Friday, September 13, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From Latina with a Flashlight to Children's Author: Angela Cervantes from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Even if the Latino population wasn’t growing rapidly, these stories would still be important. They have a place on the bookshelf because these books are not written just for a Latino audience; they are written for all children."

The Shy Writer's Cocktail Party Survival Guide by Anne Greenwood Brown from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Arriving early...allows you to join the first small conversation group. People are usually relieved to have a new member join in."

Letting Your Characters Go by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Chances are all of you who write fiction feel exactly the same when you complete a project. What can we do to ease the pain of parting?"

First Readers Vs. Manuscript Critiques by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Some suggest a structured approach and ask readers to write in the margins something like this. B=bored. C=confused. E=emotional."

Want to Be Successful at Writing? Take Aim and Keep Shooting by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "She has had many more sales because she has been gutsier and submitted a lot more than I have. She knows that rejection simply comes as part of the publishing package." See also Walking the Tightrope Between Big Dreams and Realistic Expectations by Rachelle Gardner from Books & Such and Good Writing is Born of Dreams by Alissa Grosso from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

Character and Series Backstory and the Traditional Mystery by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: "Characters recurring from an earlier book in the series could be quickly identified in a way that won’t be obvious or irritating to the returning reader." See also Elizabeth on Writing Advice & Advice to New Parents.

"Storytelling is Getting Formulaic. This is an Opportunity." from Nathan Bransford, Author. Peek: "One book, Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! has become so thoroughly influential that nearly every movie made these days follows its beat by beat model." See also The Organized Writer: Using a Chapter Framework to Manage Plots and Subplots by Rosie Genova from QueryTracker Blog.

Why We Need Diverse Literature by Crystal from Rich in Color. Peek: "...there are some diverse books being published. They are not in the numbers I would like to see, but they do exist. They can be hard to find, so we have some resources on our blog to help make it easier." See also an audio essay by Mitali Perkins on Writing Race, What Is Personal Perspective Anyway? by A.S. King from CBC Diversity and Publishing Diverse Books Isn't About Meeting Quotas by Stacy Whitman from Rich In Color.

Thurber House Invites Writers to Apply for the 2014 Children's Writer in Residence from Thurber House. Peek: "The Thurber House Residency in Children’s Literature offers talented writers a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Besides having time to focus on his/her own writing project, each resident spends up to ten hours per week teaching children the joys of writing in both a community-based agency and as part of the Thurber House Summer Writing Camp for children."

What Does a Literary Agent Want to See When They Google You? by Chuck Sambuchino from The Write Life. Peek: "An agent typically investigates a client before offering them representation, understandably." See also How to Maintain a Healthy Author-Agent Relationship by Elizabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed.

Pondering Book Trailers with Live Actors by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "Worst case scenario, a live action trailer feels like a sad pale imitation of a B-List movie trailer. Best case scenario? Behold..."

Disturbing (Or Not?) Young Adult Fiction by Christina Chant Sullivan from the Horn Book. Peek: "Unlike their adult teacher, my students seemed to be immune to the very real tragedy of similar 'dumpsite boys' in South America, and also to the horrifying premise of The Hunger Games. In the end, no matter how realistic these novels seemed, my boys recognized them as fiction. Contrast my sixth-grade boys’ reactions to Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water..."

What's the Beef with the Third Person Objective Point of View? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: "To avoid flat, emotionless storytelling that fails to engage readers, your 'show, don’t tell' craftwork needs to fire on all cylinders."

Chaptering: Those Magical Last Lines by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "...the perfect spot to end a chapter is the perfect place to compel a reader to keep reading. I have a flashing neon light in my head when I write, and it blinks the words 'page turner'."

Books & Smiles for Haiti from Chieu Anh Urban. Peek: "Please join me in gifting autographed children's books for the lovely children in Haiti. The gift of books will brighten their day, and let them know that we are thinking of them."

Writers' Etiquette: Graciousness by Rosie Genova from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "While you are neither alone in your feelings nor in your observations about the reading market, they do not become you. And you are sadly misguided if you think to bolster your own work by denigrating the work of others. Particularly in a Public Forum." See also Being Shakespeare by Mette Ivie Harrison.

Support the Greenhorn Film Project: "Greenhorn (NewSouth, 2012), based on a true event, is a powerful book by Anna Olswanger that gives human dimension to the Holocaust." See a Cynsations guest post by Anna about the book.

How to Write Fight-Action Scenes That Won't Show You've Never Thrown a Punch by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "I always tell authors and writers to physically draw their action scenes."

