Plus I travel to New York regularly). Remote editors are not entirely uncommon in publishing, and there are more of us all the time. I think experienced editors can edit and advocate for our books effectively wherever we are.

At Dutton, I do far fewer books than I did before, and so I have the luxury of focus and time to be extra maniacal about all the details of how my books are published. So even though I’m remote, I am very aware of what’s going on with my books.

4.      What role do you expect authors to play in the launch and promotion of their books?
I expect authors to be honest with themselves and with me about their comfort levels where promotion are concerned. I hope they’ll work with us to channel their efforts into forms of promotion that suit their personalities and talents and that will get them in front of an audience.  I’ve seen enough books and authors in my career to know there’s no one way to make a successful book, so we spend a great deal of time discussing the promotional strengths of an author and the opportunities her book presents. And every author has promotional strengths and all our books have opportunities.
Follow-up question: Would you like to add anything more on your thoughts on claiming social media real estate?
As a practical matter, any aspiring author should own her domain name and recognizable identities on major social media (as in, your real name if available and if that’s what you write under).
5.      I recently wrote an article (bought by Stephen Mooser for The Bulletin pub date TBD) titled, Reading for a Rich Conference Experience. In the article, I propose conference attendees read books written, edited and/or agented by the faculty of a conference they plan to attend. Not only does it make for a richer conference experience, it’s a great vetting tool to discover if an agent or editor is a good match for the attendee. I’d like to put my money where my mouth is. Please provide a list (broken out by genre, if you will) of books you’ve edited over the past year or two.
This is a good idea, I think:

Sex andViolence by Carrie Mesrobian (January 2015) Morris Award Finalist
Infandous by Elana K. Arnold (March, 2015)
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (January, 2012)
AMatter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick (April, 2014)
Brooklyn,Burning by Steve Brezenoff (August, 2014)

FourthDown and Inches by Carla Killough McClafferty (September, 2013)

(I’ve done relatively little MG recently.)

Thank, Andrew! 

For other great interviews with Andrew Karre, please visit:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Conferences are Kingmakers!

Illustration courtesy of Ruth E. Harper
Conferences are kingmakers. It’s true! Talk to published authors and illustrators, and more often than not, an attendee’s career moved into hyper-drive after a conference. It shouldn’t be surprising, since this is where craft improves, ideas bubble to mind, and important connections are made. Many publishing hopefuls met their agent or editor attending breakout sessions, getting critiques, or selecting the right seat at an open-table luncheon. 

Illustration courtesy of Brooke-Boynton Huges
Colorado illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes attended SCBWI's International conference in California in 2012 where she entered her portfolio in the illustrator showcase. She didn't win the showcase, but she did get signed with agent Marietta Zacker and also landed a book deal. Furthermore, Brooke signed up for the one-on-one portfolio review. She received feedback throughout the conference weekend and learned a lot about her craft. When she returned to the event in 2013, she walked away as the Portfolio Honor Award winner and also as the Mentorship Award winner! In 2014, she received the Portfolio Honor Award at SCBWI's winter conference in New York. But it's important to know, Brooke's success didn't come from one conference. She says, "I think the most important part about attending conferences is the chance to have one-on-one portfolio critiques and the opportunity to learn about your craft.  I attended six or seven international conferences and three or four regional conferences before I was published and before my portfolio was recognized in the showcase."  Now her illustrations are published in books with Beach Lane, Disney Hyperion, and Random House.
Colorado author Ana Crespo met her editor, Kelly Barrales-Saylor of Albert Whitman and Co., at the regional Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference. Ana signed up for a manuscript critique and landed a feedback timeslot with Kelly. After listening to Kelly’s edit suggestions, and taking ample notes during the conference workshops and intensive, Ana was armed with ideas to improve her writing. Ana went home, reworked and edited her story, then queried Kelly who bought and published The Sock Thief. Ana now has four more books coming out with Albert Whitman in a series called JP BOOKS, MY EMOTIONS AND ME (p.s. two books release this September--check them out here )!
I met my agent (Jen Rofé of ABLA ) and editor (Melissa Manlove, Chronicle Books) at an SCBWI conference, and let’s just say it involved an unofficial scavenger hunt, an Aperol Smash, and a failed pitch—but that failed pitch was part of a connection, and in the end I received a business card and an email address. A year-and-a-half later I worked on the craft points I’d learned at the conference, then sent a query on a whole new project—here’s where I cue the drum roll and build to a frenzy—I got a YES! My debut book THE ELEPHANTS CAME will release with Chronicle Books in spring, 2017. 
If the above three stories haven't convinced you that conferences are kingmakers, read the summer 2015 Bulletin and the article titled SCBWI Success Story:  Martha Brockenbrough. Martha met her editor, Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levin at Scholastic, at a conference. She says, “Truly. Every picture book I’ve ever sold has come directly from my time at an SCBWI conference”. Martha has sold four (!!!) picture books, including an adorable title called The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy.
This year’s SCBWI Rocky Mountain Regional Conference features some of the brightest minds in the industry. Learn—connect—and you, too, can become a king!  
Register to reserve you spot!!!  And please note important deadlines to sign up for manuscript consultation or portfolio review. 
WHEN:  September 19-20, 2015
WHERE: Marriott Denver West, 1717 West Denver Blvd., Golden, CO
How to Register:  Follow this link to Register or type in: https://rmc.scbwi.org
Who:  See the list below!
Dan Yaccarino, Author/Illustrator

