As I grew up, I loved art and was taught that “bored” was a bad word and that one should always try to make something with what they already have - perhaps by finding the magic of what is right in front of you. I often found joy in imagining the world to come alive in wonder the way that children’s books portray (like looking at a tree in the wind and seeing the leaves dance, or thinking that perhaps the stars at night are singing us a lullaby). However, when it was time to think about what career path I wanted to follow, these things never crossed my mind. All I knew was that I wanted to do something that helped others. So, naturally, I decided I would go to school to become a doctor. Within my first year of school I came to realize, despite my best efforts, that I did not enjoy the sciences nearly as much as art. And how would I help others if I was not inspired? I thought to myself, why can’t I help people through art? And there the story really started to take off.
I always loved the way children see life as full of possibility, so I began early on in school designing materials for non profits geared toward helping children in need. As I was nearing graduation as an art major, I knew I wanted to do something that involved design, art, and children, but what? Teaching? It was then that my aunt, Diane Greenseid, introduced me to the magical world of actually making children’s books. She was and still is a children’s book illustrator. She kindly gave me a list of art directors she knew and I immediately contacted them. Several of them graciously agreed to see me! I recall taking my giant, unwieldy portfolio through the wind and rain in NYC back in the winter of 1999, meeting so many lovely people but alas, however, none that could offer me a job. I did find a job at a small design studio in NYC, which was great, but now I had my heart set on working in children’s publishing.
As life will have it, you never know what turns your path will make unknowingly — 2 weeks later, I got a call from the very first art director I met, Joann Hill, saying she had a position open for a design assistant at Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin). And it was there that my career really began. I spent several years learning under her wing and having such a great time. I then moved on to the Knopf imprint at Random House, where I continued to learn every day for just shy of a decade, meeting so many amazing creators from authors to illustrators, editors of all styles including Janet Schulman who showed me how a book can be serious and funny at the same time, fellow art directors and designers, and of course Isabel Warren-Lynch, who taught me to always focus on powerful expression (and yes, I mean that in more ways than one).
When we moved out to the North Bay of California after my daughter was born, I never thought I would be able to find what I have found now which is the incredible team of Cameron + Company — a small boutique publisher that embraces the love for story, design, books and creative collaboration. I am definitely one of those lucky people who can say they love their work.
Here, at Cameron Kids, I feel my job is less about directing the art than inspiring artists and idea makers to inspire our children as they acquire language and gain a deeper understanding of the world around them and their part in it. To help bring stories to people through books. Because in the end it is our stories that make the world human. I guess I finally found my role after all.
Although Cameron + Company has been publishing children’s books for a few years, we really started to establish and grow this past year with the official launch of the Cameron Kids imprint. The team consists of our children’s publisher, Nina Gruener, our children’s book editor, Amy Novesky, (both amazing authors in their own right), myself — the art director, our production manager, CJ Hemesath, who is stellar at making all our crazy ideas tangible, Emma Kallok, our Marketing and Publicity manager (also a published author), and Jan Hughes, managing editor and copyeditor extraordinaire.
We are an imprint of Cameron and Company -- where Iain Morris is the creative director, who is always inspiring with his expertise -- making sure none of our books got to print being anything shy of perfect and Chris Gruener is publisher. And of course, the heart of our work -- all the authors and illustrators! So, you see, we are all here because we truly love the art of making stories for children and pretty much everyone does a little bit of everything. There is a definitely a lot of joy in our work, but we take it seriously. We publish about 6-8 titles a year on our list, as well as publishing our Cameron Studio projects on our Roundtree list, which is an exciting new endeavor.
To me what that means is that our books are stories begging to be heard in a way that only a tangible book can do (you know that feeling that comes from reading and holding an actual book? the smell of the paper, the feel, the quiet...)
I’ll have to refer to our blog about this as I couldn’t put it better myself.
To us there is a place in today’s digital media-driven culture for the printed word and the print design that goes with it. We seek out those books that need to be held, and appreciated for their tangible value. The books that call to us to be just that, books.
