I’ve been in love with print for as long as I can remember but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to make art or write. In the end I did an art degree, but while I was there I wrote for magazines and interned at a couple of publishers. I had an Aunt in Romford who let me kip on her sofa. When I graduated I had a body of work to show, so I was able to get a job with a local publishing consultancy in the production department. From there I worked my way up, writing bits whenever I had the opportunity, to production editor, where I was in charge of coming up with ideas for new titles. I love that bit the best, so this job is perfect for me. I get to come up with a whole raft of new ideas every month.
We’re a small in-house team. Benita Estevez and I share the editor’s role and manage a large group of freelance writers and illustrators. Then we have Sophie Bryant Funnell who is a very talented art director an in-house illustrator, and Tim, who manages layouts.
My day begins at about 8.30, directly after I’ve finished the school run. I check my emails, maybe commission for a few things later in the year and then I’ll take a look at the spreads for the current issue and start proof reading, copy editing, image research and approving roughs. I might be involved in kicking around concepts for an important cover or talking a museum into lending us their expertise on a feature. Last week I spent some time building a pinball machine out of cardboard. It’s so varied, I am really lucky.
The world may have changed quite a lot over the last 25 years but fundamentally the kids who read AQUILA have not. They respond to the same things you and I responded to at that age. They’re incredibly switched on, well informed and eager to learn, so as long as the content is colourful, interesting, intelligent and packed with fun, it remains relevant and engaging. We try not to think too much about this trend or that. Our aim is that the AQUILA going out this month will still be being passed around, used and enjoyed two or three years from now.
That’s a tricky one. I like the covers with little hidden jokes or details in them but I know they don’t necessarily please marketing. A cover has to do so much! It has to work at loads of different sizes and communicate a very precise message. I LOVED Ed Brown’s Grow Your Own cover for our March issue. I felt it really conveyed the nuttiness of AQUILA.
8-12 is a really diverse age group and within that there are kids of all different abilities and with a whole host of different interests. It’s an organic process. We don’t run anything that we don’t find interesting, and when we run something that is very challenging we have a few tricks up our sleeve – we can pair a very tough maths feature with a really fun and colourful illustrator, we can use a very bright and friendly colour palette or I can write jokes and splice them into the text. Animals and ecology always go down well.
Repeat pattern artwork (below) by Ed Brown.
I can’t speak for Sophie, our art director, but personally I look for these things:
A fairly consistent style running across all the work. I should be able to tell instantly that all this work has been made by the same person, and it should tell me something about the person who made it.
Ideally I want to see a good mixture of subjects including people (adults and children), town and country scenes, food, diagrams (a good diagram illustrator is worth their weight in gold), hand-rendered text and large illustrations and spots.
A mixture of personal and professional projects. It’s really interesting to see what an artist chooses to work on, as opposed to what they’re given to work on.
I LOVE sketchbooks. Show me your sketchbook work. It will tell me so much about your process and your practice.
I like to be surprised by a topic. Often my favourites are things I think I’ll get nothing out of, but then suddenly I’m fascinated. A while back we ran a feature on slime moulds and their ability to solve mazes, and that just blew me away!
Slime mould artwork (below) by Rachel Tunstall.
Personally I think it’s absolutely crucial. For a start I think it helps people retain information but a shared joke also makes you feel like part of a gang. That’s what AQUILA really is – it’s a club for kids who are creative, kind, curious and a bit mad.
I just hope my jokes are actually funny.
The boy who was so inspired by our interview with a coracle maker that he made his own boat and sailed it down a river.
The kid who made our Dig for Victory garden with his granddad and ended up learning all about his experiences during world war two.
The boy who can’t go to school because of ill-health and disabilities, but who enjoys learning and feeling part of a community of kids because of AQUILA magazine. And then the replies to him from other children on the letters page telling him how proud they are of him and what he is achieving.
These are the stand outs, but I get great letters from kids every day. Each one makes me feel really privileged to be able to come to work and do this job.
