Could you tell us about your background within children’s publishing and your subsequent rise to the position of Executive Vice President and Publisher at Intervisual Books?
I have always wanted to be a publisher of children’s books. When I was eight years old I went to neighbors and friends, interviewed them, wrote their story and then created my own illustrations to accompany their story. Then I would charge $0.10 for the book. I had an interest in creativity and business at an early age.
I was English Writing major and spent most of my career at Scholastic Inc. At Scholastic I had the opportunity to work with many talented managers and mentors. However none of my positions were creative in nature. But I learned quite a bit about business.
After eight years at Scholastic, I became a freelance writer and a high school teacher. Then I went on to Intervisual Books as their editorial director.
From there, I truly became passionate about novelty books for children. The passion I have for my job is what I believe has brought fulfillment to me, our company and to my creative team.
Do you attend any trade events? If so, what do you gain from these kind of industry events?
I do attend Bologna, Toy Fair, Frankfurt, BEA. I think it is important to always know what is out there; to talk to new people; to be present in the world of creativity and try and listen to what is out there and look for that next best opportunity. Also, I welcome new artists all of the time and love the excitement of being able to publish a new writer or illustrator.
Can you take us through the steps of creating a successful pop-up/novelty book and tell us on average how many people are involved in the process?
The novelty and pop-up process is a detail-oriented journey. At Intervisual Books and Piggy Toes Press we start with months of brainstorming new ideas in-house. We do a lot of research and pull from many sources to find an organic and viable idea with a long life and profitable outcome.
We have ten people in creative plus we commission outside illustrators and writers. Our creative department is a team so we start each book together and each book has a vision, a purpose and a place in the market. The engineers work with me to reach the retail that I feel will be most competitive and our editorial director and art directors work with me to achieve the perfect marriage of editorial, art and format.
We then create the blueprints for the format and create artist sheets for the illustrator. We talk to each artist about our vision, our goals. Sometimes we provide tight storyboards, other times we let the artist run with the project. The artist and writer are as involved as they choose to be in creating the book. We have books that feature lights, sound, pops, touch and feel, so we need to provide as much reference material as possible so that the artist has the freedom to move with the flow of whatever format we may be using.
Art comes in and we constantly rewrite, redesign and adjust the engineering until we build a dummy that we all love. The entire creative process (up to separations) used to be a year. Now we’ve got it down to 6-8 months.
Could you name some of Intervisual’s/Piggy Toes Press most successful novelty books and explain why you think these titles have such strong appeal to children / parents?
One of our best-selling titles is Eight Silly Monkeys Jumping on the Bed—we’ve sold 555,000 copies and Good Morning, Good Night has sold 325,000 copies. We think these titles have done so well for us because they are accessible to children and parents.
When we created Eight Silly Monkeys I went with a dummy to a Borders store and asked if I could read the book to a group of children during story hour. They loved it and the boys said, “cool monkey heads!” To us that is the highest compliment a creative group could receive.
At the time we created Good Morning, Good Night, a large touch and feel book, we looked at the other touch and feels out there for $12.95. We thought they were unsatisfying to a young child who likes to “grab” tactile areas. We wanted to do it bigger and better. We also picked an art style that felt tactile and that made all the difference.
Of all the titles you have been responsible for, which one are you most proud of and why?
Of course I am proud of every title because each title has a purpose and a healthy financial plan. Recently though, I am most proud of our fiber optic book, Beetle Bug’s Party. It was an extremely tough book to make and it took all of creative and production to make it work and I am happy to say it looks fabulous.
The other title I am very proud of is Our Ballet Recital. We pulled from our old pop-up and packaging background and created this playset which is a mixture of pop-up and paper dolls. It is adorable and really took the entire team to get this detailed book completed.
On average, how many illustrators do you work with per year?
We work with about forty artists per year.
Of those illustrators you work with, what percentage are un-published?
I would say about 10% of our illustrators and writers are unpublished.
How many members of staff are there at Intervisual/Piggy Toes Press?
There are 36 people in the company and 10 in creative.
What can we expect from Intervisual/Piggy Toes Press in the future?
You can expect more books and more creativity. Piggy Toes Press is an imprint that has only been around for seven years so we still have a long way to go. We used to publish 8 titles a season, now we publish 20-25 per season. We are launching our new imprint Baby Piggy Toes Press in Spring 2006. I think that will definitely challenge our creativity and push us to new creative thinking.
Apart from those you publish, what is your all-time favourite children’s book and why?
That is difficult. I have many but I’d have to say, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my favorites.
I also have a life-long love of Russell and Lillian Hoban’s work and love all of the Frances titles and adore the later illustrations by Garth Williams as well. Other favorites include Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham and my favorite most recently published title is A Cat and A Dog by Claire Masurel and Bob Kolar.
As Executive Vice Present and Publisher at Intervisual Books, how do you ensure your company stays ahead of the competition and is ready to capitalise on current trends within children’s publishing?
We do several things to stay ahead. First, we know who we are and we keep informed about what everyone else is doing. We pay attention and always have our antennae up.
I focus much of my time on pricing strategies, our market share and where we were 2 years ago, where we are now, where we are going. I focus on unit costs and margins and constantly manage that process.
We are constantly learning new ways to achieve our goals both in creative and production. I encourage my team to look at a situation in many ways—not just my way or their way—to approach problems and new creative from all sides.
We go to the bookstores, toy stores, retail chains together. We read, we talk, we meet everyday to discuss our daily, weekly, monthly goals. Ideas are always exchanged and we are constantly communicating. It sounds simple but it works.
How important is it for illustrators to demonstrate their knowledge of Intervisual/Piggy Toes Press titles when submitting their portfolios?
It is important that they understand who we are, as a whole. To view our catalog and take a moment to think about who we are, who they are, and if we are a good fit.
Overall, what impact do you think Intervisual titles have on children’s ability to learn versus standard children’s literature?
Our titles are created to be fun and accessible. They are meant to be books that a child can enjoy over and over and while they enjoy the novelty aspect, they will learn something. Our novelty books are not frivolous-they are picture books brought to life with mechanics and my hope is that while they engage the child, they will satisfy the parent as well. I would like to think that our direction has established a new way to look at novelty books. Lastly I would say that our dream is for our titles to be some child’s most favorite title and not a throw away novelty book.
This interview has been syndicated courtesy of Childrensillustrators.com