Making the Book: The Editor

When I was young, growing up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, I had no idea that there were buildings (mostly in New York) filled with people committed to the creation of books. My hope is that today's youth not grow up with such ignorance, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that kids realize that they can grow up to work in the magical world of publishing. (Kids, I'll tell you now that the money is in writing, illustrating, agenting, and upper management.) 

I'm ten years in to my career in publishing, and I continue to love it. I love it so much that I've created a column on my blog--Making the Book--dedicated to the bookmaking process. So far, I've interviewed a writer, where the process begins, and an agent, who takes it to the next step. In last month's post, I erroneously ended the entry stating that the next person I was going to interview was the designer. What the? How long have I been doing this? (Answer: ten years--see above.) Apologies, dear reader, I got way ahead of myself. There are a lot of people who come before the designer in the bookmaking process, such as the editor. 

In my unbiased opinion, the editor is THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON in the process, possibly the world. Every editor has his or her own list, and s/he must fill that list with books s/he is passionate about. So, if we're keeping track of the steps...

1. A writer crafts a manuscript, submits it for representation, and secures an agent. (I know, much easier said than done.)

2. The agent submits the manuscript to editors s/he thinks will like it.

3. If the editor falls for the manuscript, s/he will take steps to acquire it.

There's a lot of talk about "voice" in our business. "I signed up the writer because I loved the voice of his manuscript." "I absolutely adored the protagonist's voice, so I made an offer the same day I received the submission!" But if you're an aspiring writer looking to get an agent or sell your manuscript, being told by numerous agents and editors that they're on the hunt for something "voice-y" probably isn't super helpful. A strong voice is likely to get you in the door, but editors consider a lot of other things before they decide to move forward on a project. If you take a look at the "Add It to the List" entries on my site, you'll pick up on some of the reasons I acquire a book: voice, relationship with talent, talent's track record, strong hook for the education market, familiar concept with original spin. And it is true that editors review an author/illustrator's social media stats, though I'm less concerned about numbers and more interested in how the person represents him/herself. 

For this edition, I decided to mix things up a bit and instead of interviewing one editor, I reached out to multiple editors with the following: Name a project you recently acquired, and explain why you wanted it on your list. (The bolding is mine.)

"I recently acquired a picture book by Kirsten Hall called The Honeybee, which will be illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Kirsten’s verse is stunning—buzzy and humming and vibrant—but I was equally drawn to her timely subject. Honeybees have been all over the news recently: things like pesticides, stress, and a lack of biodiversity have contributed to their disappearance over the last decade. It’s hugely important that we protect our honeybees and show kids how crucial they are to our environment; this lovely book will be the perfect tool to do that. Plus, it’s a GREAT read aloud!" - Emma Ledbetter, associate editor

"A recent project I acquired is Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray. It is a middle grade novel that has been published in Australia and will come out here in Spring 2017. I was won over by Molly and her desire to be normal while having a mother whom she fiercely loves, but is unchangeably odd. That duality felt perfect for middle grade readers struggling with finding their place in the world, but the magical realism element offered a fresh approach on how to tackle those transitions. What do you do when your mother accidentally turns herself into a tree? What does it reveal about your complicated relationship with her? What does it reveal about who she is and about the person you'd ultimately like to be? Add to that Martine's lovely writing and it simply felt like a book that needed to be shared, so I bought it." - Julia Maguire, editor

"I most recently acquired books two and three in the Serafina series by Robert Beatty. I fell madly in love with Robert's debut novel, the spooky middle grade mystery Serafina and the Black Cloak [already a New York Times best seller], and was desperate for more books about Serafina. She is both strange and familiar: a wild girl who is perplexed by the "civilized" world, but also a lonely girl who aches for friendship and human connection just like we all do. I was also eager to edit more Serafina books because of the series' rich historical setting at Biltmore Estate. I'm a history geek and the mansion is described so vividly that I felt like I had been dropped into late 19th century North Carolina! I was blown away by how quickly Serafina became a hit and by the passion of the book's fans. It was clear that the author's work on the ground, spreading awareness among local families who deeply love the magical history of the Biltmore Estate, meant that there would be a big, built-in readership for more books in the Serafina series and that, based on the book's national success, this was a story and heroine that resonated with both adults and kids across the country." - Laura Schreiber, editor 