After graduating with a degree in English and American Literature, I interned at several children’s publishers before I landed a job as editorial assistant at Andersen Press. While there I had the pleasure of working for the inimitable Klaus Flugge and had a hand in producing picture books created by David McKee, Tony Ross and Quentin Blake, to name a few. I’d long admired Nobrow’s books so when I heard they were starting a children’s list I knew I had to get in touch, and soon after I was hired. There wasn’t actually an editorial department when I started at Nobrow, so it’s been amazing to create a new department which has grown to a team of three within the four and half years that I’ve been here.
Nobrow and its children’s list, Flying Eye Books, was founded by two graduates of Central Saint Martins, Alex Spiro and Sam Arthur. For a while they were the only ones producing the books, but the UK office has since grown to a team of thirteen people, passionately working across editorial, design, publicity, marketing, accounts and foreign rights. We also have a sales office in the US where a team of three work to market and publicize our books in America while also liaising with our US distributor, Penguin Random House.
As a small and fairly young company we are still learning our way, but we have had some successes of which we are proud. One in particular that comes to mind is when Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2015. More recently we’ve had success with The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton, which won this year’s Waterstones Best Illustrated Book. But success for us isn’t just about winning awards, it’s about creating good quality books that sell well domestically and all over the world.
This can be true, but we do often notice a correlation between our bestselling titles in the US and the UK and I think this comes down to the globalization of publishing. However, the US market is much bigger so our sales expectations are higher, especially in certain areas such as Graphic Novels. This area is still quite niche in the UK, but we appear to be having a golden age in illustration which is opening the UK market up to different types of visual storytelling.
Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd-Stanton, of which we recently published the paperback edition, is an example of how we have experimented with visual storytelling. It’s a hybrid between a children’s picture book and graphic novel, which is set in the world of Norse Mythology. It’s been particularly successful for us as it reaches an age group of 5-8 year olds and schools have loved using the book in class. At its core it tells the tale of an unexpected hero, in the form of shy and awkward Arthur who manages to battle gods and beasts to save his village. We paired text and illustration in a slightly unusual way but it’s worked out well and it is accessible to children who might be reluctant readers.
This month we’re celebrating ten years of Nobrow, and have released a special anniversary 10th edition of the Nobrow magazine. The magazine was one of the very first projects to be published by Nobrow. In this edition 70 contemporary illustrators from all over the world have responded to the theme of ‘Studio Dreams’, and it’s printed in four spot colours. It’s been incredible to see the range and variety of art styles and interpretation of the theme by all the artists, and I could look through the book for hours!
In June, we are publishing a creative non-fiction book called Skyward: The Story of Female Air Pilots in WWII by Sally Deng. It’s a stunning book that tells the unrecognized story of female pilots from Great Britain, USA, and Russia. Set during the Second World War, Sally Deng sensitively tells the story of three women who all had a passion to fly and faced enormous obstacles along the way. This is a book I would have loved to have read as a child myself, especially as I had no idea women flew during WWII.
This can vary from project to project and it’s hard to describe exactly. Mostly we work with illustrators who are visual storytellers, but don’t find the writing part so easy. We’ll often work on the overall arc of the story and help the illustrator to write the text and make sure the book works as best as it can. Or sometimes I’ll send an illustrator a story or a visual reference for inspiration. Creating stories can be a long process, as sometimes original ideas by new voices take time to develop.
Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill is our most successful creative non-fiction title. It pairs inventive visuals and a fascinating historical story about survival and teamwork. When it was published in 2014, there were very few books out there like it – so it’s been wonderful to see how successful it has been.
I think the best children’s picture books are about universal experiences, whether that is something funny and silly or emotional and heartwarming. At their core children’s books have to appeal to children, but that doesn’t mean an adult can’t enjoy the book either, especially if they are going to be reading the book aloud every night to a young child!
Like most children, I was read to, and read a lot of illustrated books. These books have always stayed in my memory because they were some of my very first experiences of reading. However, it wasn’t until I started interning at children’s publishers that I realized my skill set was much more suited to working on illustrated books.
