Break out the fancy coffee mugs and some celebratory chocolate cake for breakfast, my friends! We have a very special edition of Perfect Picture Books today!
In lieu of a book, I have an interview with a publisher who is actively looking to acquire picture books. This is a unique opportunity to get an inside look at a publisher you might not have known about, along with insight into what they’re looking for. In addition, one lucky winner will get to have a 20-minute Zoom call with Robert Agis, President of Starry Forest Books, where you can talk to him about anything in publishing! This is an amazing opportunity to get some insider info on all the things you’ve been wondering about in the publishing world. And don’t forget to practice your pitches, because he’ll definitely ask to hear about what you write and what you’re working on! This giveaway starts today and runs through Wednesday, June 15th! (Details and entry info at the bottom of this post!)
(Also, the Perfect Picture Book List for this week will be down at the bottom as usual, too. I may not be sharing an actual book today, but everyone else is!)
I want to thank Amy Dixon, Editor at Starry Forest books, for taking the time to join us today and give us this wonderful glimpse into an up-and-coming publisher! Thank you, Amy! In addition, she was able to get some responses from the other two acquiring editors, so you get to hear from all three!
First, some general info about Starry Forest Books!
Tell us a little bit about Starry Forest Books and how it came to be.
In 2016, Robert Agis, then an editor at Union Square & Co., collaborated with Barnes & Noble buyers to develop new series and title ideas. Starry Forest Books was a boutique publisher commissioned with actualizing these ideas for Sterling and Barnes & Noble. With creative direction from Robert Agis, Starry Forest developed several series including Baby’s Big World and Classic Stories which immediately proved successful.
Inspired by Starry Forest’s potential, and with the vision to create distinctive children’s books and media, Robert took over Starry Forest in 2019. He negotiated worldwide distribution through Ingram, started a foreign rights business that includes growing sales in China, Russia, Spain, and elsewhere, and expanded the Starry Forest creative team and support roles to a team of ten. From three modest series sold through one retailer in 2019, the company has expanded to worldwide sales with more than 120 titles published or in development.
Looking at your website, we can see you’ve done a lot of board book series and classics in the past. What does the trajectory of Starry Forest look like moving forward?
Our vision statement is “Make Something Beautiful” and we plan to continue pursuing that vision with the 20-30 titles we’ll publish each year. This includes the development and growth of our existing brands, like our Baby’s Classics and Gamer Baby series, as well as stand-alone picture books. We will also be expanding into categories such as chapter books and eventually, middle grade fiction! We’re thrilled that our first two stand-alone picture books will be entering the world in August, and we’ll be sharing more about them below!
For the next few questions, we asked the Starry Forest Editorial Team to chime in and give some inside scoop! They are Allison Hunter Hill, Anna Lazowski, and Amy Dixon—ALL both published authors and acquiring editors at Starry Forest Books.
You are here on Perfect Picture Book Friday! We’d love to hear what you look for when evaluating a picture book manuscript.
A fresh concept, or unique take on something familiar will always make a manuscript stand out. So many manuscripts start out strong but falter partway through. I love it when I get pulled in by the opening lines and the author is able to hold me there as the narrative unfolds. I also look for authors who know how to use emotion to connect with the reader, and understand that half of their story will, ultimately, be told by illustrations.
Can you tell us about a Perfect Picture Book on your list? What drew you to this story?
Being an editor is a little like being a parent– I can’t pick a favorite book-child! But I can tell you what I look for in picture books and what drew me to this one. Perfect Picture Books have a “spark” in them that sets them apart. It could be dialogue that makes you giggle and begs to be read out loud like “Not A Book About Bunnies” by Amanda Henke (coming in 2023!). Or a clever text that turns your world upside-down like “The End” by John Bray. Or maybe it’s an old tale that suddenly feels new again, like Valerie Tripp’s lushly re-imagined Greek myths, “Goddesses and Gardens.”
What drew me to Judy Roth’s “Cadence and Kittenfish” was the character of Cadence, herself– a bright, spunky little mermaid who does dance class with dolphins, Tai Chi with the lighthouse keeper, and wants a kitten SO BADLY that she can’t see what’s right under her adorable nose. Judy writes with such a unique, lyrical understanding. Her words are always fresh, surprising, and just begging to be read out loud! As a former librarian, I’m always on the lookout for a great storytime pick!
Illustrations play such a big role in creating a Perfect Picture Book, and there is so much talent to choose from! What did you love about this illustrator, and what made her right for this project?
