Where did the concept for Zuiker Press come from?
We are all about helping young people. Our professions deal directly with education and story-telling every day. We wanted to start Zuiker Press as a way to combine our skill sets so that we could help educate young readers and adults of the challenges of today’s youth. Make no mistake, we are an “issue-based” company. Our mission is to save lives and inspire hearts through the journey’s of our authors.
How do you work with your authors?
In our process, we sit with prospective young authors to listen to their stories, and then work intimately with their parents, professionals, and loved ones to understand the underlying issues that these kids are facing. We spend countless hours with every family, cultivating meaningful relationships, and working face-to-face with the young writer to capture his or her story to present it in an authentic fashion.
At what point did you realize that the graphic novel format was the right one for Zuiker Press titles?
To be honest, we trusted Dave Elliot, our Creative Director, when he told us to tell the story visually. Our job was to make sure every young author’s story was captured on the page through words and illustration, but we were open to how that could be achieved. When we saw the first ten pages of our first book, we realized that the six-panel format suited our stories well. Our internal motto is very strict. We are storytellers using a graphic novel format to tell hard hitting stories through words and pictures. Our mission is to enlighten and inform by showing other young readers and their families that they are not alone in dealing with these topics.
What is it like to work with young authors to convey their story?
The short answer: tears. When we interview the parents and author, it usually is a very emotional experience. We are looking at tough issues that are impacting young people. We begin by hearing a young person sharing his or her story in person. If we feel like the story is a good fit for our company, we drill down deeper and bring the families into the construction of the narrative. It takes a certain amount of trust to entrust us to bring these sensitive stories to life.
What is it like to work with artists to convey the story? CHECK
Like I said, every child is different. The fascination isn’t so much about the writing of the book. The privilege is to work side-by-side with these children from first interview to final completion. The entire process takes a little over two years. We take great care in the children, their families, the story, and the messaging. Every book is a labor of love and we hope other children and parents will continue the conversation after its been read.
ence I will never forget.
Anthony, you’ve created the most successful TV franchise in history. Why go into book publishing?
The short answer is “I want to help young people.” There is a lot of pain out there. I’ve watched our authors share things they’ve never said aloud. In a very cathartic way, Zuiker Press gives the young author the permission to “get it off of his or her chest.” Time after time my wife and I go in expecting one thing with a writer and we leave with our hearts filled with a fresh perspective. It’s a life-changing experience that we wouldn’t swap for all the “CSI” success in the world.
Michelle, you’ve taught 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade for 17 years. What did you learn from being in the classroom that is influencing Zuiker Press books?
In my years of teaching, I’ve seen so many young people get inspired by books. I know reading helps them most, in all areas, regardless of the subject matter. In all my years of teaching, I’ve learned one immutable truth: young people listen to and understand other young people better than they do adults. My husband and I are on a mission to tackle topics I’ve dealt with in the classroom every day — depression, bullying, child abuse, racism, and the like. It’s not easy being young in this day and age. Our company is designed to take one young person’s story and share it so it can extrapolated to empower other young people. We dare our authors to “tell it like is” and “not hold back” with the hope of bringing greater understanding of a topic to light.
Michelle, you’re married to Anthony. You two run this company. Walk us through how you guys work with the children. What roles do you both play? CHECK
Well, right now it’s just the beginning, so it’s a process of how we approach everything we do. It’s a learning situation. I’m a teacher and he’s a writer. We go hand and hand. We discuss the subject matter we think is imperative for children at the time, and then we brainstorm people we may know who have children who have gone through the experience of our subject matter. If we don’t have anyone who comes to mind, we reach out to people we know who may know someone who can help. Anthony contacts the parents and discusses the logistics of it, and as of right now, he meets with them and their child. Since we’ve only done this once, with his son/my stepson, for our first book, it worked best with him interviewing. Sometimes, it’s just about getting the child to feel comfortable opening up about their insecurities. Together, Anthony and I oversee the child words, shepherd the illustrations, and interface with the editor until the book is completed. The best part about working together is we champion each other’s skill sets, and we enjoy every journey with every family.
Are you both constantly noodling topics for future titles? CHECK
Truthfully, no. The first four titles literally came to us. I think forcing ourselves into naming the first four books wouldn’t ring true. The second we said “B” we knew it was going to be “B for Body Image.” That topic is so huge with young girls, especially in this age of social media. “C for Cyberbullying” is the newest issue for children because smart devices are given to them at such a young age. And, of course, “D for Divorce” unfortunately hits home in every school, in every city, in every state in America and abroad. Confidently, I’d say the letters speak to us more than we speak of the letters.
Are you accepting submissions for book ideas? CHECK
I wish I could say “Yes,” but legally we cannot accept submissions at this time. Hopefully in the future, we can find a way to honor other children’s ideas than just the twenty-six letters in the alphabet.
What would make you proudest about Zuiker Press? CHECK
Simply, to start a dialogue. Zuiker Press is a company about child-centric issues and how to overcome them. Our child authors are special. We want their voices to transform thinking. We want parents to read the book and learn from the “Gimme 5!” section written by industry experts. We want parents, teachers, aides, and students to go to zuikerpress.com and learn more on our website. We are a children’s literary company designed to tackle important issues that will be around forever.
Finally, what is the child author’s responsibility for Zuiker Press once they are commissioned to write a book? CHECK
It’s funny. The book is actually a small part of the responsibility. It’s the most work, but we want each child author to be the “Ambassador for their Letter.” What does that mean? We expect the child to be truthful in his/her narrative. We expect them to work alongside the illustrators. We expect them to help craft their sizzle trailers. We want them to do panels at literary expos. We want them to be “the voice.” Period. With Zuiker Press comes a big responsibility. And these children are up for the challenge. You’d be surprised how strong willed and whip smart these children are when it comes to their own issues. It’s really something to watch and a pleasure to be around.