What Makes a Good Picture Book About Loss? by Thom Barthelmess from The Horn Book. Peek: "...books of bubbly humor and silliness...if we limit ourselves to that kind of material, are we suggesting to children and their families that those are the best, or only, books to read aloud? Or, worse, are we sending a message that exuberant happiness is the only emotion that picture books engage, or the only emotion to legitimately consider or experience in public?" See also Secrets of Storytime: 10 Tips for Great Sessions from a 40-Year Pro by Nell Colburn from School Library Journal.

Hiding the Controversy by Bryony Pearce from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All The Words! Peek: "I want teenagers to read my books and go away thinking about the characters, the story, the “cool” supernatural stuff. The issue I’ve really written about, well, it might just sink in without them realising it was even there."

Query Detox by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Some writers are obsessed with being perceived as A Serious Writer, and you can almost see their furrowed brow and feel their condescending gaze as you read their words. Often they’ll try to hit the agent over the head with how deep and brilliant their themes are."

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: The Banning of Sex-Positive Novels by Amy Rose Capetta from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: "As a teenage girl, I was drawn to books like Judy Blume’s. I didn’t confuse being ready to read about sex with being ready to have it. I needed that safe space where I could follow what happened to characters I cared about, and figure things out for myself."

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

NerdBait Guide to Graceling: Episode I: Chicks with Swords: YA authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy discuss Kristin Cashore's Graceling and the importance of girls owning swords. 

More Personally

Celebrating Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett & Paul Meisel (Candlewick) at "Nightwing."
Pass pages for Feral Curse (Book 2 in the Feral series)
Succumbed to the heat and got my hair cut short this July in Galveston.

I'm pleased to announce that I'm among the featured authors for the 2013 Texas Book Festival Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 in Austin.  I'll update you on the schedule as details arise. See a breakout of the featured children's-YA authors by Carmen Oliver from One Word at a Time.

Thanks to everyone who's among my now 13,000+ followers on Twitter @CynLeitichSmith! For those who haven't checked it out, I tweet the same sort of upbeat and useful news and resources related to children's-YA literature, writing, illustrating, and publishing--plus a little personal news--that you typically find here. On a related note, see A Scientific Guide to Posting Tweets, Facebook Posts, Emails and Blog Posts at the Best Time by Belle Beth Cooper from TNW via Jane Friedman.

In other news, thank you to librarian Kit and the YA Book Club at Cedar Park (Texas) Public Library for your hospitality this summer! So glad you all enjoyed Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013)!

Library Media Connection says of Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013): "This fast-paced story, told from various points of view, captures the reader from the start. All three are well-developed, strong characters. This is a book that both genders will want to read. Fans of Smith’s previous books will be excited to see some of her characters branch out into their own series."

Native Hoop Magazine says of Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013): "Although Smith's books are characterized as young adult, they're a good read for adults who like gothic fantasy, too."

Delve into the world of graphic novels on Oct. 5 with a Graphic Novel Workshop, featuring author/illustrator Dave Roman, author Cynthia Leitich Smith and First Second Books Senior Editor Calista Brill; sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

By the way, Austin is getting a new bookstore: Malvern Books.

Personal Links
SCBWI WIP runner-up Margo Rabb & Liz Garton Scanlon

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Chris A. Bolton on Smash: Trial by Fire & Creating a Graphic Novel

By Chris A. Bolton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

How do you make a graphic novel?

Short answer: any way you can!

Much like eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, there's no wrong way to do it (as long as it gets done). Unlike, say, screenwriting -- where the format is extremely specific, and there are countless books explaining all the rules and guidelines -- each comic creator uses whatever method works best for her, personally.

When my younger brother Kyle and I decided to make our long-gestating idea about a ten-year-old superhero named Smash into a real, live comic, we explored several possible methods for working together.

What seems to work best is for me to outline the plot in broad story beats so we're both clear on what's happening. For instance, here's part of my outline for the second Smash book, which we're working on now:

After a brief recap of Book One in a news report (being watched on ZEKE'S smartphone), we follow small-time crook ZEKE HUSTON to a midnight meeting at an abandoned Air Force base. DR. COBB -- who built the machine that absorbed SMASH'S powers in Book One -- waits with the suit he's designed, one that uses electromagnetic bursts to propel the wearer at great speeds, like a bullet. ZEKE attempts to steal the suit by booby-trapping a gym bag supposedly full of money, but COBB'S gigantic henchman BRUTE unwittingly sets off the explosives too early. ZEKE hurriedly dons the BULLET armor and fights off BRUTE to (barely) make his escape. An injured DR. COBB promises they'll get even.