Jaclyn Sinquett is such a dream! I had three big requirements in mind when I started looking through illustrator portfolios: enchanting underwater scenes (no flat blues, please!), charming, lifelike girl characters, and the most absolutely irresistible kittens.
I knew Jaclyn was perfect for Cadence when I saw her art for “Sincerely, Emerson” by Emerson Webber. I could just tell that Jaclyn remembered what it was like to be an 8 or 9-year-old little girl– wistful, optimistic, and real. Top that off with her warm, painterly style and delicate detail work, and I was confident she would knock it out of the park. And she did!
The word that comes to mind when I think of Jaclyn is “generous.” Whatever you give her, she multiplies and gives back in abundance. I asked for a rough idea on a color scheme and she pitched a palette based on seaside blown glass and salt-water taffy. I sent her a boring copyright page and she draped it in delicate doodles of sea fronds. I mentioned it would be neat to see Cadence’s room, and what came back was something out of an enchanted mermaid dream: driftwood and coral bunkbeds with sea sponge pillows, a found-anchor nightstand, a delicate seashell tea set, and a literal Saltwater Guitar.
Follow Jaclyn Sinquett @jsinquett on Instagram for close-ups, art process videos and more!
To me, a Perfect Picture Book illustrator is one who loves the story just as much as you do. Remember being a kid and finding a friend who would 1000% commit to pretending that the floor was molten lava? Or that your lego castle was under seige by giant Barbies? Or that you were both majestic horses with elaborate names like “Moonfire” or “Chestnut Lighting” or “Princess Starhorn”? (Someone please say yes. I’m begging you.) Finding a perfect illustrator is like finding that friend. They aren’t just willing to immerse themselves in a new world with you… they really want to play, too!
What kind of experience can an author or illustrator expect to have with Starry Forest Books?
As a creator myself, I can say that I’ve been quite impressed by the sincere desire that the Starry Forest Team has to connect authentically with creators. Often, when there is interest in a manuscript, we have a Zoom call with creators, agents, editors, and our president, to meet and chat about the story. These have been some of the most enjoyable conversations, because they are about so much more than just a sale. We get to learn about the creators; where they are from, and what inspired them to write this story. We get to hear about what other projects they are working on. We become invested in the creator’s journey and get to explore the potential for us to be part of their growth, both with the existing project, and their overall craft. And we get to see if there’s chemistry—we have a positive culture at Starry Forest and want that positivity to extend to the creators, and then pour out from our books to the consumer too. The hope is that everyone who crosses paths with Starry Forest Books is better for it. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a creator that chooses to work with Starry Forest will feel seen, heard, and valued. The passion that our company has to “Make Something Beautiful” is not just about producing a gorgeous book, but also about creating a beautiful experience for the writers and artists we work with.
Do you have a wish list you can share with us? What types of stories are you looking to publish next?
Right now, I am EAGERLY reading submissions! Hint, hint, it’s a great time to submit to me! My team will tell you that I am really loving creative non-fiction right now—teach me something without making me feel like you’re teaching me something! I adore stories about real events that inspire me to be a better human, especially ones featuring kick-ass women. I also would love to see more manuscripts that make me laugh, and where the illustrations tell a whole part of the story that isn’t in the text. You can see more about the things I love and our submission guidelines on my manuscript wish list.
I absolutely love reading submissions, because when you find a gem in your inbox, it’s a truly incredible feeling. I’m always looking for a diversity of voices and experiences, and stories that help us understand each other. I love things that are a bit quirky, am a big fan of a well-placed surprise, and have a soft spot for creative use of language. You can find out more about what I’m looking for and check out our submission guidelines on my manuscript wish list.
Where can we find you online?
We are giving away a 20-minute Zoom call with Robert Agis, President of Starry Forest Books, where you can talk to him about anything in publishing! This is an amazing opportunity to get some insider info on all the things you’ve been wondering about in the publishing world. And don’t forget to practice your pitches, because he’ll definitely ask to hear about what you write and what you’re working on! This giveaway starts today and runs through Wednesday, June 15th!
Enter the Starry Forest Books Giveaway Here!
Use the link to follow @starryforestbks on Twitter and Instagram, retweet the “Giveaway Time” tweet, and tag a fellow Picture Book Enthusiast by commenting on the “Giveaway Time” Instagram post. (You can find links to these posts at linktr.ee/starryforestbks)
Thank you again, Amy, for all this wonderful information and for taking the time to visit with us today! We all so appreciate it!
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. . . 😊
For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.
PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific blog links (and any other info you feel like filling out 😊) to the form below so we can all come see what fabulous picture books you’ve chosen to share this week!
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 😊