I am so thrilled to welcome this week's KidLit Oasis guest, Alison S. Weiss, Editor at Pixel+Ink, and to chat with her about all things publishing!
Alison has graciously agreed to share her insight and wisdom with my readers, to take us behind the scenes of her publishing house, and she's also giving away a bundle of books to one lucky winner! How fantastic is that?!
I can't wait for you to hear from Alison, so here we go....
Welcome, Alison! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and for sharing your perspective, knowledge, and publishing experience with us! I appreciate your visit -- it's truly exciting to interview an editor on my blog!
My first question is, how did you become an editor? Did you have any mentors who helped you along the way? And please tell us about Pixel + Ink as a publisher -- what are the company's values, goals, and mission?
ASW: I started my career as an intern at Delacorte Books for Young Readers when I was going into my senior year of college, but my first full-time job in publishing was as Sales and Marketing Assistant at Egmont USA. I say I stared in Sales and Marketing, but Egmont was a brand-new company at the time—I was employee number four!—and we didn’t really have any books to sell or market, so I was more like a jack of all trades. I helped plan the company’s launch party. I ordered office supplies. I booked and confirmed (and reconfirmed) trips for the executives to major conferences like BEA and ALA and Frankfurt. And I read and discussed manuscripts. About six months in, the company decided to split my role in two, and I was lucky enough that they saw the potential in me and let me make the hop over to editorial, enabling me to grow along with the company.
But, of course I still needed to learn how to be a good editor. I’ve always worked at companies that are growing, and that means you often jump in to help with matters beyond your standard job description, and you learn a lot about the business and how it really operates along the way. I’ve been fortunate to have had some incredible people to help me along that journey. Regina Griffin took me under her wing and taught me the mechanics of the trade of editing, the ins-and-outs of a book contract, author care, how to be strategic, and so many more skills I can’t begin to list. Elizabeth Law’s extroversion and ease with talking to new writers taught me how to push past my introverted shell and network successfully. Bethany Buck, my current Editor-in-Chief, who I’ve been fortunate enough to work with at two companies now, modeled for me that being a good manager is about making sure your team has what they need to be successful and thrive. And there are so many others who have taught me so much. I can only hope that I can be that advocate and mentor to young editors as they find their own paths.
Pixel+Ink is part of the Trustbridge Media Group, along with sister companies Holiday House, Peachtree, and Candlewick/Walker. We’re a very new company—we recently had our first anniversary of publication!—and we’re just getting started. Pixel+Ink is a little different than other publishers, in that we are committed to series publishing with transmedia potential. That means we’re developing properties across multiple books (whether that’s a specified arc, strong worlds we just keep wanting to revisit, or a sequence that can just go on and on and on), and we’re looking for franchises that have strong potential to make the leap to TV, film, or other media platforms. We publish picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and graphic novels. We really believe in telling stories that kids ages 3-13 want to get lost in. We want readers to feel seen in these worlds, but also to feel they have a place to escape and explore and grow. And we hope they have a lot of fun along the way.
Wow, what an incredible journey! And you've had such amazing opportunities to learn the business from many different angles, which I think is invaluable. I'm always fascinated with the particular path a person took to take them to where they are today.
My next question is, what is your favorite part of the job and what is your least favorite part? What brings you joy in your position day in and day out?
ASW: I love collaboration. I love working with my authors. I love working with my team. It feels like such a privilege to make books for readers that can be so meaningful to who they may grow up to be. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously, and to do it alongside such creative and committed partners is exhilarating.
I’m not a fan of how long it takes to get movement on things. This is a hurry up and wait industry on all levels. And I don’t always love writing copy. I need to be in the right mindset, and sometimes schedules don’t allow me to wait for the creative juices to flow. (Sound familiar?)
Very familiar! And I second this--I am right there with you NOT being a fan of the slow movement on things in the industry. The "hurry up and wait" is tough!
Please tell us, what is a typical workday for you? If there's no "typical" what are some of the tasks that have priority in any given workday?
ASW: There is definitely no typical workday. I keep a running list of tasks I need to get to, which gets copied over every Monday, and I cross things off as I go along through the week. I do a pretty good job of winnowing away at that list, but it’s never finished. Priority in a given day is usually based on deadlines that are coming up. If we’re preparing for Launch or Sales Conference, tasks related to that have to be handled before other matters. If a book is about to go to press, I have to drop everything to review the passes as they circulate, and that can be quite a frenzy. Administrative tasks and correspondence often come before digging into a manuscript or reading because they’re more time sensitive. But I’ve been very lucky at Pixel+Ink that I do have days where I can spend an entire afternoon or even a day (or multiple days in a row!) editing, and for that I am very grateful.
Are you actively acquiring new books at this time? What are some of the stories you're looking for? What appeals to you?
ASW: I am definitely acquiring right now, and I’m eager to fall in love with new, exciting projects. I think I’m drawn to books that have a lot of heart and often a lot of humor. I want a story to really get its claws in me. I’m looking for the great trifecta—stand-out characters, engaging plot, and a killer voice. I love most those manuscripts that change my perspective on the world when I’m done reading.
[Check out Alison's submission guidelines]
How much time do you usually spend reading a submission? Do you read the query first or the manuscript?
ASW: Since joining Pixel+Ink, I’ve implemented a practice I’ve really been enjoying. I carve out a block of time on a Sunday afternoon with my Kindle, a huge cup of coffee, and a scone, and I sit reading manuscripts. That’s not to say I don’t read at other times (I do!), but those hours have become my devoted reading time every week. So far, it’s allowed me to keep my response times down to something respectable for the most part, but I suppose I’ll have to reassess if things change!
