|Asia Citro, publisher at The Innovation Press|
BETH BACON: Today I'm thrilled to speak with the publisher of The Innovation Press, Asia Citro, who is a faculty member of the SCBWI WWA's Spring Conference, Imagine That! Asia, please tell us how The Innovation Press came to be.
ASIA CITRO: I started as a blogger at Fun at Home With Kids, sharing activities that helped parents and kids integrate science, art, crafts, and play into creative, inexpensive at-home activities. My success with that site thankfully made it really easy to get a deal for my first book, 150 + Screen-Free Activities for Kids. The book was a natural extension of my blog and by publishing a book, I’d achieved a big goal. But parts of the experience were frustrating for me. The publisher put out so many titles, I think at the time they were producing something like 600 to 800 books per season. That volume seemed problematic to me. They just couldn't offer the amount of attention that I wanted for my book.
So when I was ready to write another book, I did not want to go through the same experience. Instead I started The Innovation Press. The Curious Kid’s Science Book was our first title, and then a year later, A Little Bit of Dirt.
BETH: How did you learn to be a publisher?
ASIA: I basically created the publishing company that I, as an author, wanted for my books. It was for sure overwhelming, but I tried to look at it as a great opportunity for me to create new and possibly better ways to do things. And that’s why I called us The Innovation Press, because we definitely do a lot of things differently. I wanted, as an author, to have a say in the creation of the books. I wanted marketing support. I wanted to know that my book was being meticulously cared for. I designed my dream publishing house around those ideals.
BETH: What things does The Innovation Press do differently than traditional publishers?
ASIA: There are definitely things we do differently than traditional publishers. Many publishers have a policy that illustrators and authors never talk. That’s how it’s always been done. We don’t do that. We have an editor who coordinates the relationship, but our authors definitely get to look at, and comment on, all the illustrations. And vice versa if an illustrator is feeling like something isn’t working in the text, then we facilitate that conversation as well.
BETH: What other things does The Innovation Press do differently?
ASIA: We only take on a max of ten titles a year; that’s probably pretty different than most traditional houses. We want to give every book enough of our attention. We do a lot more publicity work per title than most houses as well.
BETH: With only ten titles a year, how do you choose your catalog?
ASIA: When I’m reviewing a manuscript, I like to ask, “Is this something I haven’t seen before?” For instance, a manuscript I fall in love with might some really quirky way of dealing with a high-interest subject or it might be the biography of someone we haven’t heard about before. I like innovative stuff (ha!). Recently in Publisher’s Weekly, they announced one of our deals, which was a book about a kraken that ties in to setting boundaries and offering consent. You haven’t seen that before right? I love it. [The book is Klyde the Kraken Wants a Hug, by Brooke Hartman illustrated by Katy Halford.] That’s the kind of book we’re looking for. Something that people haven’t seen before, that’s also done really well.
BETH: Do you acquire manuscripts and then find illustrators? How does that work?
ASIA: We do that a little differently than most traditional publishers, too. We make the offer to the author first and go over the contract, but before we actually sign them, we go through the work of finding an illustrator we all love -- and we make sure that that illustrator is available. We want to make sure that we have the right illustrator for the job, and that everyone is happy. So I’ll tell an author, “I want you, hold on and let me see who we can find to illustrate this.” Once all parties are satisfied, and we’ve settled on a schedule, we all sign at the same time.
BETH: Do you receive a lot of pitches?
ASIA: Yes -- probably between 30 and 40 a day. BETH: What is the main thing that you would love aspiring children’s book writers and illustrators to know?
ASIA: Authors, please take your time on edits. If I like something, but it’s not quite there, I’ll often ask for a revise-and-resubmit (R&R). Every time I do, I hope the author will take their time and really dig into the rewrite. But I’ve found that authors generally fall into two camps -- one camp rushes to turn the manuscript back to me as soon as possible. Often, they do not do a complete job polishing it. Those manuscript don’t get signed. When we ask for an R&R, we are trying to help the book be more competitive, and we don't want an author to quickly rush through what we’ve asked them to do.
The other camp of authors takes their time with revisions. For example, one author -- and this was for a middle grade manuscript -- took eight months on an R&R. We ended up making an offer on that book. They did an amazing job and really listened to everything we said to get the manuscript to where we wanted it to be.
So, authors, if anyone -- an agent, editor, or any publishing house -- asks you for an R&R, it means that you’re very close and you should take whatever amount of time you need to do a good job. Please don’t rush through the process to give us a 24-hour turnaround and hand in a choppy revision.
BETH: What about illustrators? Do you add that level of feedback with them?
ASIA: When we’ve got a manuscript in hand, we’ll typically search out two illustrators that the author also approves of, and then we have them do a sketch of a character -- usually, the main character from the story. If we feel like their portrayal of the character is close, but not there yet, we’ll ask for a redraw. Also, in terms of portfolio submissions we get, we’ll sometimes offer free portfolio feedback if we feel an illustrator, especially an illustrator of color, is new on the scene, but is really showing promise. Sometimes we’ll go back and forth with them to sharpen up what they’ve got in their portfolio and hope to work with them down the road once we find a manuscript we think would be a fit.
BETH: You will be on both the faculty panel and the local success panel at SCBWI Western Washington’s Spring Conference, Imagine That! on May 18, 2019. Many of the people at this conference will be aspiring writers and illustrators, all wanting to show you what they’ve got. What advice do you have for them?
ASIA: I'd like them to realize that every press has its own style. You can see what might be successful at which publishing house if you take a look at their books. And it doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy all their books -- checking them out from the library is also super helpful. Pay attention to what people like at that house and make sure that what you’ve got fits in there. There's a flavor to the books we put out. At The Innovation Press we don’t love fashionista princess stuff that’s gender stereotypical; we love STEM titles, quirky titles. A well-selected submission is going to get a lot more of our attention right off the bat.
BETH: Maybe aspiring authors think, "Well, let me send it everywhere, because you never know."
ASIA: There’s no rule that you can’t do that but I think you will have more success for your effort if you are more specific with your submissions.
BETH: On that note, can you talk more about the kinds of books you like?
ASIA: I love books that really break the mold. My favorite picture books include titles like Press Here by Herve Tullet and Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis, because they are so revolutionary and awesome. They changed what a picture book could even be. I’m always looking for something like that.
BETH: As a business, not in terms of manuscripts, but on the organizational side of your press, what are you working on?
ASIA: We are bringing the first ever Seattle Children’s Book Festival to Seattle on September 28th, 2019. It’s free to the public and we’re working with a bookstore partner, Madison Books. They are giving 20% of the book sales back to our organization and we’ll use it to put on free book fairs at the Seattle Public Schools in the highest poverty neighborhoods.
BETH: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
ASIA: Thank you so much.
Beth Bacon is the author of several books for children, including: I Hate Reading, The Worst Book Ever, The Book No One Wants To Read, and Blank Space. Beth earned an MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She also has a degree in Communication Theory from NYU and a degree in Literature from Harvard University. Beth grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and now lives in the furthest Northwest corner of the USA. Learn more about Beth on her website.
Asia Citro is the founder and publisher of The Innovation Press. Asia has an M.Ed in Science Education and has worked as a classroom science teacher. Asia is the author of several books including: 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, The Curious Kid's Science Book, A Little Bit of Dirt, the chapter book series Zoey and Sassafras, Vroom Vroom Garbage Truck, and Pigeon Math.