Publishing & Promotion

Interview with Stephanie Lurie, Editorial Director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Stephanie Lurie at a Florida SCBWI conference, as well as take a workshop she was giving. Besides being extremely informative, she couldn’t have been nicer.

If you don’t know her, she’s the Editorial Director of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney-Hyperion, and I’m thrilled to feature her in the Editor Spotlight!

Hi Stephanie, thanks for joining us today!

JR: You’ve had a long, successful career in publishing. Could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor, and eventually working for Disney-Hyperion?

SL: Being a children’s book editor was a career choice I made very early on. When I was fifteen, a local bookstore owner asked me to review a book a townsperson had written for young adults. As I read the book, I thought, “Too bad this woman doesn’t know how kids really think.” It was an “aha!” moment for me: I could help authors make their books stronger. I’m not even sure how I knew such a job existed. . . .

I went on to be a creative writing major at Oberlin College, and during the first semester of my senior year, I had an internship for college credit at Dodd, Mead and Company in New York (a publishing house that was ultimately acquired by Thomas Nelson Books). My experience working for a children’s book editor at Dodd, Mead proved to me that I had found my calling. Dodd, Mead offered me a job after college–for a whopping $8,000 a year!–in sales promotion and customer service. I learned a lot, but I wanted to get back to children’s editorial. I jumped over to Little, Brown, where I grew up from editorial assistant to senior editor over twelve years. After that I ran the imprint Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for six years. My next stint was as president and publisher of Dutton Children’s books at Penguin. In my ninth year there, a friend of mine who was working at Disney Hyperion talked me into applying for an editorial director job by saying, “How would you like to do what you are doing at Dutton but not have any other imprints competing for marketing and publicity attention?” That sounded pretty good to me, and over the past decade there I have enjoyed being part of a boutique publisher within a huge entertainment company.

 

JR: That’s some exciting journey! What was the first book you worked on?

SL: I had a generous boss at Little, Brown who allowed me to “cut my teeth” on manuscripts by their top authors at the time, such as Lois Duncan, Ellen Conford, and Matt Christopher. One of the first authors I acquired was Neal Shusterman, who has gone on to be a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Award winner with other editors.

JR: When you first saw The Lightning Thief, what about it appealed to you so much?

SL: Rick Riordan’s first middle grade novel, The Lightning Thief, was acquired at auction before my time at Disney. Rick chose to go with Miramax Books, which eventually became part of Disney-Hyperion. Jennifer Besser (now at Macmillan) edited the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I took over as Rick’s editor after she left, picking up on the Kane Chronicles trilogy. I was amazed by how he made ancient Egyptian mythology relevant to modern readers with exciting adventure, relatable characters, a healthy dose of humor, and a breakneck pace. He makes it look easy.

JR: What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

SL: What hasn’t? I’m so old (How old are you?), I pre-date office computers! Yes, we had to type on Selectrics, using carbon paper. The biggest changes have come from: corporate buy-outs of family-owned companies, which necessitated more attention to the bottom line; the rise of chain bookstores; the Harry Potter phenomenon, which brought hardcover fiction back from the brink of death; the importance of social media in author promotion; Amazon’s dominance; and today, more focus on diversity.

JR: I grew up doing all my reports on typewriters. Slightly easier now. And by the way, I could’ve sworn I heard Gene Rayburn say the “I’m so old” part before you answered (How old are you?) But back to the interview. Disney has recently acquired a lot of new properties. Does that mean anything for the publishing division?

SL: Disney now encompasses several premiere brands, such as Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Fox Entertainment. We can publish against all of these brands, from straight movie tie-ins to extension books that tell new stories based on the characters from the movies. It also means that there is more opportunity for intercompany synergy for authors writing their own IP (intellectual property).

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

SL: I’m having a blast helping Rick curate the Rick Riordan Presents line of middle grade fiction by under-represented authors who want to write stories about their own cultures’ folklore and mythology. I send him submissions to consider, acquire the projects we agree on, edit the manuscripts, and collaborate with my colleagues on book design and promotion.

JR: All that sounds like a tremendous amount of fun. What sort of books do you look for?

SL: For Rick Riordan Presents, we want the same qualities that make Rick’s own books so popular, because the imprint was created to satisfy his fans’ craving for adventure based on mythology. We look for a funny, snarky teenage voice; a fast pace; an exciting, high-stakes plot; and a likeable but flawed protagonist who grows over the course of the story.

JR: The kinds of books I love! Are you very hands-on with your authors?

SL: I’ve always enjoyed helping writers bring out their story by asking pointed questions and making suggestions to improve logic, flow, and clarity. For the Rick Riordan Presents authors, my guidance may be a bit more involved, because there is a certain flavor we are trying to achieve while retaining the author’s own voice. It’s a delicate balance.

JR: What’s the state of publishing right now, in particular, Middle Grade? 

