Kelly Barrales-Saylor

Senior Project Editor Sourcebooks Inc.

When did you begin to consider a career in publishing and how did you arrive at your current role as Senior Project Editor at Sourcebooks, Inc?

I’ve always loved books – especially picture books. And I’ve always had a love for art and photography, and is something I continually pursue as a hobby. My initial career plan was to teach high school English. I created lots of lesson plans (most of them featuring hip hop lyrics read as poetry) and taught in a high school classroom a few times. But after an internship at Sphinx Publishing, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., I fell in love with bookmaking and left teaching behind.

When the internship ended, I was hired full time as the production editor for Sphinx, managing the scheduling and page layouts of every book our imprint published. I eventually moved to the trade side of Sourcebooks to work as an editor on our lovely and design-intensive gift books. But a couple snags in my personal life demanded a more flexible schedule. So I had to leave and give freelance work a shot for a few years.

One day I was talking with Sourcebooks editorial director Todd Stocke, and he mentioned that there was still a position open in the new children’s imprint. A-ha! Children’s books! I hung up the phone, spiffed up my resume, and here I am. I started with Sourcebooks Jabberwocky just a couple months after its first books were published in 2007. Now I get to work with my amazing Sourcebooks family on beautiful books for children and teens. It’s the perfect combination of literature and art.

As Project Editor, what are your main responsibilities and how do you collaborate with other areas of the business to make a book a success.

My job covers a few different areas: project management, illustration acquisition and development, awards submissions, and cover design direction. One key aspect is that I manage project scheduling and coordination between departments. We have a very open and cooperative atmosphere here, so I get to work closely with our editors, design team, sales people, publicists, manufacturing, and even accounting. Because my closest coworkers work in our New York office, we conduct a lot of our day-to-day business through email and conference calls. I act as their eyes and ears here in our home office.

Another key feature of my job (and my favorite) is that I hire the illustrators for projects and direct the layout of illustrated books. Finding an illustrator that the editor, author, and everyone else here agree is the right one for a particular project is always an exciting challenge! Being flexible and open to others’ ideas and opinions is so important – and it’s something we do here at Sourcebooks on a regular basis. This part of my job often overlaps the work I do in helping to direct the look and feel of our books, inside and out.

Launched in 2007, Jabberwocky is Sourcebooks’ Award-Winning Children’s Imprint, responsible for publishing bestsellers such as Poetry Speaks to Children, I Love You More, My Name Is Not Isabella, Hip Hop Speaks to Children, and the Greatest Moments in Sports. What key ingredients do these titles possess that have made them so successful?

Each of these books has found a way to resonate with readers. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why one book works so well and another doesn’t since I do believe that every book we publish is extraordinary. But our bestsellers have that perfect combination that resonates with children, parents, grandparents, friends, librarians, and everyone in between.  I think the key ingredients are obviously great text and gorgeous visuals. We could not do what we do if it weren’t for our fabulous authors and illustrators. But adding an entire company’s worth of passion into the mix is like sprinkling fairy dust onto the project. It’s that extra boost to take a great project to new heights. I can’t express enough how much every person on our Sourcebooks team contributes to the success of each book. From the book’s acquisition to the bookmaking and design process to the manufacturing team to sales to publicity and accounting, everyone adds their magic touch.

What’s funny is that each of our bestsellers is a book that some people outside of our company didn’t understand or they thought the projects were too risky to pursue. Within our company, we knew there was something special about each of these projects. And when our gut tells us that the book has that special something, we pour our hearts into it.

As one of the leading and largest independent publishers in North America, how has Sourcebooks Inc. embraced the changing face of reading, entertainment and learning?

Sourcebooks has always had an entrepreneurial attitude from the top down – Dominique Raccah is a driving force in our companywide attitude toward embracing the changes. Our goal is to get books into the hands of readers in whatever form necessary. We’re all lovers of books and yet we’re all open to the various new forms that are taking shape. At Sourcebooks, we stay open to new ideas, and collaborate on new ways to do things. We cherish the classics but are excited about what’s to come. It’s kind of amazing to be surrounded by people who are so flexible and adaptable to change.

Tell us about a recent or current project which really excites you.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this, but I really do enjoy working on every book we publish. It’s hard to pick just one book to talk about here, but I’ll do my best. One recent book that was exciting to work on was Dream Big, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi. It’s her first children’s book and she was just a delight to work with. The story is adorable and Kristi Yamaguchi is just as sweet as she appears to be on TV. But one of my favorite parts of working on this book was collaborating with the illustrator, Tim Bowers. Tim is unbelievably talented and has this amazing ability to bring his characters to life. He was a joy to work with. I could give him a brief suggestion of what I wanted to do on a particular page and he’d make it a million times better. Having a great manuscript, great author, and great illustrator to work with made this a dream project.

How much influence does the author typically have in the design process?

It really depends on the project but we always take the author’s thoughts and suggestions into consideration. We might not agree on the final outcome of the design, but it’s so important to get the author’s feedback since she’s the closest to the manuscript. It’s not very common that we have any kind of disagreement since we work very hard to create a look for our books that is research-based; that is, we design to compete within the category in which the book is being published.
Aside from their obvious artistic talent, what other skills will help an illustrator succeed in children’s publishing?

Be flexible! I have to say that in publishing, nothing is final. Every book is a work in progress. And sometimes we have to rethink our approach if we don’t think it’s working as it should. I promise that our critique is not personal—we’re trying to make the best book possible. Sometimes that means stretching outside of our comfort zones or reworking our original approach to the illustration style.

Be vocal. Over-communicate. If you’ve got a great idea for an illustrated scene, say so. If you think the art direction for a particular scene would work better if we did it a different way, speak up! We trust your instincts and we want to hear from you as an artist. Collaboration is a surefire way to create a wonderful book and hearing the illustrator’s perspective is key to the book’s success.

Keep learning – stay abreast of what’s working in the marketplace and try to venture outside of your illustrative style. Of course, the broader your capabilities, the more projects you can appeal to. However, just knowing what works and trying new things keeps you that much further ahead.

My non-skill advice would be to have a great website. Art directors often show your work to numerous people in the company before they hire you.

Sourcebooks Inc. believes that ‘books change lives’. Which book from your own childhood would you put into this category?

Oh my. There are so many books I can list here. I’m sorry, but I cannot possibly choose just one. I devoured the Nancy Drew mysteries and anything by Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, and Beverly Cleary when I was very young and the first time I read Picture of Dorian Gray definitely changed my life as a teen. But when I think about all the books I feel very nostalgic about – the ones that made me fall in love with books and still make me weak in the knees – they are always illustrated children’s books. Some of my favorites include anything by Gyo Fujikawa (especially Let’s Eat and Let’s Play), anything by P.D. Eastman (especially Sam and the Firefly and The Best Nest), Jack Kent’s Hop Skip and Jump Book, Margery Williams’s the Velveteen Rabbit, anything by Shel Silverstein, and the list goes on and on.

From an illustration perspective, what are some of the trends you see in the world of children’s publishing? 

This is a very difficult question. I think the biggest trend is that the market is open to all kinds of illustration styles – that there is no one specific trend. Over the last few years we’ve seen influences of the classic mid-century and retro illustration styles make a comeback but I don’t think it’s any more than we’ve seen some other types of modern digital techniques. I think the biggest trend to come will be creating artwork that will not only dazzle the reader in print books, but also shine on e-Reader devices.


This interview has been syndicated courtesy of Childrensillustrators.com