"My most recent acquisition was Fakespeare in the Park by Gabe Soria from Charlie Olsen at Inkwell. Gabe is a big fan of Regular Show, one of the Cartoon Network shows in our publishing program. He had seen several of our titles for Cartoon Network Books and was impressed by the quality of the writing, and he created the concept and an outline to solicit to us through his agent. I was impressed with the story, but even more so with Gabe’s nonchalance in approaching us about pitching a licensed project. We rarely get the opportunity to “acquire” licensed titles as the P&Ls for licensed publishing programs usually only support a writer-for-hire fee. The majority of the book concepts are developed in house and approved by the licensor and then we find the perfect writer to do the work of completing the manuscript. While licensed book publishing has long been treated like merch (a dirty word in the vocabulary of my publisher), I’m delighted to see that our Cartoon Network Books program is inspiring creativity in authors invested in a world where quality is available in a variety of media platforms, presenting cool new opportunities for great storytelling." - Karl Jones, associate editor

"The first book I acquired [Lisa's most recent acquisitions have yet to be announced] after starting at Little, Brown was Girl in the Blue Coat by the incredibly talented Monica Hesse. I was drawn in right from her agent's pitch as it was clear that this book was an original piece of WWII fiction from an exciting author. And I was blown away by the novel itself, which is intricately plotted and beautifully told, and that rare kind of story that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page. But what really sold me was how immersive the reading experience was—how much I cared for the characters, how real they all felt, and how deeply drawn into the world and story I was (it punched me in the gut again and again). I read the entire manuscript in one sitting, and after pausing to process a bit, I immediately went back to read it again from the beginning. And that’s really what I look for in a new acquisition: a book that makes me feel deeply and won’t get out of my head, and the kind that I’m eager to spend years with, through the editorial and book making processes first and then being its fan and advocate years to come." - Lisa Yoskowitz, executive editor

"My most recent acquisition is 4 Wizards, a graphic novel collaboration between Nimona creator Noelle Stevenson and TV writer Todd Casey. I originally signed up Nimona based on sample chapters and a synopsis. But I’d already seen and loved Noelle’s art online, from her Broship of the Rings series and Hawkeye Initiative to her autobiographical mini-comics. In her work, she showed an astonishing talent for mixing subversive humor with emotional arrows to the heart, and the fact that Nimona provided a vehicle for that talent was all the convincing I needed. The mix of humor and heart is again on display in 4 Wizards, as are nuanced mentor-mentee relationships, and Noelle’s art style has developed a lot since the early pages of Nimona. It’s always a joy when I get to sign up the next project from a creator with whom I already work—totally unlike discovering a debut, but equally rewarding." - Andrew Harwell, editor

"Love, Triangle by Marcie Colleen, to be illustrated by Bob Shea is a story about a triangle and square who are best friends…until a dashing triangle comes between them. The concept for this picture book grabbed me from the moment I saw the title. It makes you laugh without reading a thing (though happily the text is also clever and funny). I love it when an author has an original idea for a play on words—that can still be appropriate for a younger age group, of course…" - Alessandra Balzer, publisher

"I recently acquired a picture book called I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, to be illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. I acquired it because the Notorious R.B.G. is the bomb and because there is no major biographical picture book about her, which seems crazy to me! This needed to be remedied. Also, the book tells the story of Ruth’s life through the lens of her many disagreements, or dissents, which is such a smart angle—and I love the idea that it might encourage young girls and boys to speak up, too." - Kristin Ostby, senior editor

You get the sense in all of these answers that the editor fell in love with the writing first and foremost. But isn't it interesting to learn the other factors that influenced the decision to acquire?