I had a one-on-one critique session with Rick Richter at a writing conference in Boston. I wish I could have chatted with him for hours. As you’ll see from his answers, he’s got a wealth of information from his many years in the publishing industry, and I am grateful he took the time to answer the following questions, including the tough ones. Thank you, Rick!
Let me first set up your rather amazing resume. You were a co-founder (with many others) and former CEO of Candlewick Press, a publisher at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, president of Simon & Schuster Sales and Distribution Division, the creator of Simon Spotlight, and the founder of Ruckus Media Group. While at S&S you helped reintroduce the market to Eloise and Raggedy Ann. You’ve also served as chairman of the Children’s Book Council, and as an early director of First Book, and you’re currently a literary agent at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. I think it’s safe to say you know a lot about children’s literature. How did you get started on this path?
My father worked the night shift at the Boston Globe—the “lobstah” shift I think is what they called it—and he thought the book business was nobler than newspapers. “People don’t wrap fish in your work at the end of the day.” I remember him saying, so he encouraged me to find a job in books. My soon-to-be-wife introduced me to a friend who worked at a small company in Natick, Massachusetts—Picture Book Studio—and I fell head over heels over the work of Lizbeth Zwerger. I remember telling the staff there (the entire staff interviewed me!) that I would do anything at the company. “Anything at all.” I started packing books in their warehouse.
I was really fortunate to have two amazing bosses at this little company. The first, Motoko Inoue, went on to become Eric Carle’s long-time and exclusive agent. The second, Andrew Clements, went on to write the classic Frindle, and became a staple in the industry. So I learned to love the business at the knee of two highly principled and wonderful people.
Now that you’re an agent, do you see the children’s lit world differently?
A picture book text can paint a picture or it can set the stage for a corresponding visual story. Sort of the difference between
… and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day…” (Where the Wild Things Are)
In the great green room there was a telephone …” (Goodnight Moon).
The first one paints a mood that the art alone can’t tell. The second one creates an image that accompanies the text. Both are good for the story they are telling, both create a visual without taking over for the artist.
The trick, as a text-only picture book creator, is to realize that you are a visual artist. Your text needs to create moods and images word by word, sentence by sentence, and it has to do it page by page and beginning to end.
One way to set yourself up for success in this area is to storyboard. Storyboarding your text will give you visual feedback on how your text works on each page. If you have a text-heavy page, you’ve either stepped into the artist’s area, or you have too many words, or your story may not be best suited as a picture book. You also need to be aware of your page turns.
I met Jami through our critique group and enjoy reading her manuscripts. She creates warm and comforting characters that have a timeless feel, and she also illustrates them. Jami started her artistic career in digital animation before moving to 3D and VFX work, as you will see, and entered the kidlit world with her debut picture book Mae and Moon published through Ripple Grove Press. Her follow up book Seb and the Sun, also through Ripple Grove, is due in 2018.
Thank you, Jami for sharing your story.
Jami, you have a cool day job as a visual effects artist and you’ve worked on some pretty big movies: Batman v. Superman, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Pan, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Can you be more specific on what you do?
When a film is shot these days, a lot, sometimes even the majority, of shots are done in a studio in front of a giant green screen. I work with a team that fills in that space with digital environments, creatures, vehicles, and props, all of which are created solely in the computer. I do a lot of different tasks, but my main focus recently has been on texture painting and lighting scenes.
Which movie has been your favorite to work on? Do you have a favorite sequence or asset? Continue reading
I’m thrilled to inaugurate my new site with an interview from literary agent Rubin Pfeffer of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC. I met Rubin in a one-on-one critique session at a writing conference in Boston last year and was sad when the time ended. As you’ll see from his responses, he knows the publishing industry inside and out and has much to offer writers and illustrators. Thank you, Rubin!
You’ve had a pretty amazing career in publishing, including art director at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, vice president and publisher at Simon and Schuster and an independent agent at East West Literary. Then you started your agency in 2014, Rubin Pfeffer Content. Did the transition to agent change the way you work with authors?
Yes, definitely. You become much more aware of the authors as individuals, of their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and their livelihoods. You’re on the side of the author. That’s not to say you’re not when you’re inside a publishing corporation, but as an agent, you’re much more concerned about the author’s business and dreams. When I was a publisher, I wasn’t sensitive enough to what delays and silence mean to authors. I regret, actually, having taken too long to sign contracts now that I see what it’s like to wait for them.
Can you give me a peek into your agenting day? What are the steps you usually go through when reading a submission?
I started a blog several years ago with my first writing group. We’ve all since scattered to the four winds, but you can still find past posts here: http://dewdropsofink.blogspot.com