Thursday, September 22, 2022

An Interview with Managing Editor Susan Szesci and Acquisitions Editor Michael Green from Marble Press

Susan Szesci headshot

Susan Szecsi* (say-chee) is the managing director of Marble Press, and an award-winning illustrator, author and designer with a client list from publishers and startups to big corporations. Susan has an MA in English Literature and she received her classical art training at two prestigious studios in Hungary, the country of her birth. She believes that art and books are for every child, and that good books can change lives. Susan has two sons, and she loves to take long hikes with her husband in  the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, in California where she lives.

Michael Green headshotMichael Green is the former publisher of Philomel, where he edited 30 New York Times bestselling titles, including several that went all the way to #1. He is most closely associated with The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, the Otis series of picture books by Loren Long, the Alex Rider novels by Anthony Horowitz, the sports-themed novels of Mike Lupica, and the historical fiction novels of Ruta Sepetys. Most recently he founded GreenHouse Editorial, a freelance editing service. He lives in New Jersey.


Nanette McGuinness: Marble Press is a brand new publishing company with three imprints: how wonderful! Could you talk about why you founded Marble Press? What are your goals for the company and its three imprints? What excites you about what you're doing now? 

Susan Szesci: Marble Press was born from a desire to share the world’s best children’s books with young readers. We love children. We have kids of our own! Our mission is to publish books that will inspire children, challenge their imagination, and ignite their curiosity. In today’s complex world, quality books–and the words and images found in them–are more valuable than ever. We intend to publish books that make a difference, that stand out with regard to style and substance, and that offer a wide range of learning and experiences. We want books that are honest and diverse–that offer new perspectives and outside-the-box experiences. Great books can make you cry or scream with joy; they can make you ponder or dance or sing. 

 Michael Green: Building a list from scratch is fun in a way that makes me remember why I originally fell in love with publishing. I’m grateful for the reminder, excited for the challenge, and eager to let our books do the speaking.

NM: What do you anticipate as your publishing schedule and how many books do you foresee being on your lists? 

SS: Our ten debut books will come out in fall 2023. The following year, we plan to launch another twenty titles. As the quality of the books is extremely important for us, we are highly selective about what we take in.

MG: One of the great freedoms of building a list anew is allowing the quality of the books to dictate the quantity. We’re not acquiring for the sake of acquiring; we’re acquiring for the passion and potential that comes with each project.





NM:  Susan, you're an illustrator and designer; Michael, you’re an editor and a publisher. Could you tell readers about your respective journeys in children's literature?

SS: As a teacher and fine artist, I started to focus on illustrating children’s books over a decade ago. Initially, my attitude was, “How hard it can it be?”  Soon I learned it was very hard:  illustrations are about visual storytelling; fine art is not. My previous studies of anatomy, composition, color theory, and the experience of creating art with various media from watercolor to acrylic and oil came in handy. I picked up  the missing pieces  via  online classes at SVSLearn and Schoolism. It didn't take long before I felt comfortable creating art for stories, and clients started to come. Next I joined the SCBWI and enthusiastically participated in the events. I even served as the illustrator meeting coordinator for the San Francisco North and East Bay chapter for a few years. Thanks to the SCBWI, I met both my critique group members  and my agent, Allison Hellegers, with Stimola Literary. My passion for publishing grew as I learned more about how  critiques and several edits can turn a rough manuscript into a magical story that is ready to be read and loved by wider audiences.

A good friend and fellow creative, Jon Collins-Black and I decided to create our own publishing company. After securing the financing from investors, we launched Marble Press in March 2022. Jon has decades of experience running several businesses, and we have the support of a Palo Alto law firm, Haynes and Boon’s IP lawyers, when we need. We were determined to find the best children’s book editor to make our team complete. We interviewed several wonderful people, but when we met Michael, there was no longer a question who would be the heart of Marble Press.

MG: I was the single luckiest soul in publishing – having been mentored by two of the greatest minds and hearts of the industry: Patricia Lee Gauch and Paula Wiseman, both of whom had a significant hand in guiding Philomel in its early days. These brilliant women taught me so much about editing, writing, following one’s vision, enabling writers to do what they do best, and doing it all in support of the finished product. I rode on their shoulders until I was ready to take over Philomel – and even then I had so much to learn.

