Publishing is not a science. Like any house, we have our hits, we have our misses, we have the odd clunker. But every so often, there’s a book that redefines us, and might just change the landscape we operate in. Here’s one of those.
I’ve wanted to work with Jillian Tamaki ever since I saw an op-ed illustration of hers nine years ago. Then she and her cousin Mariko delivered a gem of a book called Skim. I’m so proud to publish them—now, with this book, which is a thing of beauty and fine power.
In This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki offers us some of the most beautifully illustrated pages I’ve ever seen, and Mariko Tamaki puts to pen such just-right dialog it doesn’t even seem written. But This One Summer is far more than eye candy. What these amazing women have given us is truth in the way that great fiction always has and always will.
“Keenly observed and gorgeously illustrated—a triumph.”—Kirkus Reviews—Starred Review* Booklist, Starred Review* School Library Journal, Starred Review* Publishers Weekly, Starred Review*
“… immersive, sensual and overwhelmingly beautiful…”
—Craig Thompson, Blankets
“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
—Faith Erin Hicks, Friends With Boys
“… simply gorgeous…”
—Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss
“I read this in July, and spent the rest of the summer thinking about it…”
—Lucy Knisley, Relish
We just got in super-advanced finished copies of Farel Dalrymple’s upcoming graphic novel, The Wrenchies. (They are even earlier than we thought they would appear, so this is like a special treat.)
You guys, this book is going to be crazy and awesome.
(These are not kids I would like to meet in the course of my everyday life.)
And the spine. This book is very large, you guys.
Lots of covers all lined up! This will make a substantial contribution to your bookshelf inches. Also: swords!
The inside front cover.
SHERWOOD AND ORSON SHOULD NEVER HAVE GONE INTO THAT CAVE.
(That’s got to be a good lead-in for any book, right?)
And, insides! This book is printed on a matte stock, and Farel’s art looks just fantastic.
More insides, this time with another one of our main characters, Hollis.
(Also, kids playing with knives, which we only approve of fictionally.)
Villains! Got to love them.
The inside back cover, with copyright information! Author bio! Back flap! All sorts of delightful things.
And the back cover.
I’m just going to end with a close-up on this quote, because it’s pretty fantastic. I’d like this quote on all the books we publish, please.
The Wrenchies comes out in September; it’ll debut at SPX. We can’t wait!
So what is my favorite thing?
I think it’s the way Ben Hatke has these whimsical notions that he pulls off and makes me believe in—like a “heart attack” that actually means giant hearts descending upon a world…
(My current bookshelf. I’m just waiting for one of the shelves to collapse.)
There are a lot of small parts of books that often pass unnoticed for most readers.
If you’re an aspiring book-creator, these can be good things to watch out for when you’re in the ‘read all the books for reference’ phase of organizing your career as a writer/illustrator. That’s because they give you little glimpses inside writing and publishing.
(I often think back into the days when there was no internet and these bits were all the glimpses readers got into publishing. Ah, youth!)
Thing 1: logos.
We’re starting with logos because they are an easy first thing to look at. They’re clearly visible! And they’re on multiple places on the book, including the outside spine, which is what you first see!
First Second’s logo helpfully spells out its name, but a lot of publishers don’t have a logo like that. So notice the logo on the books you’re reading — and if you’re like, ‘what does this penguin on the spine mean?’ check the copyright page to find out the publisher’s full name (hint: it’s pretty obvious).
If you find yourself liking a lot of books with a similar logo — that’s probably a publisher you want to keep in mind!
Thing 2: design credits.
Someone has to design a book, and do the cover art! In a graphic novel, it’s typically pretty obvious who has done the cover art — probably the person who did the interior — but on the back flap or on the copyright page, you’ll find a credit line that makes that explicit. When you get a book deal and are introduced to your book designer, it’s always nice to be able to say, ‘I loved those covers that you did and I can name them because I was paying attention!’
(Design credit from Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon’s Odd Duck)
Thing 3: dedication.
A lot of times, you’ll find that an author’s book is dedicated ‘to my parents’ or something similar, which is not helpful in your writing career, because you probably know how you feel about your parents already.
However, sometimes a dedication will tell you something about the author, about the process, or about particular people that were helpful to the author (always good to know).
