Saturday, November 8, 2008

RichWriters Interview with Former Executive Editor of Harper Collins Children's and Rayo, Adriana Dominguez --- Part 2

This is the second part of the RichWriters interview with editor, Adriana Dominguez.

Jeff Rivera: So your personal tastes is definitely will base great story that happen to be among Latinos.

Adriana Dominguez: Yes, right. If you want me to be more specific, when I was publishing the younger books especially, I started sort of a new way of really concentrating for the younger set of bilingual books. I think that bilingual books are at least the immediate future of Latino publishing for the younger set because right now, we are in a situation where we have about four or five different generations of Latinos living in the country at the same time and bilingual books are books that can be read by all of those folks.

Beyond that, there are a lot of non-Latinos who are interested in learning Spanish and who are also using those books as language learning tools and adding to their kids' libraries and their kids' awareness of culture and their kids' minds by purchasing them. So I think those are books that sort of all things to all people and they are fun and they are fun for me to produce and there are amazing authors who are also concentrating. Monica Brown, Pat Mora, some of the authors I was working with, I have written mostly in that format and they are establishing the award winning authors so the Texas Blue Bonnet last year went into a bilingual book. For a first time ever in a state like Texas where…I mean, come on, how many Latinos are there in Texas. It is one of our biggest markets and so for the first time ever so even their work committees are awakened up to the reality of Latinos are here to stay, what do they need, what are they reading and it is actually put on it.

As you know, probably it is chosen by kids. There are certain amounts of books that are put in the list and the kids choose the books. Well, they are choosing a bilingual book. The kids are sort of running folks now being with the folks that are reading. Yes, and it was amazing to watch. I was lucky enough to be there when Joe Hayes, who is not a Latino, but who was been writing on the Latinos stories for a long time. He is a storyteller and he chose to tell stories from the board ever since where he grew up and he chose to do it in a bilingual format. He was a really a trailblazer. He started doing it a long time ago and he got up on stage and he did sort of storytelling things tell the stories but the best part of the ceremony for me was kids going up there and saying why they had chosen this book and there was this one little kid who in this big huge stage an auditorium full of librarian just got up to the mic and said, "What I love about this book is that I can read it with my mom." That gives me chills and he said, "She can read it to me in Spanish and I can read it to her in English. It is something that we can do together," and we know that literacy is a very important issue for Latinos.

Latinos still have the highest dropout index, unfortunately, of any other group. So we need to give them the books that they can use and we need to encourage them to read at an early stage and with bilingual books I think will help do that. I think bilingual books will encourage parents to read with their kids, to feel more involved in their education because often parents do not speak English and sort of feel…I know my mom, so she could not really help me through a lot of my years when I was in school because she really could not navigate the system. She did not speak the language. So having that, that is yet another function of bilingual books fulfilled.

Jeff Rivera: What about submissions as far as you do not like to see and you wish that people would stop sending you?

Adriana Dominguez: It is funny but the stories that had been done for the past 20 years. There are a lot of authors out there who are not familiar with Latino market or who think the Latino market is still what it was 20 years ago when we were just writing this very simple story that had one or two Latino elements in them. There are authors out there…what I have always said to that is why I interested in publishing into the Latino market is "please read" and to any market. I mean, come on, there are a lot of people out there who want to write but do not do enough reading before they start writing and so you need to be familiar with whatever area you want to work in.

If you want to write young adult books, you better have read every single young adult book in the New York Times Best Sellers list so you know what sells and you know what the large publishers want because that is what guiding their choices certainly for the large publishers. And the same goes with the Latino market. There are awards like the Pura Belpre Award. There are awards like the America's Award that is given every year that have the single handy often just launched their careers of previously unknown authors.

Monica Brown has become, when I signed her on, luckily I signed her on. I had to force to sign her on to Harper before she won the Pura Belpre Award. She won it about six months later and she is a superstar now and she will continue to grow. She has three books coming out with Harper, one of them better than the next. These are the people that you need to know about if this is what you want to ride in, the same thing with young adult books. I would love to see a Latino Sherman Alexie, winner of the National Book Award, Native American, author who is very well known in the adult market and who wrote the his first young adult novel to amazing well-deserved success because it is now phenomenal.

