Editor / Agent Spotlight

Editor Spotlight: Alison S. Weiss of Pixel+Ink

Today at The Mixed-Up Files I’m very happy to introduce our readers to Alison S. Weiss, who graciously agreed to answer some questions about herself, her work, and Pixel+Ink.

Alison has been in publishing for more than ten years. She’s currently acquisitions editor at Pixel+Ink (part of Trustbridge Global Media), a publisher focused exclusively on series publishing with transmedia potential. There, she’s worked on many series, including Twig and Turtle by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, The Great Peach Experiment by Erin Soderberg Downing, and the forthcoming The Curious League of Detective and Thieves by Tom Phillips. She’s run her own editorial consultancy, working with publishers including Simon & Schuster, Audible, and Arctis, as well as private clients, and was Editorial Director at Sky Pony Press, where her list included William C. Morris Finalist Devils Within by S.F. Henson, the Project Droid series by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser, illustrated by Mike Moran, the Timekeeper trilogy by Tara Sim, and the Mahabharata-inspired Celestial Trilogy by Sangu Mandanna. In 2016 she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. She’s been trying to live up to the title ever since.

You can follow her on Twitter @alioop7 and learn more about Pixel+Ink at www.pixelandinkbooks.com.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Welcome Alison! Please tell us a bit about your path to becoming a children’s book editor.

Alison: I started out interning for Delacorte Books for Young Readers as part of Random House’s summer internship program when I was still in college. I knew on my third day that being a children’s book editor was what I wanted to do when I graduated. It didn’t turn out to be quite so easy, though.

After a year of job hunting, I joined Egmont USA as a Sales and Marketing Assistant. Egmont’s a big international media company, but they were just starting their U.S. division. They hadn’t even launched their first list when I started! What that meant for me was that I got to learn a little bit of everything that goes into making a book. About six months into my time with Egmont, I moved over to Editorial, and was there for another six years.

After Egmont closed, I moved to Sky Pony Press to help grow their fiction list, and ultimately became Editorial Director. Then I ran my own editorial consultancy for a couple of years, including doing work for Pixel+Ink, and that turned into me joining the company full-time in August 2020.

 

Dorian: What middle-grade books inspired you as a child?

Alison: Oh, this is so hard, because I feel like I was always hopping around, going from a Betsy-Tacy kick to only reading Goosebumps and Bonechillers. I remember having a deep love of The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle by Elizabeth Winthrop. I can still remember pulling them from the bookstore shelf. I loved E.B. White, especially The Trumpet of the Swan. Anne of Green Gables and the other Anne books—I dragged my parents all over Charlottetown to find the perfect Anne doll. I still vividly remember reading The Westing Game, and I think that, along with a lot more mysteries (I had a whole shelf dedicated to The Boxcar Children), heavily influenced the kinds of books I’m drawn to now.

  

 

 

 

 

All About Pixel+Ink

Dorian: Can you tell us a bit about Pixel+Ink and what type of books you’re looking for there?

Alison: Pixel+Ink is a pretty new publisher. We’re part of Trustbridge Global Media, along with our sister companies Holiday House, Peachtree, and Candlewick. What makes us different from those other companies and a lot of other publishers is that our focus is on series publishing with transmedia potential. We’re looking for properties with a lot of story to tell that we can develop across platforms, especially TV and film. Our list is pretty commercial, and we focus on projects that kids will love getting lost in.

We publish fiction for ages 3-13 (picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and graphic novels across those age levels). Our definition of series is pretty broad. It can be a series with lots of books, but they don’t necessarily need to be read in any particular order, like Magic Treehouse. It can be a defined arc, like Percy Jackson. Or it can start as something that might be a really great stand-alone, and we’re just lucky to get to go on more adventures with the characters.

 

Dorian: What middle-grade books are out or are coming out from Pixel+Ink that our readers should be on the lookout for?

