Tuesday, June 29, 2010

SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-conference interview: Francesco Sedita

As both Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan (two imprints of the Penguin Young Readers Group) and the author of a popular series, Francesco Sedita knows a thing or two about series fiction and publishing books you can buy almost anywhere. (I'm avoiding the term "mass market." Francesco dislikes it as much as he loves lip balm. More on that below.) At the upcoming SCBWI Annual Summer Conference he'll offer workshops on those very topics--SERIES FICTION and WRITING MASS MARKET FICTION--and also participate in a panel called A VIEW FROM THE TOP: 4 PUBLISHERS DISCUSS OUR INDUSTRY.

Francesco recently completed the third book in the MISS POPULARITY series. Read on to learn more about the them, his incredible handsomeness, his advice on writing series, his thoughts on mass market, and the scoop on his upcoming collaboration with the one and only Jon Scieszka.

First of all, why do you participate in SCBWI events? What do you get out of them?

SCBWI is like the best high school reunion ever. You see old friends, make new ones, reconnect with people and get the chance to learn, teach, and share ideas and just celebrate what we all love to do: write and publish the best children’s books!

(In addition to Most Handsome and Best Dressed) you were voted Most Popular in your grade school class. Did that somehow foreshadow the writing of your series MISS POPULARITY? Tell us about the series.
Totally. I was so damn popular it was embarrassing. And handsome. I was so incredibly handsome. And no one wore Bugle Boy pleated pants better than me. Or my school’s polyester yellow and navy and plaid uniform.

Um, did I mention that there were only 12 kids in my class?

Actually, the main character Cassie, is really based on my older sister, Danielle. She was super styley and so amazingly cool in her Jordache jeans and her color-coordinated LeSportsacs and perms. People loved to be with her and around her. She drove a black FireBird! But she was always kind and sweet and had friends from every group in high school. I wanted to be her. Still do.

So the series is about Cassie Knight, 6th grade supahstar in Houston. But when her dad gets relocated to Maine, her sprayed up hair, shimmery shadows and beaded ballet flats don’t quite cut it.

Over the years I’ve gotten many question from writers about how to get a series published. Can you offer some advice from both sides of the desk (and maybe a teaser for your conference session on SERIES FICTION)?

My advice is (and only in this order, otherwise results may be spotty): Write it. Write the hell out of it. Love it. Rework it. Write more. Rework again. Hate it. Sweat. Curse. Love it again and then when it’s ready, really think about who should see it and how. Do your research and make sure you are sending to the right agents, sending exactly what they're asking for. Then cross your fingers, have a glass of wine, and start on your next project.

I think series should be like delicious pieces of candy. Make sure there is a wonderful throughline from book to book. Make sure your characters are evolving (or not, if that’s their case) and make sure you love each and every word.

You’re also doing a session on WRITING MASS MARKET FICTION. Explain to my readers what mass market fiction is. Describe the right kind of writer for this market. 

I HATE--hear that? HATE the words mass market. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. I think people confuse it with "not literary" or "low-quality." Which is so not the case. (And if it is, then something is going terribly wrong.) Who doesn't want their books sold everywhere, including places like Walmart and Target?

Okay, now that my rant is over, I can answer. I think if you want to write a series--and one that will be on a relatively quick publishing schedule (which means the books are selling and your readers want more more more)--you have to think about how quickly you can get the books done. You have to really know your process and be able to deliver because when a series like this really takes off, accounts want more and your editor will come a-knockin'. Not such a bad predicament to be in but something to be prepared for.

You also have to think about topic if you want to write a “mass” series. What’s current, relevant, what’s going to pop off the shelves to readers and make them want to buy your series?

Tell us about your new series with Jon Scieszka, SPACEHEADZ. 

SPACEHEADZ a great project aimed to secretly teach readers about media literacy. With a lot of fun and wackiness along the way. You get to read the book but also experience the world online. It's a silly story but at the end of the day might really help readers to understand how to cut through all of the advertising that's being pushed on them.

You kind of have a double life, working as both publisher of Penguin imprints Grosset & Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan and as a writer. Can you offer some advice on successfully wearing more than one hat?

It’s a nutty little life but I love every second of it. It’s super fun and exciting and I am inspired by my job to write and by my writing to do my very best at my J-O-B. There is no advice really on juggling both because I think I'm a mess at it most times. I sort of let everything meld together. There are days when I sit in my office at Penguin and feel like more of a writer and there are days when I sit at my desk at home and feel like more of a publisher and I just let that happen and deal with it as it swings back and forth. I'm happy in both places, so why not?


Terri Hoover Dunham said...

Alice, I loved this interview. Thanks for the peek into series fiction. (But what about the lip balm?)

SCBWI said...

You can visit Francesco's website to learn about his love of lip balm: http://www.francescosedita.com/

Jane Makuch said...

Thank's Alice, Francesco's session at the winter SCBWI was my favorite. He's an ocean of information and wonderful to share it with us.

Carmela Martino said...

Great info. Wish I could attend the conference. Maybe next year.