I skim a query letter when a submission first comes in, but I read the manuscript first. If I’m a few chapters in and feel in my gut that this could be something, I’ll usually jump over to the query letter to get the pitch, and then keep that info in mind as I dive back into the manuscript, hoping it will stay just as great.
How do you evaluate submissions? What marks does a manuscript need to hit to be considered for acquisitions?
ASW: Wow. This is a difficult question to answer. What makes a manuscript work is really subjective. It’s important to remember that just because a manuscript may not click for me, that doesn’t mean that another editor won’t fall madly in love with it.
I usually can tell fairly early on if it’s something I’m adoring, and then it’s a question of it staying as wonderful. I’m looking for writing that stands out. I try to give every project I consider a fair shake (sometimes that first chapter is just not the right starting place), but if my mind’s starting to wander or I find I’m not really invested, that probably is the signal it’s time to move on.
For Pixel+Ink, I have the added component that I need books that have strong series potential and that I can see being picked up for film. If I’m looking at a picture book that’s not character-driven and it’s not easy to see how you might come up with thirty different plots for a pre-school season, it doesn’t matter how lovely I think it is. And for a novel, if the ending feels very final (and there’s a difference between a satisfying close and slamming the door shut), it’s going to be harder for me to get to yes. Some books really are meant to be stand-alones, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of editors who will gobble those up.
What happens next? How is the acquisition process handled? Could you walk us through the process from submission to contract offer?
ASW: If I find something I’d love to move forward with, the next step is usually sharing it with my Editor-in-Chief. I may be simultaneously reaching out to an agent or author to get a bit more information or to discuss some light development, or I may wait until I have the greenlight to move forward. At that point, I put together a profit and loss statement, which analyzes the profitability of a project based on a lot of considerations. I’m also coming up with other books already on the market to make a case why I think this could do well, too. (This is why, creators, it’s so important to know the current market and to know where your book fits within it.) I’m also sharing the manuscript with my rights director and our film consultant for their feedback. (This is not necessarily how this process works at other houses, but you might share the manuscript with marketing or sales.) Once the P&L is ready, I present the project to our Managing Director at an Acquisitions meeting and we discuss my potential strategy should he approve us offering. If the project clears that hurdle, my Editor-in-Chief and I pull together our offer and we’re off to the races!
I see that the time frame to get a reply from Pixel + Ink is up to 4 months. Is no reply considered a pass after the 4 months or do you send form rejections? Should authors follow up on unsolicited submissions?
ASW: Currently, the Pixel+Ink editorial team consists my Editor-in-Chief and me, so unfortunately we simply don’t have the bandwidth to reply personally to every unsolicited manuscript, even if we wish we could. No response after four months is a pass from us. Writers can of course follow up, but that doesn’t get you any kind of preferential treatment.
Are you currently taking submissions from illustrators?
What is the one thing people should avoid in submissions?
ASW: It’s really important to follow submission guidelines. We don’t do YA or non-fiction. We don’t do stand-alone anything. (If your book’s a stand-alone, but you have ideas for more stories in the world, just mention that in your query letter.)
Also, if you’re sending unsolicited, please don’t send anything as an exclusive submission unless there’s a specific reason you’re doing it. No one in the industry expects that of you, and you’re actually working against yourself.
How does Pixel + Ink support its authors after the acquisition process and post-publication? Would you highlight some of the marketing, promotion, and distribution support your titles receive?
ASW: The Pixel+Ink list is carefully curated so that every creator we work with gets a lot of attention from our team and we can treat each of them as the partner we view them as. We’re sold and distributed by Penguin Random House, so we have amazing market reach. Our publicity and marketing teams are incredible, and they’re always coming up with smart, detailed, tailored plans for each property in conjunction with our creators’ ideas. And they’re really nice, too.
What projects are you working on right now for your list? What are you excited about and why? Any upcoming titles you could share with us?
ASW: I’ve been spending a lot of time with Pixel+Ink projects acquired before I joined the company, including Beatrice Bly’s Rules for Spies by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Beth Mills, Twig and Turtle by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Paula Franco, The Great Peach Experiment by Erin Soderberg Downing, and the forthcoming The Great Mathemachicken by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by Charlie Alder.
I’m also excited to start seeing the books I’ve acquired getting ready to make their way into the market. The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves by Tom Phillips is a middle grade series launching in Summer 2022 that I’m particularly eager to see out in the world. It’s A Series of Unfortunate Events meets Enola Holmes. It’s hilarious and full of heart, and the kind of book where you realize how cleverly plotted it is as you pick up on more and more with every read. I adore it and I’m certain readers are going to eat it up.
Thank you again, Alison! It was a pleasure talking with you! I look forward to checking out all of these wonderful books and look forward to your upcoming titles, too.
Connect with Alison S. Weiss
Follow Alison on Twitter: @alioop17
Alison S. Weiss has been in publishing for more than ten years. She’s currently acquisitions editor at Pixel+Ink (part of the Trustbridge Media Group), a publisher focused exclusively on series publishing with transmedia potential. There, she’s worked on many series, including TWIG AND TURTLE by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT by Erin Soderberg Downing, and the forthcoming THE CURIOUS LEAGUE OF DETECTIVES AND THIEVES by Tom Phillips. She’s run her own editorial consultancy, working with publishers including Simon & Schuster, Audible, and Arctis, as well as private clients, and was Editorial Director at Sky Pony Press, where her list included William C. Morris Finalist DEVILS WITHIN by S.F. Henson, the PROJECT DROID series by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser, illustrated by Mike Moran, the TIMEKEEPER trilogy by Tara Sim, and the Mahabharata-inspired CELESTIAL TRILOGY by SanguMandanna. In 2016 she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. She’s been trying to live up to the title ever since. You can follow her on Twitter @alioop7 and learn more about Pixel+Ink at www.pixelandinkbooks.com.