There is so much out there that people need to know about before they can even begin. You cannot contribute into something that you are not aware of. You need to figure out what it is that…and just speaking directly to authors, you need to figure out exactly what it is that you want to write and become familiar with everything within that genre and within that market.

So for Latinos, be aware of the award winners, the Pura Belpre winners. Librarians are still some of the biggest supporters of Latino books out there.

Jeff Rivera: And as far as for non-Latino stories that you might take a look at, what would you say you definitely would like to see more of?

Adriana Dominguez: Well, like I said, I would love to see a Latino Sherman Alexie. I would love to see just an innovative American boy or Chinese, another award winning graphic novel that I just ask for librarians to have embraced and just adore a graphic novel, it was unthinkable a few years ago and librarians are realizing that whatever gets the kids to read and so they are embracing new formats and embracing new ways of telling stories, new approaches.

There are a lot of authors who try to do a lot of things online now, create new projects that have online component or that appeal somehow to the online audience. So there is a lot to do out there. You have to kind of figure out what it is, as a writer; you have to figure out what it is, where your forte is. I think the biggest mistake that writers make and the biggest thing that I found myself saying to writers over and over again is write what you know. I feel that on the one hand you want to obviously know about the trends, you want to be aware of them and you want to write for the right thing for the right market.

On the other hand, I think you have to be true to your own voice and particularly if a publisher has already reached out to you or are interested in your work. They are not necessarily interested in the departure from what you have done. They want more of the same. So be true to yourself and be true to your own word. On the one hand, know the market, know what works, know what does not work but on the other hand, do not try to write a classic novel if you have never done that in your entire life with no assistance from someone who knows nothing about it. I find that, for young adults books in particular, I was working with a few authors who wanted to make the transition and I was not able to publish a young adult novel the entire time I was at Harper even though I received a million, no I am exaggerating, but quite a few submissions and many of them from adult authors, and the reason was because many adult authors who were trying to make the transition into young adult felt that they have to dumb down the narrative for it to work in the young adult novel.

And so they were not really writing stories for young adults, they were writing dumber versions of adult stories for young adult and young adults, teens are hipper and more aware than adults will ever be so they can see right through the ball. So again, the best way to do that is to correct that is to become aware of the young adult market to read them and absorb as much of it as you possibly can so that you see what type of voice goes into it and the reality is that some people just cannot do it. There are a lot of authors and that is why I applaud the adult authors who have made that transition successfully into young adults and to middle grades because there are a lot of people out there that think that it is just easier to write a middle-grade novel and it is easier to writing young adult novel and it is certainly is not. It is certainly is not. It requires a whole new different set of skills, you have to find a whole new voice within yourself that teens can relate with and the ones that can do it make the transition, it may have up to them and that is why I rant and rave about people like Sherman Alexie. Oscar Hijuelos has published his first middle-grade novel. I have not read it yet but I am really interested in doing that.

He was at the panel at BEA this year at book expo with two of my authors who just turned out. So there are a lot of exciting things happening out there. If someone is reading this and is not aware of any of the books that I just mentioned, then that calls for concern. You should rush to your bookstore and become aware.

Jeff Rivera: I have a few quick questions to ask you about formatting and then we could conclude the interview. In terms of submissions, if I want to submit a picture book, how do I do that? How many pages generally should that be? Should it be with illustrations?

Adriana Dominguez: That is an excellent question and I have gotten that a lot and I am glad that you asked it. For picture books, one of the things that you have to realize is picture books, obviously the text and the illustrations, have equal billing in the picture book. There are words that were given for the author as well as the illustrator. Oftentimes, it is the illustrations that get somebody to pickup a picture book at the bookstore so the illustrations are an integral part of this and I know it sounds redundant for me to say this but I feel that they are repeating.

And the reason I mention this is because if you are an author and you are not an illustrator, you should not illustrate a book. However, if you are an author and illustrator and you feel that as an illustrator you have something to contribute, something that is new, something that is right, something that is exciting, something that no one has seen and that you think audiences or readers will embrace, you should display your talent fully in your submission and almost put all of the emphasis on that.

Jeff Rivera: Should it be submitted in terms of almost like a self-published book or would it be submitted to panels? How should that be done?

Adriana Dominguez: Well, the standard way to submit a picture book is if you are an author or illustrator, what you want to do is, obviously, there are no guarantees that anyone is going to accept the submission, right? So in my opinion, submission should provide as much information about the proposal, the proposed project, if possible should be a really great sampling of what you are doing, but a must, you really think that you have something phenomenal and you have an agent who really believes in what you are doing and also things that you have something phenomenal or you have already published with some success. I think that what you want to do is do the amount of work that is necessary to display what it is that you want to do without really going overboard because a publisher may just be interested in hiring their own illustrator and that is what happens for the most part.

For the most part with children's books, the publisher will hire the illustrator and the author separately and this is something that picture book illustrators are not aware of for the most part or the ones that are just starting out anyway. A publisher has a whole stable, a whole pool of illustrators to choose from, many of them are award winners, many of them that have had a proven sales track record and that they know what sort of lead readers to pick up that book so they want to…and sort of if you have this amazing pool of illustrators to work from, why would you want to doodle from someone who is just starting out? You know what I mean? It just does not make any sense.

So for the most part, publishers want to purchase a text from the author and then find an illustrator and ultimately, the person who illustrates the book is the publisher's decision. It is also something that you should know.

Jeff Rivera: Another thing, I have to intervene, I thought of another…

Adriana Dominguez: No. The situation that I was referring to earlier is different for an author illustrator. Generally speaking, an author illustrator is somebody whose forte is really illustration. Unless you have somebody phenomenal like Eric Carle, Mo Williams, people who have just this amazing gift to do both and there are those people out there and they come up all the time. But unless you are author illustrator and you know that your forte is illustration, you know exactly how to illustrate for children, you are aware of all the children's books that are out there that have won awards for illustrations, you know what the cow to cat is that sort of thing. If you are one of those, then yes, you want to display your artwork and you want to display your idea because most likely your idea really sort of relies on the artwork. The focus is really at the artwork for the most part so you want to submit those.

You probably want to submit your manuscript along with the sampling of your work. Do not try to bind the book, self publish the book, send the book that is illustrated because particularly when you are talking about mainstream publishers, you will never match the production quality of a mainstream publisher that has amazing resources at the tip of their fingertips. And basically just make your submission look shabby and it also more than that it makes it look like you really do not know how the business operates, which is when an editor see a children's book or what I did, I will speak for myself, a manuscript with sort of handmade illustrations by someone who is clearly not an illustrator.

My first thought is, "This person doesn't even know how the publishing industry works," if you do not know how the publishing industry works, chances are you probably have not done enough research, read enough books and that all tells me that you are not ready to write a book for a mainstream publisher. So be very professional and know that as an author, what is expected of you is to submit a manuscript. For the most part, a picture book is 32-pages long.

Jeff Rivera: Double space pages.

Adriana Dominguez: I am sorry?

Jeff Rivera: Are you talking about in terms of submission, is that double space pages?

Adriana Dominguez: No. A picture book, on the most part, is anywhere from 32 to 40 pages long, and they have about three lines per page. So you are talking about an average a thousand words or less. When I get a picture book manuscript it is single space, three or four pages long, I know that this person has no notion of how picture books work because I could fit four picture books in that manuscript, so submit it in a format that clearly lets the editor know that you know the format for picture books and the format for picture books is divide your text, visualize your text, remember that this is an illustrated book, so try to think what will be the illustration on each page or in each pad will look like, and that is how you decide on how do you break up the pages.

Break up the pages, meaning break up the story into 32 pages with the few lines per page that not only keeps the story flowing but that it also allows the reader to visualize the story because picture books are visual stories. So submit a proposal that way that basically lets the editor know right off the bat that you know what a picture book format is. And the amazing thing is by doing that, I told this to train very well know writers who are trying to break into the picture book market, I have told them, "Can you please resubmit that, breaking it up in 32 pages?" because not only for my benefit but for their benefit. Once you do that, you will realize exactly how the picture book will work.

Jeff Rivera: Thank you so much, Adriana. This is very helpful information that I think writers, especially Latino writers will find very useful.

Jeff Rivera: If you need help with your book promotion contact and we'll find a way to help you within your budget.