Jane Yolen on 400 Books
In my professional writing career, I’ve had over 30 books published. That seems a reasonably impressive number — until you compare it to Jane Yolen’s output. In a decades-long publishing career, Yolen has written literally hundreds of books, with her 400th — !!!! — arriving this very week: Bear Outside, written by her and illustrated by Jen Corace. I’ve cleared out a little space for Yolen to talk about what it takes to be so prolific, and why perhaps the most impressive thing about her having written 400 books is that it’s 400 books… so far.
So, It’s just a number. 400. Big in some ways, small in others.
If all I had in my bank account was $400, I would be out of food and housing. About ready to look for a real job, Probably at Walmart since I am 82.
But if I told you that was how many different books I would have out by this March, you would think it enormous and unlikely.
Enormous for you, maybe, but I have been writing steadily since college, so I have a lot of stuff out there, and not all of it in books. I write more than 365 poems a year, because I write a poem a day for over a thousand subscribers. And then I write books of poems. And poems for posters and poems for raising money for good causes. (Good liberal causes, I am quick to add.) I write essays and stories and some get into anthologies, but those are not in separate books. I write reviews and speeches. I am very wordy.
And on March 2, my 400th book came out: Bear Outside. A picture book for children with illustrations by Jen Corace. I found her while looking for an illustrator for a different project, saw this wonderful sample illustration of a child wearing a bear, looking out of its mouth. No explanation. My book grew from that picture, and the editor loved the picture, too, and asked her to illustrate the book. It’s a book for young children about conquering one’s fears and helping others in lyrical lines — NOT a poem but certainly poetic. And the last two lines do rhyme.
I write these kinds of picture books because I find ideas everywhere. In nature, in family outings, in books I read, newspapers, song lyrics, dreams. In fact, this year, both before and after the 400th book comes out, I will probably have eleven other books published. They include two books of adult poetry – a chapbook from Scotland with my science fiction poetry, with an introduction by Jo Walton, and one from the USA with my Holocaust and Jewish poetry. Plus a bunch of picture books. Two or maybe three Easy Readers. A middle grade fantasy novel that begins where Moby Dick ended. I told you I was wordy.
But the problem is not with how many books I write. It is a reflection of how slow editors are. I write every day. Editors get back to me months and months after they have received a manuscript. Then it takes months more with revision and (if a picture book) lining up an illustrator and the illustrator getting to my work. Jen Corace got right to my book and it is getting out in fairly record time. But one of my books out this year was sold over twelve years ago, and the illustrator with whom I conceived the project was first very booked up so I was, maybe, fifth in his queue. Then he got ill, and then his wife got ill (long before Covid), and the book got shoved back and back and back again. Another of the books took extra time because the editor was searching for just the right illustrator. And I had been writing the Jewish poems up until the book was taken for some twelve years, and then kept writing more. I am to blame for the length of time it took to publication.
So, writing and editing, and publishing (not to mention illustrating) a book are all on different timelines. This year, for me, seemed to be the stopping point, or the culmination for a lot of books.
So, is 400 large amount, or a mistake? Is it a culmination of a career? Or… you tell me. I have over 30 books under contract. I have many unsold manuscripts. I am still writing. My eye is on 500!