Have you ever wondered what it takes to get a book published? Let’s take a look at Walden Pond Press and The Real Boy by Anne Ursu and meet the editor, Jordan Brown.
Name: Jordan Brown
Title: Senior Editor, Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins Children’s Books
Role at Walden Pond Press: I read and evaluate manuscripts for potential acquisition, work with the authors we acquire on revising and polishing their work, and serve as the author’s liaison and the general in-house champion for the book where production, packaging, and promotion are concerned.
What did you do for The Real Boy?
The Real Boy is Anne Ursu’s fifth children’s book, and the third on which we’ve worked together. As this book was the second in a two-book contract that also included her previous book, Breadcrumbs, there wasn’t any point at which I was reading this for acquisition (though, if I had been, I would have acquired it immediately – even in its earliest drafts, it was one-of-a-kind, and impeccably written). My role on this book was as traditional as editorial work gets: I read Anne’s drafts, tried to suss out exactly what she was going for in terms of theme, genre, character, etc, and help her to get that vision onto the page as best as possible. Once the manuscript was finalized, I turned my attention to the cover and interior illustration, book design, and physical production, working in conjunction with Jessica Berg in our copyediting department, Amy Ryan in our design department, and Lauren Dubin in our production department. This was my primary focus while Kellie Celia, Emilie Polster, Jenna Lisanti, and Caroline Sun formulated and executed our promotional plans for the book. Finally, I crafted the in-house sales pitches for the book, which armed our sales team (too large to name here, unfortunately) to sell the book into bookstores and other accounts.
What did that involve?
The editorial process is different for every writer. Sometimes I work with authors from the moment they have an idea but before they’ve set anything to paper; other times I work with an author on an outline they write, or a partial manuscript. In Anne’s case, I don’t know anything about her books—not even the title or the concept—until she delivers a complete first draft. At the same time, we’ve been working together long enough where she feels comfortable sending me something that she knows isn’t 100% final. There’s a lot we both learn through talking about the book and asking each other questions that inform the choices Anne ends up making in her revisions. That’s my primary role with Anne: telling her what I’m seeing in her books, and asking her questions about the complex things she’s doing. The answers she comes up—which I, most of the time, cannot predict—are what make her books so unique.
As for the cover and interior art and design: the illustrations were executed by a brilliant artist named Erin McGuire, who worked on Breadcrumbs as well. This book has an entirely different tone and attitude than Breadcrumbs, but Erin is fortunately an incredibly versatile illustrator, and so coming up with the styles and motifs and general palette for the book was a joy. She is the sort of illustrator who carefully reads and internalizes everything she works on, and Amy, the book’s designer, does the same. The final product is a package that is every inch the physical manifestation of the world Anne creates in the text.
The literary middle grade fantasy game is a tough one, especially if you write standalone novels, as Anne’s last two have been. An author has to prove herself all over again, from the ground up. And in the case of Anne, who writes books that connect with different readers in wildly different and personal ways, that can make the promotion and pitching of the book a delicate process. For the most part, we chose to focus on the general aspects that make the book so special: its uniformly gorgeous writing; its unique take on the fantasy genre; the timeless themes it embraces, including the strength found in friendship, the sinister effects of fear, and the struggle to find one’s place in the world. There are more specific pieces of the book that I connect with for my own personal reasons, and I know everyone else at Walden Pond is the same, but these are the things, again, that all readers need to discover for themselves. The key, as always in this business, is getting the book into the hands of the right readers—and, especially in middle grade, that means getting the book into the hands of the right teachers, librarians, and booksellers to connect the book with the kids who will love it. This is what informs everything we do, from the first steps in acquisition all the way up through the final steps in promotion and sales.
The lovely Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy
For the most part, we chose to focus on the general aspects that make the book so special: its uniformly gorgeous writing; its unique take on the fantasy genre; the timeless themes it embraces, including the strength found in friendship, the sinister effects of fear, and the struggle to find one’s place in the world.
Jordan Brown, Editor at Walden Pond Press
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
There are just so many layers to this richly imagined fantasy book. In the same way the Alice in Wonderland criticizes English artistocracy and One Hundred Years of Solitude reflects Latin American history, you could say that The Real Boy is the history of certain first world countries like the United States. In the islands past, there are have and have nots. Those who are exposed to a terrible plague are forced into a walled city where most do not survive. That reminds me of leper colonies or the history of Native Americans.
