Donna Bray, Executive Editor
Hyperion Books for Children (2003)
Donna Bray has a bachelor’s degree in English from Fordham University. She started her career as a marketing assistant at Henry Holt and Company. After ten months, she moved to editorial and worked as an assistant to the editorial director (Brenda Bowen, now publisher at Simon and Schuster) and the art director, who was also an acquiring editor. Eventually, she was promoted to assistant editor, then associate editor, for Laura Godwin (now editorial director at Henry Holt). After 5 1/2 years at Holt, she took a job working for Lisa Holton, editor-in-chief at HarperCollins. Lisa left 2 1/2 months after Donna arrived to become publisher at Hyperion. Donna came to Hyperion in February 1996 and has seen the house evolve and grow tremendously. Hyperion is only 11 years old and Donna is proud to be a part of a company that is so new, exciting, and innovative.
Hyperion does NOT accept unsolicited manuscripts or query letters. All manuscripts MUST be agented.
How many books does Hyperion publish every year and what kind of books are they?
Hyperion publishes 200-250 titles a year in five imprints: Hyperion Books for Children - hardcover picture books, fiction, and nonfiction, plus some board books and select novelty books, for children ages 0-16; Jump at the Sun - hardcover picture books, fiction, and nonfiction, plus some board books, for children ages 0-16, that celebrate the African-American experience; Hyperion Paperbacks for Children - paperback reprints; Volo: original paperbacks, including series and books pertaining to popular culture; Michael DiCapua Books. I edit for Hyperion Books for Children and Jump at the Sun.
How many do you edit per year?
Approximately 25-30 original hardcovers.
What have you edited recently?
CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD by Avi (2003 Newbery Medal winner); MARY POPE OSBORNE'S TALES FROM THE ODYSSEY; SAHARA SPECIAL by Esme Raji Codell; HANNAH, DIVIDED by Adele Griffin; THE STONE LAMP by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Brian Pinkney; MARY HAD A LITTLE HAM by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Guy Francis; and PRAYING AT THE SWEETWATER MOTEL by April Young Fritz.
Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!
Ugh, there are no typical days. What I don't usually do is spend my days editing, alas. Depending on the time of year, I may be: writing fact sheets (which contain selling copy and other useful info for our marketing and sales staff); writing catalog copy or flap copy; checking on royalty statements, book inventory, sales figures (not my favorites); running P&Ls; getting production estimates; preparing acquisitions paperwork; following up on marketing initiatives; discussing subrights deal strategies; negotiating and reviewing contracts; updating lists of all kinds; going to meetingsmeetingsmeetings! In more creative moments, I review sketches and designs; discuss cover concepts; talk to authors and illustrators about current projects; brainstorm with authors, illustrators, art directors, marketing directors; and even sometimes edit manuscripts.
Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?
On the subway every day (don't ask me about current events, I never read the paper anymore), at lunchtime occasionally, and on weekday evenings. I try to take weekends off to spend time with my husband and two young children.
What kinds of books do you like to work on?
I have pretty eclectic taste when it comes to fiction - I love contemporary; historical; fantasy; humorous; commercial; edgy; quirky and offbeat. These days I'm especially interested in immigrant stories, and stories of ethnic minorities that are not often treated in children's fiction. I actually started a first-novel contest to get more of this kind of story. The first two winners are LITTLE CRICKET by Jacquelyn M. Brown, about a Hmong immigrant girl from Laos who comes to Minnesota in the early 1970s, and BLUE JASMINE by Kashmira Sheth, about a contemporary Indian girl from an upper-middle-class family who also moves to the Midwest, as it happens.
I also enjoy working on picture books, and especially love funny stories. Some upcoming picture books on my list include BED HOGS by Kelly Di Pucchio, illustrated by Howard Fine - hilarious and so true to the experience of parents and young children! MAMA WENT TO JAIL FOR THE VOTE by Kathleen Karr, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen is both gently humorous and powerful, about jailed suffragists in the early 20th century. It combines humor and a very important subject, which is great. On the more serious side, FISHING DAY by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans, is about tolerance and the small gestures that can make a difference in overcoming prejudice.
I love books that make me laugh and ones that make me cry. If you can make me do both in the same book, I'll sign you up.
What was your favorite book as a child?
The first picture books I learned to read were HI ALL YOU RABBITS and MISS SUZY, which are no longer in print. I loved Ruth Chew's witch books and stories about gigantic families (CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN). Actually, there were a number of favorite childhood books that were no longer in print, so I decided to create a program to bring some of them back! I published around ten "Lost Treasures" starting in 2001. My faves include: HOTEL FOR DOGS by Lois Duncan; HOUSE OF THIRTY CATS by Mary Calhoun (I guess I loved stories of excess!); THE TEDDY BEAR HABIT by James Lincoln Collier; IN A BLUE VELVET DRESS by Catherine Sefton; and MRS. COVERLET'S MAGICIANS by Mary Nash.
Do you have any favorites now?
I love Lauren Child's Clarice Bean books, HOMELESS BIRD by Gloria Whelan, and THE PIGMAN AND ME by Paul Zindel. I adore many others but I can't think of them now... Also I'm way behind on my reading of recently published books.
Is it every editor's dream to discover the next Sharon Creech or Avi?
What must a manuscript have to get your attention?
Strong voice, a sense of urgency (to make me want to keep reading!), well-chosen details that draw me in.
Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?
I usually read the first few pages of any submission, but if it's something from an agent I trust, I'll read the whole thing.
Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!
I discuss it with my colleagues in editorial; I get a production estimate and run a P&L; I discuss it with sales, marketing, subrights, and finance at acquisitions meeting; the deal gets signed off; I make an offer to the author or agent.
Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down?
What is the approximate print run of a picture book these days? A novel?
First print runs vary dramatically, but let's say 10,000-15,000 for your average picture book, and 5,000-7,500 for your average novel. We'd rather reprint quickly than wind up with a lot of inventory, so we manage our printings very carefully.
Is it true that most books lose money for the publisher if they don't sell out their first printing? Why?
If a book's first print doesn't sell out, that can mean two things: (1) there is excess inventory in a warehouse, which costs money, and (2) the advance to the author probably hasn't earned out.
A book could also lose money even if the first print run does sell out, but that's another story...
How long can the average picture book be expected to stay in print these days? The average novel?
I couldn't guess.
Is it true that today's books stay in print less time than yesterday's books?
Publishers tend to publish more titles now, and accounting practices have become more stringent of late. We need to manage limited resources in an increasingly difficult business climate. This is why we are so careful with our print runs - we want to keep books in print as long as possible, and one way of doing this is managing inventory.
Is it true that editors have little time to "edit" these days? Is it true that they are looking for manuscripts that are more "finished"?
I don't spend as much time editing as I'd like, and some authors of mine do turn in manuscripts that require only a line-edit or maybe one rewrite. But there are just as many who require several major rewrites. If a writer demonstrates extraordinary talent and has a truly original voice, or has hit on a really compelling story, I'm willing to roll up my sleeves.