Emma Blackburn

Editorial Director, Picture Books & Novelties Simon & Schuster

Could you tell us about how you entered the world of publishing and detail your subsequent rise to Editorial Director (Picture Books & Novelties) at Simon & Schuster?

After leaving university with a degree in French and Italian, and joining an advertising and marketing agency for a short while, I decided that I wanted to work in book publishing, and in children’s book publishing in particular. Knowing how competitive the industry was at entry level, I gained invaluable experience in children’s books through working as a bookseller in the children’s department of Waterstone’s, Cardiff. My first job in publishing was with Little Tiger Press. Jobs at Orchard, Ladybird and Macmillan followed. Then, at the end of last year, I was offered the position of editorial director at Simon and Schuster. To come to a list that includes stars such as Ian Falconer’s OLIVIA, Jane Clarke and Charles Fuge’s GILBERT series, and the popular ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort is a real joy.

Within the last couple of years, which Picture Book has been the most successful for Simon & Schuster?

We’ve had huge success with ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, which we published recently. GILBERT THE GREAT and GILBERT IN DEEP continue to be very popular. Then, of course, there’s the quirky and stylish worldwide hit that is OLIVIA. It’s hard to single out one book as they are all successful in different ways.

On average, how many children’s titles do the Children’s Department at Simon & Schuster publish each year?

On average we publish 10 UK-originated picture books and 10 picture books originated by Simon and Schuster in the US. Add to that a growing novelty list and our licensed character publishing (which includes DORA THE EXPLORER and GO DIEGO GO!) and we have a pretty extensive publishing programme.

Tell us a little about a recent project you have worked on, the stages involved and why you chose the selected illustrator(s).

I am currently working on a picture book called DOGFISH, written by Gillian Shields. Being relatively new to Simon and Schuster, this text was commissioned before my time but we have just commissioned an exciting new illustrator, Dan Taylor, for this project. DOGFISH will be Dan’s first picture book since graduating and we are very pleased to have him on the Simon and Schuster list. We were immediately attracted to Dan’s quirky, yet accessible, artwork style. DOGFISH is a very funny text with a contemporary tone and we needed an illustrator that could reflect this humour in the illustrations.

What can we expect from Simon & Schuster in 2008?

Great things! 2008 brings a varied list of wonderful picture books: the hilarious DINOSAURS LOVE UNDERPANTS (follow-up to the successful ALIENS LOVE UNDERPANTS), DOGFISH (by Gillian Shields and Dan Taylor) and the heart-warming LITTLE MIST (by Angela McAllister and Sarah Fox-Davies). On top of this, 2008 sees the launch of a smashing, bashing, crashing new series for vehicle-crazy kids in Jon Scieszka’s TRUCKTOWN, a new masterpiece of paper-engineering by Robert Sabuda in PETER PAN, and a new children’s audio book list. Lots to look forward to!

How many illustrators do you typically work with per year and roughly what percentage of these are located outside the UK?

It varies. I would say around 15-20, several of which are located outside of the UK. With email, FTP sites etc, working with illustrators based abroad just isn’t problematic for us. If the illustrator is the right illustrator for the job, then we will find a way of making the process run as smoothly as possible.

How are Simon & Schuster royalties and advances structured?

Authors and illustrators generally receive an advance set against royalties. Our author advances are usually split on signature of contract, on delivery of text, and on publication. Our illustrator royalties are usually split on signature of contract, on delivery and acceptance of roughs, on delivery and acceptance of artwork, and on publication. Simon and Schuster advances and royalties are competitive.

Aside from their obvious talent, what personal qualities do you look for when choosing an illustrator to work with?

At Simon and Schuster, we are looking for someone that shows a real enthusiasm and passion for children’s books, someone that can take a story and bring that something extra to it. And, of course, an ability to meet deadlines is a real plus!

Simon & Schuster works regularly with many talented illustrators. Would you commission a fledgling illustrator, or do you prefer only to
work with established illustrators?

Yes! We would most certainly commission a fledgling illustrator. In fact, we have just commissioned two very exciting new illustrators whose picture books will publish in 2008.

Of the titles you have been personally responsible for, which one are you most proud of and why?

Producing a successful children’s book is undoubtedly a collaborative process and a huge team effort which is why I am proud to have worked with so many wonderful authors and illustrators who continue to push the boundaries to come up with fresh and innovative new projects. It would be impossible to single out one project in particular.

Can you identify some of the current trends in children’s publishing and predict trends for 2008.

It’s terribly difficult to predict trends. Certainly, we have an idea of the growing popularity of a particular author, illustrator or art style but picture books are successful for all sorts of reasons. The Simon and Schuster forthcoming programme is exciting and varied and hopefully will hold something for everyone.

What is your all-time favorite children’s book and why?

Sorry, I can’t possibly single out one book. However, some of those that are very close to my heart are Shirley Hughes’ wonderful DOGGER, BURGLAR BILL by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and a Ladybird book from years ago called BEAKY THE GREEDY DUCK. I am a big fan of Oliver Jeffers’ picture books, and anything by Emily Gravett is always an absolute joy!

This interview has been syndicated courtesy of Childrensillustrators.com