G I V E A W A Y! ! !
Leave a comment and share this post on social media to be entered in the giveaway for a chance to win a bundle of Pixel+Ink titles! (US only, please)
One winner will be announced on 10/12/21.
(Pick your prize pack: picture books + chapter books OR middle grade/graphic novels)
Lauren Kerstein! Congratulations!!!
Chitchat with Yeehoo Press Editor Helen Wu Plus a Critique Giveaway and Above the Slush Pile Submission!
Hello, lucky KidLit Oasis Readers!
I am so excited to have you back, because you are in for multiple treats with this post! Are you smiling already? I hope you are, and in just a moment, you'll see what I mean...
My guest on KidLit Oasis is the amazing Helen Wu, who wears many hats in the kidlit industry: she is an editor, publisher, author, illustrator, graphic designer, and translator! How impressive is that? Oh, and she's also my acquisition's editor for my upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success. So, it's my great pleasure to have Helen on my blog, and I'm truly happy to chat with her about her role as an editor, in particular, and get the scoop on what goes on behind the scenes at Yeehoo Press, so you could be in the know as well!
Plus, Helen is generously giving away a picture book critique to one super lucky blog reader! And, she's giving my readers an above-the-slush-pile submission opportunity! Hooray! (Find the guidelines at the end of the interview.)
Now, without further ado, welcome, Helen! Thank you for being my guest. I have lots of questions, so let's get started.
1. How did you become an editor? Did you have any mentors who helped you along the way? And please tell us about Yeehoo as a publisher -- what are the company's values, goals, and missions?
I’ve been passionate about writing and drawing since I was a kid, but I never thought it would be a career option growing up in China. After I graduated from the University of Georgia with an MS in Economics, I landed a job in the marketing field. I learned how to use and draw in Photoshop to make attractive marketing materials. I did digital drawings and put a portfolio online. To my surprise, someone asked me if I could illustrate their picture book. Gradually, I illustrated more self-published picture books. I got involved in every step of bookmaking—from illustration to layout to cover design, typography, and book printing. When my son was born, I was inspired to write and illustrate my own picture books. The positive feedback encouraged me to do more. In 2018, with 10 picture books that I wrote and illustrated under my belt, I realized I wanted more than just a book out there. My dream was to write a book that could reach a wider audience and be carried by libraries and brick-and-mortar bookstores. I knew I needed a professional team with an editor, designer, and art director and marketing resources to back me up. Traditional publishing was the route to take. I started taking classes and attending conferences.
In August 2019, I attended the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and met Mr. Zhang, the publisher, and two editors from Yeehoo Press. Luyang Xue, the acquisition editor, told me they were looking for someone to take charge of their publishing house’s US division. They wanted someone who could speak Mandarin and English and had experience in children’s book publishing and connections to authors in the US.
My background was a perfect fit for Yeehoo’s criteria. They invited me to visit their offices in Shanghai and Suzhou for an in-depth discussion with the whole team. After a few months of talks and planning, I officially joined the team in November 2019.
Yeehoo Press creates and publishes fun, enchanting, and socially responsible children’s books for audiences worldwide, focusing on universal messages. Yeehoo publishes the English editions in the US and the simplified Chinese editions in mainland China. Starting with the US and Chinese markets—two of the largest children's book markets—Yeehoo’s goal is to find common ground between different countries and cultures and provide books with universal interest and appeal for readers worldwide.
2. What is your favorite part of the job and what is your least favorite part? What brings you joy in your position day in and day out?
Definitely getting the chance to think creatively—not only the book itself but also the whole collaboration process and all areas of the publishing business. To be the best advocate for your book, you have to know about contracts, subsidiary rights, the target audience, writing, art style, graphic design, marketing, publicity, sales, and so on. The goal is to support the author and the rest of the book team, including the illustrator, designer, and marketing team, in telling a compelling story. I love to see each step of how a book takes shape from plain text to a finished book. I always marvel at the journey of making picture books. You plant a seed and work hard to nurture it, and it surprises you months later with flowers!
3. What is a typical workday for you? If there's no "typical" what are some of the tasks that have priority in any given workday?
Last year, I focused more on acquisitions. I used to read and review picture book manuscripts before presenting potential books to the acquisitions board. Some weeks, I only had a few manuscripts to read, while I had too many in other weeks. It can be really hot and cold, but every day starts with reading and taking notes.
This year, I focused more on the marketing side of the business, and our other editors do more of the acquisitions. I’m constantly looking at timing and scheduling. I always start with things at the top of my to-do list, and I regularly check on deadlines. I’m in meetings, liaising with different departments for each book, including editors who write the descriptive synopsis and catalog copy, the production team, who prints and ships the books, the sales team, who handle ads and promotions, and our acquisition editors about our new lists and acquisitions. It’s the little bits and pieces you’re doing throughout the day and over the course of many months to bring books into the world.
4. Are you actively acquiring new books at this time? What are some of the stories you're looking for? What appeals to you?
We’re developing a new list, and our manuscript wish list will be updated from time to time. The best way to keep informed of our most up-to-date list is to check our submission guidelines https://yeehoopress.com/submissions/ and follow us on social media.
5. How do you evaluate submissions? What marks does a manuscript need to hit to be considered for acquisitions?
We’re always looking for strong writing, compelling plots, and universal messages. We also have to think in terms of our list. We have four editors acquiring picture books, and the acquisition decisions are made by the whole team. We will do in-depth market research on the books we’re ready to acquire in the US and Chinese markets. Depending on the market, readers’ tastes differ, and the way to promote books is different. We try to find books with themes that have common ground in different markets. Once our books are published in the English and Chinese editions, I believe it will be easier to reach other countries and cultures and be enjoyed by readers around the world.