I would go on to spend twenty-seven years with Philomel, the final fifteen as publisher, and while I would earn a reputation for fostering bestsellers, I succeeded only because I had the freedom to experiment and fail.

Twenty-seven years at one imprint is a long time, though, and when the moment felt right to move on, I did so. I stayed away from the industry just long enough to realize what I missed about it – and that is when Susan and Jon came calling. They are good eggs – passionate about books, smart about business, and faithful to their visions. They were searching for an editor to help bring those visions to life. The fit felt right.




NM: If you could only pick one picture book, MG novel, YA novel, GN novel, and book in translation, not that the last is mutually exclusive from the rest, what would you each pick and why?

 SS: I grew up in Hungary, and my first favorites were Greek myths and collections of Asian and African folktales. Later, I was in love with Mark Twain and Jules Verne’s adventure novels. As a teenager, I read everything I could put my hands on, from scifi to Elliot Aronson’s The Social Animal to Bulgakov’s, The Master and Margarita. I know that’s more than one book, but my point is that translated works played a giant role in my life to make me the person I am today.

MG: I attempted to answer this question and found myself stumbling over and over again. I have worked with so many amazing writers and illustrators over the years that to choose the work of one over the others just felt impossible. I do have my favorites and I hope their creators know who they are.

NM: Marble Press is open to submissions from authors and illustrators; are you also open to translator pitches and publishing books in translation?  What about graphic novels? If you're open to GN submissions (in translation or otherwise), do you prefer to match the illustrator and author, as is traditionally done by children's publishers or do you prefer that they come either as a team or in one person, as is more traditional for graphic novels?




SS: Yes, we are open to getting pitches from translators. While there is a noticeable difference between preferences in the European and Asian children’s book markets compared to the US, we believe that there are universal values and that books can be successfully adapted. In fact, among our debut books there is a charming Italian middle grade graphic novel, Electra, written by Brian Freschi illustrated by Elena Triolo.

MG: When it comes to graphic novels, I admit to a slight preference for working with author-illustrators rather than with separate creators. Susan and I are both great admirers of graphic novels and I have a feeling our list will reflect that.

NM: Anything else you'd like to tell readers?

MG: Take risks. People remember stories because they surprise and challenge us. Find what is unique about your own vision and pursue it.

NM: Thank you both for joining us! To all those reading this interview, please (please!) only pitch your very best work that you think will be a good fit for Marble Press after carefully considering what is on their website--whether you send a translation or an original work in English.

*Artwork from Marble Press website by Susan Szecsi, used with permission.


Nanette McGuinnessAward-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of  over 80 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German and Spanish into English, including the much loved Geronimo Stilton Graphic NovelsTwo of her translationsLuisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Recent translations include Makhno: Ukrainian Freedom Fighter); Rosa ParksMagical History Tour: Vikings, Tiitanic, Gandhi, and The PlagueBibi & Miyu #2, LGBTQ YA manga Alter Ego and Siriusand the critically acclaimed A House Without Windows. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

If Your Words Were Painted In Letters 4 Feet Tall...

In a powerful new installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, acclaimed artist Barbara Kruger's text covers the floor and towering walls of the Marron Family Atrium. Some of the letters are HUGE, making you swivel your head to read the phrase, the sentence, the paragraph.

photo of the Barbara Kruger installation at the MOMA - text covers the floor and walls, towering over the people in the space
A photo I took of the Barbara Kruger installation

And it got me thinking... What would I write if each letter was going to be 4 feet high and put up on a wall? Would I choose each word with more care? Each phrase? Each paragraph?

I know I would. 

I touch a single key on my keyboard that's just a touch larger than my fingertip to say:

I

Would that "I" mean something different, something more, if it was in a font that rose from the floor up to my chest?

What would I write, if it was larger than a billboard, writ huge across a museum wall that towers 40 feet from the floor?

Would would you write? What would you draw? What would you translate?

It's inspiring, and a fun exercise to try out!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, September 15, 2022

 The 2022 Eisner Nominations - A Guest Post by Nanette McGuinness

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, aka the Eisner Awards, are the Oscars and Nobel Prizes of the comics world. Nominated and voted on by industry professionals, the Eisner Awards annually celebrate excellence in several dozen categories. Children’s graphic novels in translation lurk throughout but normally are clustered in the children’s and international categories.

