Thursday, June 17, 2010

SCBWI LA conference faculty interview: Rubin Pfeffer

Rubin Pfeffer, people. THE Rubin Pfeffer.

He's one of the keynote speakers at this summer's SCBWI conference in L.A., and given his incredible career in children's literature, he'll no doubt give a sensational talk.

Rubin started as a designer for Macmillan in 1974 and then spent 27 years at Harcourt, where he rose to become president of their trade book division over the era the company won Newbery, Caldecott, and National Book awards, as well as Nobel prizes for work on the adult side.

In 2008, as a senior vice president at Simon & Schuster, he launched Beach Lane Books, whose first list included a Caldecott Honor and NYT Bestseller (the amazing ALL THE WORLD, whose illustrator, Marla Frazee, wowed us at last year's LA conference).

He also has serious experience with online publishing, having worked as a senior vice president and chief creative officer with Pearson Education, which blended material from Pearson, Penguin, and Dorling Kindersley for print and online works.
In December of 2009, Rubin took his career in a bold new direction, joining East West Literary Agency as a partner. He represents luminaries such as David Diaz, Patricia MacLachlan, Richard Jesse Watson, Jesse Joshua Watson, Jeff Mack, and Timothy J. Bradley. (And his clients absolutely rave about him.)

I asked him a few questions to get people ready for his keynote:

What’s it like being on the agent side of the fence? Are there any big differences that particularly excite you?

I love being at the beginning when ideas are just forming and there is a chance to help build upon concepts and notions. And to help shape ideas into possibilities. And I’ve always enjoyed being the “what if” guy, provoking thoughts and helping build visions. The difference is the intimacy and trust. Certainly there between a publisher/editor and an author. But not nearly to the degree and complexity of how an agent and writer work together where advice and counsel span a broad range of topics beyond literary.

Over your long career in publishing, you’ve seen a lot of changes. What were some of the biggest, and how do all the digital developments we’re seeing lately compare?

What matters most are the changes we’re seeing now. And we hear of them every day in blogs and sound bites and headlines in the Trade press. Two points:
  1. The economics of bookselling and publishing have been an increasingly challenging proposition for decades on end. It came to a fevered pitch with the onset of the recession.
  2. Coupled with that, innovations in technology that could address significant aspects of the challenge landed faster and harder--“kaboom!” coincidentally with the shrinking profit margins. The solutions to the fiscal issues of publishing profitability conceivably can be largely found in the technologies of digital creation and delivery of content. The conflict is that the solutions are revolutionary and traditional trade publishing tends to move at an evolutionary pace. And the solutions invite other business models and entities to the trade publishing business that heretofore had had a tight circle of wagons drawn around it.
What do you look for in clients? What tends to impress you most?

OOPS. (I just made this up) Originality, Open-mindedness, Passion, Stamina.

How do you like to work with your clients? Are you hands-on? Or do their new projects come to you ready to be launched?

It absolutely varies by person. I work the way it is best for each writer and illustrator and the projects at hand. At least I hope I do. I can too often see myself getting way too involved in solutions. I like to suggest and will remind the client that it is only a suggestion and hopefully it helps the client see possibilities.

It must feel really great to be part of Jesse Watson’s HOPE FOR HAITI book deal. How did that come together?

I’ve known Jesse and his family (Richard Jesse Watson, Benjamin Watson, and Faith Pray) for many years.

He asked me to listen to him one day. I did. I paid close attention to what he had to say about his work, his feelings, and his views on personal and global issues. I recalled an impressive story that he’d shown me a few years back that for various reasons never got off the ground. I asked him to revisit that story, but this time connect and apply his passions to it. It became HOPE FOR HAITI.

(Sales of this book will generate donations to Save the Children's Haiti Emergency Relief Fund.)

Thank you, Rubin! 

Register here for the summer conference so you can hear more from Rubin Pfeffer in person.


Lisa Gail Green said...

Being one of Rubin's privileged few "as yet unpublished" clients I can say that he is the most AMAZING agent I could have ever hoped for. I can't wait to hear him speak at SCBWI LA!

Deb Lund said...

Great interview, love the OOPS, and adore the Watsons. Susi was just raving about Rubin today. And there's my joy boy on the Haiti cover!