Monday, March 15, 2010

Guest post: Beyond the Book--HAPPYFACE by Stephen Emond

Guest Post: Connie Hsu
Beyond the Book: Happyface by Stephen Emond

I'll always remember my first--first acquisition, that is: Libby's beautiful Blow Out the Moon. And so, with the recent publication of my assistant's first acquisition, I asked if she'd like to do a guest post. Connie's first acquisition was not the typical "agent sends in a submission, editor acquires said submission." Nope. Connie WORKED for this one. And what an acquisition it was. Happyface is a beautiful, awe-inspiring, unique book--each page has fully integrated text and art. The book itself and its creator, Stephen Emond, are both absolutely brilliant. And with that, I'll let Connie take it away. (P.S. Connie is brilliant, too)


Hello, Blue Rose Girls readers! I’m excited and honored to guest blogging about HAPPYFACE by Stephen Emond, a young adult novel that just came out this month. Not only is this is my first post on Blue Rose Girls, but it’s also a post about my first acquisition ever.

To give you the full back story of HAPPYFACE, I will need to take you all back in time with me, to a time when Brangelina only had four kids and Lehman Brothers was still in business. It was February 2007, and I was less than a year into my job as editorial assistant at Little, Brown (my first job in book publishing, in fact). I was volunteering at the LBYR booth at the New York Comic-Con, where I met Stephen Emond, who was signing his EMO BOY comic book series. I walked up to his booth, picked up EMO BOY, read it, liked it, and decided he should write a book.

I was young, green, and naïve, so I approached him with the line, “Hey, do you want to write a book?” I didn’t even have a business card or anything proving that I was from Little, Brown, but for some reason, Steve believed me. He said he was definitely into YA, and that he had ideas galore (I later found out he didn’t). A few weeks later, Alvina and I met Steve for lunch, and he had seven ideas on hand, each concept typed up on full-color one-sheets with art.

Steve had many amazing ideas, running the gamut from a metaphysical sci-fi fantasy romance adventure involving a re-imagined Greek underworld to a realistic story, told through journal entries, about a boy, a family tragedy, and how he reinvents himself to hide from his painful past. It was called HAPPYFACE, and there was something about it that felt really raw, honest, and compelling, even though the description was under 300 words. It spoke to both Alvina and me, and we agreed that he should pursue HAPPYFACE.

After nearly a year of developing the outline, shaping the story, and working on art and design, Steve finally had a full outline and 70 or so pages with the text and art fully laid out. Like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, the text and art complemented each other, and each page/spread as its own design. At this point, Steve wasn’t signed up yet—he had done all this fantastic work on spec, and now it was up to me to bring it to our acquisitions committee. I was a wreck. What if it didn’t pass? What would I tell Steve? Where would I hide so he couldn’t hunt me down and make me pay for wasting a year of his life?

Fortunately, it passed! (and I nearly passed out when I heard the news)

At this point, Steve had about six or seven months to write the rest of the story and complete all the art. Keep in mind, he’d done about a quarter of the book over a year, but somehow, he did it! (I promise you, I didn’t threaten him! Just made whip cracking sounds over the phone.) He had somehow transformed from comic book guy to YA super hero.

And then… the design process. When we went into this, we knew we couldn’t just run the text and drop in art, which is what’s done with most other books, even ones with art. This wasn’t an option with HAPPYFACE. The art didn’t just sit alongside the text; some pieces actually worked as pieces of dialogue or had to correspond to a specific line. There was spot art, comic strips, sidebars, doodles, and taped-in I.M. conversations and e-mails, and this meant that each page had to be designed and laid out separately. Steve took the helm in navigating us through these confusing waters, showing us how he wanted each page laid out, and our designer, Ben Mautner, would go through and make sure everything was in its right place.

The process of keeping track of every piece of art (I believe there are over 400 pieces) in a 320 page book is pretty difficult. I remember slamming my head down on the typeset pages while reviewing them, with joy and happiness of course.
Then off to the cover. We had discussed using interior art, or something that would let the reader know this was an illustrated novel, but everything felt too young or clunky. Finally, Ben shared this cover, and it was simply brilliant. The face looks hand-drawn, the yellow cover really popped, and unlike the typical circular face, it was a full bleed cover. He then had the idea of adding a paper texture to the background, to evoke the sense of a journal and of a sketchbook.

And then one night, he had a dreamed about a partial cover, a preprinted case, and an unrequited love with a vampire.

Well, actually, I don’t know how he came up with this, but I’d like to think it was really dramatic. Ben thought it would be neat to have a partial jacket with just the smile; the jacket would wrap around a preprinted case. When you remove the jacket, ta-da! Sad face underneath. It’s both surprising and a great way of playing up one of the central themes in the book. It’s also just cool. When he demonstrated this at our jacket meeting, people actually applauded. And Ben actually bowed.
Meanwhile, some incredible authors agreed to review HAPPYFACE and contribute blurbs—Scott Westerfeld, Adam Rex, Michael Buckley, and Hope Larson all said wonderful things (thank God). Their support for Steve’s YA debut was phenomenal. Shout-outs and fist bumps!
It’s still hard to believe that it’s actually a book. We were at Steve’s book launch party on Saturday at RJ Julia Booksellers, and it was amazing to see how two naïve but hopeful people could meet randomly at Comic-Con three years ago and have a book today.

 It’s a real live book! In real live stores! And it’s gotten starred reviews from PW and Kirkus! Real live reviews!

“Whimsical, thoughtful, boyishly sarcastic, off-the-cuff… achingly beautiful.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[An] engaging and absolutely heartfelt tale.”—Kirkus ( starred review)

So I feel like I have a lot to be happy about, from finding an immensely talented, easy going, and nicest-guy-on-Earth author, to having the best support system in the world named Alvina Ling. She encouraged me the entire way, gave me the best advice (“Stop whining”), and even schlepped up to Connecticut with me in the rain for the HAPPYFACE book launch. If that can’t put a grin on my face, I don’t know what can.


Aww. Thanks, Connie! This book has been such an amazing journey, and I'm so thrilled it's being well-received. Seriously, you have to see this thing in person, it's a work of art.

And now, for a little bonus, here's a fun teaser trailer we filmed at an office Halloween party. Yes, that's Connie behind the mask, and yes, that's me singing (cringe). Enjoy!


Maria Mercado said...

Happyface rocks. Looking forward to more guests posts from Connie. Love the video!

alexandra said...

connie, thanks for sharing. your happy face story is really inspiring. and i LOVE the cover! how often is it that authors have input into the cover design?

alvinaling said...

Hi Alexandra,

Although it's rare for an author to have contractual cover consultation, and even rarer to have approval, generally we do loop the author in during the process. It's the author's name that goes on the book, so of course we want them to be happy with the cover!

Steve Emond said...

Ha! Cute "trailer"! :P
If Connie needed to be told to stop whining, I'll have to say she didn't show it much to me - the happy face of professionalism!

Meghan McCarthy said...

This is a great story! Arg, I meant to ask for a copy when I was in the office (Alvina told me I should) but then I didn't.