Following the Cameron tenet of publishing books that need to be books – FOR KIDS, has been a thrilling and rewarding journey for our team. Whether it be a picture book biography or a board book about trucks, we choose stories that need to be told, and told well. Our hope is that when given the chance to visit some other world in the pages of our books, children will glean wisdom, compassion and empathy. The dance between words and art in a picture book, executed with thoughtful design, has the power to not only entertain a child, but engage them in a way no other medium can. Books can expose kids to beauty they may have otherwise missed in our fast paced world. Even among the youngest of us, beauty is a great and underrated tool for cultivating change and inspiration.
Truthfully, they all stand out in their own little way. Each project I have worked on has taught me something new. It would be fun one day to make a list of what they have taught me!
I will say, that one of my most treasured experiences, that stands out in a big way, was working on THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. I remember being handed a huge stack (real paper!) of a manuscript to read and turn into a physical book. I read those very pages on an airplane ride across the country, unable to put it down. I was haunted by the imagery and power of Markus’s story and have been ever since. How on earth was I going to capture that in a cover?! His words were life changing and the project was humbling. And then to watch it over the last many years reach so many other people. It has been an honor to see how much one little book really can help the world.
There are most definitely so many wonderful books I have had the pleasure of working on, it is almost impossible to choose as what has meant the most, is the process of creating a book for children together with other creative people whether we are like-minded or not. What a delight it is to work with other artists, constantly hearing and seeing new ideas. I actually just finished working on a project, called ODE TO AN ONION written by Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Felicita Sala, that is to be published in the Fall of 2018, that I am simply thrilled about all around: the words, the pictures, the content, the design, the process of collaboration between publisher, editor, author, artist and production — truly lovely.
Absolutely! One of the most fascinating things to me is watching artists grow to reach their potential while working on making a book reach its highest potential. I love looking through an artist’s work and finding that little nugget of art that is just begging to be explored, and subsequently working with an artist to develop that in a way that is unique to them.
As an art director, I can look at sketches and help with pacing, emotion, expression, perspective, composition, etc. once we get into the book making – but the artist is the artist, and that is what we are looking for – that unique artistic expression that will turn a story into a tangible magical world.
I am lucky that I can say all of them! Our Spring 2018 list which just published at the end of April, features a The Great Chicken Escape by Nikki McClure, for which we had fun creating a giant die-cut of a chicken in the case to echo her signature cut paper style, Red a 2 color wordless book by first time author/illustrator Jed Alexander, a bright and bold book about Los Angeles by Elisa Parhad, illustrated by Alexander Vidal, and the second installment of the WALNUT ANIMAL SOCIETY, Magnolia’s Magnificent Map written by Lauren Bradshaw, illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan....that is 4, but I can’t choose.
Being a small publisher, it is always a collaboration. We receive a story submission, and decide if we love it. Since we do so few books, we always search for that absolute yes moment! Once that is settled (often after several rounds of edits to the text), we begin the search for an illustrator who can bring the words visually to life. This sometimes happens quickly and sometimes takes a really long time.
While we do have a certain aesthetic we gravitate towards, what excites us most is when we see something different than what has been done before. We believe the art for children’s books can be sophisticated yet still childlike. So, often, we may work with artists who are amazing artists but have never done a children’s book before.
Once the team for the book is made, we go through anywhere from 1 to 4 sets of sketches, with the level of involvement differing due to the nature of the project and how the artist works. The design happens simultaneously as we begin to think about the production aspect of the book from the get go.
Design plays a huge role in our books, but it has to be thoughtful. No bells and whistles! So we think about the format, the paper, and any other added elements we may want to explore. Then the final design comes in to play once the art is done, we go through several rounds of edits to make it perfect. Then we proof the book to get the look and feel just right, then it becomes a book! That is an extremely simplified version of the process (not including all the materials and plans made to get the outside world excited about the book, the number crunching, the marketing and publicity,...)
WHAT A MESS! by Frank Muir illustrated by Joseph Wright is still one of my favorite books, as well as Who Took the Farmer's Hat? by Joan L. Nodset, illustrated by Fritz Siebel, Harold and The Purple Crayon, and The Little Prince.