My taste in illustration styles is hard to define, as for every editor it is quite a subjective thing. I would say it’s often when an illustration provokes a response from me. I tend to like illustration styles that are warm and full of character and expression, like Emily Hughes’s art. Lately, I’ve been drawn to lots of diverse subject matters, but in particular I like simple stories with important and relevant themes, be they social or environmental.
I’m particularly excited by a non-fiction book we are publishing in October called Everest. It tells the story of the world’s tallest mountain, from its early beginnings, to the flora and fauna which survive on it and the legends that surround it. It’s written beautifully by the talented Sangma Francis and illustrated by the incredible Lisk Feng, whose illustrations are bold and mystical. It’s been an ambitious project, but it’s truly breathtaking – in my humble opinion!
I've always gotten a buyers high from buying a new book, and 90% of the time I've bought the book because of the cover. My love for books and illustration made me very determined to get a job in publishing my senior year of college, but I took a slight detour first. I graduated from University of the Arts with a BFA in illustration and one month after graduation I hopped on a retro-fitted school bus and travelled around the country for six months. The trip was for a non-profit I co-founded that taught workshops on gardening and sustainability out of a barn-red school bus. (To this day it's one of the craziest, hippiest things I've done.) When I returned back to my home in North Carolina, I was flat broke and picked up a catering job at a local restaurant. However, my heart was still set on publishing. After several failed job applications (no one wanted to hire a girl with no experience, living in North Carolina), I got a design internship at Penguin. With only the brashness of someone with nothing to lose, I packed my bags and moved to New York. I wasn't sure if I would get a job from the internship, but I knew I needed to be in New York to get my foot in the door. Thankfully, a friend from Uarts told me about a junior designer job at Sterling Publishing and that became my first job in publishing. After Sterling, I worked at Scholastic and then a couple years later ended up at Imprint.
The design team at Imprint is always looking for ways to push the limits of what we can do with the packaging on our books to best match the story inside. A few recent titles we're proud of are The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The Joy of Cookies by Cookie Monster, and The Wicker King by K. Ancrum.
With The Language of Thorns, we knew we wanted to create a lush package that matched the dark, magical stories inside. Natalie Sousa had the brilliant idea of creating an illustrated frame around the text of each story that slowly grew as you turned the page. Sara Kipin illustrated these amazing frames that revealed one new sinister piece of the story. We wanted the cover to feel like those classic antique cloth bound books, so we designed the cover as a piece of embroidery, that later was beautifully embossed to make it feel real. Overall, this book is beautiful and tactile, and feels like it's straight out of the Grishaverse.
The Joy of Cookies was an IP project we dreamed up during a weekly meeting. We had all just watched a hilarious video with Cookie Monster and started brainstorming fun book ideas. The Imprint team LOVES puns, so after "The Joy of Cookies" was shouted out as a title idea, the whole project just snowballed from there. The design team really tried to channel what we thought a book would look like if Cookie Monster had made it himself. My favorite part about the book is the die-cut bite mark that cuts through the whole book. Cookie Monster gets so excited, we imagined him taking a bite out of his own book in all his enthusiasm.
The Wicker King was a debut book for K. Ancrum and when I read the manuscript I completely fell in love with her writing. It's a moody story about a teen boy who tries to save his best friend from this hallucinatory world he's spiraling into. The first draft was written with artifacts between specific chapters that told missing pieces of the story. As a designer, I loved the idea of artifacts telling a piece of the story, so with the interior design I went crazy making these pieces feel as authentic as possible. In the final book there are many handwritten notes, photographs, journal entries and drawings that integrate into the story. The pages slowly become water damaged and darker, finally fading into black pages with white type when the characters hit rock bottom. One unplanned design outcome was that the page design created an ombre effect on the edge of the book and readers loved it.
The illustrator in me is always looking for new artists that have clever concepts or use of images (The New Yorker cover always has some of the most clever illustrations). Like most people, I spend way too much time on Instagram (@childrensillustrators) finding my way down the rabbit hole to new artists. However, when I'm not getting lost in the social media web, I find a lot of inspiration just interacting with the city on a daily basis.
