February 25, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

Andi Watson is the author of the wonderful graphic novel Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, which is in stores this week!

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What’s your protagonist’s favorite flavor of ice cream and why? What’s your own favorite flavor of ice cream?

I would guess that Count Spatula would prefer to make his own ice cream and create something like the Buttercream Blizzard. It isn’t served in a cone but blows in from the north in the shape of a funnel. You don’t eat it so much as wear it. My own favorite ice cream is the humble 99. In England a 99 is a wafer cone with a swirl of vanilla ice cream and a chocolate flake stuck in the top. It harks back to childhood and the sound of the chime of the ice cream van. The art to eating a 99 involves pushing the flake down into the base of the cone so that when the ice cream is finished you then have the extra treat of the chocolate/wafer combo. On the first hot day of the year a walk in the park isn’t complete without a 99.

Which literary character would you fall in love with if they existed outside of the pages of books?

I do have a weakness for Lizzie Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. I find her mix of warmth, quick wit and impudence irresistible. Not to spread my affections too far, but I could easily fall for Flora Poste of Cold Comfort Farm. She is eminently pragmatic, has a distaste for dramatic scenes and is incredibly bossy. As in real life I can’t help but be won over by intelligence, a sense of humour and self confidence.

What book would you take with you to a desert island?

That’s a tough one as it presents an awful dilemma: take an old favourite I know I’ll never tire of or something I’ve always meant to read but never got around to. On the one hand Pride and Prejudice or the other War and Peace. I’d probably cheat and plump for the complete works of an author: Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh or The Complete Uncle by J.P. Martin. The thought of having only one book is rather depressing but Uncle the oligarch elephant would be good company as I struggled to survive on a desert island.

Flight or invisibility?

Being the introverted creative type, invisibility. The habit of eavesdropping and observing would be that much easier. I could also sketch people in coffee shops without them or me feeling self-conscious.

What was your favorite book as a kid?

I didn’t have a single favourite but a few that quickly followed on each other at junior school and made me a lifelong reader. The book that absolutely gripped me wasn’t one I initially read. It was read aloud to the whole class in the ‘comfy corner’ at school. The teacher read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and I was transported to the children’s escape through the caves under the hill. The words absolutely brought the feelings of claustrophobia and excitement to life. It was like magic. That same year I picked The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White off the school library shelves and was again transported to another time and place. I still love The Once and Future King cycle and Alan Garner is a wonderful writer for a reader of any age.

What was the last book you read?

My reading is usually directed by what I find in the local second hand bookshops. I’ve just finished The Man Who Went Up In Smoke by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. It’s the second in the Martin Beck series of crime novels from the 60s and 70s. I like the clarity of the prose (the authors were journalists) and the low key nature of the plots and procedural details. It makes police work sound like a grind and a slog and not at all glamourous. I’ve not read a whole lot of crime fiction but I was turned on to the books by the brilliant Radio 4 dramatisations from a year or so ago.

What food goes perfectly with your novel?

A slice of cake is essential, I would say. Or maybe an entire cake? There must be cake.

What’s your favorite word?

Gallimaufry. It means a mess or collection of things, but the definition is secondary to how it sounds. I even used the word for my Tumblr account: http://gallimaufry-of-girls.tumblr.com

What literary character should your readers use as a basis for their mental picture of you?

I would think I’d be a hopeless literary character as my life is quite uneventful. Outside of my family I’m either drawing or writing or thinking about drawing and writing. I’m lucky to not have experienced any personal disasters, existential crises or serious illnesses. Lets hope I’m not run over by a bus before this is posted.

You have one chance to convert someone into a book lover. What book do you give them?

The sensible answer is that it depends on the person and that it’s an unfair to expect a single book to make every individual into a book lover. However, I might plump for Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse (Something New in the US) and hope the reader has a sense of humour, an appreciation for the absurd and a beating heart. After that, Dear Reader, you’re on your own.

What literary character is your favorite Halloween costume?

Tock from the Phantom Tollbooth. I’d have to make this one myself, perhaps out of a novelty onesie and a kitchen clock.

What’s your favorite part of a book?

It’s not the start as there’s normally a period of adjustment, a changing of gears from the previous author, that takes some time to get used to. I just went from the Martin Beck to a Philip K. Dick and it’s taking a chapter or two to adapt. My favorite part is when I find I love a book and decide that the writer is now my Brand New Favourite Author and know that this writer has written a bunch of other books that I can enjoy. I had that feeling when I first read Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford and Uncle by J.P. Martin. It’s also a little bit heartbreaking when I re-read a gem like Grimble by Clement Freud and discover that there aren’t another six Grimble books.