Chris and Kyle Bolton, photo by Ocean Yamaha
photo by Ocean Yamaha
When I've finished the outline (for Book 2, it totals eight single-spaced pages), Kyle reads it over and gives feedback.

Sometimes he doesn't like a plot element or the way a scene plays out. He might want to move a chase from a freeway to a dockside shipyard, for instance, or he might disagree with the way I've handled a plot twist.

Now we have to talk it out.

Our general rule is, if one of us has a problem with a scene, we bat around ideas on how to fix it or change it so it works better. The new version of the scene that comes out of these discussions is always, always better than what we started with.

Once we agree on the outline -- usually after at least a few revisions -- I get started writing the script, which is a breakdown of the action in each panel on every page, plus the dialogue.

When we first started putting Smash together, I favored taking an old-school Marvel Comics "plot first, script later" approach. In that instance, the writer jots down a big paragraph of all the action that occurs on the page (not unlike my outline excerpt above), then hands it to the artist to break down into panels, angles, and specific actions. When the artist hands back the finished comic page, the writer scripts the dialogue to fit what she's been given. That certainly helps with problems like writing a long, passionate monologue for a panel so crammed full of action and detail that there's only room for a two-word balloon.

However, in our case, Kyle wanted the panels to be broken down for him -- and, frankly, I wanted to be able to help set the tone and pacing of the layout. What a comic panel contains, how big it is, even the number of panels per page are all important storytelling tools in the comic form.

So, after much searching around the internet, we settled on a script format that we liked, which looks something like this:

I use a specialized template in my Final Draft screenwriting software for ease (it does a great job of positioning all the dialogue and character names with just a single tap of the TAB key), although it would be easy enough to write this in Word.

I note the total number of panels for each comic page at the top of the script page, so Kyle has a general idea as he starts to read. Then I describe each panel, providing the dialogue, captions, and sound effects. Things don't always work out the way I script them, of course. Sometimes Kyle calls me with a new idea, other times he might find he can't fit all 15 panels onto a single page of comic book paper without reducing the characters to half a face and a couple of fingers.

Sometimes there just isn't enough room for all the dialogue I wrote, or there isn't as much need because Kyle's expressive style gets the point across without any excess words. In that case, I'll make alterations while I'm lettering (more on that in a bit).

Kyle draws by hand on a drafting table, using professional comic book paper from Blue Line Pro, which is 11" by 17" acid-free paper that has the borders of the finished comic page already printed on them in blue. The pages he draws come out much larger than the actual printed page of the comic, which allows him to draw in a more detailed fashion.

When it comes to drawing, Kyle doesn't get all fancy with a Cintiq tablet or anything like that. He does it all by hand, old-school-style, on the drafting board he's had since seventh grade, using a 0.5mm mechanical pencil with 2B lead and a Strathmore eraser.

For our first book, Smash: Trial by Fire, we wanted a sketchy quality to the art, so Kyle didn't ink the pages. He just drew a darker line over his sketches with a harder-tipped pencil. However, he had to push down really hard to make the line dark enough to see and scan into the computer -- which actually ended up causing some nerve damage to Kyle's wrists. As a result, for future books he's decided to ink his pencils using Micron pens of varying ink weights ranging from .02 to .08.

To start with, Kyle gets to work sketching from the script. Because he isn't fond of doing thumbnail layouts, he starts with very light pencils. He sketches the outline of the characters and their action; they practically look like stick figures at this point. 

When he's happy with the positions and the size of the panels, he starts filling in the rough sketches with details, adding bulk to the bodies and working on facial expressions.

Around this time Kyle will take a camera-phone picture of the page or a given panel and send it to me. I'll look it over and give him feedback: "Wow, looks great!" or, "I can't quite make out what that is" or, "Can we try a different angle?" Once we agree on the pencils, he starts inking.

The next step is lettering the pages, where we add all the dialogue and thought balloons and the caption boxes (like "Meanwhile..."). Kyle scans his finished pages and sends them to me. Our letterer, Christina Mackin, uses a program called Adobe InDesign to draw and position the balloons in the panels. We have two special fonts for the comic, both from Anime Ace 2.0 for dialogue, and Badaboom for sound effects. (These fonts are free to download for personal use, although our publisher, Candlewick Press, paid a licensing fee to use them for the printed book.)

Finally, the pages are colored using Adobe PhotoShop. The easiest method would be to pick a color and use the paintbucket feature to fill in a whole section, such as Smash's glove or mask or goggles. However, because Kyle only sketched in the art with pencils instead of using solid ink lines for Trial by Fire, the lines were often rough or incomplete, which meant clicking on paintbucket could fill the entire panel with one color instead of just the gloves.