We are looking for artists who can visually capture childlike wonder–artists that have a unique expression that can turn a story into a tangible magical world and fill the spaces the words leave open with more. It inspires me when an illustrator shows the reader what he/she can’t already see.
I am moved when I can see an artist’s passion and potential through their work. A good balance of fresh use of line, white space, and poignant expression of character—whether that is portrayed through the setting of the stage or the characters themselves . . . I love to see an artist open to trying new things within his or her own style to make the story come to life.
Our emphasis is on beauty, simplicity, and story.
To continue to find stories that inspire and teach children about empathy and an open minded understanding of the world around them and inside them, to see the beauty in the simple things that are really the big things. And to turn those stories into books.
Yes! I am so excited for OH, BEAR. It will be illustrated by Ruth Hengeveld - this is her first picture book and she is a true talent. I am over the moon at the art I have seen so far. After all these years of being on the art director side of picture book making it is invigorating to see someone else put visuals to a story that came directly from my heart. And Ruth couldn't be a more perfect fit. She is brilliant! The story is simple, yet deep. It's about a dear bear, a beloved kite, loss and renewal, and friendship. The art is realistic yet magical and my hopes are that this book will inspire children to find the magic in nature, the magic of connection, and the magic that can emerge when you change the way you look at something. It will be published in the spring of 2019.
If I do have to pick, a couple of projects that come to mind, I’d mention Lunch Lady and Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, who I am simply thrilled has had so much success in publishing.
The Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
A Splash of Red, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
See the City by Matteo Pericoli.
Modern Fairies, Dwarves and Other Goblins by Lesley M.M. Blume, illustrated by David Foote.
Thelonius Monster's Sky High Fly Pie by Judy Sierra illustrated by Ed Koren.
...and a recent book, Play? by Linda Olafsdottir.
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!
My background is in fine arts, I studied painting at Elam School of fine arts at Auckland University, New Zealand. After finishing I moved to Sydney and landed a job in advertising for News Limited. I realised pretty quickly that newspaper advertising wasn’t for me. I wanted to do a bit of travelling so I moved to London and started work at TNT travel magazine as an Art worker, it was fun, but I really wanted a more creative role and liked the idea of commissioning illustrators and photographers, so I landed a job at RBI as Group Art Editor for Personnel Today. It was a diverse role working across 4 editorial titles and covered conferences, marketing and events.
After 18 months I stepped into the world of fashion working as a Designer for Drapers magazine covering all the fashion shows, creating look-books and art editing. After a year I went freelance working on a range of projects from corporate branding, retail, creating my own textile patterns, web and editorial design.
My friend Sharon King-Chai mentioned there was a part-time design role at Scoop and recommended me to the publisher and founder Clementine Macmillan-Scott. I met with Clementine and Sarah Odedina (Editor-in-Chief) and I was really impressed with what they were doing, I loved the fact they were producing original content, commissioning amazing illustrators and inspiring children to read. Scoop was approaching its first year in publishing and I was excited to be part of the team.
The love for print is still very much alive and I think children really like the physicality of holding a magazine, turning pages and keeping it as a treasured item.
It is exciting! We all work remotely so a typical day for me would involve checking emails in the morning, replying to any queries from the team, looking at sketches that have come in from artists, going through my to-do list and panicking that I’ve only managed to complete 1 out of 10 items on my list. Coffee normally helps at this point, once my brain has kicked into gear I’ll go through the content that’s in for the issue. I like to read all the stories first, that way when I start looking at illustrator portfolios I can match them to the story and hopefully create a clearer picture in my head of how the entire magazine could look.
Once I've decided on a match, I'll create a draft layout in Indesign, type up a brief and reach out to the illustrator. It’s a wonderful process working with artists, they have the ability to inject life onto our pages with colour and creativity and it really does enhance the joy of reading and celebrates the story. I try to give illustrators as much freedom to create artwork that they love, we often get the best results that way.
We're so lucky to have amazing writers and contributors that create engaging content that is fun to read and is educational without being too in your face and boring. Content is key!