For the acquisition process, our editors go through stacks of submissions, consider what we think may work for our program, create a memo to share with the team that includes a positioning statement about the book’s topic and why someone might want to buy it, a brief description of the story, an author bio, and comparable titles. In the US, the books will be published and promoted individually, while in mainland China, books by different authors and illustrators are commonly sold and promoted as collections or sets with a common theme. For a set of books, it could be from 3–10 books. We usually need to acquire at least three books about a particular theme—say emotions, STEAM, non-fictions about a particular topic—to establish a set of books.
6. What happens next? How is the acquisition process handled? Could you walk us through the process from submission to contract offer?
We usually have several rounds of acquisitions meetings. Occasionally, the manuscript might need some revisions, so we’ll also talk with the author about the possible revisions and make sure we’re on the same page and agree on the book’s direction. Acquisitions might take a few weeks to a few months, depending on our list. If we rush to complete a set of books, the acquisition will be faster. If we’re developing a new list, like we have been the past several months, we’re slow at acquisitions. When we’d like to acquire a book, we’ll send the author an offer with advances, royalty structures, and any other terms.
7. Are you currently taking submissions from illustrators?
Yes, we take submissions from illustrators. We’re actively looking for illustrators and browsing illustration agencies, portfolio websites, and social media. Submitting directly to us is a great way for us to get to know the artist.
8. What is the one thing people should avoid in submissions?
Some submissions don’t have a proper query letter. The query letter includes synopsis, pitch, age range, a short bio with the author’s writing experience, and three comparable titles. Though eventually, it’s the manuscript itself that we evaluate, a strong query frequently makes the difference in the submission grabbing our interest immediately.
9. How does Yeehoo support its authors and illustrators after the acquisition process and post-publication? Would you highlight some of the marketing, promotion, and distribution support your titles receive? For example, do you work with indie bookstores, big chains, school libraries, do you submit your books to journal reviews, awards etc.?
After the acquisition, we have several editors in the US who will do the actual editing with the author. They all have years of experience working in large publishing houses and will make the manuscript the best it can possibly be. It is also time to find an illustrator. We’d like to ask potential candidates to draw a sample character to see their interpretation. We select the artist based on the art style, character design, timeline, and budget. After we officially bring the illustrator on board, they will create a storyboard, then rough sketches, and then colored spreads. Our designer will jump in to start the layout design when 90% of the artwork is finished. The art director, the designer, and the illustrator will work together to ensure the final book is polished to perfection.
Our marketing starts about six months before publication. In China, we share the marketing channels and resources with our publishing partner, Phoenix Media & Group. We have distributors in different provinces in China and for online and offline bookstores. In the US, we also partner with the distributor here to make our books available to teachers, librarians, and booksellers through the regular sales channels. We send our books to be reviewed by all the major children's literature journals, such as Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and so on, and submit them for national, state, and numerous other awards. We also reach out to blogs, podcasts, and social media influencers for reviews and shoutouts. We contact independent bookstores and libraries for author events and storytimes. There are so many marketing ideas and approaches, and we love to work with amazing authors and illustrators to achieve success in the literary world.
10. What projects are you working on right now for Yeehoo's list? What are you excited about and why? Any upcoming titles you could share with us?
We’re really excited about our upcoming titles this year. Milo’s Moonlight Mission (June 15) by Kathleen M. Blasi, illustrated by Petronela Dostalova, is an emotionally resonant, heartwarming tale of a parent and a child struggling to find quality time together—a challenge with which many parents and children can identify. The Perfect Party (August 10) by Laurel P. Jackson, illustrated by Hélène Baum-Owoyele, celebrates the beauty of different cultures and the strength of collaboration. The Whole World Inside Nan's Soup (August 24) by Hunter Liguore, illustrated by Vikki Zhang, in which Nan shares the wisdom that one bowl of soup contains an assortment of traditions and places. From farmhand to delivery drivers to market merchants, readers can see all the essential hands it takes to bring a meal together. Chameleon Can Be (September 7) by Carolina Farías is an adventure of guessing riddles, learning about animals, and discovering the importance of being true to yourself.
We’re also working on another eight titles for spring 2022, and we can’t wait to bring all these adorable books to life!
I cannot wait, either -- especially since one of those adorable books in my own! Aaah, I'm so excited and look forward to sharing it with the word. :)
Thank you so much for your time, Helen, and for giving us such thorough insight into the publishing process at Yeehoo Press as well as sharing all these amazing books on Yeehoo's list!
I know that you also have a new book of your own coming out, published by Beaming Books, so I hope you'll be back to KidLit Oasis as a guest author next time.
I wish you all the best on your journey and I look forward to many more books from you, personally, and from Yeehoo Press.
G I V E A W A Y ! ! !
Helen Wu is giving away one non-rhyming picture book critique.
Here's how to enter the giveaway by 6/14/21:
1. Leave a comment on this post
2. Subscribe to KidLit Oasis
*Social media shares are optional, but encouraged and appreciated! Spread the word, and invite your writer and illustrator friends over to KidLit Oasis!
Don't forget to tag me (@RosiePOV on Twitter)
>>>>>The winner will be announced on 6/15/21<<<<<
Ellen Leventhal won the picture book critique by Helen Wu! Congratulations, Ellen!
Above-the-slush submission opportunity:
Open until 6/30/21
Follow the submision guidelines of Yeehoo Press when sending your picture book manuscript to Helen Wu, and put "Kidlit" in the subject line. Good luck!