(The dedication for Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers. Do you know who the Original Art Night Crew were? We do. You could probably find out with some googling.)
Thing 4: thanks/acknowledgements.
The thanks/acknowledgements page or line (sometimes it just runs on the copyright page) tends to be more interesting than the dedication, because it details every single person that the author wants to thank. Some of those people may be people that you know — which means you can potentially have a connection to this author. And some of those people can be people that you can get to know.
As an aspiring writer/illustrator, you should probably expect to recognize some of the people in just about every thanks/acknowledgements page — at least you should if you’re keeping up with authors, agents, editors, and publishers around the industry.
(The thanks/acknowledgements from American Born Chinese. Can you find his agent? What about his editor? What about his local comic store owner?)
Here’s another example of a thanks/acknowledgements page.
Take a look at the language in this one. Publisher/author relationships and author/agent relationships aren’t always the smoothest — can you tell if this author likes his publisher and his agent? That can be a helpful thing to know when you’re considering a book deal with a publisher or signing on with an agent!
What other things can you tell about this author? Where he went to school (helpful if you’re considering a comics education)? Where he used to work?
(thanks/acknowledgements from Dave Roman’s Astronaut Academy)
Thing 5: grants!
Take a look at the copyright page of the books you read, because they’re sometimes filled with interesting information! This one has on it that the author got a grant in support of doing this book. You might be eligible for that grant, too! Or there could be a similar grant program that’s applicable to you that you could explore.
(The copyright page of Faith Erin Hicks’ Friends With Boys)
Before or after you read, you can treat your book like a research project instead of/as well as treating it like a novel!
(some early art from Faith Erin Hicks’ upcoming graphic novel, The Nameless City – which she shared on her tumblr in a discussion of paper vs. digital art creation processes)
When you have a book contract, it is time to rejoice! Your book will be published! By a publisher! It will go out into the world and be read and enjoyed by thousands of people!
. . . and now you have to make the book, which is a process that may take years and leave you alone in your home/office/studio all the while. You’re spending days and weeks and months drawing and writing, all on a project that you won’t be able to share with people for years. And the internet is right there. . . .
Obviously, you don’t want to give major parts of your story (say, the plot twist!) away. But how much is it appropriate to share with readers online before it’s published?
The first thing to know here is, you should talk to your publisher first! They may be planning a book announcement, cover reveal, excerpt reveal, or something along those lines that they’ll want to coordinate on a larger scale than by just putting something up on your tumblr.
The second thing to know is, there’s a lot that you can share. Putting your complete and final graphic novel up page-by-page as you finish it is probably not the ideal way to share a book. But sharing some part of everything you’re working on is probably very doable and reasonable!
Here are some thoughts about what can be good to share.
Share something that’s not final. Usually, when people are making comics, the in-process parts look very different from the finals. That means that there are a lot of stages — thumbnails, blues, pencils, inks, color tests — that it’s easy to share without being like, ‘I am revealing the whole story!’ Plus, pages that are partially inked or colored look really cool! People can see the art happening!
As a bonus to this — you can also share information about your working process. Your tools, about your workspace, the way you hold a brush, the kind of paper you use are all very photographable and shareable. No one at your publisher is going to be calling you up and saying, ‘I can’t believe you told your readers you use a micron! That sort of information is confidential!’
Share something partial. Comics are extremely helpful in this, as every page has multiple panels on it! So even if you’re watercoloring your final art, you can share a panel or two — or a detail from a scene — without giving away the plot of the book. ‘Look, adorable rabbit!’ is a completely acceptable part of your graphic novel to share before publication, especially if the rabbit is just there to be part of the background scenery where your protagonist’s exciting woodland exploration is taking place.
Share your graphic novel without revealing the whole thing. So, you’re done with your book and you want to celebrate with the internet — that’s great! Maybe you can stack all the pages up and take a picture of the stack. Or lay all the pages out on the floor and take a far-away shot of them.
Share your mistakes. ‘This preliminary design for a pirate robot turned out more sinister than expected and we had to go with something different,’ is interesting for everyone. (You don’t have to share anything too embarrassing.)
