Friday, July 07, 2006

INTERVIEW: Alexandra Kirby, Working Partners LTD

Kathleen and Therese are thrilled to be able to pick the brain of Alexandra Kirby, editor for Working Partners LTD, the UK-based publisher know in the industry as a "book packager." Their success in the YA genre has been anything but ordinary. Working Partners has developed some of the hottest new YA series burning up the NYT's children's fiction lists. We chatted with Alexandra to find out how book packagers work, uncover the latest trends in YA fiction, and learn how the right writer can become part of their growing list of authors.

Interview with editor Alexandra Kirby

Q: Tell us a little bit about Working Partners. What genres do you cover?

Alexandra Kirby: Working Partners was born as a children’s fiction packager. For the past ten years or so, the company has produced concepts and manuscripts for children’s books in many genres, and most often in series. Our most popular series include Animal Ark, Heartland, Rainbow Magic, and of course, Warriors. Genres that we’ve worked in include animal fiction, mystery, horror, historical, fantasy, and thriller. Our latest project is The Caped Sixth Grader, which released on June 27. Our first title in the series is the Happy Birthday Hero.

Q: What would you like people to know about commercial fiction development houses in general and WP specifically?

AK: I suppose the most common misconception is that a packager just churns out book after book without giving much thought to the plot development or quality of the story. This definitely isn’t the case at Working Partners. All of our concepts go through a rigorous editorial development process, receiving lots of feedback from different editors, and we work hard to make sure that every story we produce is exciting, interesting, and well-written. We work in partnership with all our writers and provide as much support as they need.

Q: Why are book packagers increasingly attractive to publishers?

AK: I suppose, like in so many other industries, publishers are pushed for time. Editors at publishing houses have to worry about so many different aspects of a book’s life: cover artwork, production schedules, sales conferences, marketing plans – it’s not just about editing the manuscript. Packagers can help take some of the pressure off by doing some, most, or all of the editorial work for them. And often packagers come up with ideas that publishers recognize as commercially sound, and great reads.

Q: What would people be surprised to know about WP?

AK: Probably that the ideas behind all our books –and there are a lot of them! – come from editors in our office. Whether it’s fairies and magical creatures, vampire infestations, or Elizabethan murder mysteries, all the concepts and plots originate in our boardroom, where the editors meet and discuss (and discuss and discuss and discuss…)

Q: How do you come up with your project ideas? And how do you decide which ideas are the ones youll pursue?

AK: The ideas all come from the creative minds that work here. It’s something that Working Partners looks for in its editors – the ability to generate and execute ideas for stories. Sometimes ideas for books change a lot between the initial “lightbulb over the head” moment and the final proposal document, but they pretty much all start with someone here saying something along the lines of “I had this idea…”

When we meet top brainstorm a particular idea, that is usually when we decide if it “has legs” or not. With everyone contributing to the discussion and offering opinions and ideas, it can be quite a lively session. Usually, we can tell from the energy a particular idea has generated whether it’s worth pursuing. And often the final proposal bears little resemblance to the original idea.

Q: What are WPs most popular series right now, and what do you think makes them attractive to kids?

AK: Well, Warriors is of course a big hit in the US right now. This series has such a diverse group of fans, but they are all really passionate about it, which is fantastic! I think these stories are very rich and tightly-woven. The plots and characters are very compelling and kids can really lose themselves in the world of the cats. The books are smart, too, which kids appreciate.

Another of our recent international successes is a fairy series for young readers called Rainbow Magic. This series has been licensed in more than 20 languages and has sold more than 7 million copies in the UK and Australia alone, where it was originally published (sorry, I don’t have the recent US sales figures). This series created a fun, magical world where girls interact with fairies and help to solve problems and outwit the goblins who work for Jack Frost. The series is sweet, collectible, and totally delightful.

Q: What's hot now in children's/YA fiction, and what trends do you see emerging in the next few years?

AK: Lots of things are hot in children’s fiction at the moment! And it’s pretty much impossible to predict what will be the next big thing, especially since by the time you figure it out, the kids will have moved on to something else. One year it will be pirate books, and before you know it, pirates are over and everyone’s after witches. What’s great about children’s books now is that there is so much variety. There really are books for readers of all abilities and interests now, whether you’re into epic fantasy novels, girly friendship stories, historical adventures, or bloodthirsty vampire scare-fests. I think there is so much more quality children’s literature available now than even when I was a kid, checking the (single) young adult shelf at the local library every week for new books.

Q: How do you decide which writer is right for the project? What is the author-editor relationship at WP like?

AK: We usually get several samples for each project and a number of editors will read and comment on them. Usually, there is a consensus as to which writer’s sample seems right for the project, but as it is so subjective, sometimes there are disagreements, and in those cases we would ask more than one writer to revise, and possibly even present more than one sample to the publishers.

Q: What are some advantages writers find in working with a commercial fiction development house like Working Partners?

AK: Many of the writers we work with fall into a couple of categories. There are inexperienced writers who have a great voice, but can really benefit from the structure and editorial support we provide. We can provide a great “training ground” for them. There are also writers who are prolific and can write more than books than they have ideas for. Some writers actually prefer to intersperse their own projects with Working Partners projects. And many of the writers that we work with continue to come back to us, even after they have written their own books and become well-known authors in their own right.

Q: Have you ever begun a writer-editor relationship with an unpublished writer? What advice would you give to a writer who wishes to break into this market segment?

AK: Yes! We have worked with a number of unpublished writers, some of whom have gone on to place their own projects with publishers. And we are delighted for them! It’s great to know that we have helped to develop new writers and we always hope that they will want to continue working with us as well. Anyone who is interested in writing a sample for us is welcome to send us their details via our website. On the page labeled Writers & Literary Agents, you can fill out and submit the Writer’s Information Form.

Thanks so much for the information, Alexandra, and for a great interview!


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