Thursday, May 13, 2010

Debut Author Interview: Amy Ignatow, THE POPULARITY PAPERS

Amy Ignatow's first book, THE POPULARITY PAPERS: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, was released by Amulet last month. Here Amy tells us about her delightful debut, her agent, and what she's up to in the way of promotion and new projects. (And her tip about peanut butter: so true! I thought Madeleine Pope came up with that miracle cure.)

Your debut book is an illustrated novel with a unique format. How would you describe it?

THE POPULARITY PAPERS is a record of the observations and experiments of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, two fifth graders who are trying to figure out how to be popular by watching and emulating the girls in their school who are currently popular. Instead of writing it as a straight graphic novel (panels, word-bubbles) I wanted readers to feel like they were really holding a journal that these two girls made--Lydia writes in cursive, Julie prints, and they both draw (as the better artist, Julie takes the lead, but Lydia makes due with her stick figure illustrations when Julie isn't around). They paste notes that they've passed back and forth into the book, as well as photos they've printed off the Internet, plants, and yarn samples.

Amy's characters Lydia and Julie reading THE POPULARITY PAPERS 
(a little something she whipped up just for the SCBWI blog!)

THE POPULARITY PAPERS is so funny. (There was some LOLing as I read.) Lydia and Julie are so appealing. How did these characters evolve? And will there be sequels?

Thank you so much!  I've been fortunate enough to be in some really strong, long-lasting friendships. I have friends that I'm still close with from high school, from college, and from different jobs and social circles, and I understand how good friends talk (particularly how extroverts and introverts communicate with each other). I hope that readers will be able to see themselves in either Lydia, with her ambition and daring, or Julie, with her skepticism and shyness. I can definitely see a little of myself in both of them.

There will be a sequel is coming out in Spring 2011, and Lydia and Julie and their families are in for a wild ride.

How did you connect with your agent Dan Lazar (who is so enthusiastic about your book)?

Years ago I had a web comic called "Ig City."  I sent Dan a link to my website and he liked the art and the writing, so I wrote an autobiographical graphic novel that garnered some interest but no book deal.  After that experiment, Dan suggested that because the best bits of the novel were the parts having to do with my childhood, maybe I should try my hand at writing a graphic novel for kids.

Dan is amazing.  He's honest, unbelievably supportive, very patient, and he really understands what works best for me.  He's got great instincts and what's more, he's a genuinely nice person.

In what format was this project pitched to Dan and then to publishers?

The moment that Dan suggested writing a graphic novel for kids, I knew that I wanted it to be a communication between two curious girls.  The story just popped into my head and before I knew it the ideas were flowing out of my brain faster than I could type them. Because I wrote the autobiographical graphic novel without an outline (I didn't even sketch first, just wrote and drew on blank pages with ink like a nutbag) Dan had me write a very detailed outline before he gave me the go ahead to start drawing. He read it and made very helpful suggestions, and held my hand through the outline writing process (writing an outline isn't the sort of thing I learned in art school--I could weld, but writing an outline was an entirely new and daunting experience). After it was finished I drew the first 75 pages of the book, and those pages, along with the outline, was what Dan submitted to publishers.

What do you and your publisher have planned in the way of promotion?

Amulet printed a ton of amazing full-color advanced reading copies that we've been giving away at conferences (NCTE, ALA, etc). Jason Wells (marketing guru at Abrams) has been sending me to schools and festivals and bookstores, and there was a big book launch at Books of Wonder in NYC in April, and another smaller one hosted by Walk A Crooked Mile Books in my neighborhood in Philadelphia. There's a website and a Facebook page, and my friend Kit has told everyone in the Hudson River Valley about the book. I think she forced a conductor on Metro North to order a copy. My father has been asking everyone he meets if they have a kid between the ages of 8 and 13, and then demanding that they buy a book if they do. The promotional prowess of my family and friends has been both incredibly gratifying and a little terrifying

Can you offer some advice for first-time authors?

There are so many smart pieces of advice that are almost too trite at this point: take constructive criticism, don't give up just because it's hard, write every know, all that good stuff. But I think first-time authors already know all that, so my advice is to eat a spoonful of peanut butter to stop hiccups. Works every time.

Find Amy Ignatow online:

Are you a debut author who'd like to be featured on the SCBWI blog? E-mail me!


    Lisa Gail Green said...

    Looks like a great book! I love new and creative ideas like this.

    Alice said...

    It is a great book, Lisa. Be sure to check it out next time you're in a bookstore. It's really clever and full of humor.

    Julie Musil said...

    I love the description of the characters! Reminded me of me (Julie) and my writing buddy Lisa Green (Lydia). Thanks for the great post!

    Ann Marie Wraight said...

    Hi from your newest follower!

    I love books with humour and characters I can relate to!

    Your blog looks fascinating - read about it at Jill Corcoran's blog - full of info and very cheery indeed!

    THANKS! Looking forward to following you Alice!

    Andrea said...

    I'm so glad you interviewed her. I had to read the book after reading the interview, and I just picked it up from my local library today :) It's great so far!


    Ya Xin Lu said...

    I read that book. It's like totally awesome