And finally — don’t worry too much about this! If you abide by the ‘don’t share everything’ and ‘don’t give away too much’ rules, you’re probably 100% safe — and you’ve also helpfully just spent the past two years showing tantalizing glimpses of your upcoming book to a gradually more-excited group of readers.
There isn’t a tipping point where readers are like, ‘So many panels-in-progress from this book! My eyes! I have seen too much and will never be able to purchase this delightful story from a retailer!’
We went to the LA Times Book Festival last weekend, which was the first time that we’d ever been to their festival. As it’s the biggest literary festival in the US, we felt that some exploration was called for.
And also, they kindly nominated our author Gene Luen Yang for the LA Times Book Prize, so then we really had to go.
So! We flew to LA (sharing a plane with the excellent Tucker Stone of Nobrow) and then promptly headed over to the awards ceremony.
And then Gene Luen Yang, and his amazing graphic novel diptych Boxers & Saints, won the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature!
That was really great. And it was the first time that a graphic novel had won one of the non-graphic novel prizes. The LA Times, since they are very advanced, has also had a prize specifically for graphic novels since 2009 — this year it was presented by the wonderful Vanessa Davis.
But this was the first time ever that a graphic novel had won something not in its own category. Next year: science? Poetry? We will see! Graphic novels may conquer all the categories!
Following the delightful award ceremony and reception, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for a big day of programs and signings the next day.
The LA Times Festival of Books is held at the University of Southern California. So they have lots of exhibitors who are all outside in tents lining the walk ways and then some outside stages and inside stages set up.
It’s a gorgeous campus full of flowers and classic brick buildings and students skateboarding about (this seemed to be a theme in California), so it was a really lovely setting for a festival. And it’s California, so it doesn’t actually rain there — I kept thinking that this would never work on the East Coast because one year there would come along a torrential downpour and everything would be cancelled.
The first thing I did at the LA Times Festival is go to a graphic novel panel with Hope Larson, Gris Grimly, Gene Luen Yang, and Jen Wang. There was a lot of delightful talk about process and collaboration and adaptations.
Then we headed off to a signing, where someone brought Gene’s old mini-comics from pre-American Born Chinese days!
Jen Wang also drew adorable sketches in copies of Koko Be Good. We’re so excited for her graphic novel with Cory Doctorow this fall, In Real Life — it’s going to be so good!
This year’s theme for the LA Times Festival of Books was, ‘inspire your fire,’ which is an excellently vague sort of theme. No real fires were experienced in the course of the festival (at least by us), about which we were all relieved.
The LA Times had giant canvases put up on which people could write about the books that inspired them.
Gene, of course, being the winner of the LA Times Book Prize, one of the most prestigious and literary awards in the country, had a choice that matched perfectly with his credentials.
Later, we headed over to a talk about Writing Culture and Identity, with Jonathan Hunt, Gene Luen Yang, Maurene Goo, and Cynthia Kadohata (who had beaten Gene out for the National Book Award last year — but we’re not bitter, we swear). It was a really interesting discussion in which it was discovered that not enough people on the panel had been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Other fun things: we got to spend some time with Cecil Castellucci, the author of the Eisner nominated graphic novel Odd Duck. This book is one of the most fun things we’ve published — if you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out.
Also, we got to meet John Green and Rainbow Rowell — both great authors whose books we admire! Who doesn’t love a festival that has those connections?
And bonus: the LA Times Festival of Books official hotel was across the street from the LA Public Library! So we got to see that, too. It turns out to be very attractive.
All in all, the LA Times Festival of Books was a lot of fun — and very excited about graphic novels! We hope we get to go back again.
(or, why a publisher almost never responds to a book pitch at a show by saying, ‘sold!’ and producing a contract right then and there.)
(us at last week’s MoCCA Festival, at which we saw lots of great writers and artists — but did not agree to publish any books by them at the time)
Buying a book is a very serious decision for us here at First Second.
Buying a book is a serious decision for pretty much every publisher! Here are some reasons why we take it especially seriously:
Graphic novels are time-consuming! They can take two or three years to write and draw (sometimes more!) — and then another year to produce. That’s a significant commitment of time.
Our advances can be thousands of dollars. That’s a significant amount of money.
