We are excited to be hosting a FREE webinar series this summer dedicated to those all-important first impressions. We call it “First Page Center Stage.” In this webinar series, industry professionals will provide live feedback of participants’ First Pages (for manuscripts) or First Looks (for illustrations). Each webinar in the series will focus on a single category: illustrations, PB, CB, MG, YA, and NF. The sixth webinar in the series will be led by Disney Hyperion Editor Sylvie Frank, who will be giving first pages feedback for picture books on September 13. To find out more about the webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/ and for information about our FINAL critique giveaway for this series, keep reading!
In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Critique Group Coordinator and Meet & Greet Coordinator, Heather Stigall, was able to interview Sylvie. Here’s what they had to say:
An Interview with Editor Sylvie Frank, by Heather Stigall
Heather: Sylvie, thank you so much for agreeing to participate in Eastern PA SCBWI’s “First Page Center Stage” webinar series. I’m looking forward to your webinar! You recently joined Disney Hyperion as Executive Editor, but your bio says you were with Paula Wiseman Books for eight years. Can you tell us a little about the path that led you to children’s publishing?
Sylvie: Yes! I joined the Paula Wiseman Books team at Simon & Schuster in January of 2013. Before that, I was an editor at Holiday House for four years. I come from a family of writers. Both of my parents have worked as journalists, and my dad is a journalism professor and my mom a children’s book writer. In college I studied Classics and Spanish, and for a while assumed I’d get a PhD and become a professor. But the summer before my senior year of college I was lucky enough to land an editorial internship at Holiday House. I spent the summer immersed in books: reading submissions, writing reader’s reports, looking at original picture book art, and learning about the path from Word document to publication. I was hooked immediately and knew I would never want to do anything else. I found picture books particularly magical. One of my jobs was to literally photocopy the original art that came in (a very old-school practice), and I couldn’t believe I was entrusted with holding the magnificent art.
Heather: It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you were meant to do. And I’m envious you got to hold all that original art! What is/are your favorite thing(s) about editing children’s books?
Sylvie: There is a phase with every picture book where I feel lost: the text and art aren’t quite gelling, or there’s something about the plot that doesn’t feel right. But then, usually during a conversation with the art director, something clicks and the whole book falls into place. It’s a magical moment—and one I remind myself will come with each and every project.
I love that every book starts as words and a few sketch lines on my computer screen before it becomes a physical work of art that can be held and enjoyed. That process never ceases to amaze me, and I find great joy in holding a finished copy of each book I edit in my hands for the first time.
Heather: That sounds magical! What are a few recently published picture books (either acquired by you or not) that you are particularly excited about and why?
Sylvie: I’m particularly excited about Thankful by Elaine Vickers, illustrated by Samantha Cotterill, which is forthcoming on September 7, 2021. It’s a lyrical celebration of the small things in life we should all remember to appreciate: warm soup on a cold day, color, seatbelts, etc. It works beautifully as a Thanksgiving book, but really it’s perfect for anytime sharing. It’s the third book I worked on with artist Samantha Cotterill, and she amazes me at every turn! Her diorama-style illustrations are nothing short of extraordinary and warrant extra-close attention.
A recent book I’m totally smitten with (that I didn’t edit!) is called My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. It’s written in this delightful, breathless voice that perfectly reflects kid excitement at making a new friend. The imaginative play that follows is relatable and charming, and the ending is a wonderful, spot-on surprise. Jillian Tamaki’s limited-palette illustrations are whimsical and joyful to behold.
Heather: I love My Best Friend too, and I look forward to reading Thankful. You’ll be participating in our region’s “First Page Center Stage” webinar series, focusing on picture books. What are some things you look for in that all-important first page of a picture book? Related to that, are there any common problems you see in the opening of a picture book manuscript?
Sylvie: In the first page of a picture book, I want to be swept away by the voice, first and foremost, and I want a clear understanding of the characters, stakes, and what I’m reading for. That can mean the establishment of a conflict that needs resolution, a question I want answered, or just sheer surprise and eagerness to turn the page to see what happens next.
The most common issue I see at the beginning of a picture book manuscript is wordiness: too much backstory, description, or scene-setting. I want the writer to dive right in and carry me away.
Heather: Great advice! Now, for some fun: What is your superpower? What is your kryptonite?
Sylvie: Superpower: I take great pride in my bullet journals and ability to create and follow to-do lists. In other words, I’m organized, and I like my organization to look pretty.
Kryptonite: If I don’t run every day, I am not a nice person and can hardly function. (Just ask my husband!)
Heather: We must be kindred spirits. I can relate to both of these very well! Thank you, Sylvie, for sharing a little bit about yourself. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you on September 13.
Friends, if you haven’t yet registered for Sylvie’s or the other faculty webinars in our FREE First Page/First Look series, you can find the registration link below.
Sylvie Frank joined Disney’s trade publishing team as Executive Editor in June 2021. She spent over eight years as an editor with Paula Wiseman Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Division. She is the editor of award-winning and critically acclaimed books including Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo; I Have a Balloon by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Scott Magoon; The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by John Parra; The Crossroads by Alexandra Diaz; and OCDaniel by Wesley King. In her new role at Disney, Sylvie is looking for kid-focused, snappy picture books, especially those by author-illustrators. She is drawn to original and diverse voices across all genres. One of her favorite pastimes is browsing agents’ and illustrators’ websites for new talent. When she’s not reading, Sylvie can be found running while listening to audiobooks.
To find out more about our First Page Center Stage FREE webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.
Eastern PA SCBWI is giving away a free written critique with literary agent Minju Chang (Book Stop Literary Agency) for an illustration portfolio, picture book, middle grade, young adult, or graphic novel manuscript (up to six illustrations, OR one full picture book manuscript plus 2- to 3-sentence pitch, OR the first 10 pages plus 1-page synopsis of your MG, YA, or GN manuscript) to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. EST on Friday, August 6, 2021. We will choose the winner at random from those who comment. Must be a current Eastern PA SCBWI member to be eligible. Please include your full name as it appears in your SCBWI membership. If you’d like to comment on this blog post but not be entered to win (e.g., if you are not an Eastern PA SCBWI member or if you are not interested in a critique), simply state that along with your comment. Materials for the critique are due August 13, 2021. The winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog post, so check back after the deadline to see if you’re our winner! Instructions for submitting materials will be sent to the winner.