Sunday, September 11, 2016

Concept to Completion: Art Director Jim Hoover

Next on our journey following a picture book from concept to completion is the art director.



Joining us today is Jim Hoover with Viking Books. Jim, thank you so much for being willing to be a part of this series.  

Let’s start at the beginning. What happens when you get a call from, or have a meeting with, an editor?

I have worked with my team of editors for many years now, and I am proud to call them my coworkers, colleagues, and friends. So—often, a meeting isn’t so much ‘called’ as it sort of morphs from a casual conversation where we turn from shooting the breeze to “oh, you actually wanted to talk about work. Cool.”

Other times, someone shows up at your door with a stack of printouts or proofs, and it’s like “hey. What did we decide to do about this?”

“I dunno.”

“Okay, let’s figure it out.”

I truly think the world of my team and enjoy their company. We love our work, and it is completely collaborative. I always say that the fun and love we have for our books shows through in the final package.  We work hard, but most of the good days we barely notice.

And like any relationship, communication is key. If some snafu happens along the way during the process of a book it almost always boils down to miscommunication.


Above is a picture of me holding court with some of my coworker peeps. This is a picture from a very important meeting where we discussed the end of the last Game of Thrones season. I’m sure we did real work that day, too. To my right: Maggie Rosenthal (editorial assistant), Abigail Powers (copyeditor), Mariam Quraishi (design assistant), Amanda Mustafic (associate publicist), Krista Ahlberg (copyeditor), Nancy Brennan (associate art director), and Kate Renenr (senior designer.)

Sounds like a wonderful way to work. When working on a picture book do you communicate with the illustrator, the editor, or both?

With both. An art director’s job is to mediate comments from the editorial, sales and marketing teams to the illustrator and keep them on task and on time. We usually have a few ideas of our own, too.

What is your process when getting started with a new manuscript?

It actually still can surprise me after fifteen years how much the process can shift from one book to another. But GENERALLY, when I get a manuscript and need to find an illustrator, I have a few sources that I start with.

1.) I have a running list of illustrators that I have either always wanted to work with or am dying to work with again. Sometimes, it can take YEARS to find just the right (or another) book to work on. Patience is a virtue on all sides.

2.) I have a number of illustration agencies that I have worked with and trust. (I also have agents that I avoid like the plague.) I will go through their sites and (re)familiarize myself with their clients, and in many cases, reach out and ask for recommendations.

3.) I’ve usually found someone by this point, but every now and then, I’ll talk to other art directors and we will recommend folks to each other. Again, we also all have a running list of whom to avoid.

I’ll try to stay off the list of people to avoid. :-) Easy since I’m not an illustrator. What is your favorite part of the process?

Oooo, tough one. My favorite part of the process is probably when I get a few hours to sit with some good tunes on and just play with type and color. There is this wonderful ‘quiet before the storm’ moment when you are onto an idea for a cover or something when the whole thing is just YOURS to develop and work with, before anyone has weighed in on if it works, or needs to change, or just pulls the whole thing apart and sends you back to the drawing board.

I’ve lost days chasing an idea that I am pretty sure won’t make it past the first round of feedback, but I just want to let it breathe for a bit and enjoy it. Sometimes you can push through and really find something that’s special.

That sounds fantastic. I’m really seeing that every person on the path for a picture book is wildly creative. So when is your job finally ‘done’?

I guess when the book finally comes in from production as a finished, printed, bound object—that book is done. Otherwise, I am Sisyphus pushing that big ol’ boulder up the hill.

I think it’s like that at every phase. There is always ‘one more thing’ we can do, or tweak, or change. Now my favorite question; what is the longest and shortest time you’ve worked on a manuscript?

This really varies in an old skool hardcover imprint like Viking. We seldom push something through too fast. I would say the shortest has been five or six months.  On the flipside of that, I have one project that I have been working on for three years and it’s STILL not done. I know editors closing in on FIVE YEARS with some manuscripts. Some books just need more room to develop and grow than others. One of my favorite author/illustrators once lamented that she wishes she could do one picture book a year, and it usually takes her a year and a half, and occasionally two. But her books are perfect and beautiful. I am a quality over quantity sort of guy.

Six month to 5 years. That's a pretty big range. Publishing = Patience.
Do you deal with any other people within the publishing house? If so, who?

Publishing is a team effort. We work with marketing, sales, publicity, upper management, sales reps out in the field, authors, estates, stock houses, foundations, sometimes even spouses. It takes a village to raise a child and a House to make a book.

It takes a village to raise a child and a House to make a book.


Best. Line. EVER.

Every author needs to know, are illustration notes evil? This is something we hear conflicting info on.

Here’s what authors need to know about working with illustrators on a picture book. Once an illustrator has been assigned, you both become COAUTHORS. They are going to bring something to the table that you could not have counted on. Illustrators turn word documents into living, breathing things.

So, as you write, breaking a story down by spread is a great idea (I do know some art directors and editors that disagree with me here) but breaking down a manuscript by spread allows you to control the pacing of a story. There are some broad illustration notes that may be necessary, but beyond these two things, it really is best to keep illustration notes down to a minimum. This is not something that should be micromanaged, and it could even work against you in finding an editor.

Is there anything you wish authors knew that would make your job easier?

The biggest frustration is when an author doesn’t understand that once a publisher is signed up, their book is no longer their own thing existing in a vacuum. We have teams of people with decades of experience and direct knowledge of what will do well out in the market and what won’t. Have faith in the team that has faith in your book.

Have faith in the team that has faith in your book.

No I in team. Check.

Is there anything you wish illustrators knew that would make your job easier?

Deadlines are SO important. There is always a few days or even a week or two grace period, but some illustrators will blow deadlines by MONTHS. Understand that you are shooting yourself and the book in the foot the further away you get from an agreed-upon deadline.

*Double checks calendar to see if I’m late for anything.*  No, I’m safe for now. What fuels your creative time? Chocolate, coffee, music?

Are you a mind reader? :o) This is the holy trinity of my creative fuel. Sometimes I get caught dancing in my chair while making boring corrections to a novel interior, and I keep a chocolate stash in my top drawer, but shhh! Don’t tell anyone! 

Shh. Don’t blow my mind reading secret.  And thank you for that image. Now I’m going to imagine everyone chair dancing as they work on their books. :-P

Thank you again Jim for sharing your part in the publishing journey. Thank you for what you do! And P.S. I’m totally snagging some chocolate if I ever come visit your office.

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