SL: It can be difficult for a book—any book—to break out in this time when there is so much entertainment content for consumers to choose from and there are fewer retail outlets for print. Amazon is grabbing more and more market share, but the online site doesn’t encourage browsing. Buyers who shop there usually go already knowing what they want. This is part of the reason best-selling authors remain best-selling authors and new authors have trouble competing. Authors need to partner more with their publisher on promotion as a result.

JR: Probably more important than ever for authors to get involved in the promotion process. What advice can you give to authors?

SL: The best way to learn to write is to read, read, read, and write, write, write.

Remember that you are communicating with an audience and not just writing to satisfy your own ego.

A good concept isn’t enough by itself. Write the entire manuscript.

You may have to land a literary agent before you can land a publishing deal.

Choosing an agent and editor/publisher is like choosing any partner. Make sure there is good chemistry between you.

Be open to feedback but stand up for what is important to you.

Don’t expect the publication of your book to satisfy all your desires or change your life.

Writing the book is only 50% of the work; promotion after publication is the other 50%.

School visits are still one of the best ways to build word-of-mouth.

Support other authors on your way up, and they will (should) do the same for you.

 

JR: All of that is outstanding advice. In my experience, many authors have been extremely supportive of each other. I think strong relationships are extremely important in that regard. I read that Harriet the Spy was one of your favorite childhood books. I have a few friends who wholeheartedly agree with you. What did you love about it and what other books were among your favorites?

SL: I loved how honest Harriet the Spy was about a kid’s real life—I believe it was one of the first contemporary middle grade novels ever published. To this day I enjoy books in which a well-meaning main character makes a big mistake that causes them humiliation, e.g. The Truth About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. As a kid I also enjoyed animal-based fantasies such as Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. High fantasies such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings stood out, too.

JR: The Narnia books were also among my favorites as a child. Speaking of childhood, what’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

SL: My fun-loving dad. He taught me to always remain a kid at heart.

JR: Okay, that answer hit me. If there’s one thing I could wish for from then, it would also be to see my dad. How can people follow you on social media?

SL: For publishing news and comments, Twitter is probably the best bet: @SOLurie.

JR: Before we go, is there anything else that you’d like to add?

SL: Thank you for inviting me to answer these questions. I greatly admire authors—both aspiring and published—and wish everyone a fulfilling journey. Your book could be the one that makes a reluctant reader a forever reader, changes a kid’s perspective, and inspires someone else to be a writer.

JR: Extremely true. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today!

 

Well, that’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers. I’d like to once again thank Stephanie Lurie for joining us! And if you ever see her listed to speak at a conference, I strongly suggest you go listen!

Until next time . . .

Query Cowbells, Yard Art, and Other Ways Authors Celebrate (and Why)

I’ve been reminded lately that celebration is something we should do more often. In the writing world, we are happy when we get to make big announcements – book deals, releases, signing with an agent. Those announcements almost always lead to a celebratory dinner, a launch party, a champagne toast, or a hearty round of “Huzzah!” on social media.

But those BIG announcements can be a long time coming. Some writers are still waiting and working toward them.

That’s why I was so excited when critique partner and illustrator Jane Dippold presented our critique group members with Query Cowbells.

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According to Jane’s detailed instructions for use, one should:

  • Ring the Query Cowbell once with extreme exuberance upon hitting “send” on any email query. Twirl in a circle like a puppy and settle into your favorite spot. You did it!
  • Shake the Query Cowbell vigorously two times upon receiving any form rejection: once for perseverance and once for your amazing, but not yet accepted, manuscript.
  • Upon receiving a personal rejection with vague but important revision suggestions, put the Query Cowbell down and REVISE!  Ring the Query Cowbell softly, once, when you finally go to bed at 3 A.M.
  • There are many more Query Cowbell instructions, but you get the idea. If you are submitting, you have reasons to celebrate! 

soup

Author Sarah Aronson has one of my favorite reasons for celebrating. “Every time I get to page 100 of a draft, I make this soup,” she says.  100-Page Party Soup. Why not? Click here for her recipe and you can make it yourself.

Author/Illustrator Lita Judge celebrates in really BIG way. She explains, “I have always felt a strong connection to Stonehenge and other ancient rock circles. I fell upon the idea that I would erect my own stones, adding a pillar each time I finish a book. When I step into the yard or look out my windows the pillars remind me of all the projects I have been fortunate enough to create. Each one is hard won and will stand for my lifetime. They are my special way of celebrating this rich life of creating.” 

Lita’s husband Dave sets an 800-pound stone in their yard.

Lita poses with three of her celebratory monuments.

Author Nancy Roe Pimm also celebrates each book with an addition to her garden.  “I always loved concrete lawn ornaments, even before the well-dressed geese began making appearances on lawns throughout the country. I would never buy a lawn statue for myself, because let’s face it- it’s not a real “need.” When I found the winged fairy reading a book, it suddenly felt like a need. I had two books out that year, Colo’s Story and the Daytona 500 book. I decided to celebrate and treat myself to the book reading fairy.”
There are so many reasons to celebrate.
You finished a draft.
You started a draft!
You conquered that revision.
You found a critique partner.
You’ve signed up for your first writing conference.
Don’t wait for the big stuff. Celebrate every step along the way.
This has me thinking. I’ve just completed a blog post!
Champagne, anyone?