Helen H. Wu is a children’s book author and illustrator of over 20 picture books, as well as a translator, graphic designer, and publisher. Her new picture book, Tofu Takes Time, illustrated by Julie Jarema, will be published by Beaming Books in spring 2022. She illustrated the educational coronavirus picture book Be a Coronavirus Fighter by Songju Ma Daemicke, which received many praises all around the world and has been translated into 12 languages. Helen is the Associate Publisher of Yeehoo Press, a Los Angeles based children’s book publisher. Being fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share stories that can empower children to understand the world and our connections. Born and raised in Hefei, China, Helen moved to the US in her 20s. Currently, she resides in sunny Southern California, with her family and two kids.
Connect with Yeehoo Press and Helen Wu:
Yeehoo's website: https://yeehoopress.com/
Yeehoo's Twitter: @yeehoopress
Yeehoo's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yeehoopress/
Helen Wu on Twitter: @HelenHWu
Helen Wu on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/helenhwu/
Helen Wu's website: https://helenhwu.com/
This week, I am so excited to welcome an author and editor team to KidLit Oasis! Nicholas Solis and his editor at Sleeping Bear Press, Sarah Rockett, will give us the inside scoop of their collaboration on The Color Collector, the behind-the-scenes details from submission to acquisition and beyond, plus much more!
But that's not all! Sleeping Bear Press is also kindly giving away a copy of the book to one of my blog readers -- check out the details at the end of the interview.
And now, without further ado, here are Nick and Sarah! Thank you both for being on KidLit Oasis and for sharing this wonderful book with my readers! Let me start with my first question to Nick...
1. Nick, please tell us about the journey of publication for The Color Collector -- from the inspiration for the story and writing the first draft to how it ended up on Sarah's desk. I love hearing about the story behind the story and my readers do, too!
My inspiration for The Color Collector was a piece of art that was hanging up at The Austin Art Garage in Austin, TX. It had a lonely little girl, with the saddest eyes I had ever seen, catching falling leaves and placing them in a knapsack. The painting stuck with me for days and I just kept wondering about why she was so sad. I wrote several rough drafts, but none of them felt right. Then one night I woke up at two in the morning with the entire story. I quickly wrote it down before I forgot it. It was much sparser than the original drafts, but the text felt like it fit the lonely little girl with the sad eyes. I continued to work on the draft over the next few years, and started taking classes at The Writing Barn, where I was able to edit it with the help of the fantastic authors who taught there.
In 2018, I was at the International Literacy Association Conference where I started talking to Sarah about books. We traded contacts and I sent in some of my stories to Sleeping Bear Press, and she liked The Color Collector!!!
2. Sarah, please guide us through your thoughts and the process from when you first read The Color Collector to acquiring the story. What made you fall in love with it? What stood out?
Meeting Nick at the ILA conference was such a joy! I could tell how passionate he is about his students and writing for kids—I knew he would be a wonderful author. Nick ended up submitting a handful of manuscripts to us. They all had a ton of potential, and most were really funny, but Color Collector felt really intentional and soulful. The themes of finding beauty in the discarded and being a friend felt really timely. There were so many directions a reader could go with the story. And it had such amazing illustration potential. Luckily, our acquisition team agreed and we were able to sign the project!
3. Nick, how different is the final, published story from the draft that Sarah saw?
It’s pretty similar to the draft that Sarah saw. Sarah has a fantastic eye for editing, and she helped me really tighten up the story. But overall, it was just losing a word or phrase here or there. We did lose one page of text, but that was replaced with the amazing illustrations of Renia Metallinou!
4. Sarah, what was the revision process like after acquisitions?
Nick is right. Not a ton changed with the manuscript in the revision process. But when you’re working with a picture book manuscript—and especially one like Color Collector that is lyrical in nature and already has a tight word count—every single word and punctuation mark is really important. We made a handful of word choice and style edits, but not much more than that. Nick was collaborative and flexible as we worked on the story. It was a great partnership!
5. Nick, what surprised you the most in the journey of this book?
The thing that surprised me most was the editing process. This is the first book that I ever worked with an editor on. I wasn’t exactly sure how it would go. When you sell a book, you’re just happy to get it out there and you’ll pretty much agree to anything. But you struggle with questions like, “What if they change my entire book?” or “What if they get rid of a part that I really love?” But when Sara came back with edits, I thought they were all really great suggestions.
One thing that I absolutely appreciated was when I asked Sarah if we could change the characteristics of the narrator and she enthusiastically agreed. I wanted someone who looked more like me. I’m Mexican-American and I’m trying to push for more representation in the books I create. Sarah and Sleeping Bear Press were on board without question. We gave the boy character tan skin and dark hair like mine and many of the students I teach. I love that they can see themselves inside this book.
6. Sarah, please tell us how the illustrator was chosen and how the selection process works at Sleeping Bear Press. What was your vision for the art and who were the people involved in the decision? Are authors asked for input?
The illustrator selection process is really a team effort at Sleeping Bear. I always ask the author for input on what they see as the style for the book. And then the art director and I talk about what we see working and narrow down a list of choices. Sometimes we all see something different for a particular story, but in this case I think we all wanted to see something creative with dramatic colors. Our art director is wonderful and always guides this process in the right direction. She has a knack for seeing artist portfolios and knowing how they might be able to use their style to make the book shine. And then our authors are looped in for notes throughout the sketch and final art process. The illustration process can be stressful for authors. It’s like sending your kid to sleepaway camp or daycare for the first time! But this is the author’s story and we want them to love the book 100%.
7. Nick, what do you hope readers will take away from the story and what do you believe would resonate with them? How do you envision young kids connecting to your characters?