So Christina, who was also one of our colorists for the book, had to painstakingly color in every piece of the panel, much as you would the pages of a coloring book. She laid down the flats (a basic wash of all the colors) and then the pages were passed along to Sarah Barrie Fenton, who added shading, highlights, and visual effects. With the use of finished inks from here on out, the coloring should be much faster and easier for future books.

That's our process! Thanks for reading! We invite you to pick up a copy of Smash: Trial by Fire and see for yourself how the process comes together in the final result.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

From Chris's website
: "Chris A. Bolton has written short fiction, stage plays, sketch comedy, and screenplays. He wrote and directed a web-series called Wage Slaves and had his first professional short story published in Portland Noir (Akashic Press, 2009). He...lives in Portland, Oregon."

Check out other stops on the Smash: Trial by Fire blog tour.

Enter to win one of three copies of Smash: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton, illustrated by Kyle Bolton (Candlewick, 2013). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Guest Post: Ellen Booraem on World Building: Undertaking an Underworld

By Ellen Booraem
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Texting the Underworld (Dial, 2013), my latest middle-grade fantasy, is set partly in South Boston, Massachusetts, and partly in (you guessed it) the Underworld.

Psychologically, Southie is an island, separated from the rest of the world by Fort Point Channel and Boston Harbor. It’s famed as a traditionally Irish bastion. Today, though, its public schools look like the United Nations.

If Southie can achieve diversity, surely the afterlife can follow suit?

Texting the Underworld is about a banshee—my lighthearted version of the Irish ancestral spirit who wails when a family member is on the way out. Ashling, a young banshee, visits 12-year-old Conor O’Neill to say that someone in his family is going to die, and he sets out to prevent the death.

I was in a solidly Celtic state of mind when I started the book. As I researched, though, it became obvious that the traditional Irish afterlife was not going to meet my needs. I wanted everyone to be reincarnated, and by most accounts the ancient Irish awarded new lives only to heroes. Anyway, stories of the Irish Otherworld make it sound so pleasant—blue skies, gentle breezes, music, feasting—that you can’t imagine anyone wanting to leave.

Most important, logic dictated that the afterlife would have to serve everybody, not just the Irish. And so, singing happy research songs to myself, I set out to build a multicultural hereafter.

I liked the Celtic idea of an “otherworld” that exists alongside ours, although my Irish characters call it “the Other Land” because it sounds better. The traditional Celtic Otherworld is accessible either by traveling to an island or delving underground. Most cultures do like their dead to be firmly underfoot, so I decided Conor and friends would first travel to an island, then make their way down a tunnel into a network of caverns. The non-Celts they meet call the place the Underworld.

I had several useful books on Celtic traditions and world beliefs, but I have to say Google was my friend. There’s a lovely list of “death deities” on Wikipedia—that’s where I found my favorite Underworld character: Nergal, the Babylonian Lord of the Dead who’s often depicted as half lion.

(I hasten to add that I use Wikipedia as a first stop in research but never the last. As an old journalist, I always shoot for three sources.)

The Egyptians contributed Anubis, although my version no longer weighs the souls of the dead for judgment. Charon came from the Greeks, except he’s a portal guard rather than a boatman, and Oya represents the Yoruba tradition. Another of my portal guards, the Cailleach, is named for a Scottish/Irish winter goddess but is heavily influenced by Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Future, J.K. Rowling’s dementors, and every irritable old lady I’ve ever known. (I won’t name any of them, thanks for asking.)

Mara of the Latvians and Kisin of the Maya get a passing mention. I wish I’d been able to include the fact that Kisin’s name means “flatulence” because he smells so bad, but I’m trying to use him in another book so maybe it’s not too late.

The Lady who runs things is my own invention. So are her three ravens with the power of life and death, although black birds and the number three appear in a lot of death legends.

My most thrilling moment, however, was when I realized that this Other Land was going to be a bureaucracy rather than a place of judgment. It’s the Ellis Island of the afterlife, ushering the Dear Departed from death to rebirth, recording name, ancestry, and other essential facts as they go. I got to channel my past lives as an office-worker—usually in newsrooms, but an office is an office—with all the attendant irritation, fatigue, and camaraderie.

I probably was influenced here by a favorite book from my childhood, the undeservedly obscure The Daughters of the Stars by Mary Crary. Written by an American but published in England in 1939, it supposes that the natural world—stars, moon, sun, sea, rain, you name it—is a bureaucracy headed by petty aristocrats but run by a host of capable flunkies.

Fascinatingly for 1939, the real power is in the hands of women. The protagonists are young Perdita and her mother Astrella, the crisp, efficient Younger Daughter of the Stars and Luminary of Two Continents. It’s a great book—give it a try sometime.