Alison: I’m very excited for my first Pixel+Ink book to hit shelves at the beginning of June. The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1: Egypt’s Fire by Tom Phillips is, in the words of Kirkus, “a tale for which the word madcap might have been invented.” It’s about an orphan who makes his home in the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History (Mixed-Up Files vibes, anyone?), who finds himself accused of stealing a rare ruby and teams up with the greatest detective you’ve never heard of to clear his name. If you’re a fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events or Enola Holmes, this one’s for you.

I’m also thrilled about launching middle grade series Plotting the Stars by Michelle A. Barry this fall. The first book, Moongarden, is a Secret Garden retelling set in space with definite Divergent/City of Ember vibes. It’s gorgeous and exciting, but also very of the moment with themes of climate change, social pressure, and exploring feeling like you don’t fit in. It’s going to be stunning.

 

All About Series Books

Dorian: What tips do you have for series writers as far as writing them and/or querying them?

Alison: When you’re planning a series, I think it’s important to have a sense of the kind of series you’re aiming to write so you can ensure you have enough story to sustain it. If you’re tackling something like our Twig and Turtle, will you have lots of different stories you can tell with these characters that make sense within their world? If you’re planning something with a defined ARC, is there enough at stake to get you through two or three or four books, where each one still feels satisfying on its own? Also, consider how you might grow your characters and evolve them over time. As you spend more time with them, they will inevitably show you surprising new things? Be open to that.

When it comes to querying, I’m often asked if you have to have all of the books written. My answer is no. But you do need to have ideas and enough of a sense of where you want to go that you can clearly communicate your vision. I think it’s also important to have flexibility. Plot elements will likely need to change over time as you come up with some new twist that makes something else you’d planned no longer a good fit. You might have envisioned five books, but it becomes apparent you’re going to need to wrap it up in three. Can you shift gears to make that fulfilling for your reader? Or you might need to suddenly come up with brand new plot ideas because there’s more demand than expected! Are you going to want to stick with the characters beyond what you’d originally planned for them, and can you expand their story in a way that does justice to what you’ve already created?

Be open. Be curious about the possibilities. And, most of all, have fun! At the end of the day, we’re working on projects that we hope will encourage kids to fall in love with reading. We want them to escape into our books’ pages. To feel seen. To explore new worlds and experiences. Your stories could be their tickets to becoming lifelong readers, open to immense possibilities. That’s a huge responsibility, but also an incredibly special one.

 

 

Editor Spotlight: Chris Krones

Today, I’m delighted to introduce Clarion editor, Chris Krones, to Mixed-Up Files readers. Chris is a writer who has been a children’s book editor for more than a decade. They hold an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. Chris has edited a wide variety of books–from board books and picture books to middle-grade novels and graphic novels. They are the author of Chill, Chomp, Chill and the upcoming picture book, The Pronoun Book. Chris lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Learn more on Twitter and Instagram.

Dorian: Welcome, Chris! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a children’s book writer and editor?

Chris: I’ve always had a passion for writing and language. When I started at Simmons University as an English and French major, French translation and poetry were my passions. When I landed in one of Cathryn Mercier’s classes, I found a different path to writing: writing for children. In this core course, we looked at children’s literature through philosophical lenses and thought critically about books for younger readers—something I’d never done before. Anytime we’d discussed books critically prior to this, they’d be considered a canonical work written for adults, like Beowulf. I thought this was novel and so subversive—and I wanted more.

When I heard that there was an M.F.A. in writing for children, I had a gut feeling; I knew I needed to apply. In this program, we visited the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Susan Bloom’s picture book class, where we got to see original prints of Randolph Caldecott’s Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting. I had opinions about the artwork and how it was reproduced and decisions that had gone into the publishing of the work. Susan recognized this and said, “You’ve got opinions! You should work in publishing.” I took this to heart—I’d never thought of working on books other than writing them.

At one of the Simmons Summer Institutes, I was about to read a picture book manuscript I’d written aloud. I was asking Cathie Mercier a question right when she was standing next to an alumna who was the Marketing Manager at Houghton Mifflin. Cathie asked her: “Why don’t you ask Chris about the marketing and publicity internship?” After that, I went in for an interview and interned with the Marketing and Publicity department at Houghton while I had a writing mentorship with an editor there. When an Editorial Assistant position opened up, I was encouraged to apply. I loved the people I worked with across departments and felt like I’d found a home at Houghton.