The Imprint design team tries to take monthly design outings to art exhibits, book stores or anything funky in the city. Our outings started as a way to get inspiration for book designs, but has turned into a fun way to seek out new content and think outside the box. I love going to unexpected places or exhibits, because you never know what's going to spark an idea.
The cover creation process varies from book to book. My favorite process is to read a manuscript and then hone in on the essence of the book. I often will ask myself a few questions: What is a strong message or theme that is being conveyed in the book? How can I represent that with imagery that doesn't feel too literal? One good example of this process is the book Winner Take All by Laurie Devore. This is a young adult novel about a driven, type-a girl who cares so much about being the best in school and sports, that she ruins all her relationships. When coming up with concepts for this cover I thought about being an over achiever to the point of destruction. Some images that came to mind were matches (burning everything down), gold stars (acknowledgment for high achievements) and burnt prize ribbons (ruined awards). In the end we went with a matchbook that looked subtly like a middle finger as a way to show her attitude towards the world. I love how edgy and fun this cover is, because it truly reflects the attitude of the main character.
The Language of Thorns and The Joy of Cookies are two of Imprint's best selling books so far. Both books are beautiful and fun to read in their own way, which is why I think readers were so drawn to them.
I'm very interested in #OwnVoices stories right now. I find it's very important to work with artists who can relate to the stories they are illustrating and also bring some of their own experience to the narrative. The feminist in me is also loving all of these badass female illustrators making work that celebrates women and all their strengths.
No one wants to work with a jerk. Making friends and being kind to those you work with has been one of the most powerful pieces of advice in my career. All of the opportunities I've had, have either happened because a friend has recommended me or they've introduced me to someone new. Being kind to others makes them remember you and want to work with you again. Plus, it's always fun to make new friends.
One of my favorite projects to work on while I was still at Scholastic, was George by Alex Gino. This was one of the first middle grade novels about a trans character written by a genderqueer author and was such an important book when it came out. I fell in love with the story and the main character Melissa. It was an honor to be able to design and illustrate the cover.
Oh man, this is a hard one! A lot of my favorite books as a kid were mainly because of the art and humor. I was a huge fan of William Joyce's Bob the Dinosaur and A Day with Wilbur Robinson. I also loved the Lane Smith & Jon Scieszka books The Stinky Cheese Man, Math Curse, and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!. Another favorite, mainly for the artwork, was The Velveteen Rabbit illustrated by Donna Green. As I got older I fell in love with the Harry Potter series and like most kids I would doodle scenes from the book and create my own versions of the cover.
I would LOVE to work on a book that is a compilation of fully illustrated advice for middle grade readers. Being in middle school can be such a hard time as a kid and I think it helps to hear encouragements from those who survived that awkward time. In a dream world, I would hire multiple illustrators to draw and write out each piece of advice, so the final book would be beautiful and helpful!
I’ve always been a huge book worm. When I was a kid, my local Barnes & Noble even kicked me out of their reading challenge after I won too many free books (I think you got one for every ten you read), so the fact that I ended up working in publishing probably isn’t surprising to anyone who knew me growing up!
In college, I studied creative writing and communications, so I was considering going into marketing or PR as well, but being a book editor was always at the top of my list. I was interested in working in children’s literature specifically since kids have a never-ending well of fascinating, relatable stories to tell, and the best children’s books tend to stick with readers long into adulthood. (Plus, I’ll never get tired of watching first love unfold!) Luckily I landed an internship at Scholastic during college, and from there I was happy to be hired after graduation as a production editor. I worked there for three years before moving over to an editorial role at Disney-Hyperion. Starting in managing editorial gave me a lot of insight into the book-making process which proved to be invaluable when I made the switch to editorial. I loved my time at Hyperion, and I worked there for four years before moving over to Razorbill’s editorial team in 2017.
Razorbill has a publisher and associate publisher who edit their own books as well as overseeing our publishing program at large. On the editorial front, Razorbill has another editor, two assistant editors, and an editorial assistant. We also work closely with our design, marketing, publicity, sales, managing editorial, production, and publishing teams to get our books out in the best way possible!