Crime issue 12: The crime issue was packed full of amazing content, stories about Victorian prisons, Graffiti and WWII spies. I knew I wanted a central image and thought of the crime scene chalk outline of a person, dog or a face, using a limited colour palette, black being the dominant colour. It needed to look different from the previous cover which was colourful. I chose Lee Hodges work because of his poster style and I wanted the cover to have that same quality.
Sci Fi issue 14: I really wanted to work with Aart-Jan Venema, I loved his Green Man illustration and when he agreed to do the cover I did a little happy dance. Sci-Fi is such an interesting theme and I’m a huge fan of classics like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, so the brief was to create a real Sci-Fi ‘feast for your eyes’. The cover was filled with weird and wonderful creatures, aliens and imagery from the stories inside the magazine, so it was an amazing mix and Aart-Jan added Sci-Fi classics ET, Star Trek and Star Wars.
Feast issue 15: This is the first time we used photography on the cover. The theme was food, so it needed to look festive and indulgent. I started looking at compositions first and I wanted to create a centrepiece of food with a nod to the festive season, so I came up with the idea of a food wreath made of sweets, chocolates and strawberries – it needed to be colourful and appeal to kids. I worked with Scoop photographer Maud Craigie in the studio to construct the wreath which was great fun and the best bit was creating the back cover shot, we got to eat the wreath.
The Secret Sinking by Lydia Syson is such an emotive piece, it’s a true story told to Lydia when Emilie was in her seventies and living in a nursing home in Belgium. The story is heart-breaking about young Emilie and her family in World War Two on the ship Lancastria which sank after it was bombed by the Germans near a French port. I commissioned Katie Harnett to illustrate the piece and what she produced was both dramatic and sombre, it really felt like you were in the story.
Trailblazers Trail Game is one of my favourites, I commissioned Carol Rollo and she really brought the theme to life with her bold colourful, dynamic style. She did a fantastic job.
I think it’s important to read Scoop from front to back, get a feel for the style of writing and audience its appealing to and look at the different illustration styles used in the magazine and then finally look at your own work/style and ask yourself is it a right fit?
I really enjoyed working with Will Drayson on Crime issue 12. Wills style was perfect to illustrate a story about a Japanese chemical company dumping mercury into Minamata Bay. Strange things began to happen in the town, backward walking cats, suicidal crows. Will said to me that he could down-play the colours and make them less psychedelic but that was the very reason I picked Will because of his psychedelic art and his skill at creating multi layered scenes and intricate detailing. The final image screams toxic waste and I love it.
The inspiration behind my current designs came from a recent trip to Ireland. My husband’s family live in a small coastal town on the South Coast, it reminds me of home (NZ) with its sweeping landscape and long sandy beaches.
How Maui slowed the sun - Peter Gossage
Roald Dahl – Charlie and the chocolate factory
The Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe - CS Lewis
I’ve been working in publishing since my early twenties. I got a job as an assistant in a literary agency in London after I completed an MLitt. From there I went to Oxford University Press, and then Saqi, where I commissioned international fiction for their Telegram list. Saqi is a small family-run publishing house in London, and it was there that I really learned every aspect of publishing. I had a brief stint in publicity and marketing, and then I was designing covers and laying out books, as well as commissioning them and editing them, so it gave me a proper grounding in the process. When my husband and I decided to move to Ireland in 2008, we had no concrete plans, other than to try to write and paint while I did some freelance editing. It was the height of the recession in Ireland. It was rough. Two years in, we decided to publish an art & literature magazine. Not an obvious way to make a living, but we got some support from the government in the first few years, and then it just took off. Highlights include publishing interviews by some of my favourite writers, launching, The Caterpillar magazine, The Moth Poetry Prize (annual prize of €10,000 for a single poem), being the first publication for some outstanding new writers, coming across some extraordinary artwork, meeting wonderful writers and artists and recently setting up The Moth Retreat here in rural Ireland, next to our home and office.
From early on, I wanted to publish a junior version of The Moth – mostly because I thought the title The Caterpillar was so good! Well, that and the fact I thought there was a huge gap in the market. We produced the first issue in the summer of 2013. I follow the same principles as The Moth when putting it together – bringing together the best poetry, short stories and art that I can find to give our readers the most joyful experience. It’s as simple as that. We don’t care about names, we don’t care about celebrity, and nor do children generally. They just want to be entertained.
