Delighted to be here, Dionna, and I enjoyed working with you too!
Please share a little about yourself and how you eventually found your home in the kidlit industry.
From the time I was a very little girl, there was nothing I enjoyed more than reading. My parents always told stories of how they’d have to take a book out of my hands and push me out the door to play with friends. When I became an adult my father would love to remind me of how he would wake up in the middle of the night and find me up reading.
“Steffie—it’s so late,” he’d say. “You have to go to sleep.”
“I will—as soon as I finish this chapter,” I’d invariably reply.
That love of books continued throughout my life. So to say that I’m lucky to be making a living creating books is a huge understatement!
I started my publishing career as an editorial assistant at a magazine. The job was not very glamorous and at times downright awful, but at least the pay was bad! My last job "working for the man" was at a continuity company in Stamford, CT. We produced card-and-binder and card-and-box series that were sold through the mail. The work was interesting and fun—and the job led to me starting my own business…and to marrying my husband! So all in all a good experience!
After I started my book producing company, I continued working with my old company. I produced a series in a variety of subject areas, but none specifically for young readers. Then, in 2010, the company hired me to produce a series with Sesame Workshop. My work on that series, called Elmo’s Learning Adventure, led to work with Scholastic’s school and library publishing division, which remains my biggest client to this day.
Twenty years ago, when you founded your company, how did you come up with the name Spooky Cheetah Press?
Again — that last office job! I was doing photo research for a book about African wildlife. In those days we still leafed through books for images and I was tagging photos that I wanted to look at again with the art director. I labeled one image “spooky cheetah” and we all just loved the way it sounded. (I’m also a bit of an African wildlife nut.) I left to start my company soon after and settled on that as the name—even though most everyone agreed it was a better name for a dance club than a book producing company!
There are definitely a lot of challenges that come along with my job—and a healthy amount of stress. However, all are outweighed (by about a million times) by how much I love what I do and how much I appreciate working for myself. My biggest frustration these days is "pulling teeth" to get what I need from a client to meet our deadlines. My biggest pet peeve (always) is contributors who complain and/or act like prima donnas. I do whatever it takes to get the job done well and on time—and to keep my clients happy. I expect the same from the subcontractors who work for me. (As I’ve said to my husband many times, I’m the grease, never the squeaky wheel. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that same consideration from the people who work for me. Happily there are lots of them!)
What do you love about what you do, being in the thick of things, producing high-quality nonfiction books for children of all ages?
Everything! Nonfiction is so much fun for me. I’m super curious about so many things... working on nonfiction for kids gives me the opportunity to learn something new and interesting practically every day.
Even more important, my job gives me the chance to (hopefully) impact young readers in a meaningful way. Over the past six or so years I’ve become a bit of a zealot about trying to instill a love of reading in young kids. I was lucky that my daughter joyfully took to reading as a very little girl. It breaks my heart to see how many other kids struggle to read and end up hating it—which of course leads to academic difficulties and setbacks all the way down the road. My greatest hope is that I can create books that might light a spark for a young reader.
So far on your kidlit journey, describe an accomplishment/achievement that has brought you a sense of satisfaction, maybe one that surprised you?
The first time I felt a real sense of pride about what I do was when I worked on Elmo’s Learning Adventure. It was the first time I worked with a client who wanted exactly what I did—to push the kids and give them all the tools we could to learn and grow as readers and as human beings. (As opposed to "don’t use that word, kids won’t know what it means", or "we can’t talk about that…") The guiding principals so evident in the Sesame Street show were the same for our series. It was so gratifying. (Looking at photos of Muppets all day and writing in the voices of Elmo, Cookie, Grover, et al was pretty cool too!)
That was the start, of course. Working on school and library books for Scholastic continues to be very satisfying. Nothing’s perfect—and I’m certainly not saving any lives—but I can feel good about what I do.
Yes. Writers can send manuscripts that only they have edited through my website. Likewise designers can send a link to a portfolio. I just thought of another pet peeve! Contributors should look at my site and note what I do before sending anything. If we don’t seem like a good fit, we’re probably not. The submission will go directly into the trash. I can’t tell you how many solicitations I’ve received from business and finance writers who think they’d be "perfect" for me. Whaaa????
The titles in their children’s book collection are carefully created to offer the highest educational content in a format that is easy for young readers to navigate and enjoy. Books created for the school and library market include supplemental materials that tie in to the common core state standards in the most engaging way possible. Find their portfolio at www.spookycheetah.com.