Meeting Report: Zoe Tucker, 27th May 2010

Fri 11 Jun 2010 by Belen

This month, it was a pleasure for B.i.G. to welcome Zoe Tucker, commissioning and design manager for Alison Green Books, who gave an invaluable insider's talk on publishing children's picture books.
Zoe has worked in publishing for 12 years for several publishers of children's books. Her main roles at Alison Green are to manage the look of the book list and the schedules. She works on between 7-10 books per year, aimed at the 2-7 year age range.
It is evident that Zoe not only loves her job, but that she enjoys the creative collaboration with authors and artists. She feels this to be an important part of her job in aiming to get the best result possible. She has several things to consider when commencing a project. Firstly, she must find an illustrator whose work marries well with the text. If a subject is difficult, an accessible style of illustration is a must. Choice of illustrator can depend on many things, including timing and the reliability and personableness of the artist. The market the book is to be aimed at is very important and best if it can also include the US.
Zoe took us through the picture book process in a clear step by step approach.
Zoe emphasised the importance of characters, everything hinges on this. Making characters work and engage the reader is the key to any story. She welcomes ideas from artists and is happy to develop these if she feels there is potential. Zoe likes looking through sketch books and drawings that are loose, showing the development process. From these foundations characters are formed and stories created.
Next come thumbnail sketches, and the chance to really nail down the text and imagery and make them work together. Pacing, structure and the emotion of the story must be considered. Several times, Zoe mentioned thinking like a film maker, eg close ups, camera angles...
Zoe advised using the first 3-4 layouts to introduce characters, the next 3-4 to carry the main story and the last 3-4 to round off story.
Thumbnails should be an opportunity to do your thinking and explore ideas, think of the design, where to use vignettes, panels, full colour etc.
The third stage - roughs. This is where to iron out the design and refine the telling of the story.
Fourth step is the finished artwork. Here is where it must be considered how to elicit as much drama as possible, get around technical problems or consider restricted colour palettes.
Zoe gave incisive advice on the design of the book cover and of the realities of getting a book to sell.
Obviously, they must stand out in a book shop, be seen from a distance and nowadays also, also work in a very small format on Amazon. The cover needs to look inviting, distinctive and convey what is going on inside.  Zoe mentioned that she has had to come around to designing for all the extra stickers and flashes that may end up appearing on the front, which initially bothered her 'purist' design sensibilty.
Zoe briefly spoke about novelty books. Unsurprisingly, a paper engineered book can take up to a year to put together.
After the break, the second half of the evening, Zoe took questions, mostly from a panel of B.iG. members who work in picture book illustration.
I won't list all the questions but here are some of Zoe's answers.
A book takes on average 9 months to put together. 3 months of this is for the artwork. Zoe advised not to start with the first spread, as too much hangs on it, but to start somewhere else at a non-climactic moment.
Zoe attends 2 book fairs a year including Bologna. To these, she takes dummies of books and sells to as many countries as possible. A co-edition makes a book more financially viable.
A successful book jacket is an art form in itself and Zoe feels a tremendous responsibility in getting it right and therefore ensuring maximum sales.
If you would like to contact Zoe, a nice cover letter and no more than 3-4 A4 sheets outlining your ideas will do. Please, no CVs, no discs and always be confident when presenting.
A shadow was cast when the happy mood created by Zoe's love of books and talk of cake was disturbed by talk instead of money and the recession. Just beware dear artists, the times they are a changing. Think wisely before making decisions.
Carol, Karen and Paul
Thank goodness someone knows what they're doing - Mr O'Connor
Alan Baker, showing the changes he was asked to make to his roughs... only a few then!
The discussion, with Jo, Guy P-R, Zoe and Adam
An expectant audience