As is often the case, I discovered in revision that some part of my brain had been cleverer than I realized, and the Underworld shared a theme with my depiction of South Boston. Conor’s grandfather, the all-Irish Grump, takes great pains to assure everyone that he’s fine with his old neighborhood’s modern diversity, including his grandson Conor having a Puerto Rican best friend. Then he, Conor, and Conor’s sister Glennie visit the Underworld, which he still expects to be entirely Irish. Ashling the banshee introduces them to Charon.

“Charon?” Grump burst out. “He’s a Greek myth, for cripes’ sake. First some African lady, now this. What the heck is going on around here?”

“One person’s myth is another’s religion,” Glennie said, prim under her raccoon-faced hat.

“If I want your opinion I’ll ask for it.” Grump leaned back against the wall to catch his breath. Poor Grump. Sharing the neighborhood is one thing—a shared afterlife takes a bit of getting used to.

Cynsational Notes

Ellen Booraem’s Texting the Underworld, is a middle-grade fantasy about a scaredy-cat South Boston boy and a determined young banshee.

Her earlier middle-grade fantasies are Small Persons with Wings (Penguin/DBYR, 2011) and The Unnameables (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008).

She lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She blogs at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Agents Interview: Holly McGhee, Elena Giovinazzo & Julie Just of Pippin Properties

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations, Holly McGhee, Elena Giovinazzo and Julie Just of Pippin Properties!

From the agency website:
Since 1998, Pippin Properties, Inc. has been an integrated publishing and entertainment representation agency.
Located in New York City, it is a diverse agency dedicated to maximizing the creative and commercial potential of all its properties.
Pippin represents the works of these writers and artists to a wide range of publishing, animation, motion picture, television, and licensing companies.
Could you tell us about the history of Pippin Properties? How has the agency changed over time?

Holly McGhee: When I founded Pippin, in 1998, I had just left HarperCollins, where I was an executive editor and where I also had some good luck, because the first book I ever edited was Zeke Pippin by William Steig (HarperCollins, 1997)—that’s how I fell in love with words and pictures!

William Steig with Holly McGhee’s daughter Charlotte

I was excited for a chance to bring projects I could stand behind into the world. I felt so liberated (and still do) to act on my own instinct, and not be guided by an acquisitions committee. I believe that if a potential book means something to me, it will mean something to somebody else, too.

But as the years go by, Pippin has become an agency that not only represents books that we think matter, but careers that matter. Think of Kate DiCamillo, Kathi Appelt, Doreen Cronin, David Small, Peter H. Reynolds, Katherine Applegate, Alison McGhee, Jon Agee, Jandy Nelson, to name a few.

We embrace every artistic endeavor, from picture books to middle-grade novels, nonfiction, young adult, graphic, or adult projects. We don’t follow trends—we encourage our clients to follow their hearts. Our philosophy, the world owes you nothing, you owe the world your best work, hasn’t changed, but as an agency we have evolved to keep pace with our clients.

Special thanks to Sujean Rim for dressing up our mascot for his fifteenth birthday!

Zeke Pippin

What types of clients do you represent—in terms of body of work, art vs. text, age levels, genres and more? Are you looking for a certain kind of book that says “Pippin” or for a widely diversified body of work from your client base?

Julie Just: I took a winding path here. As a teenager I loved The New Yorker (especially the covers of William Steig!), and I ended up there in my 20s; now I almost can't believe I'm at the agency of Steig, Koren, Bliss, and Booth.

After years of editing fiction and nonfiction at magazines, I wanted more direct involvement with making things, or helping artists bring them into being, and that's why I became an agent.

I lean toward the literary, which I would define as rich and interesting sentences and a strong point of view, offering something real and unique to the author. Most of my clients are YA or upper middle grade, but I have some picture book authors, too.

I especially love humor, romance, witty dialogue, adventure, mystery, and ghosts. I found many of these qualities in clients like Amy Butler Greenfield (Chantress) and Austin Aslan (coming in 2014: The Islands at the End of the World). I'm also interested in nonfiction, and think there's such a big untapped audience out there for truly voice-y and/or unknown stories.

Elena Giovinazzo: I joined the agency in June of 2009 after trying my hand at a variety of facets of the publishing industry.

What I love the most about being at Pippin is that I really get to use the skills and knowledge I picked up along the way here in one place. We really do it all, marketing, publicity, sales, editorial, on a small and large scale, every day.

As my list of clients grows and continues to develop (I’m still pretty new at this!) I’m finding it to become increasingly varied. I seem to have a little bit of everything, and I love that.

