Monday, May 10, 2010

A Conversation About Love With Editor, Arthur Levine Part 1

So last Friday was the big day--Arthur Levine was in the house! Or...castle rather. He spoke inside the castle at Arcadia University which both amused him because it looks a lot like Hogwarts and intimidated him because the last person who spoke there was Obama. Hehe.

Anyway here's a run down of his talk.

Publishing Love
The focus of his talk was love, which was so fun and refreshing to hear. It can get tough when you're going to a lot of conferences and hearing all sorts of horror stories about authors and books and editors and publishing houses not making it because of the economy or focusing on marketing--but Arthur is like a breath of fresh air because his biggest factor in publishing a book is whether or not he loves it.

He clearly loves what he does and opened by saying "Art becomes business through love." Don't you love that?

He said that there is no scientific formula or business model for which books become published and then which books become successful. The publishing industry isn't orderly and it definitely isn't predictable.

Basically for him, love drives the process. When he's looking at a submission, the main question in his mind is "do I Love this?" Sometimes he says he just knows it in his gut as he's reading, sometimes it takes a little more.

Will I Ever Love Again?
One of the pitfalls he mentioned was when you're going through a period of sometimes months reading submissions and not loving any of it. It's in those times that sometimes a project that is just "liked" but not loved could come through and those never do as well as the ones that are loved, that everyone is 100% behind.  For a book to really be a success, the editor needs an emotional reaction to the story.

Love=Arthur Levine Books
The focus of his imprint has always been love. He wants to publish those books that you loved as a kid and now keep a dog earred copy of on your night stand--the book that you can pick up and enjoy any time at all and never ever get sick of.

Some of the ways he measures this, or the love for the books is:
-Gut feeling
-Feeling Unapologetic--(remember they have to go in front of a whole slew of people and sell it before they can get the go ahead to publish)

Arthur also discussed his own book categories that he created. While there are specific kinds of marketing categories like: 4-8 year olds: SciFi: Contemporary: Middle Grade: etc... He has his own, and whenever he's in the mood for a particular category, he wants to read the best book of its kind.

1. Books with a Convincing and Appealing Voice
When you want to read a book where you just like the main character's voice and you believe in them and want to be them, or be in their mind for awhile.
Example: Marcelo In The Real World

2. Books that Make Me Laugh
Arthur loves to laugh, but he made an important distinction for what he will enjoy. A book that is funny must also have an overarching theme, and an emotional journey--he has to feel like he got something out of it, otherwise if the story was just full of funny moments without any depth behind them, he will feel like he wasted his time and didn't get anything out of the story.
Example: Millicent Min: Girl Genius

3. Books that are Emotionally Fearless
He loves books that make him feel (seeing a pattern here?) and appreciates it when a character isn't comfortable with their emotions, yet the author finds a way to portray this to the reader so you understand what the character is feeling even if they dont (I think Suzanne Collins does this brilliantly with Katniss in The Hunger Games). Sometimes these books don't have a lot of plot, but the emotions are so strong they draw the reader in. It's difficult to reveal things about yourself and so it should be difficult for your characters to reveal themselves, but it has to be done--we need to be able to read and see that.
Example: Cedar B. Hartley Who Planned to Live An Extraordinary Life

4. Books that Reinvent or show Inventiveness
These books take something that you're familiar with, like the classical world, or a fairy tale, or a type of story and put such a fresh new twist on them, so that you're mesmerized. He mentioned when he first read a galley for Harry Potter on a plane from the Bologna festival and immediately was taken with the emotional story of Harry's struggles, but also with the contrast of the dark humorous voice that invoked Roald Dahl. He read a passage from Harry's first Christmas at Hogwarts showing how fun she made the world and all the little inventive details. J.K. Rowling wrote about the kind of magic you wished could exist.
Example: A Curse Dark As Gold (retelling of Rumpelstilskin)

5. Content and Form
Arthur also talked about content and form and how interested he was in telling stories in as many ways as possible, through graphic novels, like The Arrival, where the main character is an immigrant and literally has no language for this new world he's arriving in, and so the story itself is told without language. He also mentioned how unorthodox this novel was--it broke a lot of rules and wasn't supposed to be successful, but it was such a piece of art, he couldn't refuse it. The Arrival then went on to be his most successful picture book--which confirms the gut feeling of love he gets in his stomach.

Stay tuned for part 2 and the Q&A session!

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