EDITOR Q & A:
KNOPF & CROWN BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS
Nancy Hinkel has been a friend of the New Jersey/SCBWI chapter since 2001, when she was a guest editor at our annual Seton Hall Conference. Her workshops and one-on-one manuscript consultations that day proved so popular that she returned to meet with our conference-goers again the following spring.
Nancy joined Alfred A. Knopf & Crown Books for Young Readers in 1996, after getting her start at HarperCollins Children's Books. Over the years, her editorial skills have polished the work of best-selling authors and promising newcomers alike. In August 2003, she was named Publishing Director of Alfred A. Knopf & Crown Children's Books. Now seemed the perfect time to check in with Nancy and to find out "what's new".
Q: What do you think is 'hot' in children's publishing these days?
A: Well, fantasy is huge at the moment, but there's still plenty of room for lots of other kind of stories, too—anything that's well-written and compelling will find a readership.
Q: What are your biggest job challenges---and rewards---as Publishing Director?
A: The biggest challenge right now is finding time for everything that needs attention, including editing and reading submissions. The rewards are seeing our authors and their books thrive and review and sell well. It's extremely satisfying to get to cheer all of the books and all of the authors, and their editors, on.
Q: Every publishing house has its own viewpoint or personality. If Knopf & Crown were an ice cream cone, what flavor would it be?
A: David Caruba will pay for this question. I'd say green tea: sophisticated, but earthy. And it's one of my favorite flavors.
Q: Who are some of the authors and illustrators that you currently work with?
A: Right now I'm working with Tonya Bolden and illustrator Greg Christie, middle-grade author Sue Stauffacher, and young adult authors David Levithan and Kim Ablon Whitney.
Q: Which three titles on Knopf & Crown's upcoming list are the most exciting…and why?
A: Well, it's hard to pick, but we've just published a hilarious picture book called HALIBUT JACKSON by David Lucas, which is about a shy man who makes suits that help him blend into the background. Until he makes a mistake, and then everyone wants one of his suits. It's a gorgeously illustrated homage to shy people, kids and adults, alike!
We've also got some great picture books coming out this fall: WILD ABOUT BOOKS by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown is one we're extremely excited about—it's about literacy and a love of books and the text and artwork are so well-matched. Judy is a fantastic storyteller and Marc Brown is Marc Brown—together they've created something wonderful that we hope will appeal to kids and adults.
THE PEOPLE COULD FLY is a picture book retelling of Virginia Hamilton's well-known folktale, The People Could Fly, and is illustrated gloriously by Leo and Diane Dillon. The editor is Janet Schulman, who was a friend of Virginia's since their college days together and it's a book that we all feel incredibly close to—it's extremely powerful and moving, while also being uplifting and visually breathtaking.
Also coming this fall is SAVING FRANCESCA is a novel by Melina Marchetta that is just amazing—it's got everything. Family relationships, school relationships, heartache, redemption, humor, and incredibly strong writing—I love it.
Q: How many submissions does Knopf & Crown receive in one year? In other words, just how big is that slush pile?
A: It's big—without ever having counted, I'd say we get several hundred a year.
Q: Approximately what percentage get read from beginning to the end?
A: Hard to say, really—all the picture books will get read because they're short, but you never know with the fiction. If something doesn't grab you in a few chapters, it's hard to justify continuing on.
Q: What can a writer do to increase the chances of getting into the 'must read' stack on a real, live editor's desk?
A; An engaging and curiosity-piquing cover letter is a big help, and then the opening of the story has to be interesting, well-written, and intriguing—that's what will keep someone reading. And that can't be all things to all people, so it's also important to remember that every editor has different taste and you have to keep trying to find someone who will like your style.
Q: What's the biggest change you've seen in children's publishing since entering the business?
A: The number of adult authors writing children's books. They just keep comin'.
Q: Thinking industry-wide, which children's books released in the past year do you consider outstanding works? Why?
A: Well, I have some favorites: I loved NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly—it was so lyrical and lovely, and dealt with an intriguing subject in an interesting, thought-provoking way. There was lots to chew on after I finished it.
I also gobbled up OLIVIA KIDNEY, but I'm a sucker for a story with magic in it, and a redemptive ending with lots of heart.
BLANKETS, a graphic novel, was also wonderful, and I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels, but this one grabbed me and I read it in one sitting. Days later I was still thinking about it.
Q: What new directions would you like to see Knopf & Crown take in the next few years?
A: I'd like to see us get even stronger, especially with picture books and middle-grade novels, and I'd like us to continue finding interesting new voices to publish while also nurturing the authors we're already working with. The authors are everything.
Q: What's the best bit of advice you can give writers and/or illustrators just starting out in children's publishing?
A: Concentrate on perfecting your writing or illustrations, not on getting published. But when you are ready to try to get published, do your research and make use of the resources available so you don't waste time and energy with false starts or misdirected submissions.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
A: Sorry this took so long for me to answer (see note above about time). Dianne has the patience of a saint.
Q: Is NJ/SCBWI still your favorite chapter?
A: As if you have to ask. I'm a Jersey girl, after all.
Q: And if your favorite chapter's members wanted to query or submit to Knopf & Crown, what's the best way to do it?
A: Send either a query letter or sample chapters and an outline, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope (this is extremely important!), to:
Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers
1745 Broadway, MD 9-3
New York, NY 10019
Thanks, Nancy, for all your words of wisdom. We wish you the best of luck in your new role as Editorial Director!
Thanks for this opportunity, Dianne and David, and especially thanks for your patience in getting this back, as well as all your support over the years!