Monday, December 10, 2012

Yolanda Scott: The Exclusive Pre-#NY13SCBWI Interview

Yolanda Scott

Yolanda Scott is the editorial director at Charlesbridge. She has edited over 150 titles, working with authors such as Eve Bunting, Tony Johnston, Kathryn Lasky, David McPhail, Linda Sue Park, Jane Yolen, and the late Martha Alexander. She is a former executive board member of the Foundation for Children's Books and the founder of Pubs in Pubs, a networking organization for children's publishing professionals. She has been a children's literature speaker and mentor at Boston College and Simmons College and has judged the Boston Public Library Children's Writer-in-Residence Program (2008-2011).

Yolanda will be giving two breakout workshops on the Saturday of the upcoming 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, February 1st-3rd, 2013, WHAT HOOKS ME.  In it, she promises to share "what makes her run, not walk, to the contracts department."

I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Yolanda some questions before the conference..

Lee:  Tony Johnston, Linda Sue Park and Jane Yolen sound like members of a dream team. What makes a writer a dream for you to work with?

Yolanda:  I’ve been very lucky to work with such talented people, and there are some incredible people on the Charlesbridge list who are just starting out in their careers, too. When I think of my favorite authors, I can see that they have several qualities in common: they are all talented, hard-working, collaborative, passionate, and curious.

Lee:  You’ve been a mentor, so with that hat on, I’d love to hear your advice for writers hoping to be debut authors at Charlesbridge.

Yolanda:  It’s always so exciting to find a book from a first-time author! I just love that. Getting published is so, so hard, and it takes a special person to handle all that rejection without losing faith in one’s own abilities. Resiliency and a positive outlook are key. And of course, good, old-fashioned hard work. You have to be a reader to be a writer, and it goes without saying, you also have to write. A lot. And be willing to cast most of it aside. You have to be at peace that you will never get “there,” whatever that means. You just settle for being better tomorrow than you are today.

Lee: What would you suggest mid-list authors do to build their careers?

Yolanda: Well, I think the term “mid-list” gets thrown around a lot and can mean different things to different people. But for the sake of this question, let’s say it refers to published authors that are neither household names nor people at the onset of their career. And there are a whole lot of people like that, so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle at any publishing house, I think (though less so at the smaller indies like Charlesbridge—to toot my own horn for a moment). So, you have to be proactive about letting your editors know what you’re up to. Let them know that you’re a good self-promoter, that you’re going to conferences, that you’re trying your hand in a new genre, or whatever. Don’t spam them, but keep consistent, positive contact. If you have a strong relationship with someone at your publishing house, see if you can have a frank talk with them about your track record. What’s sold, what hasn’t, and why? And sometimes you’re going to have to move on to greener pastures. These days, very few people work with one house. Diversification is helpful. But the main thing I would say is not to try to jump through hoops to be someone you’re not. Write what you want to write. Stick to your principles. Believe in yourself.

Lee:  Great advice for all of us!  Can you share your perspective on an author who wants to publish a variety of genres and/or age ranges? Do authors need to wait until they get to a certain point in their career to branch out, or are there no rules?

Yolanda:  Interesting question. If there’s a rule book for publishing, I’d sure like to see it. I think most publishers and writers are just trying to muddle through the best they can, especially in these challenging times, when the economy is so poor and the digital publishing future is upon us. In short, I think it depends on the individual situation.

Lee:  About that future of publishing… Are e-books and apps just another way to get our stories to our readers (like audio books and movies) or are they really the end of physical books as we know it?

Yolanda:  E-books and apps are new formats for storytelling, and there’s a whole heck of a lot of variety in what these e-books and apps do. Some are more akin to the traditional printed book than others. One of the key roles of an editor is to identify and develop promising work according to a generally accepted set of standards. The electronic publishing industry definitely needs those functions, and I think the standards for quality are still evolving as we understand more about the format and what makes a “good” app or e-book. Personally, I love the printed book and all its peculiarities: the paper stock, the trim size, the act of the page turn, and the limitations and opportunities of the four-color printing process. A printed picture book is a unique art form that cannot be duplicated electronically. And it still has a place in children’s lives; of course it does. I believe the picture book and the e-book can coexist peacefully, though. And I’m excited about the editorial challenges that working in a new format presents.

Lee:  I like that image of peaceful coexistence!  With the number of publishing houses offering self-publishing packages growing, and the ever-rising tide of self-published material, is the role of editor as gatekeeper going to shift to editor as vetter of what’s worth reading?

Yolanda: Hmm, I never really thought of my main function as being a gatekeeper, though of course I know what you mean. But most editors I know aren’t trying to keep people in or out of the kingdom—we’re just trying to find good writers to develop and good books to make better. There’s always going to be a need for that. And I think there’s real value in a writer working with an editor who isn’t being paid by the writer herself. Not being in the direct employ of the writer gives the editor the objectivity and autonomy that’s needed to shape the work properly.

Lee:   Speed Round!  Desert Island or Times Square New Year’s Eve?

Yolanda:  I misread that as “Dessert Island.” Can I pick that? Which segues nicely to . . .

Lee:  Vanilla or chocolate?

Yolanda:  Chocolate. The darkest, richest possible. Not too sweet, not too bitter. I could go on, but I’ll stop myself before . . . sorry. Just went downstairs to break off a few pieces of my Trader Joe’s 75% bittersweet Belgian chocolate bar. And no, I would *never* take a chocolate bribe from a writer. J

Lee:  Karaoke Song?

Yolanda:  Ah, I’m a performer in my non-editing life, so there are many favorites to choose from. But when you get right down to it, anything by Pat Benatar works for me. I generally play “All Fired Up” before an audition. That or “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.”

Lee: Thanks very much, and I look forward to meeting you in New York in February!

Yolanda:  Likewise! I’ve heard about the NY conference for years and am thrilled to be attending at last.

Now I'm "All Fired Up" to learn more about what makes Yolanda run to the contracts department!

If you're fired up, too, registration for #NY13SCBWI is open, and space is still available (the Winter conference sold out last year.  And the year before...)  Find out more details about the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference schedule, faculty and registration here.

Illustrate and Write On,

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