At First Second, we have an extensive editorial process, with our editors weighing in on every step of the creative process. If you do a book with us, that means you’ll be talking to — and working with — your editor a whole lot. Getting along with each other well is an essential part of this relationship — and not the easiest thing to tell from a five-minute meeting on the floor of a convention.
We only publish about twenty books a year — that means that we only buy (on average) between one and two graphic novels a month. In contrast to that, we get at least five submissions a day.
We have a really great publisher — and a really great sales team. They are almost always never at conventions to look over our shoulder and get excited with us.
On top of that, while we’re at conventions, we’re probably hot, cold, tired, hungry, dealing with a currently-happening author signing or setting up for one, talking to teachers/librarians/booksellers/media about our graphic novels, saying hi to our authors not having author signings who have stopped by, talking with other publishers about their books being awesome or about the state of the industry, going with our authors to panels or off-site events, coordinating our staff at the booth, or re-stocking/re-organizing books at our booth.
That’s a lot of stuff to do!
When we look at a graphic novel proposal, we want to sit down with it — to read it several times and to think about it. We want to fall in love with it and then read it again to make sure that we still love it. We want to discuss it with our colleagues and have an extensive conversation with the author about their vision for the book to make sure we’re thinking the same things. We want to think about the art direction and the age category and the audience and the price point. Then we want to do some math to make sure that we can publish the book at that price point. We want to think about the format and the design of the book. And we want to take all of that information and think about how this book would fit in with the rest of the books we publish here at First Second.
That’s a lot of stuff to think about — especially while you’re trying to run a booth at a convention. It’s a lot of time-consuming, challenging, thoughtful thinking that it’s probably best not to do while you’re simultaneously trying to make change or hang signs or run off to a panel.
So — if we see you at a convention and we tell you that we like your work and that you should stay in touch, that’s not us giving you the brush-off.
That’s us telling you to stay in touch with us — the first step towards an author/publisher relationship.
Today marks the publication of the third e-issue of Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s upcoming graphic novel The Shadow Hero. It’s called ‘Fathers and Sons.’
The Shadow Hero illustrator Sonny Liew says about this project:
“The Shadow Hero was a really fun book to work on — a superhero story suffused with both humor and old fashioned crime fighting. Getting a style that could handle both those elements was maybe the biggest challenge — I hope I didn’t do too badly with it! Extra points for anyone who spots the Old Master Q homage.”
You can check out the current e-issue here: http://page.macmillan.com/mcpg/shadowhero.
Gene Luen Yang’s critically acclaimed, New York Times Best-Selling graphic novel diptych Boxers & Saints has won the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature.
Boxers & Saints is the first ever graphic novel to win the LA Times Book Prize in a non-graphic novel category. The graphic novel is a two book recounting of the events of China’s Boxer Rebellion — one book told from the perspective of the Boxers, the other from their Chinese Catholic victims.
(Gene Luen Yang — and the other winners of this year’s LA Times Book Prize)
Gene Luen Yang says, “I’m deeply, deeply grateful to the Los Angeles Times, the judges, and all the other fine folks who put together this past weekend. Being acknowledged by the LA Times for this particular project has special resonance for me. One of the protagonists of Boxers & Saints, Vibiana, shares the same name as the patron saint of the city of Los Angeles.”
“Boxers & Saints is a deep and powerful insight into history, but above all, it’s a magnificent reading pleasure from one of the great literary voices of our time,” says :01 Editorial Director Mark Siegel. “It’s the kind of work a publisher hopes for once in a decade.”
(Gene Luen Yang and Rainbow Rowell, also a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature — for her excellent novel Fangirl)
Boxers & Saints, which Dave Eggers calls, “a masterful work of historical fiction,” was also a National Book Award finalist (the third ever graphic novel to be so recognized), a Time Top Graphic Novel of the Year, an NPR Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Notable Children’s Book – among many other honors.
(Gene Luen Yang and John Green, the winner of the LA Times Innovators Award)
Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. He was an established figure in the indie comics scene when he published his first book with First Second, American Born Chinese, which is now in print in over ten languages. American Born Chinese‘s critical and commercial success catapulted Yang into stardom as a major voice of our times. His graphic novel The Shadow Hero (with Sonny Liew) is currently being serialized in monthly e-issues leading up to the publication of the book in July.