Edward Wilson: Collaboration Makes for Great Books, by Robert Lee Brewer

“After writing professionally, editing a journal, and being on the other side of publishing, I decided to start a press that was more writer and illustrator friendly,” says Edward Wilson, publisher for Absey and Company, Inc., a company specializing in books for young readers. “At Absey, we believe that writers and illustrators who love their finished books help with the publicity and sale of those books.”

To ensure that Absey is friendlier to its writers, Wilson works to keep the spirit of collaboration alive between the writers, illustrators, and editors. However, this collaboration is exactly that: a collaboration. Though the editors are often ready to work with writers, the writers must also be ready to work with editors.

“The worst part of editorial work is a demanding and demeaning author,” elaborates Wilson. “Authors seem to forget all the thousands of things that must be in place for a book to get to the shelf. Printing the book is only a small part of these thousand things.”

Wilson cites one specific example where an author had a vision of what he wanted for the cover design. However, the photograph was too old and small to realistically be done the way the author wanted. “Instead of understanding that,” he explains, “the author became angry and sullen, resulting in the outcome that he will never do another book for us. It is unfortunate that this had to happen.”

Wilson would prefer to keep good authors and illustrators on board, because he feels that better products result from smooth relations. So, he wants the relationship between publisher, editor, and writer to be a happy one. It often has beautiful results.

“It is wonderful to see the finished book and have both the author and illustrator pleased with the final product,” says Wilson. “In our newest titles, Hugs and Kisses, by Alice McLerran and Jessica Schiffman, they worked together discussing sketches and placement of type on the page. Putting a book together can be a real collaborative effort. When it works and everyone likes the end result, there is great satisfaction.”

Here Wilson talks about Absey’s wants, putting together children’s books, and future trends in publishing.

What type of submissions do you really like to see?

We like to see something that first has voice and a strong sense of story. Then it helps if the manuscript is written well. That means we have to spend less time editing the manuscript and more time making a book. We had no intention of doing Hugs and Kisses, because they had already been done with another illustrator and by another company. But the company wanted to turn them into board books, and McLerran really didn’t want them to be board books. She also never felt the original illustrations captured what she tried to write. So after finding the right person, who McLerran thought could bring the words to life, we decided to go ahead with the project. Schiffman was a delight to work with. She was willing to work and rework an idea. Plus she really understood what McLerran had written in the text. This is critical when doing a picture book, because the pictures must support the text and vice versa.

For picture books, do you expect writers to have an illustrator before they query?

If the writer knows what good illustrations are, then this is wonderful. It means less work for the company to find the right match. For a picture book to be a success, it really has to be a match. The problem is, some writers know someone who can do the artwork. This person may have done an oil painting for the local horticultural society. Now this person may be a fine artist, but then again, it might just be someone’s great aunt who just graduated from paint by numbers. There is no real way to answer this without insulting the writer or the illustrator. The reality is, there are fine writers and fine illustrators, the same as there are some not so fine writers and illustrators. What some find acceptable, I as a publisher might not. If the writer has made a commitment to a certain illustrator and we like the text but can’t live with the illustration, then chances are we will pass on this project. This can also happen the other way.

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