Marilyn Brigham Interview

Marilyn Brigham

Editor, Amazon

How did you get into children's publishing and what are some of the key positions you've held?

After college, I worked at a few internships, including one with a publisher called Marshall Cavendish. After a few months, I got hired as an editorial assistant for two of their imprints. It was in this role that I fell in love with a career in children’s publishing and knew it was what I wanted to pursue in the long term.  The company was small so I was able to work closely with the whole team and gratefully received a lot of mentoring. We also worked out of a cool old mansion in the suburbs, which felt very literary! From there, I worked my way up to Editor in the trade children’s imprint. In 2012, I was hired by Amazon and shortly thereafter, Amazon Publishing established Two Lions, an imprint for children’s books. In 2019 we launched another children’s imprint, Amazon Crossing Kids.  I acquire and edit for both imprints and feel very lucky to have landed in children’s books and to work at Amazon Publishing. I think my eight-year-old self would have approved of my career choice! 

What should an illustrator looking to appeal to Two Lions be able to demonstrate in their portfolio?

We look for artists who have a unique point of view and will stand out in the marketplace and within our own list. The art has to be a good match in tone with the manuscript, and we always make sure our authors are happy with the artistic vision too! We look for a range of art styles, so you’ll see everything from traditional paintings and cut-paper artwork to digital and graphic styles on our list. In a portfolio, I’d suggest that artists include a mix of perspectives, characters, and environments. I am keen to see personality reflected through the characters and will also look for visual storytelling within the artwork. All of these factors are so important to creating a successful picture book. 

When it comes to promoting Two Lions' books, what are some of the fun and innovative ideas you've implemented?

We’ve played around with a lot of ideas over the years. We filmed kids who had read our titles and captured their “reviews” of the books. It was pretty fun to see ratings like “a gazillion stars” for our books. We created short animated trailers for our books and series. Some of our titles have also been included in Amazon First Reads, which offers Amazon customers early access to a curated monthly selection of new titles from across various genres; there’s a little something for everyone.

Describe a project which really stretched and enhanced your knowledge / skill set.

In 2019 we launched a new imprint called Amazon Crossing Kids, which publishes translated picture books from around the world. When we made the decision to launch the imprint, I had to quickly connect with publishers, agents, and translators from around the world. I leaned into the knowledge and connections of my colleagues, including our rights team and the editorial team for Amazon Crossing, which is Amazon Publishing’s translation imprint for adult fiction and nonfiction. I was also lucky to work with amazing translators, who have taught me so much about this particular creative process. There is a whole world of books out there to discover, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to find these gems from around the globe to share with a new audience.

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Could you select a recent project you're proud of and share the journey of its creation?

I am proud to have worked on an Amazon Crossing Kids book called BEAR AND FRED: A WORLD WAR II STORY, by Iris Argaman, illustrated by Avi Ofer, and translated by Annette Appel, which releases May 1st, 2020. Originally published in Israel, this book takes place in Holland and is told from the point of view of a Jewish boy’s teddy bear. In order to stay safe, the boy has to move around and live apart from the rest of his family—even with strangers. Through it all, Bear and Fred have each other. Not only is it an incredible story of friendship and hope, but it’s based on the real-life experience of a man named Fred Lessing. Fred didn’t separate from Bear until long into his adulthood, when he (and Bear) agreed to loan Bear to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel. We’ve included Bear’s real picture in the book. For our edition, we also added a publisher’s note with some background information for young readers. It felt a bit surreal when I mailed an early advance copy to Fred Lessing. I’m so honored to have been trusted with his story. 

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What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned throughout your career?

I have learned to embrace change and to keep looking ahead to the future. Watching the publishing industry evolve to include digital formats, make changes as a result of the #MeToo movement, and shift to become more inclusive, it’s clear that change can be really uncomfortable but is a natural and necessary part of any industry’s growth and success. I think it’s important for all content creators, especially those who work on children’s content, to use what power we have to effect positive change in whatever small way we can and adapt to the changes.

In your career so far, tell us about your most a) daunting and b) thrilling moment.

These were probably the same moment: when I found out that I was getting a job at Amazon! Nevertheless, I also have a lot of small everyday thrilling moments that I am very thankful for, like when I get to sign a new book that I can’t wait to edit, or when that first bound copy of a book comes in. An author once told me that my editorial comments and encouragement on their manuscript helped them through a very tough personal time in their life; that’s definitely a moment that sticks with me.

When it comes to acquisitions, are there particular subject matters which are on your radar right now?

For Two Lions, I am on the hunt for fictional picture books that have a strong emotional arc to them. I also look for memorable character-driven stories and seasonally themed titles. I would love to find more books from diverse authors and illustrators.

For Amazon Crossing Kids, I look for books that reflect the culture of origin—whether that’s through the storytelling, the artistic style, or the actual content. I also look for books that have universal themes such as friendship or the connectedness of generations as well as celebrate our shared humanity. I would love to find books from regions and languages of the world that are not as widely translated.

You are also a successful writer, could you share some of your own books with our audience?

Well, thanks! I wrote a board book called SWIM!, which was illustrated by Eric Velasquez. It follows two children and their mother as they spend a day at the pool. The illustrator didn’t know it, but the two kids in the book look a lot my niece and nephew! I was also commissioned to write a nonfiction animal book on an incredibly adorable antelope called the dik-dik. It was part of a series called “Even Weirder and Cuter,” which featured the weird and wonderful creatures that can be found in nature. Every once in a while it’s nice to see my own name in print!

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