 

Dorian: What books inspired you as a child?

Chris: When I was very little, I remember having a collection of Beatrix Potter books, sliding them out of a slipcase, and holding them in my hands. I loved the tactility of them and how small they were, though I always worried about Peter Rabbit’s safety! In elementary school, I remember my librarian reading The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, told by A. Wolf by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith. I will never forget the pig butt surrounded by rubble alongside the text “Dead as a doornail.” Though a touch dark, I loved this humor so much and laid the foundation for my taste in picture books. I also loved Charlotte’s Web but was first introduced to the tale via the feature-length animated movie. My grandparents bought me the book and I absolutely adored it. I also loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, of course!

 

Dorian: Can you tell us about some books you’ve worked on, either as a writer or editor, that have come out recently or are due to come out?

Chris: The Pronoun Book is a cased board book I wrote that is publishing in early April. It’s a celebratory and vibrant introduction to people and their pronouns. Mel Tirado made magic with the illustrations! In terms of books I’ve edited, I am so thrilled for the first book in The Sparkle Dragons series to come out in mid-May. It’s a fun and young graphic novel featuring a core crew of spunky, sparkle-breathing dragons who fight for good in their queendom.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Congratulations all around! Are there certain themes or subjects that resonate with you more than others?

Chris: Stories that feature strong protagonists who show up and persevere against all odds. Underdog stories. Hilarious stories. Joyful, character-driven stories told by underrepresented voices for underrepresented audiences.

 

Dorian: What advice do you have for writers who want to publish traditionally?

Chris: First, find your people! It’s important to have a writing group to keep yourself consistent, accountable, and have a safe space to bounce around ideas. Familiarize yourself with the books in stores, find the ones you love, and see who publishes them. Get to know publishers’ catalogs. Look to Publishers Weekly deal announcements or Publishers Marketplace to read the recent deals that have been made. Research the agents that represented those deals that feel closest to your work. Check out agency websites and follow their instructions on how to submit or query them. A lot of publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts these days, so finding an agent connected to the publishing industry might be a helpful path to traditional publishing.

Thank you so much for such great advice and for joining us here at THE MIXED-UP FILES!

AGENT SPOTLIGHT: Sarah N. Fisk of the Tobias Literary Agency

Today I’m delighted to introduce Sarah N. Fisk of the Tobias Literary Agency to our Mixed-Up Files readers. Sarah is a former mechanical engineer who made the switch to publishing in 2011. They have worked in the publishing industry as an editorial assistant, author’s assistant, publicist, and art director.

Sarah, who is also an author, is a former Pitch Wars mentor, board member, and Agent Liaison. They host the podcast Queries, Qualms, & Quirks and have a passion for spreadsheets. Sarah is one of the founding members of Disability in Publishing. They were a Pitch Wars mentor since 2012 and an intern at Fuse Literary before joining the Tobias Literary Agency in 2021.

 

Dorian: Welcome, Sarah, and thanks for being with us.

Sarah: Hi! Thank you so much for having me.

 

Dorian: Can you tell us a little bit about the Tobias Literary Agency and your current role there?

Sarah: The Tobias Literary Agency is a full-service literary agency headquartered in New York City with satellite offices in Boston, Nashville, and Fort Worth. We represent established and debut authors. Our client roster includes Pulitzer Prize winners, New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, renowned scientists, historians, Emmy-nominated journalists, celebrities, and Pushcart nominees. We take pride in supporting our clients’ long-lasting careers.

I am an assistant literary agent at Tobias, which basically means that I’m brand new! I started in October and opened to my own queries in January. I’m currently being closely mentored by multiple agents in the agency, as my wishlist spans both the Childrens and the Adult department. So even though I’m now signing my own clients, I have experienced agents checking everything I do and making sure I’m doing things correctly and responsibly.

 

Dorian: Sounds great. In addition to being an agent, you’re also an author. Can you tell us a bit about your work?

Sarah: Sure! Keeping Her Secret is a YA romance where two girls who shared their first kiss together meet up a couple years later at summer camp and, rather than facing their feelings for each other, they start a prank war. I also write adult romance under the name Aria Kane if you like things a little more spicy!

 

Dorian: What was your path like to becoming a writer and then an agent?

Sarah: Ha! It’s been a long road. I started taking writing seriously in 2008. I do this with everything, but I took a lot of time to deliberately learn as much about both writing and publishing as I could. I wrote a book that never saw the light of day, another book I queried that didn’t go anywhere, then started querying my debut novel in 2013. In 2014 I signed with my agent and got my first publishing contract and the book came out in 2015. 

Kind of on a parallel path, I became an editorial intern for a small press in 2011 or 2012 and was invited to be a Pitch Wars mentor in the first year. I worked in various publishing roles over the years and stayed with Pitch Wars until last year. In 2019, I started thinking about making the switch into agenting and did my signature long period of research and determining it was the right move for me. Especially with agenting, once you start taking on clients, everything you do deeply affects the writers you work with and I take that very seriously. I started applying for roles that seemed to be a good fit for me and got my first agent role (internship) in 2021.

 

Dorian: What books inspired you as a child?

Sarah: My parents weren’t readers, so we didn’t have books around the house, so all my books were supplied by school and public libraries. My grandmother taught me to read at a very early age and I was reading at a 5th grade level by Kindergarten. When I was at her house, she would drive me into the city (it felt like HOURS but now I know it was about a 40 minute drive) each week to check out the max number of books the library would allow. She also had many of the Hardy Boys books at home so I read through all of those in one summer. 

I was definitely one of those kids who sat in the back of the class and read, but most teachers didn’t mind because my grades were stellar.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something that resonates so much with me:

“I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library is open, unending, free.”

I remember when I was in college, I kept thinking about this book I had read as a child, but I couldn’t remember much about it. I knew that the main character flew through space on a butterfly made of light. I told my friend, who was an avid reader, but he didn’t know what it was. That Christmas, he gave me a used copy of Heartlight by T.A. Barron! He had done research to figure out what the book was. That was so special to me.

 

The thing that really clenched it for me was when we read The Giver in 5th grade. It was truly an epiphany for me that books could be about a world so different from our own, but say so much about ours – and that a person not that all different from me could write that!

 

 

 

Dorian: I love that Ta-Nehisi Coates quote. What are some of your favorite more recent middle-grade books?

Sarah: Some of the ones I’ve read recently and really enjoyed are Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: Are there certain themes or subjects that resonate with you more than others?

Sarah: Yeah! I just put out a #mswl tweet about wanting to see more stories about older sisters who have too much responsibility placed on their shoulders at too young an age. Overall, I’m really drawn to complicated family relationships, especially sibling relationships. I love books that challenge societal norms and books that feature disabled or neurodiverse characters. As someone who grew up in the midwest and small towns in the south, I’d love to see more books set there as well.

 

Dorian: Besides your job, what is something that kept you busy or entertained during the pandemic?

Sarah: I started doing uv resin, usually jewelry or keychains. It’s fun and I decided early on I wanted it to be a hobby I don’t monetize because I have enough of those! I post pieces I make on Instagram if anyone’s interested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorian: What tips do you have for querying writers?

Sarah: The main thing is read other successful query letters and even back cover copy to find out how others have enticed readers with their story. So many query letters don’t actually tell me what the book is about, or they kind of do but there seems to be no conflict or stakes. Those two elements are very important in a query letter, and they need to be specific. “The world will never be the same again” is not specific enough to make a reader care.

 

Dorian: Can you provide our readers with links to your social media and podcasts?

Sarah: Yes! You can find out more about me as an agent at www.sarahnfisk.com, but you can go to www.sarahnicolas.com for all my other stuff as well. I’m on twitter @sarah_nicolas and on instagram as @presidentsarah. I also have a lot of stuff on my YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/sarahnicolasya.

 

Dorian: Thank you so much for joining us here at THE MIXED-UP FILES.

Sarah: Thank you for having me!