Sunday, August 7, 2011

Martha Rago - The Craft of the Picture Book

from SCBWI SoCal
Martha's session began with running us through how a manuscript is acquired (and the illustrator chosen and acquired.)

For starters, Martha says the driving force in the business right now is chain stores, so they do need to cater to their needs, but she/HarperCollins also try to balance that with the artistic and thematic leanings of each HarperCollins imprint.

A real world example:

Once upon a time, Martha got a manuscript from Anne Hoppe, WHEN I GROW UP. Chains like celebrity authors with built-in platforms (though Martha loved the manuscript before she realized it was written by Al Yankovic!) But celebrity books present an added pressure--the artwork will have to stand up to the scrutiny of Al's fans and fit in with his existing brand.

Martha: Sometimes it's pure luck that connects me to an artist at the right time.

The week Martha got the WHEN I GROW UP manuscript, she received a postcard with distinctive, quirky art. She looked up the illustrator's website and blog to see more of his work. She liked it very much, but thought his palette was a little limited. Martha emailed Wes Hargis about the project and her thoughts on some tweaks to his art that might be needed. Wes was open to change. And able to meet Martha's deadlines—the book's publication would need to be timed to come out with an upcoming tour of Al's.

Martha's role at the very beginning of a book:

RESEARCH: Find that perfect artist. Martha keeps a constant eye out for new illustrators, she meets with agents, looks at blogs, goes to conferences, visits portfolio days at nearby colleges. She often keeps samples she likes up on bulletin boards.

ACQUISITION: The editor initiates the illustrator acquisition process. An editor gives Martha a manuscript they're thinking of acquiring, and then talks with Martha about the size/trim/audience/look/budget of the book.

DON'T EAT IT, PITCH IT! Martha and the editor take all of this information and turn that into a pitch (coupled with a profit & loss statement) to an acquisitions meeting.

Martha: You have to really love the work. You live with this book.

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