What animal would your daemon (or patronus) be?

A capybara. Capybaras resemble overgrown guinea pigs and always look content. My back up plan would be a Long-tailed Tit as they’re cute and I often get to see them in the garden.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

It was probably a Janet and John book as they were how I learned to read. They did the job teaching the mechanics of reading but weren’t exactly full of narrative drive. They typically went something along the lines of, “John, see the aeroplanes. One, two, three aeroplanes. I can see three aeroplanes.” I expect I was reading the comics in the daily newspaper before I could understand the words. I was a slow starter as there weren’t many books around at home and my brain reads images quicker than prose.

If you and your main character went on an adventure together, where would you go? Would it be fun?

We’d likely go climb Big Rock Candy Mountain or root around in the Sherbert Mines. It’d be scary but I’d be interested in taking a tour of the Underworld. See the sights like the river Lethe, the caves of Hypnos, the Styx, Blasted Heath, the Palace Dungeons and other attractions. I imagine it’d be quite damp and dusty so would have to take my asthma inhaler.

What would a reading tree house designed just for you look like?

The look is secondary to comfort. Firstly it should be warm, so have one of those large iron Edwardian radiators used to blast heat into a drafty room. Secondly a good view. So a picture window looking down on a busy street scene in a city (in which case sound proofing is essential) or on a picturesque bit of countryside, a bend in the river with lots of bird life. Even better the window could look out on different views, like the door in Howl’s Moving Castle. Thirdly a comfortable window seat. Window seats are made for reading in. Lastly, tea-making facilities within reaching distance with milk, teapot and loose tea (not tea bags).

Who’s your favorite author?

The wonderful thing about reading is that there are so many authors with so many experiences, perceptions, observations and points of view. That is what makes reading special, so it’s hard to choose one. But if I had to plump for a single author who will always delight and entertain and be good company, I’d go for Jane Austen. Her novels have wit, insight, social comedy, wry observation and romance.

If you could meet one now-deceased author or illustrator, who would it be?

The hardest thing would be choosing just one. Drinking with Dorothy Parker, dinner with Henry James, travelling with Samuel Johnson would all be fascinating. I think I’d like to meet Laurence Sterne. He was a clergyman, satirist and novelist with a unique voice. I’d be interested to know if his body actually was dug up by resurrection men and sold to anatomists before being put back in an unknown plot. That sounds like something out of Tristram Shandy and he’d make a good story of it.

February 24, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

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Sometimes you just get delightful books filled with cooking, and that’s what this graphic novel is!

Andi Watson’s Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula comes out today, and we’re tickled pink to be publishing it.  It’s fun and sweet and light-hearted — you have to check this baking/romance/job crisis book out.

Happy reading, everyone!

February 19, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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Everyone wants the best publication date for their books — including the publisher, of course.

So how do you determine what the best publication date is?

A lot of that depends on the circumstances!  There aren’t a lot of hard-and-fast rules.  And a lot of the circumstances depend on you, the author, so it’s important that you communicate with your publisher about your plans.

Generally, it’s best to publish a book when there can be the most possible things happening for it.  That means what can be an opportunity for one book won’t work as well for another.  So there’s no single date that is the best of all dates (sadly for us — it’d make scheduling a lot easier).

Here’s an example!  Should you publish your book to coincide with San Diego Comic-Con?  We did that last year, with Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero — a superhero-influenced graphic novel where the authors were going to be at the show, had a pre-established reputation, and had a specific book-related message about diversity to speak about at the show.  That was great!  It worked really well for us.

However, if your book is a kids science non-fiction graphic novel, and you’re not going to be in San Diego in July, probably publishing your graphic novel the week of SDCC isn’t the right choice for you.

So how do you tell when the ideal date for your book to be published is?

Here are some guidelines.

Are you doing events?  It’d be good for your book to be published in time for you to have copies at your events.  (Please note that this may not always be possible — if your publisher is calling to say, ‘hey, we’re planning to publish your book in October,’ coming back to say, ‘but I have something planned eight months before in February!’ is probably not going to be a doable date-change situation.)

Are you publishing a book for kids that you’d like to go speak about at schools?  Most of the stuff that happens for a book will happen the month the book is published, so it would be ideal for your book to be published during the school year and not when people are taking final exams.  There are very few school visits in July and August!

Are you creating a seasonally-related book?  For example, is it about scary monsters (Halloween) or weddings (spring)?  Then it would be good for your book to be published just before that season happens.  Why before?  Because people want to get ready for the upcoming season, so they want to talk about Halloween or weddings or school starting in the month or so before it happens, not just on the day of.