The island is rich is natural resources, in this case … magic! But greed and commerce turn those who are supposed to be guarding the island from harm into merchants who sell it to the highest bidder off island.
And there is young Oscar, adopted by the most powerful magician in the village because he is unwanted and therefore going to be loyal. Oscar seems to be on the Austism spectrum living in the basement in the company of his cats and trying to avoid the magician’s apprentice who bullies him mercilessly. Is Oscar part of this magic? Is his story a retold Pinochio story embedded into this bigger story of lies, greed, power and magic?
As the magic fades from the island, something terrible emerges. Could it be the magic’s dark side?
Oscar must enlist friends to help him and must dig into the island’s past to discover how to save them from this latest of horrors. And, in doing so, he might also discover his own past and who is really is. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Anne Ursu’s book is spectacular and rare for three reasons: the beautiful, often poetic writing, Ursu’s nods to and integration of fantasy classics that are now so much a part of any reader’s vocabulary (Hogwarts, Narnia, Wonderland, Middle Earth, Dictionopolis, and even 2009 Newbery winner When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead are mentioned) and, lastly, in Hazel Urusu takes the time to create a complex, fully formed character which is rare in a work of fantasy. Echoing Hans Christian Ansdersen’s story The Snow Queen, Jack is changed when a sliver of a wicked mirror lodges in his eye. He wanders into the forest near his home and finds himself trapped in the castle of the Snow Queen and Hazel goes to find him and bring him home – if she can convince him that he wants to go home. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]. Review here from Books4YourKids.
The Cronus Chonicles 3 Book series by Anne Ursu is new to me but it reminds me of Percy Jackson. Since we are fresh out of anything that Rick Riordan has written that my son has not read, this might be a great option for kids who want more Greek mythology adventures!
The Shadow Thieves (The Cronus Chronicles) by Anne Ursu
When Charlotte’s friends start to get sick, Charlotte and Zee set out to find a cure. Their quest leads them to a not-so-mythical Underworld, where they face Harpies that love to rhyme, gods with personnel problems, and ghosts with a thirst for blood.
Charlotte and Zee learn that in a world overrun by Nightmares, Pain, and Death, the really dangerous character is a guy named Phil. And then they discover that the fate of every person — living and dead — is in their hands. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Siren Song (The Cronus Chronicles) by Anne Ursu
Of course, no one knows Charlotte and Zee are heroes. It’s not like they can simply announce that Greek myths are real or proclaim they have returned from the Underworld, where they rescued all of mankind from Philonecron, a deranged demigod with delusions of grandeur. Instead, they are forced to keep this terrible knowledge to themselves, and are stuck in a state of extraordinary ordinariness.
But things aren’t quite as ordinary as they seem. For Philonecron is the grandson of Poseidon, and you don’t mess with the progeny of the second most powerful god in the universe. And Philonecron himself isn’t so happy about having all of his delicious plans thwarted by mortal children. He wants revenge, and with his grandfather to help him, he is going to get what he wants. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The Immortal Fire (The Cronus Chronicles) by Anne Ursu
After their near-fatal battle with Poseidon, Charlotte and Zee would love nothing more than to relax and forget all over again that the Greek gods are real. But with the world in peril and no one else to save it, that just isn’t an option. Charlotte and Zee meet the Prometheans, an ancient brotherhood trying to protect mankind from the whims of the gods, who think they might have finally found a weapon capable of bringing Zeus to his knees. But using this weapon will come at a great cost, one Charlotte and Zee are not willing to pay. They strike out on their own for Mount Olympus, with the Prometheans, an angry Chimera, and all sorts of mythological beings on their tail… [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Spilling Clarence: A Novel by Anne Ursu
What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened in your life Would it be a blessing — or a curse
The answer is found in Spilling Clarence, a satisfying, witty, romantic, and tender novel. In the fictional town of Clarence, Minnesota, a breakroom microwave sparks a smoky fire at the pharmaceutical factory and triggers a massive chemical spill. Panic-stricken and paralyzed, the townspeople wait until the all-clear signal to assure them everything’s back to normal. Except that it isn’t. Over the coming days, the citizens of Clarence fall under the spell of a strange and powerful drug that unlocks their memories. They become trapped by their own reminiscences: of love and death, of war and childhood, of family they’ve lost and sins they’ve committed.
This is Anne Uru’s first book and it’s for adults.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.