Executive Interview with a Disney Fairies Author: Lisa Papademetriou 

Image Provided by Lisa Papademetriou

I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to interview children’s and middle-grade author, Lisa Papademetriou. With experience working for Scholastic, Harper Collins, Disney Press, and more, she’s written and published over 70 books. My personal childhood favorites were her contributions to the Disney Fairies book series. Lisa has written iconic children’s chapter books like Rani in the Mermaid Lagoon, Rosetta’s Daring Day, Iridessa, Lost at Sea, the Confectionately Yours series, My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar, and many more. In this interview, Lisa shared her writing process, favorite books, and some tips on getting a literary agent of your own!

Zetta Whiting: What made you want to become a children’s book author? 

Lisa Papademetriou: I didn’t really intend on being a children’s book writer, so much as those were the kinds of books that had a huge impact on me during my early years as a reader. At a certain point as a kid, I realized, ‘Oh, this is a real job people can do,’ and I thought that would be a great job to have. There’s a real magic in the middle grade and chapter book world. Even if you write for adults, you never really impact readers in the same way that you impact children who are having their first reading experiences. It’s just so magical for them. 

Zetta Whiting: How did you start working for Scholastic, and what was your position? Did that lead to your first book deal? 

Lisa Papademetriou: This was back in the mid to late nineties. I had my BA in English Literature from Vassar College and was working as a high school teacher in a private school in Guatemala City. I had also been an intern at The Horn Book magazine. I think I ended up writing a letter to Scholastic’s human resources department, and they happened to have a position in the trade book group. These were the books that would actually go into bookstores. I got called in for an interview and really hit it off with the editor, who I ended up working for. It was just pure luck, honestly! 

I started as an editorial assistant and then became an assistant editor. I then moved to Daniel White’s associates and then to Harper Collins. I also worked as an editor for Disney Press. It was there that I started doing some more development work and pitched ideas based on Disney’s existing properties. Eventually, I decided I wanted to write the stories myself and made the transition from editor to writer. I did a bunch of Disney Fairies and Pixar-related books. I got my first fully original book deal that I could write under my own name at Hyperion, which was owned by Disney as well. 

Zetta Whiting: I was a huge fan of the Disney Fairies books as a kid, especially Rani in the Mermaid Lagoon. I saw you also wrote Iridessa, Lost at Sea, and Rosetta’s Daring Day. I know that there are multiple different authors tied to the Disney Fairies books, so how did you start writing for that series? 

Lisa Papademetriou: Disney asked me to do some development work. They said, “We have an idea, and it’s gonna be Tinkerbell and her friends,” and they asked me to brainstorm what that might look like. There was a big hardcover book called Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson Levine that kicked off the launch of the properties. I got to work on a few books in the chapter book series, and it was so incredibly fun! 

Zetta Whiting: Were you a part of the illustration process, or were they a surprise to you when the books came out?

Lisa Papademetriou: Most of what I write is older middle-grade, and it doesn’t get illustrated. So it was amazing to see the Disney Fairies books come to life. The illustrations were just beautiful. Those Disney artists are incredible!

For Prilla’s Prize, which was a picture book, I described the art to the artist and they took those descriptions and made something so much more amazing than I could have imagined. For the chapter books, like Rosetta’s Daring Day, they would go off of the story that I wrote.

Zetta Whiting: How much freedom did you have with each story? Did you get to choose which fairy to write about, or was it assigned to you? 

Lisa Papademetriou: As I recall, they told me what fairy to write about, and then I came up with the outline and wrote the story. I think they told me to write about Rani and include mermaids in the story, and then I would come up with the rest. My guidelines were based on Peter Pan and what had been written in the previous Disney Fairies books. I would try to draw from and add on to the old texts and include cross-references. 

The Disney Fairies books did tend to be on a specific publication schedule; I think they were releasing maybe three a year. I was given a deadline to get the books in, which I found to be extremely helpful!

Zetta Whiting: You’ve written quite a few series like Confectionately Yours and Accidentally Fabulous, to name a few. How do you come up with your ideas for a series? What are your writing techniques?

Lisa Papademetriou: If it’s a series, I know it’s going to be a series from book one. I start laying the groundwork for it in the first book. My main brainstorming technique is to develop a cast of characters and figure out what they’re most passionate about and where their conflicts lie. Is the drama between friends or families? What secrets are the characters hiding? Once you have that, you can create the outline and story from there.

For short stories, I will start writing and see where it takes me, but I can’t for a novel. When I write novels, I have to outline every single scene that is going to be in the book. You definitely can’t write an outline in an afternoon. It takes a while. But some people can’t do outlines at all. You have to find the writing technique that works for you. With my editorial background, I came from a pretty analytical mindset. So, making an outline is what always works for me. 

Zetta Whiting: Can you tell me about your website, BookFlow? 

Lisa Papademetriou: BookFlow is a website I made to be a tool for writers. It’s designed to help them organize their manuscripts and stay motivated. The places where people get stuck is in trying to brainstorm and capture their ideas efficiently. BookFlow helps support the outlining process. There’s a writing prompt every day in case you need to play with some ideas!

Zetta Whiting: What’s your favorite children’s book or series you’ve written?

Lisa Papademetriou: This is like picking who’s your favorite child! I feel like Confectionately Yours might be one of my favorites. That series is full of recipes that my sister invented, and she would have friends over to do tastings, which was so fun. I would write the manuscript, and then I’d send it to her and ask her what would be a good cupcake to go along with what’s happening in the scene. That series was a lot of fun to work on!

Zetta Whiting: Lastly, what’s your advice to aspiring authors for getting a literary agent and getting their work out there?

Lisa Papademetriou: I think in terms of getting a literary agent, a great place to start is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They hold conferences and have workshops with editors and agents. It’s a great way to meet people, get feedback, and start networking. Working with an agent is a relationship; they have to be offering what you’re looking for. Different writers need different things. In order to get an agent, you do need a full manuscript to show them. 

I got my agent all on my own. I didn’t know anybody at the time, just other editors and writers. I  ended up asking them who they liked working with. Someone suggested a newer agent, and I sent her my manuscript, and she loved it. She became my agent!

In terms of getting your work out there, there are magazines that publish short fiction for readers, and they can be a great way to start getting publishing credits. It’s also much less intimidating than writing a full manuscript right off the bat. I wrote a children’s short story for Highlights magazine, and it was really gratifying. I got a call from my neighbor, who told me her daughter saw my story in the magazine. It was such a great feeling. If you want to be a children’s or middle-grade author, I would also recommend Cricket and Spider magazine as places to start.

Thank you to Lisa Papademetriou for taking the time to chat with me! Here’s a link to Lisa’s website if you want to learn more about this wonderful author.