Jolijn Swager Interview

Jolijn Swager

Publisher, Volt

Could you tell us about your professional background and how you came to your current role as Publisher for Volt Children's Books?

I studied Language and Communication at the University of Amsterdam. During my studies, I developed my interest in the publishing industry. For this reason, I applied for the selective dual master Publisher/editor. After my internship at the lovely publishing house Querido children’s books, I found a job as an editor at Moon publishers. There, I learned all the basic skills of an editor and I had the opportunity to learn a lot from the publisher. When she moved to another job, the managing board asked me to become the new publisher. Me? With only 26 years old?! It had always been a dream of mine to become a publisher one day, but this was very soon. Nevertheless, I took my chance and learned a lot. After two years of working as a publisher for Moon, the director of Singel publishers asked me to start a new children’s book imprint: Volt. I moved to Volt and I am working there now for 2.5 years, building on the new list!

What are some of the advantages (and disadvantages) of being a small publishing company?

Being a small publishing house has a lot of advantages: shorter lines of contact, quicker communication, more personal relationships and less bureaucracy. On the other hand, some disadvantages are less employees for bigger projects and an even higher workload when somebody gets ill. But I’m very happy that Volt children’s books is part of the bigger group of Singel publishers. So we are not ‘alone’, but part of the bigger ‘family’. Other publishing houses here are, for example, Querido, Nijgh & Van Ditmar and De Geus.  

How does the Dutch children's book market differ from the rest of the world?

It’s a very small market. Everybody knows each other: the editors, the publishers, the writers, the illustrators, the booksellers, etc. Very intimate, but sometimes a bit oppressive. I think our level of illustrators is quite high: a modern and high quality (handmade!) style of illustrations and with a lot of humour. It’s very interesting to see that every country has its own illustration style and tradition.

Looking at your current list, what are some of your favourite titles?

My classic series: The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Junglebook of Rudyard Kipling and Oliver Twist of Charles Dickens. Well-known Dutch authors (Tiny Fisscher and Daan Remmerts de Vries, resp.) retold the classic stories for a new generation. Not just a shorter and easier version, but an integral translation. The books stand out and receive a lot of positive attention because of the wonderful illustrations of Mark Janssen and Annette Fienieg respectively, who took the stories to a higher level.

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Another favourite project of mine is to work with new talent. To scout, to give them a platform and to let them develop their unique style. At the moment, I’m working with young talented illustrators such as Djenné Fila (De Vuurvogel, Toen Rups een vlinder werd) and Liset Celie (Het lekkerste bed).

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Furthermore, I’m very fortunate to publish the work of Fiep Westendorp (1916-2004), one of the most famous illustrators of the Netherlands. Generations of readers grew up with her work. Westendorp has left behind thousands of illustrations and together with the Fiep Westendorp Foundation we create new books with this heritage. Especially the cardboard books for the youngest generation are doing very well.

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Tell us about a recent project you enjoyed overseeing and what made the collaboration so memorable.

I like the interaction of more complex projects. Such as the collaboration between the neuroscientist Erik Scherder, the children’s book writer Fred Diks and the illustrator Mariëlla van de Beek. It has been a challenge to structure all their enthusiasm and input, but at the end they each added an indispensable part of the final result of Professor S. en de verslaafde koning. Like a puzzle of three important pieces falling perfectly together. I think readers recognized this chemistry of the trio; the book became a bestseller.

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I experienced a quite similar collaboration with the book Tim de kleine boswachter, about a very enthusiastic forester here in the Netherlands: Tim. He really wanted to write the book by himself, but after trying for months I decided to search for a very good author to write it with Tim’s input. I asked the award-winning author Jan Paul Schutten – who loves nature and animals – and added illustrator Emanuel Wiemans to the project. Three men with the same love for nature and children. After months of waiting with the one person project, the book suddenly developed very soon with this trio.

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What portfolio advice would you offer illustrators looking to appeal to Volt?

Develop your own style; be original in order to stand out from the wide range of illustrators. I really prefer illustrators who still work manually, or who start with a pen or pencil and edit digitally. Illustrations made from scratch with the computer don’t have my preference (but could still be beautiful of course). When I’m receiving portfolios, it’s very helpful to see a lot of diversity: colour as well as black and white; people as well as animals etc. The chance to find suitable projects will be higher with a complete and diverse portfolio. I see a lot of illustrators struggling with drawing people, especially the faces. To bring the characters to life and to give them emotions is very difficult. But I’m very happy with the richness of illustrators in the Netherlands. A lot of their picture books are published in other countries.

Which titles have been some of Volt's biggest success stories a) in the Netherlands and b) Internationally?

a) What’s working very well for us?

Professor S. en de gestolen breinbril and Professor S. en de verslaafde koning

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Two books about Zhé and her grandpa who is a professor. Adventurous stories with a lot of funny facts about the brain.

Snelle Sam – De Kartcup and Snelle Sam – De Grand Prix

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A popular series about Formula 1 and the little boy Sam who really wants to race himself.

Het grote Fiep kijkboek

A big cardboard book with very diverse themes to learn words. Perfect present for hours of fun.

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b) Recently sold internationally:


A non-fiction book for children about fake news, fact checking, fallacies and censorship. A very current and urgent theme in these times.

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De kleine prins

The retelling of the famous The Little Prince for children, with amazing illustrations by the internationally loved Mark Janssen.

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Who have been some of your most significant career mentors?

My former publisher at Moon, Marieke, where I started my career. She believed in me from the first day. She didn’t treat me as an intern or a starter, but as an equal sparring partner. From her, I learned the ‘tricks’ of publishing. 

Moreover, my current boss Paulien (even though she doesn’t like it when I call her ‘my boss’). She asked me to start the new imprint, which was a very special request. I am very grateful to her for the confidence and freedom she gives me.

What was the standout children's book from your own childhood?

So many! I loved Astrid Lindgren: the fearless Pippi Longstocking and the children of the Troublemaker Street. I also really enjoyed the funny stories of Ole Lund Kirkegaard from Denmark and the lovely Madelief books by the Dutch author Guus Kuijer.

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Describe your dream project.

A project that’s more than a book, with a bigger impact for young readers. A book is not just some sheets of paper and a cover. There is a bigger story behind it. I would love to make books which change the mind of children: make them laugh, make them wiser, happier and more inventive. My dream project would arise together with a creative team of e.g. a good illustrator and author, not just from my mind or bought as a license. The interaction between different creative minds is like 1+1=3. There are already so many books out there, I really hope I can add something to the children’s book market.

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