Andrew Karre, Executive Editor, Dutton Books for Young Readers
Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Kristen Nelson, Agent, Nelson Literary Agency
Megged Semadar, Art Director, Philomel
Deborah Warren, Agent, East/West Literary
Stacy Whitman, Founder and Publisher, Tu Books, imprint of Lee & Low Books

Leslie Ann Clark, Designer/Licensor
Melanie Crowder, Author
Julie Danneberg, Author
Erin Dealy, Author
Jenny Goebel, Author
Nancy Oswald, Author

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Agents and Editors Really Think When Reading Your First Page

DREAM TEAM:  Nick Healy, Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown, Jennifer Mattson, Melissa Manlove

Writers want to know the secret sauce that makes editors, agents and readers turn a first page in a book. Some say authors must get the inciting incident on page one. 

Screenwriting books advise the inciting incident should land on page ten (or for books, the first 10% of a novel). Wendy Loggia of Delacorte Press/Random House once told me it’s hard to care about an inciting incident until we care about the character. She went on to say that many writers want to get to the good stuff first, but it all has to be good.

To further understand the art of the first page, I asked Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA), to host a panel session during the Big Sur in the Rockies writing workshop held in Boulder, Colorado. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, participants submitted the first page of their work-in-progress and gathered to hear feedback from a dream-team of publishing professionals—Melissa Manlove from Chronicle  Books, Nick Healy from Capstone Publishing and three ABLA agents Andrea Brown, Caryn Wiseman and Jennifer Mattson.  The panel provided insight on what works and what doesn’t on the first page of manuscripts, everything from picture books to YA novels. 

Here’s what I heard:
Don’t rob readers of experiencing the emotional state of the character. This is another reason agents and editors (and readers) want you to SHOW DON’T TELL. For example, writers should not write George was upset about his report card—that TELLS the emotional state. Write something along the lines of George wadded up his report card and shoved it to the bottom of his backpack

Picture Book Writers—WATCH OUT for clause filled sentence structure. Instead, choose an appropriate sentence structure for your audience. Also let sentences end so readers land on an idea. Simplify your language and let the art carry a good portion of the weight of the story. (And on a side note, it’s a good idea to keep emotional conflict out of bedtime stories).

All Manuscripts—
·        Avoid over choreography.
·        Read your pages out loud and listen for repeating words or repeating a character’s name—fix if you’re over using.
·        Choose active verbs. Instead of using “to be” verbs, choose verbs powerful enough to eliminate adjective and adverbs.
·        Remember that books set in the 1980’s are now considered historical fiction.
·        Don’t lead with generic circumstances that stay generic, stay away from common story line and add something fresh and original.
·        Don’t write a book with didactic intentions and please don’t write with a didactic tone; kids will see right through this. “We don’t go to stories for lessons.” Melissa Manlove  (though please see Melissa’s additional feedback listed at the end of this article).
·        Be careful so that you’re not long and heavy on details. Readers don’t want to wade through the mundane to get to the good.
·        “Many editors dislike prologues and we want you to be as rejection-proof as possible so don’t use them unless you really must.” Andrea Brown
·        Some panel members are not fans of mixing anthropomorphized animals with talking humans. That’s not a rule, just a note of preferences when querying this panel.
·        The Picture Book industry is currently hot on having character-driven picture books, but characters still needs to have a motivation.   
·        Another personal preference from this panel—they don’t enjoy reading first pages with names that are difficult to pronounce (i.e. T’sfard-ma-zia might be a prime example).

Using illustration notes in picture books. Please know this varies between editors (for example, never (never ever) send an illustration note to Beach Lane Books). Per the members on this panel, illustration notes are fine, but only if it is necessary for the editor or agent to get an inside joke or a something that is not relayed in the words. Do not use illustration notes to describe your character or provide unnecessary art direction.

Writing in Rhyme. If you are writing in rhyme, please take a look at any book that’s won a Geisel Award (p.s. fun fact—Andrea Brown worked with Theodore Geisel long ago!).
I’ve attended many conferences and though many agents and editors say they don’t like rhyme, many also say it’s because they don’t like bad and forced rhyme. Furthermore, if a story rhymes in English, that doesn’t mean it’s going to rhyme in French or Spanish, so rhyming books are difficult to sell beyond the U.S.  

Author/Illustrators—if work as both an author and illustrator, you should submit a sketch dummy for your full picture book along with only a couple of pieces of finished art.

**Post workshop Melissa and I chatted, and she states there’s another side to this list of advice. To learn more, I suggest you read her interview titled “Noir and Horror for your Kindergartner” by Maggie Tokuda-Hall posted on the Boing Boing blog