Surprisingly, this year’s children’s nominees were translation-lessalthough you will find a number of  fabulous graphic novels for children originally written in English among them. And there were very few GNs in translation for either the youngest or middle grade readers in any of the other categories either. However, several excellent upper YA/crossover GNs  did appear in the two international categories, plus also scattered elsewhere. 

Much like reading the Newberys, reading the Eisners can be a fun way to learn about the genre they honor. To help get you started, here are my personal favs from this year’s crop of translated graphic novels suitable for upper YA readers.


Nominated in two categoriesBest U.S. Edition of International Material and Best New Graphic AlbumBallad for Sophie is the touching fictional  tale of a reporter interviewing a reclusive, crankily retired pianist about his life and career. Well-plotted and beautifully drawn, this fabulous GN deals with World War II collaboration, maternal cruelty, talent, rivalry, self-loathing, and much more. There’s a great reveal as well as the sheet music for an original composition (yes, it’s totally playable). I’m always a sucker for a good story based on music and musicians, and this one is excellent. Ballad for Sophie was originally written in Portuguese.


My other favorite is Factory Summers, a quiet coming-of-age memoir by well-known Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle chronicling his series of summer jobs at the paper mill where his divorced  dad works… not that they have much contact there or elsewhere. Clearly a misfit at the factory and much more interested in art than a career at the mill, the author learns the ropes in the male-dominated blue-collar world he temporarily visits, all the while preparing to leave it for good. Along the way, readers experience the awkwardness that most teenagers feel trying to be an adult in a summer job as well as the paper and pulp mill floor, male non-communication, toxic masculinity, and more. Factory Summers was nominated for Best Graphic Memoir and was originally written in French.


Two graphic novels about illness, both translated from French, also deserve mention. First, nominated for Best Graphic Memoir,
Parenthesis
is a terrifying and outstanding  autobiography of a fine arts student’s descent into--and reemergence from--epilepsy caused by a brain tumor. Second, nominated for Best U.S. Edition of International Material and based on the author’s childhood, 
The Parakeet tells the story of a mother’s unsuccessful struggles with mental illness as seen through the heartbroken eyes of her eight-year-old son, Bastien.


For a much lighter read,
Spy X Family is back in the Eisners again for best U.S. Edition of International Material from Asia. I waxed enthusiastically about this quirky manga in 2021 and my enjoyment of the series hasn’t waned. Plus you can now even watch it as an anime! Curious about the series or want to dip your toe into Japanese manga in general? Read about Spy X Family here.


Except when the pandemic was at its zenith in 2020-21, the Eisner winners are announced every July at the annual San Diego Comic Con extravaganza. Check out the list of the 2022 nominees, do some reading to decide your own personal favorites, and then take a peek to see which comics actually won this year.

 

Ballad for Sophie

Written by Filipe Melo

Illustrated by Juan Cavia

Translated from the Portuguese by Gabriela Soares

Top Shelf Productions

 

Factory Summers

Written and Illustrated by Guy DeLisle

Translated from the French by Helga Dascher and Rob Aspinwall

Drawn and Quarterly

 

Parenthesis

Written and Illustrated by √Člodie Durand

Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin

Top Shelf Productions

 

The Parakeet

Written and illustrated by Espé

Translated from the French by Hannah Chute

Graphic Mundi

 

Spy X Family

Written and illustrated by Tasuya Endo

Translated from the Japanese by Casey Loe

VIZ Media


Nanette McGuinnessAward-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of  over 80 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German and Spanish into English, including the much loved Geronimo Stilton Graphic NovelsTwo of her translationsLuisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Recent translations include Makhno: Ukrainian Freedom Fighter); Rosa ParksMagical History Tour: Vikings, Tiitanic, Gandhi, and The PlagueBibi & Miyu #2, LGBTQ YA manga Alter Ego and Siriusand the critically acclaimed A House Without Windows. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Good News re: Free Speech and Books for Teens

As reported in the Washington Post and by other media, the Virginia lawsuit attempting to stop Barnes and Noble bookstores from selling -- and public school libraries from carrying -- Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” graphic novel-style memoir and Sarah J. Maas’s YA fantasy “A Court of Mist and Fury” has been dismissed.

screen shot of Washington Post article "Judge thwarts Va. Republicans’ effort to limit book sales at Barnes & Noble"


By calling the books "obscene," conservative politicians in Virginia had been trying to use an old state law that would have opened the door for booksellers and librarians to be criminally liable for selling/making the books available to minors.