The main thing I would love readers to take away from this book is that even a small act of kindness can make a huge difference. The narrator is curious about what Violet does with all of the things she collects. He basically asks her a question and then just listens. That’s it. But that small act of kindness made a huge difference in her life. My parents divorced when I was young, so I had to move schools in the middle of the year. I had no friends and no one to talk to. I was absolutely miserable. But one day in class a kid named Dylan said hi to me. We talked for a bit and I met some of his friends. That small interaction changed the course of my entire life. I was a shy, introverted kid. But as the school year progressed, I came out of my shell. I made more and more friends. I later became a teacher that used my story to help spread kindness throughout my classroom. And now I am a writer with a book hoping to spread that message to a wider audience. It all happened with a simple, “Hi.” But it completely changed my life. I hope the readers will do the same for someone else they meet along the way.
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>>>Click on the cover image to order your copy directly from Sleeping Bear Press!<<<
A new classmate from abroad and a boy who notices she's lonely as he, too, was new once... and in the midst of grayness, a quiet friendship is born. The two kids progressively warm up to each other-- observing each other and connecting from a distance --slowly closing the gap between their two separate worlds.
As their friendship blossoms over time, so does the burst of color on the pages.
The emotional arc is quite effectively enhanced by the visuals, with the art starting in black, white, and gray spreads and slowly progressing towards a gorgeous, full-blown rainbow palette.
Themes of friendship, empathy, and immigration will resonate with readers on multiple levels. Great addition to home and school libraries, for ages 4-8 years.
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Nicholas Solis is an award-winning elementary teacher and author. In 2018, he was the recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Grant from We Need Diverse Books. Growing up, he didn’t have a lot of friends. He moved around a lot and being the new kid at school wasn’t always easy. But in junior high, one kid reached out and was simply nice to him. That gesture of friendship has shaped Nicholas’s entire life. He regularly brings up that story with his students in the hopes of motivating them to reach out to others whenever they can. He lives with his wife, Morgan, their dog, Charlie, and their amazing son, Leo, in Austin, Texas. Learn more about Nicholas at nicholassolis.com
Sarah Rockett has been working in the children's publishing industry for more than a decade and truly believes that picture books have the power to change the world. She loves traveling, spending time outdoors, and--of course--reading. She lives in Michigan with her husband, young son, and lazy cocker spaniel.
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Chitchat with Editor Jackie Kruzie of Blue Whale Press, plus a Giveaway and an Exclusive Submission Opportunity!
Jackie, congratulations on your new editor position at Blue Whale Press! This is such happy news and the beginning of an exciting journey! I am thrilled for you, and honored to have the exclusive interview with you as an editor — thank you for being my guest!
Please tell us a bit about your background and how you stepped into the editor position. What led to this new role, how did you get the news, and what was your initial reaction?
JK: I served as the Regional Advisor for my chapter of SCBWI from 2016-2019. During this time I met incredible kitlit creatives including Blue Whale Press editor Alayne Kay Christian. We became fast friends and attended many SCBWI events together. I was nervous to submit my work to a friend as I didn't want our friendship to seem contingent on career advancement. I ultimately chose not to submit.
We were out to lunch one day when she asked, "why haven't you submitted to me?" I confessed my apprehension and she assured me she knew I was not angling for a contract. She also told me one would only be offered if my work was up to par and not because we are friends. I decided she was exactly the type of no-nonsense editor I wanted to work with, so I sent in a project I had been working on for a few years. After a couple of revise and resubmit rounds she offered a contract for my upcoming picture book Mixed-Up Menagerie.
When Alayne decided to retire from BWP she suggested me as her replacement to our parent publisher Clear Fork Publishing. I was honored, elated, speechless, and a million other adjectives! I had a Zoom interview with Callie Metler, whom I had also met during my time as SCBWI Regional Advisor, and now here I am being interviewed as an editor. Life is certainly unpredictable.
Life certainly is unpredictable! And I'm glad that you and I have been friends for many years and I can say I knew you back when... Okay, so what comes next? What are your duties at Blue Whale Press? What does your day-to-day look like?
JK: My responsibilities at BWP is to read and review picture book manuscripts before presenting potential acquisitions to the Clear Fork Publishing advisory board. I am also a participating member of the advisor board which means I get to review manuscripts and proposals from other imprints. I love this part of my job! I get to read excellent works and discuss marketing strategies for upcoming releases.
Once a manuscript is acquired for BWP it is time to find an illustrator, create a story board, and ensure the final product is polished to perfection.
As far as my day-to-day, I like to read submissions in the morning over a cup of coffee. Once my editor duties are done then I can focus on my personal projects and fun stuff like a blog interview with my good friend Rosie.
Ah, glad to be contributing to the fun stuff of your day, my friend, as I wouldn't want to add more work or chores to it ;)!
On a broader scale, what is the Imprint's mission overall with the books they publish? Do you anticipate any changes now that you've taken over?
JK: My predecessor, Alayne Kay Christian, had a wonderful eye for quality writing and a passion for projects that were informative and timeless. I mirror her vision and will focus on fiction and nonfiction for mass market distribution.
It is my goal to see BWP books in every library, store, and gift shop as well as featured on blogs, podcasts, and other social media outlets. I want to help jump start careers and smile with pride as our amazing authors and illustrators find success in the literary world.
Are you actively acquiring new books at this time and are you currently open to submissions? Who can submit -- authors, illustrator or both? Do you take agented, unsolicited, or both? Do you reply to all submissions or only if interested, and what is the timeframe for a reply?
I will be open to submission for the month of March (with a few exclusive opportunities...wink wink). I will then be closed for a few months as I ease into my new role, but plan to open again later this year. Follow me on Twitter @JackieKruzie and like Blue Whale Press on Facebook to stay informed.
