Saturday, February 12, 2022

Farrin Jacobs and Denene Millner: Editors Panel #scbwiWinter22


screenshot of editor Farrin Jacobs
Editor Farrin Jacobs

Farrin Jacobs is editorial director and vp at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She has edited a variety of fiction and nonfiction, including New York Times best sellers Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World, and Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by author/illustrator Vashti Harrison;  I Am Malala and We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai, as well as the picture book Malala’s Magic PencilI Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch; and Printz-winner Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

screenshot of editor Denene Millner
Editor (and author) Denene Millner

Denene Millner is the editorial director of Denene Millner Books, an imprint that publishes stories featuring Black children and families, by Black authors and illustrators. In her imprint’s debut year, Denene published Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, one of the most decorated picture books of 2018. Her debut list at S&S earned a second Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award Honor for Illustration when she published Cozbi A. Cabrera’s Me & Mama, along with the NAACP-nominated Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, and Wings of Ebony, a YA fantasy book that debuted on the New York Times best seller’s list. Denene is also a six-time New York Times best-selling author, Emmy Award-nominated TV show host, and award-winning journalist who has written 31 books, among them the picture book Early Sunday Morning. The Atlanta-based editor and mom of two is interested in stories that celebrate the humanity of Black children. (FYI - Denene is pronounced De-neen)

Highlights from what Farrin shared:

"I love voice. Especially for YA and MG - I love a sad story told by funny people." On the NF side, Farrin is looking for stories that haven't been told before, and is looking to lift girls' voices.

Illustrators: "Put your portfolio on your website." Especially if you want to illustrate picture books, make sure you're showing you can do sequential art and tell a story.

Common denominator of authors Farrin works with: Kind people.

If we're asking to revise and see again before acquisition, "we're serious." If Farrin puts time into it, to give notes, it's with the hope of setting it up for success for acquisitions.

On writing across age, subjects, genre categories: on the business side, it can be challenging - if we're trying to develop you as a YA writer, and suddenly you have a MG, it can be hard. Book buyers at retailers have to buy in... How many books can you produce a year. Are you over-publishing? That said, if you're amazing at all the things, we want to be there for that.

Farrin also spoke about the tension between creativity and commerce, the "collaborative" acquisitions path books take at Little Brown, how sometimes they pass things to other editors if not right for them, and much more.

Highlights from what Denene shared:

"I really love it when I get a story that speaks to the mission of Denene Millner books." Books about joy, bonding and loving with family. Pet peeve is that most of children's book with African American characters have been focused on Black firsts, or Civil Rights, or slavery... "As a mom, I didn't want to read those stories to my kids before bedtime" Bonus: "if it's really beautiful and I can look at it and see art and imagine illustrations... that makes me really happy."

Acquisitions is more straightforward - as part of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Denene runs it by Justin Chanda, and if they agree, Denene can make an offer. 

Denene does look at unsolicited manuscripts, and loves social media for authors and illustrators. 

"I love working with illustrators... it's crazy as hell and beautiful to see." The collaboration can be magical. 

On working with authors: please remember Denene is "trying my best to help you make this book the best book it can possibly be." Denene is a writer as well, who has written 34 books and been through this before, so understands the journey. 

Denene publishes exclusively African American authors and illustrators. Loves books that stretch outside New York City, outside northeast. And she applauds working across age, subjects, and genre categories - as it's something she does herself.

Denene also spoke about how things have changed since the pandemic and the racial pandemic - Black Lives Matter - she's seeing lots more manuscripts of Black folks celebrating joy. Now she's competing with other publishers for those stories. It's "a trend that makes me very happy. And a trend that makes readers very happy."

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