I’m always on the lookout for work that is witty, whimsical, has heart, and has obviously been beautifully composed. I’m looking for contemporary work that has a timeless quality, that isn’t just responding to trends or fads. The artist has to have a real vision of what it is they’re trying to achieve, a real voice or whatever the visual equivalent of that is – integrity.
I love Sarah-Jane Szikora’s cover ‘The Great Escape’, featuring a bunch of jelly babies making their way out of the bag. Deidre Wicks’ work I love, and ‘Tea Dive’, an owl sitting wearing a snorkel sitting in a cup of tea, is utterly charming. Claudia Tremblay’s ‘Mursi Dream’, Lizzy Stewart’s ‘Lion’, Jantina Peperkamp’s ‘The Little Aviator’, ‘Iroquois’ by Anne Yvonne Gilbert ...
No theme, I just follow my nose, starting with the poems generally, then the stories. Then the search for the artwork begins.
Undoubtedly a highlight was visiting J. P. Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man, at his sprawling mansion in rural Ireland. He took us from room to room, showing us his wonderfully whimsical paintings and illustrations (some of which we published in The Caterpillar), told extraordinary anecdotes from his life and serenaded us on the piano! It’s always lovely to have the endorsement of well known writers. Michael Morpurgo very kindly gave us a story for the very first issue. And very early on, John Hegley featured us on a list in The Guardian of the ‘Top 10 Children’s Poetry Books’, even though we’re not a book, and we don’t just publish poetry, but hey ho! But it’s publishing new and up-and-coming writers and artists that still gives me the biggest thrill.
These prizes are run annually for a single unpublished poem and short story, and are our way of highlighting some of the best poetry and fiction that is being written for children. Anyone over 16 can enter our prizes, and the winner of each is awarded €1,000 and their work is published in The Caterpillar. There aren’t many outlets for publishing children’s fiction and poetry, so the prizes are a very useful way of writers getting the recognition they deserve. The inaugural winner of The Caterpillar Poetry Prize went on to secure a publishing deal as a direct result of winning, which was incredibly gratifying.
We don’t brief artists or illustrators, and I don’t even like to think of the work being there to illustrate the poetry or fiction. It’s place in the magazine is as prominent and as vital as that of the writing. I tend to approach artists directly to ask permission to reproduce some of their work. I will try to showcase 2–3 artists in each issue.
The most exciting and daunting experience was launching the first issue! I had no experience in the world of children’s publishing so I had to brush up quickly, and call on anyone I could think of who might be able to send us work. It took a little time before I could rely solely on unsolicited material, which is what I prefer to do.
Co-director (and husband) Will Govan visits schools to read from The Caterpillar. He says the wonderful thing about kids is they only react when they think the poem or story is really good or really funny or rude. And they don’t care about whose written it.
My career in books began in the best place possible: a bookstore. I worked as a student in the trade book department of University of California at Berkeley. After I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English, I worked full-time at the bookstore, where I picked the brains of various sales reps about how to get a job in publishing. Their first piece of advice was to move to New York city. So I did, with very little money and with another bookstore job on my resume, at Green Apple Books, one of San Francisco's most acclaimed independent bookstores.
When I got to New York, I called all the contacts the sales reps had given me. Some were surprised (clearly not realizing their names and phone numbers had been shared) and all were helpful. It was through one of these referrals that I got my first job.
This was years ago; these days, internships are invaluable when it comes to making contacts and gathering experience.
I've learned that the reading I loved as a child and teen and adult, the books I shelved and handsold and discovered as a bookstore clerk, and keeping up with new books and authors (i.e., continuing to spend time in bookstores) informs, in many ways, the publishing decisions I make to this day.
I'm the associate publisher, working with Jean Feiwel, the publisher of F&F who also oversees Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. I acquire, edit, strategize, and of course, publish.
We are a small team of editors, given our list of 40 - 50 books a year: Jean, myself, editor Anna Roberto, and two assistant editors. Editors Holly West and Kat Brzozowski edit primarily for the Swoon Reads imprint, but also for F&F.
