Emma Layfield

Commissioning Editor For Picture Books Hodder Headline

How and why did you become commissioning editor for picture books?

I first fell in love with picture books when, as a child, I was given a copy of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. I always loved reading and was very interested in how a book was created so it was a natural choice for me to study for a degree in Writing and Publishing, and later an MA in Publishing. Whilst studying, I did work experience at Hodder Children’s Books and was lucky enough to be offered a job here when I left university. Over the last six years, I have worked my way up from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor to Senior Project Editor and now Commissioning Editor on the picture book list. To work in such a creative environment with brilliant authors, illustrators and designers is a dream job for me.
On average, how many children’s books do Hodder Headline produce a year?

Hodder Children’s Books publishes approximately forty new picture books a year. This includes stand-alone picture books by authors such as Kes Gray, Geraldine McCaughrean and David Bennett, as well as character books such as Felicity Wishes, Kipper, and the (not so) Scary Monsters.

I work within a team of three, with another Commissioning Editor and the Publisher. We are currently commissioning titles for 2007 and 2008 and are busy working on books for Bologna and Frankfurt next year.

How many illustrators do you typically work with per year?

We work with approximately 25 illustrators a year. We have a good mix of established illustrators such as Mick Inkpen. Lauren Child and David Melling, those that we are building long-term relationships with such as Jo Lodge and Chris Mould, and new artists such as Dubravka Kolanovic and Mique Moriuchi.
Every day, we receive samples from illustrators and regularly see artists and their portfolios. We are always on the lookout for the next big thing.
Do you work with many illustrators from outside the UK?

We do work with illustrators outside the UK, providing that their English is good and that there are no communication problems. Good communication skills are essential so that the editor and designer can discuss the vision of the book with the illustrator. We are currently working with artists in Italy and Croatia.
Of the titles you have been personally responsible for, which one are you most proud of and why?

I am particularly proud of Felicity Wishes as Emma Thomson was the first author/illustrator that I brought to the Hodder list, and Felicity has since gone on to sell well over 3 million copies worldwide and co-editioned in 15 countries.

We acquired Felicity Wishes in 2000 at a time when there were very few fairy books on the market, and certainly none as beautifully illustrated. Five years on, we have published over 50 books in 13 different formats, and Felicity is still going from strength to strength.
Emma Thomson is a dream author/illustrator to work with. She is extremely creative, knows her market inside out, and is great fun.
We believe that Felicity Wishes is a brand with real longevity.
Tell us a little about a recent project you have worked on, the stages involved and why you chose the selected illustrator(s).

I have recently worked on two picture books written by David Bennett and illustrated by Mique Moriuchi – Talk Peace and That’s Love.
When David first sent us Talk Peace, I instantly loved it. The beautiful and poetic writing about such a timely subject touched a chord with us all here at Hodder. As peace can be a difficult subject to cover in a picture book for the young, we wanted to pair David up with an artist who could bring a lot of fun and child- appeal to the book.
We had seen Mique’s portfolio before and she was someone who we were keen to work with. Her people and animals are very appealing, and she has a lot of fun with patterns, collage and textured backgrounds. We knew straight away that Mique’s beautiful artwork could perfectly capture the feel of this text.
David has recently followed up Talk Peace with That’s Love. Another brilliant text very close to his heart, and one that Mique has illustrated with the most stunning red and orange colours. It really is something rather special.
How much influence do the Sales / Marketing depts have over your work?

We all work as a team at Hodder so the sales and marketing departments are closely involved from the early stage of acquisition through to when the book is published. Their expertise of the market place and their knowledge of competition is invaluable.
When we acquire a book, we have to make sure that it works for the UK trade as well as the overseas markets. This can be difficult, but not impossible. We have had some real successes such as The Kissed That Missed by David Melling and Beware of the Storybook Wolves by Lauren Child that worked brilliantly for both markets.
Our Rights team work extremely hard throughout the year, especially during Bologna and Frankfurt, to secure worldwide deals. They are a great team with lots of enthusiasm for the books we publish.
From the work you see on a daily basis, how would you say illustration styles are evolving?

There has been a trend over the last couple of years for computer- generated artwork but now I feel that things are changing and that we are moving towards more traditional styles of artwork again, lavishly painted with lots of detail.
I think computer-generated artwork is interesting and allows an illustrator a lot of freedom, but I do think it can sometimes lose some of the emotional connection.
What three key pieces of advice would you offer to unpublished illustrators reading this interview?

Firstly, set up your own website or showcase your work on an illustrators’ website. I spend hours searching for new illustrators on the Internet as there are so many good websites out there. It is a great way for you to get your work noticed worldwide!
Secondly, send good quality hard copies of your most recent work out on spec to publishers. Sometimes, something lands in an editor’s in- tray that is perfect for a text he or she has in or it might even trigger a new idea.
Lastly, why not have a go at storyboarding? A lot of illustrators have wonderful ideas buzzing around in their heads, but haven’t put them down on the paper. Have confidence in yourself and your ideas and you never know where it could lead.

Within the last couple of years, which children’s book has been the most successful for Hodder Headline and why?

We have had many successes over the last couple of years, including David Melling’s The Tale of Jack Frost, the animation of which was broadcast on the BBC on Christmas day last year.

Lauren Child’s brilliant Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent recently won the Design and Production Award 2005, and the hilarious Vesuvius Poovius by Kes Gray and Chris Mould won the Nottingham Children’s Book Award 2005.

One of our most recent successes is The Story of Everything by Neal Layton. It is an ingenious pop-up book about the story of evolution from the big bang until now. We have already built up a 75,000 print run and the book isn’t printing until Autumn next year so there is still plenty of time for this number to increase!

This interview has been syndicated courtesy of Childrensillustrators.com