It was a new tactic by those who want to silence a Queer voice and limit what other people's children can read. And, though the dismissal is news to cheer, the books themselves were not cleared of the obscenity charges - it was the law that was found unconstitutional.

In the ruling, as reported by Hannah Natanson in the Washington Post, Judge Pamela Baskervill

“said the law violates the First Amendment by enabling governmental censorship and by assuming that anyone distributing an obscene book must be consciously deciding to break the law, when in fact these people might ‘have no knowledge that a book may be considered obscene.'”

Book banning is something that can affect all of us creating works for children and teens. Join the fight for the freedom to read at the American Library Association's Unite Against Book Bans website.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,
Lee

Thursday, September 8, 2022

 How to Pitch a Translation - A Guest Post by Nanette McGuinness

Finding a publisher who will take on a book in translation can be tricky.  Let’s say you’ve read a great book in one of your working languages, and you think it might become the next Harry Potter.  You’ll have studied the publisher’s catalogue and backlist to make sure it’s a good match for them. Even so, how can an editor even tell? They’re unlikely to be able to read the book in the original language, they probably haven’t heard of the author and/or illustrator, and they may not know you or your work, particularly if you’re trying to break in as a translator. Even if you’re established.

Your job is to advocate for the book when you share it with the editor. Put yourself in the acquisition editor’s shoes: arm them with the facts they’ll need to persuade the other teams, especially marketing, that the book is worth the risk and immense amount of time and money the publishing house will need to invest  in it.

At a minimum, the editor will need to know the author, illustrator, publisher, when and where was it published, and in what language and language variant. They will also want a short synopsis and the themes the book addresses, as well as:

  • Other books or media in the marketplace like it
  • Is it part of an existing or planned series?
  • Sales figures in the original country
  • Has it been reprinted or adapted?
  • Movie or other media rights sold?
  • Foreign rights in other languages or countries sold?
  • Other releases by the author or illustrator?
  • Any awards for the book, author or illustrator?
  • Other special strengths?
  • Thumbnail author and illustrator bios.
All done succinctly.

 Ideally, sales will be through the roof, the book will have reprints galore, and the foreign rights in many other languages (but NOT English) will have been snatched up.

 Which leads to an important point.

Before you can shoot off a pitch, your first step must be to find out who owns the foreign rights and whether these are available in your target language and country.  Most publishing houses will list the foreign rights agent somewhere on their website. (Not all do, and not all respond, either. Additional research may be necessary.)  Start there. The foreign rights agent will be your source for the relevant sales, future series, and rights info. Make sure the rights are available, because if they’ve already been sold in your language, you’ll just waste everyone’s time. And it will break your heart to pour yourself into a book only to find out it isn’t available.

Finally—and here’s the rub—the editor will need to read at least part of the book in English--a decent chunk for a novel and the whole thing for a picture book. For graphic novels, this varies.  Some savvy international publishers commission rough, quick translations, which you can share. Many do not, and then you’ll have to do the translation yourself, much as last week’s interviewee, Oliver Latsch, did. Especially if you’re just starting out, this is an opportunity to show your skills as a translator.

Pitching a translation involves some risk, as there’s no guarantee you’ll be the translator tapped to help shepherd the book into your target language. And just because you’ve done your homework and think a translation is a good match for a publishing house doesn’t mean  they will agree that it’s the right book and the right time, given their current and upcoming lists.

But often they will. 


Nanette McGuinnessAward-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of  over 80 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German and Spanish into English, including the much loved Geronimo Stilton Graphic NovelsTwo of her translationsLuisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Recent translations include Makhno: Ukrainian Freedom Fighter); Rosa ParksMagical History Tour: Vikings, Tiitanic, Gandhi, and The PlagueBibi & Miyu #2, LGBTQ YA manga Alter Ego and Siriusand the critically acclaimed A House Without Windows.