Françoise Bui is executive editor at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. She acquires manuscripts for middle-grade and young adult readers and greatly appreciates stand-alone novels.
She 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.
I had the opportunity to find out more about Françoise in the lead-up to the conference...
Lee: First lines reveal so much. The opening of “Orchards” by Holly Thompson
Chapter 1promises a very different journey than Rob Buyea’s first lines for “Because of Mr. Terupt.”
Because of You
One week after
you stuffed a coil of rope
into your backpack
and walked uphill into
where blooms were still closed fists
my father looked up
It's our bad luck to have teachers in this world, but since we're stuck with them, the best we can do is hope to get a brand-new one instead of a mean old fart.
If a writer is unsure where to start their story, what would you advise?
Françoise: A strong opening—whether a single sentence or a paragraph—should set the tone of the story, and be intriguing in some way. If you’re really stuck, it might be worth trying an action scene.
Lee: Both of those are also great examples of voice. Do you have a working definition of what makes a voice "work?"
Françoise: Not really a definition. For me, a great voice awakens my senses. With Orchards, I smell the blossoms that have yet to open. I hear a plane take off and see the lights of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. I feel the texture of the rope, and the whole of the opening makes me sense that something tragic is going to happen with that rope. With Because of Mr. Terupt, Peter’s narrative clues me in to the fact that he’s likely a class prankster—someone who gives teachers a hard time. I see him creating mayhem in the classroom.
Lee: To a 15 year old, anything before 1997 is historical. (I just made myself feel really old!) In terms of the world-building needed to make the novel feel “real,” do you see similarities between fantasy and historical novels?
Françoise: I recently had dinner with a librarian who lamented that young readers have a hard time connecting with a historical setting. She claims it’s because cutbacks mean far less history is taught and readers don’t have the proper context with which to understand the past. Sad and probably true. But I would hope that character driven stories transcend time periods. If a character faces challenges —whether in a fantastical or historical story—that feel familiar to a reader, I think this bridges any time gaps.
Lee: The opening of the publisher’s description of “Mystic City” by Theo Lawrence reads: “For fans of Matched, The Hunger Games, X-Men, and Blade Runner comes a tale of a magical city divided, a political rebellion ignited, and a love that was meant to last forever. Book One of the Mystic City Novels.” If you were being queried by a writer, would those kinds of comparisons be useful or off-putting?
Françoise: While it’s best not to make claims that aren’t true, or that over-hype a manuscript, it’s helpful to have comparisons. I certainly try to come up with just the right X meets X meets X when I present a new manuscript to our marketing, publicity and sales folk. It’s easier for them to grasp where the project will fit in the market place.
Lee: Can you share your advice for a writer hoping to have you as their editor for their debut novel?
Françoise: I’m drawn to character driven stories. And though I’m certainly open to trilogies, there’s nothing like a memorable stand-alone novel. In fact, I think the latter gets overlooked by aspiring writers these days.
Lee: How about words of wisdom for a mid-list author hoping to take their career to the next level?
Françoise: That’s a tough one. Depends on the type of story the author has been publishing. If previous novels have gotten strong reviews but have had soft sales, a bigger, bolder concept is probably the way to go.
Lee: On the future of publishing – is the pie shrinking or expanding? Are you optimistic?
Françoise: While the publishing landscape is rapidly changing, editors will continue to look for compelling content.
Lee: speaking of pie… Speed Round! Pie or cake?
Françoise: I like tarts—the French variety.
Lee: Crosswords or sudoku?
Lee: Karaoke song?
Françoise: Bohemian Rhapsody.
Lee: Excellent! Thanks very much!
While the Friday Intensives are sold out, there are a limited number of spaces still available for the Saturday and Sunday of the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference. You can find out more details and register here.