Wink wink back -- I am honored, Jackie, and thank you for your generous offer to my readers! (See below for details.)
What kinds of books will Blue Whale be publishing? How many per year? What would be the focus of your titles? And more personally, what appeals to you? What types of stories are you looking for? Where can we find the complete submission guidelines?
JK: The BWP imprint acquires picture books with a STEM focus. A few of our current titles include Randall and Randall, Who Will? Will You?, The Weed that Woke Christmas, and An Old Man and His Penguin all which have STEM related storylines. I will continue to search for books that are entertaining and informative. Though picture books will be my focus I would love to see a short chapter book in inbox.
I personally love books that are fun to read out loud. As a former librarian I understand which books make wonderful storytime reads and which do not. As an author I know that I want my books read to as many young readers as possible, so for me having a book featured in a library storytime is the ultimate compliment. I am looking for books that librarians and teachers will be excited to share with eager young minds.
What should writers not submit to you?
JK: I am not the right fit for novelty/board books or graphic novels. I am also not looking for middle grade or young adult novels, however our parent publisher, Clear Fork Publishing, has other imprints that focus on these books. You can learn more about them on the Clear Fork website https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/copy-of-our-imprints
What projects are you working on right now for Blue Whale's list? I know that your own book , Mixed-Up Menagerie, was previously acquired by Blue Whale, could you give us an update on that? Where is the book in the process and could you share any behind-the-scene tidbits? What else are you excited about from the upcoming list and why? Any other Blue Whale titles in the pipeline you could share with us?
JK: My book Mixed-Up Menagerie is scheduled for release in Spring 2022. Nicole Allin is an amazing artist and is currently working on illustrations. I am so excited for this book and cannot wait to share it with the world.
As for other projects, Alayne will continue to work on the manuscripts that she has acquired seeing them through to completion. I will be observing every step of the way absorbing all I can from Alayne.
Any advice to authors/illustrators who plan to submit to you, beyond following the submission guidelines, of course, and targeting their submissions to your wish list?
JK: I love one sentence tag lines. I am always impressed with authors who can hook me with a few short words. Often the pitch you create will be used on the back cover of the finished book so it must be flawless. My favorite one-line hooks are from Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levin and Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer.
Author Susanna Hill has a feature on her website called Would You Read it Wednesday where authors submit their pitches for review. This is a wonderful resource to learn the art of creating a seamless pitch.
Also, take advantage of your local library or bookstore and read the back covers of picture books to hone this invaluable skill.
Are there any events/workshops/conferences you'd be a part of?
JK: Not yet but hopefully soon!
Thank you, Jackie, for spending time with me and my readers and for giving us the scoop! I wish you all the best on your journey, both as an author and an editor, and I can't wait to celebrate the many exciting milestones with you as we continue to nurture our wonderful friendship! We've been supporting each other over the years and we've grown together as writers, and I am very thankful to have you in my life!
Also, thank you kindly for the generous offers of a picture book critique that you're giving away to one lucky reader of KidLit Oasis, and an exclusive submission opportunity window for all of my readers!!!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Special offers from Jackie Kruzie to KidLIt Oasis readers:
PB critique giveaway
>Subscribe to KidLit Oasis (via the pop-up or the upper right corner form)
>Leave a comment for this post
>Share this post on Facebook or Twitter (don't forget to tag me @RosiePOV)
Exclusive Submission Opportunity Window for KidLit Oasis Readers 4/20 to 4/30
>>>>>This Submission window is now closed<<<<<
And the winner of Jackie's picture book critique is. . .
Jackie Kruzie is the Acquisitions Editor at Blue Whale Press, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing, and author of MIXED-UP MENAGERIE, a STEM picture book introducing fascinating animals and their unique traits. It is scheduled for release in Spring 2022.
Jackie has master’s degree in Library Science and is a contributing author to a sensitivity and inclusivity training textbook published through the American Library Association. Her contribution educates and informs librarians on how to better serve library users who use AAC devices to communicate. As a parent of an AAC device user this project is near and dear to her heart.
When not sharing stories or writing her own, Jackie enjoys farm life on a 60-acre farm with her husband where they raise a mess of kids, horses, cows, longhorns, sheep, goats, and a cacophony of chickens, roosters, ducks, and turkeys.
Find Jackie’s Storytime Picks and Book Talk videos on her website at jackiekruzie.com and follow her on Twitter @JackieKruzie
In other news. . .
Check out my upcoming Picture Book Writing class, pictures from a "princess model" photo shoot for Sunday Rain, and the parent review that almost made me cry tears of joy.
"My kiddo is obsessed!
Sunday Rain is intelligent, beautiful, and age appropriate! My daughter has requested we read it together at least one hundred times. A must buy for the little readers in the family!" --Amazon Customer
Welcome, Maria! It's a pleasure having you at KidLit Oasis and I am super excited about our chitchat! I can't wait to get the scoop, the behind the scene at Cardinal Rule Press, and a peek at your upcoming list! I know our readers are eager to know more about all of that, too, so let's dive in.
Q: Please tell us about your mission at Cardinal Rule Press and the big picture goal of your publishing house. Your website states that you focus on picture books that "empower children through meaningful stories." Could you tell us a bit more about that?
A: Here at Cardinal Rule Press, we are dedicated to producing children’s realistic fiction that reflects modern day diversity. We think stories that are timeless but allow children to see themselves within the pages of the book are needed and we are responding to help fill that void. We are a beautiful, colorful society and children should be able to experience that in books.