In my role, I spend a lot of time reading submissions in order to find projects I’m excited about, so I’m always in communication with agents regarding negotiations or potential new projects. After acquisition, I love to work with authors to finesse their books through all stages of the editorial process. In a broader sense, my role is to be a book’s biggest advocate and fan as I work across divisions to make sure it has a great cover and copy as well as a strong marketing and publicity plan so that our sales force will have a dynamic product to work with.
In addition to traditional acquisitions, I also work with the other editors on my team to develop IP projects, which entails coming up with the concept and outline for a book as well as pairing it with the perfect author.
Razorbill publishes 20+ frontlist titles per year across middle grade and YA fiction and nonfiction.
Since most of our books are geared toward older readers, we are always looking for illustrators with a fresh and sophisticated style. I look for range in terms of emotion in particular since I love to find artists who can gives readers a glimpse into the characters’ personalities. We also work on a lot of type-driven covers, so artists that demonstrate unique hand lettering abilities tend to stand out as well.
One way we do this is by experimenting with different formats and design styles in order to differentiate our books. While I wasn’t the editor of this project myself, Razorbill recently published STILL HERE by actress and humanitarian Rowan Blanchard, which is an authentic look at Rowan’s life, featuring her own photos, poetry, and letters, alongside art and writing from her friends. The goal was to make this look like an actual scrapbook, and the final product provides readers with a really immersive experience.
While there are always exceptions to what I say here, I generally think of middle-grade illustrations as being more detailed, particularly when it comes to the appearance of the characters. Young Adult audiences seem to be drawn more to illustrations that look a bit more offbeat or show less of a character’s specific features. Middle grade covers also frequently showcase full-page scenes, whereas YA illustration is often more iconic.
It’s always so hard to narrow my list down for questions like this! I think I’d have to say these books were my top favorites as a child (and still are today):
• One Morning in Maine
• The Westing Game
• Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
• Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging
• The Princess Diaries
I was also completely obsessed with a series called Replica by Marilyn Kaye. I must have at least 20 of those books in my childhood bedroom! They feature genetically superior clones, an evil international conspiracy, and romance with the boy next door. What more could you ask for?
This is another list that’s too long for me to narrow down! But, I suppose I will give it a try. ;-)
I recently finished editing SONG OF THE DEAD by Sarah Glenn Marsh, which is the sequel to REIGN OF THE FALLEN. I’m proud of this series in a lot of ways since both books are such engaging reads with immersive worldbuilding and relatable characters, but Sarah is also a champion for LGBTQ+ representation in her work. The series’ protagonist is bi, and it features other bi, gay, and lesbian characters throughout, which is especially refreshing to see in fantasy. I’ve loved watching children’s literature become more inclusive as a whole, and it’s been wonderful to publish this series as we continue to work on bringing all readers books that reflect their lives and experiences. (Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Sarah is the queen of make-out scenes!)
I also edited a board book called FEMINIST BABY by Loryn Brantz while I was at Hyperion, and it’s definitely one of my favorite projects to date. Through her personality-packed illustrations and witty and playful text, Loryn’s book shows how much strength there is in just being yourself. I’ve loved watching this book take off, and it makes me happy to see how many young readers are being introduced to feminism.
LIES YOU NEVER TOLD ME by Jennifer Donaldson just hit shelves, and this thriller is the perfect binge read for summer. It has an amazing twist and it’s impossible to put down—I actually don’t want to say more since I don’t want to ruin it!
I’m also really excited about THESE WITCHES DON’T BURN by Isabel Sterling, which will be coming out in Spring 2019. This is the first book I signed up when I came to Razorbill, and it has magic, snark, and romance all wrapped up in a murder mystery—basically everything I like in one! Hannah, the main character (who also happens to be a teen witch), is having trouble getting over her ex-girlfriend since they keep being thrown together after their coven is targeted. And when a new girl in town catches Hannah’s eye, she has to figure out how to balance fending off a terrifying foe with agonizing over texts to her new crush. This book is such a treat, with lots of swoony scenes mixed in with tense action sequences, and Isabel Sterling is a debut author I can’t wait to introduce to the world!