Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jennifer Besser: The Exclusive SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview!

Jennifer Besser

Jennifer Besser is the Publisher of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group. Prior to joining Putnam in April 2010, Jennifer was an Executive Editor at Disney Hyperion, and before that, she got her start in publishing at Miramax Books. And her very first job was at age 11, selling popsicles on Venice Beach. She much prefers her current gig.

Jennifer manages a stellar team of editors and also edits children’s books for all ages, from picture books to young adult fiction. She is the editor of Rick Riordan’s #1 New York Times best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, as well as the Red Pyramid.

Books Jennifer Besser Has Edited Include:

Super Chicken Nugget Boy and the Furious Fry

The Lightning Thief

Karma for Beginners

She has had the great pleasure of working with incredible talent, including Melissa de la Cruz, Ally Carter, Jonathan Stroud, Brian Selznick, Ann Martin, Laura Godwin, John Rocco, Adam Gopnik, and many others.

Jennifer will be doing three breakout sessions on Saturday January 29 on "What Makes Your Work Publishable: Today's Market in Children's Books," and as an editor and publisher, it will be fascinating to hear what she's got to say. I'm excited to hear her at the conference, and delighted she took the time to answer some pre-conference questions here.

Lee: Hi Jennifer! So many not-yet-published writers attend conferences hoping to be "discovered." To make that connection with an editor, or agent, who will fall in love with their writing and get their career rolling. From your perspective, as an editor and publisher, what are your hopes going into the upcoming SCBWI Winter Conference in New York?

Jennifer: My hope going in is that I can in some way make the “publishing world” seem a little less massively impersonal and inscrutable. Of course, it’s the work that gets you there in the end... but sometimes it’s nice to have a conversation about “there” that demystifies things a bit. I hope that conversation is what my sessions will be. And yes, I’m forever on the look out for new talent.

Lee: It's funny how tongue-tied we authors can get when someone finally asks us, "so, what are you writing?" Besides having an answer to that ready to go, are there any specific titles you've edited that we should read, or other preparation you'd suggest for attendees to get the most out of your session in particular and the conference overall?

Jennifer: My general homework advice is always the same -- read as much as you can, especially in the category you want to publish into. Spend some time poking around your local bookstore. Pay attention to how books are categorized and shelved. Notice which titles you gravitate towards and why, and spy on, er, observe, your fellow shoppers. For those attending my sessions, I don’t have any specific titles to assign, but definitely spend some time thinking about any questions I can help answer.

Lee: With the changes in the world of children's publishing, is it more important than ever for writers to have literary agents? Of the deals you made in 2010, what percent of those were agented versus not agented?

Jennifer: Having an agent is very important, and has been for some time now. Of the deals I made in 2010, at least 95% of them were agented, and most years it’s 100%.

Lee: You acquire and edit picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels - do you feel that authors need to focus on one age bracket and genre to better "brand" themselves?

Jennifer: No. Worrying over “branding” yourself is a waste of time, just one more distraction to pull your attention from the real work of writing. While it’s that rare and enviable author who can successfully and ingeniously create work across categories (is there anything Meg Rosoff can’t do?!), as an editor, I’d never dissuade a writer from experimenting in a new genre, as long as it was the story they wanted to tell. Focus on figuring out what you love to write and write to your strengths.

Lee: New York City in January is Winter Wonderland weather. Imagine you have an entire afternoon to yourself to read anything you want - no responsibilities, just a cozy spot by a crackling fire, a view of lights twinkling in central park, a mug of fancy hot chocolate and a book. What will you read?

Jennifer: Ooooh, there are so many good books in my must-read pile right now. Last night, I started a novel I absolutely love already — Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! I’m a huge fan of Melina Marchetta and can’t wait to finally read Finnikin of the Rock. And I have an ARC of Melissa de la Cruz’s new adult novel, Witches of East End, burning a hole in my book bag!

Thanks so much, Jennifer!

I'm excited to hear Jennifer speak at her breakout session during the conference, and looking forward to the entire experience!

If you want to join Jennifer, and Mo Willems, and Lois Lowry, and myself and the rest of SCBWI Team Blog at the Conference, you can still register!

And if you're planning to be there or not, make sure to check out SCBWI Team Blog's Official SCBWI Conference Blog, where we'll be giving a tapas-like sampling of all the great things the conference holds... But there's nothing like being there yourself!

Hope to see you in New York!



Jonathon Arntson said...

That was a pleasure to read!

It's funny that I just realized I need to focus on my writing more than on creating a brand.

It took me a year to get to this point, but now that I am here, I feel better about myself. Therefore...I am inadvertently working on my brand. I think that's how it's suppose to go.

Thanks for the insightful interview Lee and Jennifer.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Thanks for an excellent, informative interview, Lee and Jennifer. It really makes me wish I were going to New York! I hope I'll get a chance to hear Jennifer speak at another upcoming SCBWI conference.

In the meantime, I'm going to do what she said -- get back to the writing.

Marcy said...

Its so refreshing to hear someone say, "focus on writing." It seems that in this field that piece can easily become misplaced and traded out for all of the business-y aspects. Hence, the need for an agent! Still, thanks for the great reminder and for making the conference (I'll be there!) seem a little less daunting!

melanie said...

Lee and Jennifer, thanks for your awesome questions and answers! I'm not able to afford SCBWI yet, but I have high hopes for next year. In the meantime, I'm so grateful for the advice offered here, and I'm excited about reading the team blog!

Ishta Mercurio said...

What an encouraging interview. "Focus on the writing" - I wish we heard that more often! Thank you, Lee and Jennifer.

Unknown said...

Loved the interview--informative on many levels! Thanks so much for taking the time to share! I hope you're both having a terrific time at the conference.