[Full Post] The spotlight today is on Alayne Kay Christian, content and developmental editor for Blue Whale Press, an award-winning children’s book author, and one of our wonderful fall conference faculty members. SCBWI-NT social media coordinator, Jimmy Mustion, interviewed Alayne for our faculty spotlight blog series. Alayne has years of experience in writing, critiquing, and publishing, which she has generously shared with Jimmy (and with us!).
Can you please tell us a little about your background and experience in the literary world?
I likely had a similar start to my career as many authors, in that my desire to write began with a need to tell the colorful stories I felt churning inside me and to touch those who read them. But then, having spent years asking questions and digging deeper for knowledge than what is generally provided in the many writing courses available, I began to feel that I could save other budding writers some time in their career development by offering manuscript analysis in the form of free critiques. Following several years of sharing my knowledge gratis, and seeing some of my clients receive offers of representation and become published, I launched a professional critique service under the Blue Whale Press umbrella. I later decided to share this knowledge in a more structured format through my course, Art of Arc.
What brought you to this career path?
I had written a book titled Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa early in my career. My husband, who is experienced in starting businesses and operating them, decided that he would start a publishing company and publish it himself. After finding an illustrator, he contracted a designer, multiple editors and an intellectual property rights lawyer, and Blue Whale Press was born. Unfortunately or fortunately, his career took a sudden upturn combined with a corporate relocation, and a financial decision was made to put the business on hold for a while. Not long after he retired, he suggested that we would make a fantastic team in restarting Blue Whale Press. I thought about it, and he was right. Everything that my career path has resulted in has led me straight to Blue Whale Press as content and developmental editor. Our family enterprise combines Steve’s business savvy with my knowledge of children’s book writing, critiquing, and editing—and my desire to help aspiring writers and illustrators.
What are you looking for in a manuscript? (agents/editors)
Naturally, we are looking for stories that personally knock our socks off. As most know, this is a business of subjective interpretation and judgment. The stories have to appeal to us directly because we need to commit a significant amount of time and money into each title. Needless to say, we are looking for fresh ideas and unique stories that stand out from all the others we receive. The stories that we’ve accepted so far have all grabbed us nearly from the start. Some caused an eyebrow to rise in response to a sense of hmmmm, this is a winner or hmmmm, I like where this is going. Some stories brought immediate smiles or chuckles. Some made us curious to know what would happen next. So, to generalize, I would say we are looking for stories that grab us from the start, or capture us by creating curiosity, or touch us in some way emotionally—a heart tug or a laugh and smile. We much prefer our books to have a long shelf life so our authors and illustrators stand the greatest chance for reward. Therefore, we are not looking for what appears to be the latest trend. We are looking for stories that have the potential to become classics.
What are you looking for in a client? (agents/editors)
So far, we love our authors and illustrators. Some of the traits they all have in common are as follows: hard working, receptive to edit suggestions, and wonderful and open communicators. Our goal is to give authors and illustrators who might not otherwise have found a seat in the crowded publishing arena a chance to see their fantastic work in print. The best match for Blue Whale Press is aspiring authors and illustrators, as our goal is to be a launch pad for their careers. While we would be thrilled to publish as many of our author’s books as possible, we would be equally (if not more) thrilled to see their alignment with Blue Whale Press open doors to larger publishers. We want to see our authors and illustrators flourish in any way possible.
What advice do you have for new children’s book writers?
For development: Don’t be in a hurry. Take time to learn your craft. Read, read, and read! Analyze the books that you read. If you can afford it, take courses and go to conferences. If your budget doesn’t allow that, join free online writing communities and watch for blogs that focus on providing writing advice. Pay attention to what others are talking about, and then search the Internet on that topic. See what you can learn. Join free writing challenges. Though there are many excellent writing groups, KIDLIT411 is an outstanding online resource for children’s book writers. In addition to introducing you to a large community of kid lit writers, it will lead you to other groups, contests, blogs, courses, and more.
For submissions: When submitting, ask yourself, “What will make this story stand out from all the other submissions this agent or editor receives? What makes my puppy story, or monster story, or Bigfoot story so special that this editor or agent will say, ‘Yes! This is the one!’” If you can’t answer those questions, it is an indication that you need to keep looking for fresh and standout ideas.
We all have our favorite children’s books, ones that we can read over and over again. Is there a book (or books) that you never get tired of reading?
Naturally, because of my position, I’m going to respond by saying that my favorite books are those that Blue Whale Press currently has in development. As a group, they are clever, funny, sweet, educational, quirky, and engaging. Aside from this self-serving plug, I have to say that choosing a favorite published book is almost impossible. There are so many good ones, and they all offer something special. In picture books, I have always been a big Tammi Sauer fan. A particular picture book that is due for release in October that I love is The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & The Life of H. Tracy Hall (Balzer + Bray) by Hannah Holt. I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy. It is written in a unique style, and the art is wonderful. It is touching, educational, and engaging. I recently discovered Kobi Yamada’s books. I like them because they are different, and I love the art. There are just too many—I could go on forever. In chapter books, I have always been a fan of the Clementine series. And for early chapter books, who doesn’t love Junie B. Jones? For middle grade, I like the Sunny Sweet books. Again, I could go on and on. I haven’t caught on to young adult books yet. But that is on my to-do list.
What books are your favorites and why?
Because my focus has been and remains children’s books and the craft of writing, I don’t find a lot of time to read more than writing craft books and children’s books. I will pick one of my all-time favorites—an oldie but goodie—Stephen King’s The Stand. I love the battle between good and evil. I love the imagination. And as one description states, “. . . it is riveting and eerily plausible.” I don’t read many novels more than once, but I have read this book several times. There are too many craft books to mention. For new picture book writers, you can’t go wrong with Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books. Linda Ashman’s The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books is good as well. For novels, Janice Hardy has a great series of books and workbooks. In addition, her Fiction University blog is wonderful and super informative.
Are you actively seeking submissions?
While submissions will be open for conference attendees, we have otherwise recently closed to picture book and chapter book submissions. We will most likely reopen around November of this year. We remain open to middle grade and illustrator submissions. Currently, we are not interested in young adult submissions.
What are some other hobbies you enjoy?
My husband and I have been blessed to be able to travel the United States extensively for the past couple years. If you can call that a hobby, then it is one I have enjoyed beyond words. It has been the best experience of my life. He also likes to sail and restore old cars, while I enjoy nature and photography tremendously. And I dabble in art with a desire to one day illustrate.
Alayne’s Bio: Alayne Kay Christian is the content and developmental editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author. She is the creator and instructor of the picture book writing course, Art of Arc. She has been a professional picture book and chapter book critique writer for five years. She has been a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 picture book forum for three years. Alayne is a graduate of the Institute for Children’s Literature and she has spent the last ten years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature.