Saturday, August 4, 2012

Editors Panel: Elise Howard and Farrin Jacobs

Elise Howard (far left) on the Giant Screen (also pictured are Neal Porter and Lin Oliver)

Farrin Jacobs (center) on the Giant Screen (between Lin Oliver and Laura Godwin)

Interestingly, Elise hired Farrin about six years ago at Harper Collins!

Now Elise is creating a new Young Readers program at Algonquin.  She is looking for "characters that I want to spend hours and hours of my life with."  She's also looking for one beautiful narrative nonfiction book a year.  She's drawn to books that bring us to new worlds (she references two books she's acquired, one about a closeted Iranian lesbian and the other about the daughter of bookies.)  She's looking for books that take her to new worlds, that "expand the imaginations and richness of the lives of my readers."

Farrin Jacobs is editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, focusing on teen fiction. She's looking for "great stories, great, strong characters."

When asked about voice - Elise reads her own bio from the faculty bio section:

Elise Howard joined Algonquin Books as editor and publisher of books for young readers in November 2011. Elise was previously senior VP and associate publisher at HarperCollins Children's Books, where she primarily provided editorial oversight for the HarperTeen and Harper imprint fiction programs. In addition to her program management, list development, and acquisitions responsibilities, Elise also edited many books on the Harper list, among them titles by Avi, Lynne Reid Banks, Chris Lynch, Rachel Vail, and Neil Gaiman, including the Newbery Medal winner The Graveyard Book. Before joining Harper, Elise headed the Avon Books for Young Readers program. She started her publishing career as a book packager, creating and editing YA and adult fiction series and a handful of practical non-fiction titles for adult readers.

She compares it to this bio, by Dan Gutman:

Dan Gutman was born in a log cabin in Illinois and used to write by candlelight with a piece of chalk on a shovel. Oh, wait a minute. That was Abraham Lincoln. Actually, he grew up in New Jersey. Like many boys, Dan hated to read but loved sports. That’s why he writes so many sports books aimed at reluctant readers. HE graduated from Rutgers in 1977 with a degree in psychology (which means, in Latin, "a total waste of time"). He never took a writing class in his life, which is obvious to anyone who has read his books. In 1994, Dan penned a novel about a boy who can travel through time with baseball cards. Honus & Me was published by HarperCollins which turned it into an 11-book series. In his insatiable quest for world domination, Dan dreamed up My Weird School in 2004, a series of easy readers about a school in which all the grown-ups are insane and has written 40 of them. Dan’s goal is to keep writing My Weird School until HarperCollins rips the laptop out of his cold, dead hands. He has also written The Homework Machine,Million Dollar Shot, The Kid Who Ran For President, and a bunch of other books that didn't sell. When he’s not writing books, Dan writes self-aggrandizing third-person bios like this one.

"That's voice for you."

Farrin references Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars series that she edits as a great example of having four points of view characters, all in third person, but you never get lost.  For teen fiction, she says that it's less about hearing the writer's voice but about hearing the characters' voices, and speaks about how important it is that the voice feels true.  She cautions us on being "too voice-y."

Elise shares that a common problem she sees is Middle Grade books written in first person.  This can lead to 9 and 10 year old characters speaking and seeing the world in ways that are too old.  She suggests trying out 3rd person, which gives you more range since there's a slight narrator telling the story through the eyes of the character.

There's a discussion about the future, and Elise suggests that maybe what will happen to the print book is that it will become "more durable, more collectable."

Farrin says that they are approaching 50%-50% digital to print, and it's really affecting their paperback print runs.

It's an excellent panel, giving us all a better sense of each of these editors and publishers, a cross-section view of the industry, what makes books endure, and their advice on what to do (and what not to do) on our career journeys as writers and illustrators.

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