Monday, May 19, 2014

Associate Publisher & Editor Bonnie Bader: The Exclusive Pre-#LA14SCBWI Conference Interview

Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne, Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers and #LA14SCBWI Conference Faculty Member Bonnie Bader 

Bonnie Bader is the Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne, where she oversees the Peter Rabbit and Spot publishing programs, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers, where she heads up the leveled reader and 8×8 programs. The leveled reader program, Penguin Young Readers, houses fiction and nonfiction readers from every imprint in the Young Readers division, including books from David Adler, Betsy Byars, Eric Carle, Ginjer Clarke, Paula Danziger, Jean Fritz, Joan Holub, Kate McMullan, Ethan Long, and Loren Long. The 8×8 picture book program, Penguin Core Concepts, includes both fiction and nonfiction titles. She continues to edit several bestselling series including George Brown, Class Clown and Magic Bone by Nancy Krulik, and Here’s Hank by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler. A member of the SCBWI Board of Advisors, Bonnie will be on faculty at the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, August 1-4.

I connected with Bonnie to find out more...

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Lee: Hi Bonnie, thanks so much for taking the time!  Can you share what you see as the value for authors and illustrators in attending conferences like SCBWI's 2014 Summer Conference?

Bonnie: Attending a SCBWI conference is the best way to connect with experts in the field from editors, to art directors, to agents, to published authors and illustrators. You can hear their stories, learn from their mistakes, and get inspiration to buckle down and finish (or start) that project that is sitting on your desk at home. I particularly like the annual summer conference, because it is a terrific opportunity to network. All the aforementioned professionals (and this year there is an amazing lineup!) are under one roof for 3-4 days!

Bonnie's right - click here to see the full list of conference faculty

Lee: As Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne and Editor-in-Chief at Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers/Grosset & Dunlap, you get to make the call when it comes to acquisitions. With the work on the page, P&Ls (projected profit and loss reports), passion of the editor, and platform of the author all in play, is there a single element that tips the scales for you to say "yes?"

Bonnie: The manuscript really has to speak to me – does it have an original hook? Are the characters engaging? Is there a voice that won’t let me put it down? If these elements are there, then I will jump over any hurdle to make the financials work so I can publish the book!

Lee: Is it like the lesson from Derek Siver's "Anything You Want:" Never say yes. Only say "Hell, Yes!" Or say no. That way you have the time, passion and other resources available to really make your "Hell, Yes!-es" succeed?

Bonnie: Absolutely. I have to be 100% sold; otherwise it’s a definite no for me. I don’t have the time to be wishy-washy.

Lee: On Friday you'll be leading a breakout workshop about "Creative Nonfiction: Dazzling Your Readers." With the growing nation-wide adoption of the Common Core curriculum standards, do you see us entering a new 'golden age' for nonfiction?

Bonnie: Nonfiction is hot! For years, authors have asked me, “Why can’t I get my nonfiction manuscript published?” Well, now the doors have opened up. Yes, it has a lot to do with common core, but I think teachers have always seen the value in nonfiction books. Nonfiction introduces students to a myriad of things, from historical periods, to biographies, to science, and more! Kids have to learn how to read, understand, and enjoy nonfiction. Nonfiction has always been published, but now I think we’ll see a lot more of it and a spotlight will be on these books, making them more visible to consumers.

Lee: Tell us more about what you'll cover in the workshop...

Bonnie: I am particularly interested in narrative nonfiction – nonfiction that tells a story, albeit a true one! I will talk about how good nonfiction has a voice, and how to make your “characters” come alive. There will even be some hands-on writing activities! And I will talk about the nonfiction programs I am developing at Penguin and the opportunities available to write for them.

Lee: You're also leading a Sunday breakout workshop on "Levelled Readers and Transitional Chapter Books." What do you aim for attendees to come away from that session with?

Bonnie: During this session, I will talk about two programs I am heading up at Penguin – Penguin Young Readers, which is a levelled reader line, and a new, unnamed (at the time of this interview) transitional reader program. I want attendees to come away with the understanding of how important these two areas are for young readers. Although levelled readers sometimes have the stigma of being formulaic because they use controlled vocabulary, I will show how our program has fun, smart, and engaging stories. The transitional chapter book program is a bridge for those who are done with levelled readers, but not yet ready for traditional chapter books. I will talk about storylines, characters, and the interaction of text and art. For both programs, I am actively acquiring manuscripts, and I will talk about author guidelines and how to submit.

Lee: You're the ambitious outlier whose Monday intensive runs all day - both in the AM and PM time slots. It's called "START: How to hook readers from the beginning of your book so they'll never let go." One of the questions you aim to have attendees address is "Are you really starting your book in the right place?"

It puts me in mind of all those movies that start with action near the climax for the opening scene, and then flashback to the beginning for a huge chunk of the movie until they catch up to the opening moment of action. I pretty much always think that's lazy storytelling. What's your take?

Bonnie: Exactly! So many times, an author feels that he/she has to set up the story by giving pages and pages of backstory in the very first chapter. Not only is this lazy, but it’s boring! Let your details come out organically through the story; don’t let your first chapter get bogged down with backstory and flashbacks.

Lee: The other questions your Monday intensive attendees will "dig in" to answer is "Does your first line grab your reader? After reading the first page, will the reader want to read on?" I see you've asked for attendees to submit the first chapter of their novels (chapter book through YA) by June 30th. Will you be letting participants know if you'd read on and why?

Bonnie: I gave the same workshop last year, and I have to admit that I was daunted by the fact that it was a full day, but it ended up being fantastic! I will be reading all of the first chapters before the conference, and the attendees will be split into groups (of 5-6 people) and they will read their fellow group members’ works as well. Throughout the day, we will delve into everyone’s first chapter looking at things like: opening lines, how you introduce your main character, do you want to read on, what are…oops! I don’t want to give too much away! Through group exercises, discussions, and small group work we will see if the start to your book provides key information, but doesn’t give away too much too quickly, and more! I have to say that last summer, the 7 hours just flew by, and I wish I had more time!

Lee: It sounds like an amazing opportunity! What's your current favorite piece of advice you'd like to share for those of us writing and illustrating for kids and teens?

Bonnie: That’s a hard one; I have so much advice! I think that anyone who wants to write and/or illustrate for kids and teens has to know them. You have to know what they like, and don’t like, how they speak, etc. You really have to get inside their heads and make sure you are not talking down to them. The best way to do this? Become a spy! Spy on your children, your nieces and nephews, your neighbors (but not in a creepy way, of course!)

Lee: Thanks, Bonnie! I really look forward to seeing you at the conference.

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And if YOU want to see (and learn from) Bonnie, join us at the SCBWI Summer Conference, August 1-4 in Los Angeles. Information and registration here.


Alisha Gabriel said...

Great interview! I met Bonnie Bader at a conference a couple years ago and wish I could attend her all-day workshop in August.

Ramey Channell said...

Great interview. I was especially encouraged by Bonnie's list of must-have elements for a winning manuscript. "Does it have an original hook? Are the characters engaging? Is there a voice that won’t let me put it down?" These are the imperatives I aim for in my stories.
Ramey Channell