Friday, December 16, 2011

SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Jean Feiwel

As part of SCBWI Team Blog pre-conference interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with the wonderful Jean Feiwel on the phone.

From the SCBWI conference website:

Jean Feiwel's career in publishing started in 1976 at Avon Books where she rose from Editorial Assistant to Editorial Director of Books for Young Readers. In 1983, she was hired away to Scholastic.  During her tenure as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher at Scholastic, Jean is credited with inventing middle grade series publishing with the creation of Ann Martin’s Babysitter’s Club, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Katherine Applegate’s Animorphs, and the historical fiction series, Dear America. When pressed, she will also admit to being involved with the acquisition and publication of the Harry Potter series. In February 2006, Jean left Scholastic and joined Macmillan as Senior Vice President and Publisher. At Macmillan, she has launched Feiwel & Friends, her own commercially minded hardcover imprint, as well as a paperback/backlist program culled from FSG, Henry Holt and Roaring Brook’s lists, called Square Fish.  In January 2009, she was promoted to SVP Publishing Director of the new consolidated Macmillan Children’s division.

It was a real pleasure to speak with her. From our conversation, here are a few of the questions Jean answered for me:

You, along with three other industry professionals, will speak on a panel about Children’s Books today and tomorrow. In a time full of change, and at times negative talk, what gets you and keeps you excited and makes you feel optimistic?

I’m essentially a glass half full kind of person. I have always been enormously adaptable, and forward looking, and I love what I do. I love working with new authors and the ones that I’ve built already. I like the combination of discovering new talent while maintaining relationships that I’ve already established. The reason for the name Feiwel & Friends is: make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold. That represents my philosophy of publishing.

Young adult books are on fire right now. Why do you think young adult books are leading the way in the book sales and are today’s hot market?

I think that because there were plenty of middle grade series that sort of created that audience. I think Harry Potter being the most instrumental. I think Harry Potter was huge. I think it galvanized reading in general for kids, and for a whole population at a time. I think that’s part of it. And I think these things are cyclical. I’ve been around long enough to see there have been periods of times where young adult has been the dominant category and I’ve seen it over populate and max out in a way and sort of go into a hibernation.  I’m not surprised to see it so strong at this point. I think Stephanie Meyer happened to be somebody who hit a cord at the right place at the right time. The audience was there and waiting.

In that whole cyclical nature of things, does that also bring hope and optimism for the picture book?

I really feel like the demise of the picture is strongly overstated. I found with working with the press, in some ways, they want to sell papers, they want people to read what they write, so they tend to exaggerate. This is certainly an exaggeration. I think there is no doubt that the picture book category has changed, in that, kids are being hurried through childhood and hurried through the category…Kids want to read that reading book that chapter book, they want to feel accomplished and if they’re are being read to from the time they are in utero then they are not going to sit there with Bread and Jam for Francis, they’re going to want to be pacing through, along side of their brothers and sisters, the older books, so I think that has contributed to the category being smaller or in decline. But I think that’s okay because I think all of us have over published in the category. I think that a lot of books that duplicate each other. It’s a matter of being smarter in your publishing, and more focused. There’s definitely still an audience there, and it’s just a matter of not flooding the category. That would make for a healthy business all around.

As you and your fellow editors look to acquire books, is there one element that grabs you each time, that one essential element?

I say this in my rejections letter, if I don’t emotionally connect with something I’m not going to respond to it. There’s something about the story that has to pull on my emotions in some way. It has to make me laugh. It has to be very dramatic. It has to surprise me. Something has to happen for me to respond to a story. Even it’s something I’ve heard a lot , even if it’s yet another vampire story, if there’s something in it that feels fresh or emerges in some surprising way I’ll will respond and go after it. There has to be something emotionally alive in it for me.

Don't miss your chance to hear from Jean Feiwel and many others at the upcoming SCBWI conference in NYC. Register HERE.

Monday, December 12, 2011

SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Ginger Knowlton

Ginger Knowlton
I'm pleased to welcome Ginger Knowlton to Cuppa Jolie. Ginger will be sharing her views, along with three other agents, on the final panel of the conference: The Current Market for Your Work. 

From the Curtis Brown LTD website. 

Ginger Knowlton, Executive Vice President

Ginger Knowlton represents authors and illustrators of children's books in all genres, as well as a few adult book authors. Her list includes Newbery Medalists, Newbery Honor and Printz Honor winners, Edgar and Lambda winners, a Sibert and Orbis Pictus winner, New York Times bestsellers, and a host of other delightful and talented clients. Ginger started working at Curtis Brown as an assistant to Marilyn Marlow, one of the first literary agents to specialize in children's books in the 1960s. Working for Marilyn was a rite of passage, affectionately referred to as Curtis Brown’s "Boot Camp." Before joining the company, Ginger worked in the field of early childhood education in Sacramento and Mendocino, California. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Authors' Representatives and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library in her hometown in Westchester County.

And now on to the interview. How I love ending with an SCBWI success story! Read on...

Conferences can be a bit overwhelming. What advice do you have for conference-goers, especially those attending for the first time? 

Don’t be shy! Talk with other conference-goers, ask to sit with them at lunch, and if you came with a friend or group of friends, be sure to split up and do different things, so you can report back and share whatever you learned (or didn’t learn). Seek advice and camaraderie, and be open to listening as well as sharing. Go outside your comfort zone! Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words—“Do one thing every day that scares you.” (I’ll be doing that myself on January 29th at the Grand Hyatt…)

Writers often ask, "How do I know when my work is ready to submit?" Do you have any sort of measuring stick or advice for knowing when? 

My simple answer is: it’s ready when it sings ~ but I realize that’s subjective.

My short answer is: No.

Everyone works differently, and different things work for different people. Some people are blessed with writing partners/critiquers who offer advice and feedback that is spot on. Others are not so lucky, and still others don’t have partners or critiquers at all. I think what can often help is asking someone else to read your work aloud to you, or better yet, ask him/her to record himself reading it, and then listen to that recording by yourself and then with others. Do you like it? Do others? Are you fascinated and eager for more? If it’s a picture book, is it just too long? Would a youngster fidget? Would you, if you had to read it to said youngster time and again? Do you feel like the reader just didn’t get it and you could have done better reading it yourself? If so, there might be a lesson for you there—it may not be the reader’s fault at all. (Sorry!)

I know some authors finish a manuscript and decide to submit it to a lot of agents/editors at once—sort of flooding the field—and I recommend that you start out slower than that, in case you get actual feedback from someone who might help you make the submission stronger for the next round. While it’s important to be open to advice and other opinions, it’s also important to stay true to yourself and your writing. I realize this sounds cliché.

Do you have a particular pet peeve when it comes to receiving queries/submission?

Well, like everyone, I want the query to be addressed to me (Ginger Knowlton), not to Curtis Brown or Ginger Knowlton Clark or Agent or Tracey Adams (hey, Tracey!). And please take the time to proofread your queries and submissions so there are no misspellings. With spellcheck available, there’s just no excuse for that. I’m not saying I won’t read it if there are mistakes, but it is distracting, and why distract me from your writing when you’re hoping I’ll be enthusiastic about it?

Can you share with us a client's forthcoming or recently published book that you're extra excited about? 

I cannot wait to see I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black, with illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, coming out in the fall of 2012—and it all came about because of SCBWI! Here’s a recap from Debbie herself:

Thank you so much, Ginger!

To register for the upcoming conference, or to learn more about SCBWI visit