We work with a brilliant team of designers (who also work on books for other MCPG imprints), led by our creative director, Rich Deas. We also work closely with our colleagues in marketing, publicity, production, and of course, sales. It takes a village, for sure. The collaborative nature of our imprint is always evolving.
Let's just say it isn't Instagram-ready.
The middle-grade novel, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, and the picture book, On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, which is the first book we published over ten years ago, and one of our ongoing bestsellers.
I'm lucky to work with a true visionary: our publisher, Jean Feiwel. Her publishing history IS publishing history. I am also fortunate to have worked with the founding team at Lee and Low Books when that business was starting up: Philip Lee and Tom Low, who were at the forefront of publishing diverse visions and voices. It was invaluable to be part of a small team and startup -- and we worked on the first books of artists and authors who continue to publish, including Caledcott medalist Javaka Steptoe, Caldecott honoree R. Gregory Christie, and Coretta Scott King author honoree Carole Boston Weatherford.
We are looking for illustrators for picture books, middle-grade and YA book jackets, and sometimes interior line art for chapter books and/or middle-grade fiction. Art samples that exhibit a sense of character, expression/emotion, humor, and charm are what catch our eye. We are looking for heart, for artwork that extends a story and connects with readers.
It would take pages and pages for me to describe our process, and every book is different - one size doesn't fit all. This spring we published the exquisite middle-grade novel Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, with gorgeous illustrations by Nicholas Gannon. The not-so-secret ingredient of that book, from text to font to paper to jacket to case, is love. It sounds corny, but the love for this story and for how it connects with readers of all ages informed every decision - editing, design, production, marketing, publicity - that went into this project. Everyone involved was willing to stretch and try new ideas to extend this book's meaning and significance.
We are always, always looking for new talent - I have a particular fondness for working with debut authors and artists from all backgrounds. My ongoing working relationships with authors and artists grow my own publishing sensibilities and inspire new directions. Matthew Cordell had published several books with us over 10-plus years before winning the Caldecott Medal this year for Wolf in the Snow, which was a creative departure for him.
We also enjoy working with established authors and artists who are exploring new creative paths - a series author writing a standalone, for example, or an artist like Matt Cordell experimenting with a new style. I'd worked with S.A. Bodeen on picture books at Lee and Low, and now we've worked together on her popular YA thrillers, starting with The Compound, and continuing this fall with her newest, The Tomb.
I'm happy to say we have a new book coming this fall from Matt Cordell: King Alice, about a girl stuck inside the house with her family on a snow day. An early 2019 picture book debut I'm particularly excited about is Kathryn Dennis's Snakes on a Train, which is about...snakes on a train! We also have new projects in the pipeline from our New York Times-bestselling authors, Marissa Meyer, Taran Matharu, and Andy Griffiths.
My first exposure to book publishing was an internship at the fantastic Graywolf Press one summer while I was in college. Upon graduation, I attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course (now Columbia Publishing Course), which led to a job as editorial assistant at Callaway Editions, a publisher and packager in New York City. While there, I worked on both books for adults and books for children. After several years, I decided to relocate to Minneapolis and was fortunate that Lerner Publishing Group had an opening in the editorial department. Lerner acquired the Millbrook Press imprint in 2004, and I began overseeing the imprint in 2008.
I acquire all picture books and single title nonfiction for the imprint, and I edit or oversee another editor’s work on those books as they move through the various stages of editing, revision, and production. I work closely with a couple other editors (who are also involved with other imprints) and art director Danielle Carnito and a few graphic designers who work under her direction.
I love that every day is different, though it’s sometimes challenging to juggle all the different duties that come with the job!
Since we’re focusing on illustration in this conversation, I’ll go with three picture books.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. This book spoke to me from the moment I first saw the manuscript—during college, I’d studied abroad in Senegal and had also visited the Gambia, and I’d always wanted to work on a book set in that part of the world. Elizabeth Zunon was the ideal illustrator for the book, and Miranda and I were so thrilled when she agreed to take on the project. Her collage illustrations are fit the story perfectly—especially because she cleverly incorporated bits of plastic bags into her art throughout the book. I’ve been so gratified to see what a positive reception One Plastic Bag has received, and it is one of our top-selling picture books.
Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers by Sara Levine, illus. by T.S Spookytooth. I love both science and books that present information in playful and unexpected ways—and this book satisfies both criteria. We’d previously published Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons from this author and illustrator, and it was fun to collaborate again. I love the guessing game format and the mix of imaginative and realistic illustrations. I was incredibly pleased when this book won an AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books last year.
We recently finished making a third book together, which came out this spring, Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Skeletons.
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, illus. by Victo Ngai. This book was a collaboration from start to finish—Chris and I were brainstorming about possible topics for a picture book, and I mentioned having heard an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible that was about dazzle camouflage. Chris did some research and said he thought the story of dazzle ships could be told in an engaging way for kids. He started writing, and art director Danielle Carnito began a search for an illustrator who could gorgeously depict water and pattern while also incorporating a surreal element. Victo Ngai had never illustrated a picture book before, but she was up for the challenge—you can read an interview with her here. The book came together fantastically.
Art director Danielle Carnito and her team of graphic designers do an amazing job finding the right illustrators for our books. We look for artists who have an eye-catching style and who can be accurate in conveying nonfiction concepts when needed. For certain books, we need illustrators who are up for doing some research, and we’re always happy to recommend sources that may be helpful. The style really varies by book—we want to match the overall mood and tone of the text. Generally speaking, we prefer bold colors to pastel ones and seek out art that has a contemporary feel to it.
I like books that use innovative ways to teach readers something they didn’t already know. Some of that comes from the text, but illustrations also play a huge role in helping readers truly see what the text describes. In the book Water Can Be . . . by Laura Purdie Salas, illus. by Violeta Dabija, the text is very spare and poetic—the text on one spread reads, “Water can be a . . . Tadpole hatcher/Picture catcher.” What exactly does that mean? The illustrations make the meaning clear.
In Noah Webster’s Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illus. by Mircea Catasanu, there’s a surprising component—the “ghost” of Noah Webster has added his comments throughout! It’s a playful element that’s true to the spirit of Noah Webster, who was known to go back and add edits to his own works even after they were published! Mircea Catasanu’s illustrations also include many playful details that help keep readers engaged and more fully bring the book to life.
For more on this topic, check out my blog post about nonfiction picture books and the element of surprise.
Ha! That’s a great question. One of the things I love about editing nonfiction is the range of topics covered and the fascinating facts I pick up along the way. This past spring we released Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illus. by Charlotte Riley Webb. Most people wouldn’t think a topic like lynching could be discussed in a picture book, but this book presents the story of how the song “Strange Fruit” came to be and how Billie Holiday came to sing it in a way that is age appropriate yet also respectful of children’s need to know about difficult topics. The text and illustrations came together beautifully to tell the story of a song that told a necessary truth and helped pave the way for change.
In the US, the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have resulted in a greater emphasis on nonfiction as well as on hands-on science and the process of science. We’ve also seen a lot of interest recently in STEM and STEAM topics as well as makerspaces and coding.
We definitely look for portfolios that include examples of full scenes and not only spot illustrations. We also look for diversity in the humans depicted, a range of emotions expressed, appealing animals (for some reason, I’m a sucker for a good humpback whale illustration), pieces that show action, and good use of color. If an illustrator is interested in nonfiction, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to include a few pieces showing recognizable figures, whether it’s Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, Wangari Maathai, or Jane Goodall.
That’s a tough one! I do have fond memories of browsing through our family encyclopedia set. I enjoyed the fact that I never knew what I might come across.
But by and large, nonfiction has changed so much from my own childhood—when the norm was text-heavy books with small, black-and-white photos or illustrations. So in some ways, I would say I’m now making the type of books I wish I’d had when I was a child.
Things are going well, and I’m hoping to build on the success we’ve already had and continue finding new topics and new approaches for our books as well as finding striking illustrators who can bring these books to life. We have some fabulous books planned for fall 2018 and beyond!
To find out about our latest releases, check us out on social media:
Lerner Publishing Group
Lerner Publishing Group