I think what ties them together is that they were all projects I couldn’t say “no” to. That seems to be a really telling barometer. The process of taking on a new client can be an arduous one and so there’s got to be more than just a spark. It’s got to be full-on devotion.

Elena Giovinazzo modeling buttons for Flora & Ulysses

Holly McGhee: I abide by one rule when taking on clients—I have to fall in love with their work. That’s become the backbone of a pretty wide-ranging list—from Kate DiCamillo’s classic and beloved middle-grade novels to Harry Bliss’s “Peanuts-style” cherubs to Kathi Appelt’s literary masterpiece The Underneath to Jandy Nelson’s super-romantic The Sky Is Everywhere to David Small’s dark psycho-dramatic graphic Stitches to Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color creatrilogy.

In general, novels I love tend to be very literary and a bit on the darker side, and the same holds true for graphics.

In picture books, I usually start by looking at a character’s face—if I respond to the face, the rest often follows.

What makes Pippin Properties different from other literary agencies?

Julie Just: What I knew about Pippin before I came here in May was that it was the agency of Kate DiCamillo and William Steig and Jandy Nelson and David Small—it was associated in my mind, in other words, with really distinctive voices and talents.

From an agent's point of view, it feels like a big deal to bring a client in. Certainly more than it would at some big honking midtown agency. I know that every client I bring to Pippin has to shine, and that he or she in turn will get the benefit of all of our expertise. It's very much a team effort.

Holly McGhee: We follow our instincts, and once we are connected to an author or artist, we work as hard as they do to bring their very best work (no matter how many revisions) into the world of books, and if appropriate, the world of film, television, theatre, and merchandise. We won’t stop until the footprint of a property is as significant as possible.

I firmly believe: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

On a different note, we are also an agency that remains committed to debuting new illustrators, artists who can draw and may not necessarily find their voice in words.

Based in New York City, we invite editors in on a regular basis, not only to review our illustrator portfolios, but also to connect and share perspectives on the publishing industry, what’s working in books and what’s not, and we discuss what the editors are looking for on an individual basis.

More often than not, wonderful matches with both authors and illustrators are made on the basis of these get-togethers, and they are not only intellectually stimulating but also tremendous fun.

The ability to meet in this way, with the very people who are making the acquisitions decisions, definitely sets us apart. We’ve recently moved to spacious new headquarters, in part to be able to host our get-togethers more comfortably.

Editors from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt visiting Pippin’s new office

Elena Giovinazzo: All those wonderful points that Holly and Julie made, plus I think we have a team approach that isn’t as prevalent at other agencies. While we each have our own clients and projects, there’s hardly anything that goes out that hasn’t found its way across at least two of our desks. So much of what we do is a collaboration.

When we were looking for new office space, we saw floor plans that had beautiful windowed offices, which were tempting, but we knew that if we were going to keep the collaborative feel that we now enjoy, having an open floor plan was vital (as well as a reading room!).

Julie Just settling in with a manuscript

Why should an unpublished but competitive writer consider querying Pippin?

Julie Just: All the clients we take on can be sure they will have our serious attention. There's a significant time investment in each client and each project. We all love the editorial process and try to think globally, looking for places where voice or story could be stronger, so we can be sure of not just a sale but a strong one to the right house. The collective knowledge of editors and publishers at Pippin has astounded me; it's a fantastic resource.

Elena Giovinazzo: Unpublished authors, query away!

Launching a debut author is so thrilling. There’s nothing like calling an author to tell them there’s an offer or sending a copy of their first contract or galley or marketing plan or foreign offer or . . . get the point? We’re always hoping to find brand-new talent—that’s the farm team!

Please do look at our guidelines before querying. We like a short synopsis and sample, and be sure to number the pages.

How about a more established author who, for whatever reasons, finds herself without representation?

Add caption
Elena Giovinazzo: We’re looking to hear from you, too. We understand, from experience, that agents and authors part ways for all sorts of reasons and that it does not at all mean that our own relationship would be doomed.

It’s often just a matter of finding the right match, which doesn’t always happen the first time around.

Holly McGhee: An established author should consider where they want to be in the future, too. Do they want to break new ground, redefine themselves? Do they want to take a close and realistic look at what has worked for them and what hasn’t? Are they willing to be honest? Are they willing to grow? Are they willing to give the world their best?

If so, they should talk to us! When we love the work, we have a very high success rate in “relaunches.”

Julie Just: Most agents seem to be biased toward sticking with what works, or what has worked in the past. And to some degree it's understandable—this is a conservative time in publishing, relatively speaking. At Pippin the mood couldn't be more different: we aren't conservative, and we make our own rules. I can't say it better than Holly did—it's all a question of what the author or artist really wants to do next, and are we the right partner to help get them there?

There was a time when children’s-YA authors and illustrators debated the need for an agent at all. Do you think that time has passed? Why or why not? What considerations should be weighed?

Elena Giovinazzo: I do think that time has passed. The publishing landscape is changing so fast it can give you whiplash. You need someone on your side who knows the landscape when your editor moves houses, when houses merge, when a new technology comes onto the scene. Having an agent allows the client to focus on their work.

Julie Just: Especially in the field of digital rights, the risks and opportunities are more complex all the time. The question is, how much does managing the business side take away from actually creating the work? Especially on the back end—royalties, foreign and audio rights, etc—without an agent, would the author get the best deal and protections they could have? Was someone thinking big for them?

The happiest outcome for any client, of course, is to find an editor who is a great partner, creatively and financially. When we're able to make the right match, we're glad to step back and not be some kind of middleman, except when the client needs us to be.

Holly McGhee: Additionally, I often find that our very most successful clients need a gatekeeper—there can come a point when there’s nobody left who will tell an author to “shelve it” or that the author “can do better.” We are the keepers of the castle, the ones you can trust to tell you the truth about the work as we see it.

To what degree do you do career framing and consultation with your clients?

Elena Giovinazzo: Each client has different needs and are at different points in their careers and so it’s a really personalized strategic approach for each client. Are they a client who would benefit from having multiple publishing homes or just one? Can the author’s audience handle more than one book a year or would the author be cannibalizing their own sales? Are they working with the most inspiring editor? If sales are languishing, what can we do to give them a reboot?

I love to work with people who have their own career goals and dreams. Maybe they’re illustrating other people’s picture book texts right now but what they really want to do is a graphic—how are we going to get there, together? That sort of career framing can’t happen with an agency that works on a “per book” approach.

Julie Just: I try to think strategically for my clients all the time. When it comes to fiction, though, for example, I'm mainly thinking What kind of book does the author want to write? And, how's it going? There are career considerations and then creative ones.

Or, sometimes it's kind of a mix, as when an author has a certain genre down cold and has had some success, but wants to try stretching into a new field in hopes of breaking out better or differently. That's an interesting moment for a writer or artist, when they need our support but need our candid feedback even more.

Holly McGhee: We spend a good share of our time managing careers. We do all we can to avoid having more than one book per season by any client on a list, and for our more prolific writers and artists, this can be a real challenge; if one book is late, the whole house of cards is vulnerable to collapse. We encourage our clients, and continually brainstorm with them to break out of any sort of box they may find themselves in.

What if Kathi Appelt had stayed in her comfortable category of rhyming picture books? We would never had met Grandma Moccasin or the Alligator King, two of the most intimidating characters of all time from her Newbery Honor-winning novel The Underneath?

What if Kate DiCamillo had remained the “Southern writer” she thought the world expected her to be? The tiny hero Despereaux would never have been born.

Be a maverick—lead, don’t follow.

Do you promote your client list? If so, how? Or do you think that the agency should be more behind the scenes? Why or why not?

Elena Giovinazzo: Absolutely—all the time! At lunches with editors and other industry types, on our website, on our Facebook page, Twitter page and my own personal social media pages as well.

Promoting our clients to the publishing industry is a huge part of our job. We like to think we’re our clients’ best champions. Besides their moms, of course.

As far as marketing and publicity for a given title, though, we do typically leave that in the very capable hands of the publishers, but we happily brainstorm and offer ideas and attend the publisher marketing meetings for our major titles.

Julie Just: We talk up our writers and our new books when we participate in panels and conferences, and generally ensure that our clients are on as many people's radar as possible—we are always on the lookout for magazine and book review sections that do a good job with children's and YA books.

My own background in magazines and newspapers—The New Yorker and The Times Book Review, and New York magazine—has been pretty helpful that way. When I'm excited about a new client, I love to send their work around.

Holly McGhee: We also work hand-in-hand with our film partners and our foreign-rights team. We meet with many foreign publishers, film producers, and digital start-ups as they come through New York. We don’t passively wait for deals to come through from our subagents—we want as many people in the world as possible to read our books and we do what it takes to make that happen!

What is your take on e-format books, with regard to the novel and picture book and fiction versus nonfiction respectively?

Holly McGhee: E-formats have been terrific for our young adult novelists, given that many teenagers read on e-devices of one sort or another.

 For picture books, we have been hoping for a remarkable format that would rival a physical book. So far our hopes have not been met. It’s been frustrating, to be honest.

Publishers fight hard for the electronic rights to our picture books, and more recently they are asking for version formats too, to be granted the right to make interactive electronic books.

Yet nobody is making or selling these versions successfully—the truth is that the more money a publisher spends on making a book akin to a “game” the less the consumer is willing to pay. If you can download fruit ninja for free, why pay for a book that allows you to open a few cupboards and see what’s inside? This area remains a fierce battleground.

Our philosophy has always been to grant a publisher all of the rights that they have proven they can successfully exploit—but we aren’t interested in granting rights that will remain unexercised.

Julie Just: I'm especially interested in the potential of e-formats for nonfiction: amazing stuff can be done with links to primary sources, video archives, music, maps, competing viewpoints, and on and on. Obviously this will be great for school projects and Common Core standards, but there should be a strong trade market as well. It's a design challenge to enhance and not compete with the text, and a big cost challenge as well, but the potential is very exciting.

What is the culture of Pippin? The mood around the office, the food, the banter?

Julie Just: It's a riot. When we have group office tasks to do, like, say, book shelving, we try to do them with wine and/or chocolate. We often have visitors in, whether clients, editors, or scouts, and we laugh a lot. And complain about our pets, or other people's pets. We have a good time.

Elena Giovinazzo: Gosh—I can’t imagine a better workplace environment. For all that we do and get done in a day, which is a lot, we have a ton of fun.

How could we not? We’re working with people we love and on projects we love. I feel so lucky to work with Holly, Julie and the rest of the Pippin team. And luckily, like me, they also love a good plate of pasta with a nice glass of wine. Or two, or three . . .

There’s also, as I mentioned above, such a sense of camaraderie and collaboration. I know I can always ask someone to give something a quick read for me, or ask their opinion on a tricky negotiation point, or ask them if I have something in my teeth—ha ha.

Holly McGhee: It’s a generous, not-stuffy atmosphere—we always notice each other’s new clothes—that’s important. And we had fun admiring Elena’s wedding presents, which she had delivered to the office. Julie’s and my kids helped so much with our big move—we’re training them early.

Pippins before the move to West 40th Street

How have you responded to the recent years of economic challenges in publishing? How has that impacted the authors / illustrators you sign and the way you work with them? How about with regard to the picture book in particular?

Holly McGhee: Children’s publishing has absolutely undergone a “reality check.” In my opinion, there were far too many books being published for a good long time. “If you’re going to kill a tree,” I always tell my authors, “it should be for good reason.” I.E. you should be publishing a book that will make a difference in a reader’s life—sometimes by hooking a reader early, thereby helping them find new worlds and ideas through books. I am continually stunned by how my own thinking opens when reading books by our authors.

In Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, which is Kate DiCamillo’s new middle-grade novel, one of her characters says: “But always . . . you opened the door because you could not stop hoping that on the other side of it would be the face of someone you loved.”

That sentence has stuck with me for over year—how right she is and how hopeful she is and how much I love that thought. It’s books like hers that survive the storm, that are impervious to the economy—books that offer more than a story.

But regarding picture books in particular, there was a time in 2010 when it was difficult to place any kind of picture book—submitting a picture book was equivalent to throwing a snake in an editor’s lap.

So we took the long road . . . we held those submissions back until 2011, when the very same wonderful submission was welcomed once again.

On an anecdotal level, I had one picture book, by a debut author-artist, that was rejected in 2010 eight times over. But I still believed in this book with all my heart. So the author and I “shelved” it (though not happily or easily) while she worked on a new story.

By the time we were ready to submit the new story, it was 2011, which was a more hopeful year for picture books. We sent the new story out, and it found an enthusiastic home, with three bidders no less. We then sent our new editor the story that we’d shelved during the downturn. And she acquired that too—timing counts. Don’t rush and don’t give up.

What new directions do you anticipate for Pippin in the future?

Elena Giovinazzo: With our new office space, Julie having recently come on, and a really kick-butt team falling into place, I can’t help but feel like the sky is the limit. We’re all working on such a wide variety of projects. It’s so exciting. There’s so much room for growth in any direction imagined. There’s something interesting happening almost every single day. What more could we ask for!

Julie Just: Coming here from a career spent almost entirely at big companies, to me Pippin is a dream team. It’s a “boutique” agency, but seems huge in spirit and success—like Elena said, the sky is the limit.

Holly McGhee: We have established a wonderful and creative studio environment, designed to foster our clients’ creativity (and our own). We are fluid and flexible, and we’ll continue to grow our brand in an organic way—we strive to stand for excellence, and excellence knows no bounds.

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