Orli Zuravicky is a senior editor at Scholastic, and she has written and edited over a hundred books for children. She’s about to add “2017 Pocono Retreat Faculty Member” to her long list of accomplishments! Here she is with a little Pocono Preview, and general chatty fun.
LB: Hi there, Orli, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! As we settle into our comfy booth, what would you like to drink?
OZ: Hello! Thanks for having me. I would love a coffee. There’s never a time when I’ll say no to coffee!
LB: You’re in good company there. Something to snack on?
OZ: Hmmm… I think I’ll have an omelet.
LB: Excellent. Make mine a Western!
We’re excited to have you on our Pocono 2017 faculty! Can you give us a little teaser about what you’ll be sharing at the retreat?
OZ: I’m very excited to be coming this year! Giuseppe Castellano, art director at penguin, and I will be doing a session together all about the working relationship between the editor and the art director, who is responsible for what, and how their relationship and the decisions they make impact a book in various ways.
LB: That will be fantastic!
Oooo….OMELETTES have arrived!! While you chew, think about the last book you read that made you…..
Laugh out loud: Do they have to be kids’ books?: I think I’m going to go with adult choices–I spend so much of my time in the world of children’s publishing that it’s a treat to read an adult book!
So, the book I read and reread every time I want to laugh is Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. It’s hilarious.
Cry (or at least sniffle): Hmmm… I would have to say Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.
Go all warm and fuzzy: Let’s see… I’m not sure about warm and fuzzy. I’ve been on a bit of a mystery bent lately so I can’t remember the last book that left me quite feeling like that. If I had to choose, I would say Pride and Prejudice, which is one of my absolute favorites, and always just makes me happy.
Change: Lauren Graham’s recent memoir had a section about writing in it that I thought was super interesting, and it’s inspired me to rethink my writing routine.
LB: You’ve got some mad juggling skills, Orli, being both a successful editor and author! How do you find time to work on your middle-grade series HAPPILY EVER AFTERLIFE amidst the busy business of editing?
OZ: Thank you. Well, I guess I would say that when I’m in the midst of a writing deadline, I do a lot of hibernating on nights and weekends, and I basically go into hiding haha. After long days at work, it’s obviously very hard to focus more at home, so I try to use the nights to decompress so I can be ready to write on the weekends. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of something, I can work for a couple of hours on a week night. I’m the kind of person who needs a lot of alone time, so I have to factor that into my process in order to be productive.
LB: How does being an editor make you a better writer? How does being a writer make you a better editor?
OZ: I think about what I ask of my authors and try to deliver that as a writer. As an editor, I’m always asking my authors to show and not tell, and I’m always asking them to create an emotional connection between the reader and the characters–so these are things I keep in mind as I write, and it definitely improves my work.
LB: Your heart would explode into a million rainbows if you came across a manuscript that combined….
OZ: I’m focusing on nonfiction right now, so I’m on the hunt for narrative nonfiction picture books that focus on an important and interesting topic, but that do so for the picture book aged reader. So many nonfiction manuscripts I get are simply too sophisticated; I think writers feel they are allowed more leeway with nonfiction topics, but the reality is, your ‘reader’–who is really just a listener at that age–ranges between 4-6 years old, so you still need to entertain them and hold their suspense in the same way you do with a fiction picture book.
LB: I talk to a lot of picture book writers who are unsure of how to navigate the currently trendy author/illustrator style, with very sparse text and an emphasis on telling a story more visually. Any words of wisdom for these storytellers without professional illustration skills of their own?
OZ: This has definitely been a bit of a trend, but as an editor I can tell you that we still absolutely appreciate how difficult it is to write a good picture book–and in order to do that, you need to be a good writer. If you write a strong manuscript, no editor is going to reject it because you can’t also illustrate it. You only have the talents you have, and if you aren’t gifted with the talent of illustration, there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is hone the skill that you DO have, and that’s the ability to write a great story. So I would advise these writers try not to use up your energy worrying about this, and instead, to take that energy and put it into writing an incredible story.
LB: What’s one thing you currently see too much of?
OZ: Bedtime stories. I see a ton of bedtime-focused picture book manuscripts, and while this is definitely an evergreen topic, it’s hard to do it differently than it’s already been done. That’s not to say it’s impossible! Just a big challenge.
LB: What’s one thing that makes you stop reading a manuscript?
OZ: If my interest isn’t immediately grabbed by the time I’ve turned the first page, the chances are there that I will stop reading. Picture book manuscripts are so short that writers need to make a big impact in a short amount of space–and they need to make sure every word they use says what they need it to say.
LB: Okay, Orli, it is now time for rapid-fire favorites! Take a deep breath and tell us your fave….
Baby-shower gift book: My friend Raquel D’Apice’s Welcome to the Club. It’s a hilarious adult book about baby firsts–but not always the firsts you think.
TV Show: Sons of Anarchy.
Type of shoe: I’m a colorful pump kinda gal.
Candy: Twix. Hands down.
Book as a child: I loved Corduroy, Caps for Sale, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
Recreational activity: Painting things in my apartment! I love interior design and I’m often found painting old dressers and chairs–I even painted the backsplash in my kitchen!
LB: Oh, we are kindred spirits! I’m always looking for something to redecorate (just ask my husband!)
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us, Orli! Can’t wait to meet you in just a few weeks.
OZ: It was my absolute pleasure! I’m looking forward to meeting you as well, and spending the weekend with tons of creative folks!
LOVE the series title and cover art for Happily Ever Afterlife—very intriguing! Will be so cool to meet Orli at The Barn!
I really appreciate all of the bits of advice from non-fiction PB to author-not-illustrator concerns and what you tell authors all the time. Really helpful in so many ways for me right now! =)