Q: I know you're about to open up to unsolicited submissions (November 1st, 2020 ― February 1st, 2021) and I'm sure a lot of writers are planning to submit to Cardinal Rule Press, just waiting for the "gates" to open. Naturally, for those submitting, doing their research and following the guidelines is very important. It's also important for writers to know the publishing model of the company they are submitting to in order to make an informed decision when sending their work out. In that regard, many authors would want to know the answer to this question when it comes to smaller presses: Do you pay your authors advances against royalties or is it royalties only?
A: We do pay our authors an advance upon signing and the remainder once the manuscript is edited with our team. We also pay royalties and report twice a year on earnings to our authors.
Q: And speaking of submissions, just to clarify, do you accept agented submissions year-round or only within your annual submission window?
A: We accept unsolicited and agented submissions during our annual submission window. We set up our acquisitions model in this way in order to be strategic and successful in our campaign efforts. Our team has created a timeline that has allowed us to be super efficient with industry deadlines, marketing our new releases, acquiring new work and educating our new team of authors on strengthening their brands as well as hosting quarterly masterclasses with speakers for past and current authors.
Q: I am really impressed with Cardinal Rule Press' social media presence and the different ways you connect with the community! I'd like to go a bit deeper behind the scenes though and learn more about your marketing strategies and distribution channels? How do you support your authors and illustrators and how do you promote your titles?
A: Thank you! We are proud of the community we have built and we appreciate your kind words. Our new authors go through a six week mentorship, where we empower them with knowledge and skills to prepare their brand for a successful launch. Our team of authors with backlist titles are invited to quarterly masterclasses where we hire speakers outside of our organization to educate our team on current trends in the book industry and how we can get behind those trends to help our own brand succeed. We also create a customized marketing campaign for each author that is unique to their title. It tells them exactly what our team will be doing each month, six months leading up top their book release. It gives them suggestions on what we think they can do each month leading up to the launch as well. We try to be very clear on expectations and clear up any gray areas.
Q: How do you find and select the illustrators for your projects? Do you ask your authors for input? Once you've signed the illustrator for the book, how involved is the author throughout the illustration process? Do they see initial sketches or the finished art or something in between?
A: We have stopped accepting illustrator submissions and work with agencies like Advocate Art and Astound to find our creative artists. We ask authors to describe their main character and ask for input on the initial character sketch. The author also sees the artwork laid out and is asked for feedback before it goes to print.
Q: During one of your agent interviews on your Cardinal Rules Press Facebook Page you shared that you have an assistant who filters the submissions for you to weed out the ones that don't follow the guidelines--like the fact that you only publish stories with human characters. So after the rest of the submissions -- or the ones with the strongest potential―get to you, how do you evaluate them for your list? Any more specifics on what kind of projects you look for? When you read a submission, do you know immediately if it's one you want to acquire? What grabs you in a manuscript? Any pet peeves?
A: Yes, we have a team to help with the process. There are two of us who read through and narrow down titles. We keep a spread sheet with comments. It is important for publishers and editors to be up to date on titles that are out there so we are not duplicating stories that are already out there. That is a pet peeve of mine, reading stories that have already been done. I expect writers to research their theme and title before submitting. The cover letter (inquiries) are more important than you think. We read those before opening up the manuscript. We want to hear about your experience of writing, whether or not you have a platform and why you think the book would be successful in the world. Near the end of our selection process, we share the top 6-10 stories with a BETA team of readers that give us their opinions. This team of five is made up of an editor, parent, children and a teacher.
Q: Could you tell us about some new or upcoming projects that you're particularly excited about and why?
A: We are in the illustration process of our Fall 2021 title and the character is a Latinx child who has a love of books! Our Spring 2021 title is at the printers and is filled with kindness, empathy and community!
Q: Where do you see Cardinal Rule Press in five years?
A: I would love to bring on team members as full time staff once their children are a bit older (we have a lot of work from home mothers on our team) and in five years I would like to see us taking on more titles per year. We believe slow and steady wins the race and we have been in no hurry to increase our list just yet. Getting your standard operating procedures nailed down in a business is key, as well as timelines and workflows for marketing campaigns. I am proud of the pace we have chosen, even when sales have surpassed our predictions, we remain steady with our processes.
Thank you so much for your time, Maria, and for chatting with me! This was wonderful and very informative, and I am really happy that you shared all that insight with me and my readers. I'd like to wish Cardinal Rule Press the best of success and I look forward to your upcoming titles! You have our support here at KidLit Oasis and I hope you'll be visiting again in the future!
Award-winning author and founder of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy inspires and educates others in the book industry. When Maria isn't working, she can be found embarking on adventures throughout southeast Michigan and beyond, where she lives with her husband and three book-loving children.
Signed copies of Sunday Rain available for pre-order exclusively through my local indie bookstore, Interabang Books!
Place your order HERE
(Matching bookmark included, while supplies last)
Teachers and Librarians, if you'd like to get some SUNDAY RAIN bookmarks for your classroom or library, contact me HERE and I'll be happy to mail you some! (U.S. only, while supplies last)
About Rosie J. Pova
Rosie J. Pova is a
award-winning children's author, speaker, and writing coach on a mission to inspire children not only to read and write more, but to use their creativity, follow their passions, dream big and believe in themselves.
Rosie visits schools and shares her inspirational journey as an immigrant from Bulgaria and how she became a published author, encouraging kids to persist, push through rejections, and hold a high vision for themselves.
Rosie's picture book, Sunday Rain, was featured in The New York Times and Parents magazine, and her upcoming one, The School of Failure: A Story About Success, will be released in May 2022 in the U.S. and China.
Check out her Critique Services here, her Workshops here, and her school visits page here.
Rosie is represented by Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Literary.