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.
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.