Are you planning a lot of book-related travel in very northerly parts of the US and Canada?  Perhaps publishing your book in the winter is not the best way to go for weather reasons.

Not a lot of books get published at the very end of the year or at the beginning of the year.  So it can be good to steer clear of that publishing period.  However, we do find that because not a lot of books get published at that point, there may be more opportunities that the books which are being published can take over!  So the scarcity of other books for people to fuss about can help your book.

If the publication date for your book is something that you’re concerned about, it’s best to check in with your publisher to find what they’re thinking.  They may have other things that they’re taking into account on their end that an author wouldn’t necessarily know about.  (For example, we try not to publish too many of our books on the same date.)

Publishing books takes a lot of work whatever date they get published on!  But we do believe that you can create a promotional campaign that can succeed on any date.  What the campaign is may change depending on what date your book is published, but you can publish a book well in January or in June or any time in between!

February 16, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(some books)

Say you want to get your graphic novel published by First Second.

What’s the most important thing that you can put in your submission letter?

The most important thing you can do when you’re submitting a book — the thing that will get your graphic novel looked at fastest — is to NOT send a form letter.

Just think!

If you were an editor, which of these two letters would you be more likely to actually read when you have 300 e-mails in your inbox from authors and agents and freelancers and staff that you already work with that all desperately need your attention?

Option 1:

Dear Mr./Mrs. First Second,

I’m looking for a publisher for my graphic novel.  Please find it attached.  Etc.

Option 2:

Dear [Editor’s Name],

Congratulations on your recent Caldecott and Printz Honors for This One Summer!  I was crossing my fingers for you throughout the ceremony — you guys put out wonderful books, and it’s my dream to get the opportunity to work with you.  Etc.

It’s option two, right?

Nothing gets an editor or publisher’s attention quite so fast as addressing them by name and having a reasonable awareness of what’s going on in their publishing universe!  And conversely, nothing is going to turn people off as fast as someone who e-mails who clearly has no idea who they’re e-mailing, what their name is, and what they’ve published recently.

The internet makes it pretty easy to stalk publishers, and it’s easy enough to find out what we’re excited about here at First Second by just checking our our blog, twitter, tumblr, or facebook page.  (Seriously, there are so many ways to stalk us.)

If you’re submitting a graphic novel, use that knowledge to your advantage!

This is your ‘how to submit graphic novels’ tip of the day!

February 14, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Events

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Please enjoy reading an excellent book with a loved one on this holiday!

(art from Andi Watson’s Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula)

February 12, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(this is original art from Matt Loux’ upcoming graphic novel The Time Museum!)

Is it important for you to know what size to make your original art before you even start on your graphic novel project?

(As with all things) It depends!

Why would it be important to make your original art a specific size?

What size you make your original art can affect your final book in a lot of ways.

If you’re printing a physical book, it’s important to make all your pages consistently the same size (or the same proportions) so that you’re not ending up with some pages that are 6 x 9 and some that are 9 x 6.  Because those two dimensions are not going to be compatible in the same book, unless some sort of crazy fold-out thing is happening with it.

It’s also typically a good idea to make your original art at size (the same size the book is) or larger, so that you’re not ending up with pages that have to be enlarged to the point where the art isn’t crisp.  Some authors like working with larger pages a lot because it can be easier to draw details when they’re bigger than they’re going to look!

If you’re including elements in your book like full bleeds (where the art goes off the edge of the page), and spreads (where the art goes through two pages), knowing what the dimensions for those two effects are is important so that you don’t end up having accidental white space around the edge of your supposed-to-be-full-bleed art, or having art disappearing down the center gutter of the two page spread.

So when in the graphic novel creation process do you need to know what size to make your art?

Are you self-publishing your book?  Then you need to know what size your original art should be as soon as you start making final original art! Once you get past the script/thumbnails/character sketches stage and start penciling/inking/painting final art, it’s very important to know what size to make your original art.  Sometimes this can be a real challenge, because if you’re printing your book professionally, how do you know what your printer’s specs are?  But you can generally call or e-mail printers and ask them for a quote with general guidelines about bleeds and gutters and art size, then use that as a guide.

Are you planning to publish your book with a publisher?  Then you’re in a bit of a complicated situation, because every publisher may have different art guidelines.  That’s kind of a pain in the neck!  You may have to draw ten to twenty pages for a submission sample that goes out broadly to a lot of publishers . . . and then have to redraw them later, when you sign up with a publisher who has a specific size in mind for your book.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done about that, because not all books everywhere are standard sizes.  We’re pretty happy about that fact, but it’s pretty tough on an author trying to figure out art sizes.  You can try, for a sample, to do nothing tricky with the art — all six-panel grids with no bleeds or spreads or anything, at a moderately large size — but that doesn’t affect the fact that you may end up getting editorial comments that make you have to rewrite (and then redraw) the scene later.

