Joann Hill

Art Director Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin

Could you tell us about how you entered the world of publishing and detail your subsequent rise to Art Director with Clarion Books?

I graduated from Parsons School of Design where I majored in Communication Design. I wanted to work in advertising and be clever and make lots of money. After several HORRIBLE interviews at ad agencies with some of the unhappiest people I’d ever met I expanded my job search to book design. I met with Rachel Simon at Lothrop, Lee and Shepard (William Morrow) and as we went through my portfolio, she commented that I had made all my school assignments into little books. I got the job. From Lothrop I went to Disney Press/Hyperion Books for Children which was just starting up. After that I was hired at Knopf/Crown Books or Young Readers as Associate Art Director where I worked with Isabel Warren-Lynch and learned a lot. Finally I landed at Clarion where I was hired by Dinah Stevenson who is a dear friend from when we worked together at Lothrop, Lee and Shepard at the start of my career.

You Art Directed the ‘American Library Associations’ 2004 Robert F. Sibert Medal winner, “The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793” by Jim Murphy, which was also a National Book Award finalist and received a Newbery Honor Award. In addition, Flotsam by David Wiesner is the winner of the 2007 Randolph Caldecott Medal – for the third time! – How important are these awards to you? What do these awards mean to you as publishers and how much impact do they have on sales?

The awards are wonderful because they put us in the spotlight and hopefully get these beautiful books into more libraries and bookstores because of the award.

On average, how many children’s titles do Clarion Books publish each year?


How many illustrators do you typically work with per year?

Between picturebooks and jackets I think it is about 25.

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

I just finished TAP DANCING ON THE ROOF: SIJO (POEMS) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai and it is great looking. The poems have a variety of subjects from nature to school cafeteria lunches. Istvan liked the poems right away and his first sketches were very far out. In some cases we couldn’t really tell what was going on but they were fresh and provocative and so we embraced the odd look of some of the images and for others we asked for some changes. Istvan always came back with an inventive solution in the revised sketches. It was a pleasure to work with him.

What can we expect from Clarion Books in 2008?

A perfect little book called OUR LIBRARY by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Maggie Smith, an adorable very young picturebook by Julie Downing called NO HUGS TILL SATURDAY and a fabulous picturebook biography of the young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. A new Gary Schmidt novel tentatively titled KATAHDIN. And a wonderful nonfiction by Andrew Glass titled FLYING CARS.

Do you work with many illustrators/authors from outside the US?

Yes! It is exciting to work with people around the world. We have made some wonderful books despite the challenges of English as a second language and being in different time zones. That is one reason I love e-mail!

How are Clarion Books royalties and advances structured?

For picturebooks illustrators generally get and advance against a 5% royalty.

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

Artistic talent combined with thoughtfulness, sensitivity and creative problem solving–that may be what I look for in everybody I know.

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

Aside from FLOTSAM which is currently on the New York Times Best-seller List, a staff favorite and big seller is BECAUSE YOUR DADDY LOVES YOU by Andrew Clements, Illustrated by R.W. Alley. It has just the right amount of sweetness without being saccharin and the art is very fun and lively.

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

I love to hire new people! but it can be a gamble. I value the long relationships I have with illustrators that I hire again and again. I have described it as a long marriage where I hope they can grow and develop and still work with me. In fact I did marry a Clarion illustrator!

In this highly competitive market, who do you regard as your closest competitor?

I try not to think about that. The annual American Library Association conventions and Book Expo are overwhelming to me. Rows upon rows of new books. There are so many trade children’s books published each year that I consider every other company close competition for space at bookstores and libraries. And we are all competing against all the other things out there (XBox, etc.) aimed at children–it is daunting.

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

From childhood I loved BIG SISTER, LITTLE SISTER by Charlotte Zolotow because I was the youngest of 3 sisters. Now I love to read all different books to my 2-year-old daughter especially RUNAWAY BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown, MORE, MORE, MORE SAID THE BABY by Vera Williams and WHAT DOES BUNNY SEE? by Linda Sue Park, Illustrated by Maggie Smith. I love them because they are just right for her age and the art and text work together perfectly.

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

One trend I like: there are many very clever, simple and beautifully produced picturebooks for the very young(0-3 year olds). I think this is a perfect gift market with parents and grandparents filling baby’s bookshelf before they start going to the library more regularly. These are books that will be treasured and handed down.
One trend I don’t like: I like the idea of stealing ideas from adult fiction jackets to engage teen readers but I am a little tired of seeing sexy schoolgirls photomontaged on teen fiction jackets. In many cases the story is quiet or conventional and the sexy image attracts readers who are then disappointed in the book’s content. I don’t have a crystal ball to know what attracts teen readers but I think there are kids out there who are looking for a smart, thoughtful story and it is my job to put a smart cover on it so that they’ll find it.

Aside from FLOTSAM which is currently on the New York Times Best-seller List, a staff favorite and big seller is BECAUSE YOUR DADDY LOVES YOU by Andrew Clements, Illustrated by R.W. Alley. It has just the right amount of sweetness without being saccharin and the art is very fun and lively.

This interview has been syndicated courtesy of Childrensillustrators.com