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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:

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