Congratulations to member Jed Alexander! Jed’s new book, Red, was acquired by Amy Novesky at Cameron + Company and will be published in the spring of 2018. Red is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood and is the first in a series of wordless retellings of classic fairy tales for young children. The deal was made by Jed’s agent, Abigail Samoun at Red Fox Literary. I first learned of Jed’s new success when I read the announcement in the 11/17/16 Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf. Way to go, Jed!
I asked Jed to share his inspiration for the new book and a bit about his journey to publication for this manuscript/series:
I’ve always been interested in the universality of wordless narrative—the idea that anybody can pick up the book and connect with it. This was the inspiration for my first book, funded through Kickstarter, (Mostly) Wordless.
Red, though, started as a mailer. A short, condensed, wordless version of Little Red Riding
Hood in a two-color trifold mailer. In the story, Little Red Riding Hood is confronted by a very menacing looking wolf. Later we find that the wolf is stalling Little Red, while grandma and the other animals in the forest are preparing a birthday party for her. My agent, Abigail Samoun, liked the mailer so much she suggested I turn it into a book.
So, unconventionally, I decided to draw the whole book instead of a dummy. I’d submitted book dummy after book dummy, and it was time. It was the same with (Mostly) Wordless, which was eventually picked up by the publisher, Alternative Comics. I’m in this to make books, not book proposals, and so that’s what I did. And I very much recommend it.
We’re told over and over, “That’s not how it works, don’t send the publisher a completed project, they won’t be interested.” But my background in small press comics informed me otherwise. When I was doing small press comics, people made books. You submitted a completed project, or you published it yourself, and in small press comics, self-publishing had no stigma attached to it. Whether is was photocopied or conventionally printed, if it looked good, people bought it. You might not have had many readers, but you had readers. And this is often still how it’s done. This is how Raina Telgemeier started. Before Smile she was doing photocopied ‘zines. That’s how she got the attention of Scholastic and was commissioned to do the Babysitter’s Club series.
I’m not saying I’ve given up on the conventional submission process. I’m just saying there’s only so long I’m willing to wait. And if you want to make a book, nothing’s stopping you.
So I finished the book, which I called “Red,” along with covers for two other prospective books in the series, “Yellow” and “Blue,” all based on fairy tales and designed for a two-color format. Abi took it to New York. Nobody was interested. Wordless books weren’t selling. Or that was one of the reasons they sited. I try not to think too hard about why a book is rejected. All I can do is do the best work I can. The fact is nobody knows what sells or why it sells. Not editors or publishers. If they had that magic formula, every book they published would be a bestseller and there would be no midlist books or failures.
My agent and I had already established a relationship with Cameron + Company, and Amy Novesky had shown interest in expanding one of the short pieces in (Mostly) Wordless into a full-length picture book. I’d put together a dummy, but ultimately they passed. Still, Amy really liked my work, and asked, “Do you have anything else, particularly with animals?” And I said, “Of course I do.” I sent her Red. She got back the same day. She said she loved it, and asked if I had any ideas for a “Green.”
Eventually, Amy and the rest of the fine folks at Cameron + Company asked me to expand my little 24-page square book to a more conventional 32-page 7×10 format. This required me to redraw most of the book, but I’m glad for the opportunity to improve it. It’s going to look great!
What I particularly like about the concept of Red is that even the title is universal. The whole series is designed for very young children. I’d love to have them say, “I want the red one,” or “I want the yellow one,” and that could be “red” or “yellow” in any language. The story is all told in pantomime. This too comes from my background in comics, in which so much of the story has to be communicated with attitude and body language. Other influences are turn of the century books by Wilhelm Busch, and Rodolfe Topffer, which also rely very much on pantomime.
I think more than ever, right now we have to ask ourselves as artists—what is the value of what we’re doing? What am I adding here? And that’s why I think wordless books are so important, because any kid can connect with any other kid through a book like this, or see themselves in it. And in a culture where we have so many other barriers beyond just language, we need as much common ground as we can get.
After working for over ten years in the editorial field for such publications as LA Weekly, The Sacramento News and Review and The Santa Cruz Metro, Jed returned to his first love, children’s literature. With this new focus, Jed debuted his portfolio at The 2009 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators North/Central California conference where he won Best in Show. He has since contributed to Nickelodeon Magazine, Spongebob Comics, and Cricket Magazine as both an author and illustrator. Find out more about Jed at jedalexander.com.