Lessons Learned From a Debut Year

Samantha M Clark sees her debut MG novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, on a bookstore shelf for the first time.

Samantha M Clark sees her debut MG novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, on a bookstore shelf for the first time.

One year ago today, I became a published author. And it has been an AMAZING year!

But it has also been terrifying, nerve-racking, confusing, overwhelming, filled with doubt, and many more.

As a debut author, I wanted the year to be perfect. I wanted to do all the right things, make the most of every opportunity, and was so afraid I’d do something wrong. I did a lot of research and made lots of plans and goals.

But all the information and planning could not have prepared me for the whirlwind of my debut year.

During all the fun times and hard times, I learned a lot. So on my book’s one-year anniversary, I wanted to share a few of those things, and I recruited some of my fellow 2018 debut authors to give their own thoughts too, because more heads are better than one. 🙂

There’s only so much you can control

The night before my book was in bookstores, I panicked. It suddenly dawned on me the reality of what was going to happen the next day. My book, my story, which I had worked on privately for the past eight years, was going to be out in the world. It had already been distributed to reviewers and librarians as an advanced reader copy, but this was different. Readers would be able to buy the book and check it out of libraries, and my publisher expected both of those things to happen. But what if it didn’t? What if no one cared? What if… I went pretty far done that rabbit hole.

The truth, I realized with a lot of help from my wonderful husband, is that I didn’t actually have control over anything that happened to my book after it came out. That’s scary on the one hand, but also quite freeing. If I can’t control the outcome, I can only do what I can control and hope for the best. I breathed, told myself to focus on what I can control, and repeated that often throughout the year.

No two publishing journeys are the same

I was very lucky to have an incredible group of fellow debut authors, the Electric Eighteens. We supported each other and shared our ups and downs. I couldn’t be more in awe of these people. But while I loved having all of them with me, it was hard not to compare my journey with theirs. Some seemed so far ahead of me, and it brought up all the bad thoughts: I should be doing more marketing. I should be doing more writing. I should be doing more…

But the truth is, every publishing house works differently and everyone has a different publishing journey. In our group, some people sold two-book deals, some people sold audiobooks, some people sold foreign rights. Some people were writing away while I was busy preparing for conferences. It’s human to compare—that’s how we judge where we are—but there’s no rule in publishing that says one particular path is the right or best one. Research your favorite authors, and you’ll see that some publish a book a year, others don’t publish a new book for years. Some are busy on social media, and others stay very private. In this industry, the best lesson we can learn is to not pressure ourselves to be anything other than us.

Remember why you wanted this

There’s a lot of pressure to be a marketer, social media guru, bestseller, but here we go back to my first lesson: There’s very little you can actually control. What you can control is writing the best book you can write. And that’s why you’re here and reading this blog post anyway. Sure, it helps to get the word out about your book and to do events, but we don’t spend hours and hours typing into a computer so we can post about it on Twitter.

Our love of story makes us writers, and no matter where the ups and downs of publishing takes us, we have to keep our focus on that—on story. On our stories, the many stories we will tell over our career. Because that’s what it’s all about.

And you never know who you’re going to touch with your book, someone you’ve never met before, thousands of miles away from you. Here’s a great Twitter thread about how THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST connected with a girl in Canada. So despite all the ups and downs, keep writing.

Here are some other thoughts from my fellow MG debut authors:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Your debut year can be one of the most exciting times in your life, but it’s also a good litmus test for your patience and determination.” ~ Brad McLelland, co-author of the LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES series (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“You don’t have to do EVERYthing to market your book. No matter what you have time for (and $$$) in terms of marketing, try to build in direct contact with kids who have read your book. It will remind you why we do this. That doesn’t mean you have to do a bunch of school visits. One kid at one book fair/signing is a wonderful boost.” ~ Anne O’Brien Carelli, author of SKYLARK AND WALLCREEPER (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“A debut year is a time of incredible exhilaration, a bit like hiking a mountain, especially when you reach the summit. But once you do, you’ll see many other peaks, and realize that you’ve just started the journey. That’s all right. Celebrate every accomplishment. Notice beauty wherever it arises. Then prepare to bring your dedication and spirit to the next peak, and the next. Remember always who your audience is, and how much your journey matters to them. Every time you stumble, remember that there are kids you don’t know and will never see bent over your book, unable to put it down, finding escape and meaning in your words. They will always be there.” ~ Diane Magras, author of the THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER series (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Remember that you didn’t write a book for everyone, you wrote a book for the right ones. Not everyone will like your book, and that has no bearing on your book’s worth–or your worth, for that matter.” ~ R.L. Toalson, author of THE COLORS OF THE RAIN (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org“Be kind to yourself.” ~ Saadia Faruqi, author of the MEET YASMIN series (Buy this book at your local indie bookstore)

I couldn’t agree with all of these more.

When it’s your debut year, be yourself, breathe, and enjoy yourself.