If you do sign a contract with a publisher, you can ask them for art dimensions first thing!  They’ll probably have a one-sheet or some standard text to send you about what size all your art should be to work with their formats.

If you’re planning to write and draw your full book, then pitch it to a publisher, you’re in a tough spot!  You may want to take the self-publishing route of calling up a printer and asking them for specs to draw your book to so you have some numbers for a guide and you’re not just flying blind.  Most printers don’t require you to commit to paying them money before they give you specs like that.  You can also take  the low-tech route of getting out your ruler and measuring the books on your shelf that are similar in size to what you’d ideally want your book to be, then extrapolate basic dimensions and proportions from that.

In all of these options, making art takes lots of time, so having to redraw perfectly good art because of proportion/dimension/bleed/math errors is the worst!  We recommend measuring twice and cutting once.  And also, running your first few pages of original art by your publisher or by your writing group to double-check that you’re not making any mistakes.

(We received this question by e-mail.  Thanks for the suggestion!)

February 9, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(this is a calendar — it’s actually the calendar on my desk)

How far ahead are the graphic novels we publish planned?

It’s early winter of 2015 right now.  (I’m writing this piece on Wednesday, January 28th, as it says in the calendar above.)  Right now, authors are turning in the books (or have already turned in the books) that we’re going to be publishing next winter, between January and April 2016.  We’re finalizing up our lists for Spring 2016 and Fall 2016, figuring out who’s going to be delivering books to us in the next six or seven months so we can publish them next year.

Next year!  That’s pretty far away.

2016 is indeed pretty far away!  And the fact that the books coming out next spring and fall need to be turned in no later than six or seven months from now means that if you submitted a graphic novel to us tomorrow and it was wonderful, needed no edits, and completely finished, probably it could come out next May at the earliest.  If you submitted a graphic novel to us tomorrow and you’re going to need some time to work on it, it probably won’t come out until at least 2017 or 2018 or even later.

In the meantime, we’re starting to put together our schedule for 2017.  It’s not a very final schedule yet, because there’s still time for books to be late — or, in rare cases, early.  But we’re taking a look at the books that seem like they’ll be done a year from now so we can make sure we have enough of them and that they balance well as a list.

We have all sorts of books signed up that are contractually scheduled to come out five or six years from now, but we typically don’t look more than two or three years out when we’re actually planning schedules.  That’s because after that, everything gets pretty wibbly.  When we sign contracts with authors, we put a due-date for their book in their contract, and we expect that they’ll turn their book in on time unless they notify us to the contrary somewhere along the way.  But being a month early or a month late can be time enough to slide to a different season, and we frequently have authors who turn a book in saying either, ‘this took me six months less than expected’ or ‘this took me three years more than expected.’  Provided we have some notice about these things, we can figure out how to deal with these scheduling problems, but it makes planning further than two years out a bit like building castles on shifting sands.

Publishing is often accused of being a very slow business — probably because it is!  There are a lot of systems in the publishing industry (the mills of God, etc.), and that makes it difficult to have an author turn in a book today and to have it in stores next week.  And sometimes that’s a problem!

But sometimes, that’s the opportunity to give a book the best chance for it to be promoted broadly to everyone possible.

(thanks to Twitter for this question!)

February 5, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

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(Cory Doctorow talks to the LA Times Hero Complex about his graphic novel with Jen Wang, In Real Life)

So now you’re a published author!  And the marketing/publicity person at your publisher e-mails to say that there’s a publication who wants to do an interview by e-mail with you; here are some questions.  Could you answer them and send them back?

(That’s great!  Yay!  It’s always exciting when people want to talk to you about your book.)

So you write your answers and send them back to your marketing/publicity person.  Mission: accomplished!

But: now that you’ve sent your answer back, you start to worry.  Is your marketing/publicity person going to take what you said and rewrite it?  Is it going to be published in a form that bears to resemblance to the answers you initially wrote?  What should you do?

The first thing to do is, don’t worry!  All the people who you work with at your publisher love words and books and writing and understand the importance of the written word.  No one’s going to completely rewrite your interview and not tell you, not in the least because it’s a lot of work — and your publisher is working with you, publishing your writing, because they believe you can write well.

If this is something you’re worried about, the easiest thing to do is ask: no one’s going to be upset if you send your questions back with a, ‘If you see anything that should be changed when you look this over, please let me know!’  That way your marketing/publicity person knows you want to see any edits they make.

What are some situations when a marketing/publicity person might make a change?

If you say something inaccurate: ‘My book comes out in June!’  But it actually comes out in July.  ‘Pi is a delicious pastry!’  Not that pi.

If you say something that could be taken as offensive, a publicity/marketing person may do an edit, on the premise that it’s better not to offend people.  Typically this will be followed up with a note to the author saying, ‘this answer seemed problematic in the following way; did you want to edit it yourself?’  But if the author comes back and says, ‘no, I actually meant for that to be a death threat,’ your publisher may say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t support death threats here’ and not send that part of the interview.   (Situations like these tend not to be a huge problem because no one we work with is really out to horribly offend people; if there’s an error of this kind in an interview, it’s generally an easily fixable mistake that a publisher and author can quickly work together to rewrite.)

If the Q&A needs to be turned in by a deadline.  So you submit your Q&A at 4:56 on the day when it needs to go to the media outlet by 5pm.  Just enough time for your publicity/marketing person to look it over and notice . . . something is inaccurate, or could be construed as offensive, or is a problem in some other way!  But now it’s 4:59 and the media outlet is on the phone saying that they need this right now, and there’s no time to check back with the author before sending it.  In this case, a publicity/media person might do a ‘better safe than sorry’ quick edit before sending the Q&A off . . . followed by a note to the author to say, ‘I was confused by your answer to question #7, so I took that out — if you want to edit it, I can send it back to Media Outlet X and see if they can still get it in.’

And: maybe you want your marketing/publicity person to make some changes.  Are you absolutely sure you spelled everything correctly and made no grammatical mistakes?  Did all those sentences that made sense in your head make sense once they came out on paper?  Did you really want to be offend someone when you said that?  Sometimes it’s really nice to have another set of eyes look everything over to make sure you didn’t type too fast and mix up ‘their’ and ‘there.’

But still: depending on which media outlet you’re working with, they may rearrange or cut your piece!  So you may see a final article that looks very different than what you submitted . . . even if the publisher doesn’t change a word.

So yes, your publisher may edit your media interviews — sometimes in ways you may want, sometimes in ways you may not.  But if this is something you’re concerned about, it’s easy to prevent it from happening — just tell your marketing/publicity person about your preferences and they can adjust their working practices going forwards.

February 2, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

We’re delighted to have a new picture book comic by Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal, Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion!  This is the sequel to last spring’s Sleep Tight, Anna Banana, a story of a girl and her stuffed animals and their difficulties in getting to sleep.

Advance copies just came in from the printer, and they look marvelous!  Pictures!

Here’s the cover.  Clearly there is a mess happening here!

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And the spine, with tiny Anna Banana on it!

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Spines together!  This book is very handsome.

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And here’s the inside front cover and flap.

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You can see that there are adorable stuffed animals under it!

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Baking a cake can be fun!

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It can also be pretty stressful.

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But at least at the end, there’s chocolate!

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Even if there is a mess.

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And here are the two books together!

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Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion will be in stores in June.

January 29, 2015
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

(maybe our most trivial blog post topic yet!)

We print most of our four-color (and most of our two-color) books in China.

The vast majority of them get shipped here on container ships, but some extremely limited quantity of them we do air-freight so we (and our authors, and some key media and booksellers and librarians, and the internet, etc.) can see copies as soon as they come off the press.

Here’s a look at how intensely the printers package the books they’re sending internationally by air freight to make sure that they’re safe.  (Please note: we don’t package the books we send within the US like this because that would be crazy.)

So here is a box!  It looks like an ordinary box . . . but inside: lots and lots of packaging!

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When the box is opened, we find several thicknesses of cardboard between the book packaging and the sides of the box.  On all sides, even the top and bottom!!

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When the cardboard is taken off, the book package is revealed — and it’s wrapped — and cornered — in plastic and taped shut!

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When the plastic is opened, something is revealed . . . it’s the brown paper packaging for the books themselves!

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These are wrapped and taped together — so well that it’s frequently difficult to get them out of the packaging intact, as you can see from this picture.  (Mostly we just open them up inside the box.)

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Then finally: the books themselves, once the brown paper is opened!  They’re all packaged with a sheet between them, so that the covers don’t smudge or scuff each other.

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You guys: so much packaging!  There are honestly days when I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, box from China that needs to be unpacked and put away on the bookshelves, I just can’t deal with you right now.  You’ll have to wait until tomorrow because unpacking you is just too complicated.’

And then we recycle it all!  (Except the books, obviously.)