Four fantastic editors got on stage at the 2010 SCBWI Conference to share what makes them choose your book. Moderated by editor Krisa Marino (Delacorte), she asked the tough questions of fellow editors Nick Eliopulos (Scholastic), Claudia Gabel (Katherine Tegen Books), Brenda Murray (Scholastic), and Jennifer Rees (Scholastic).
A Few Opening Notes From Editor Krista Marino:
- Acquiring books is a deeply personal decision for an editor. They have to read it six or seven times, so they want to love it.
- Some editors work to fill a need in their list and it is a less personal decision, while for others it is very personal.
- One editors dream book is another’s nightmare.
- More editors in the field create more options and more opportunities to move books.
- An editor’s choice to acquire a book is often about taste and vision.
KRISTA: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you are looking for and what you publish.
NICK: I work at Scholastic. Prior to working at Scholastic I worked with Random House Children’s Books. I just transferred to Scholastic in April. I love comic books! Comics are what helped me to break into this business. I am also looking for middle grade and young adult books. I focus on guy books, mostly middle grade guy books or graphic novels.
CLAUDIA: I am the senior editor at Katherine Tegen Books. I used to work for Alloy entertainment who brought you things like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. I’ve also worked in adult books, as well as working at Delacorte. I like to do development work and have also worked as a book packager.
BRENDA: I have been with Scholastic since 2002. I’ve worked on over 250 books in my career. I was once a teacher. I acquire books from Pre-K up through 8th grade. I’ve also worked on atlases and dictionaries in my past.
JENNIFER: I am a fiction editor at Scholastic. I’ve worked there for 12 years. I started out as a bookseller in Ohio. I love children’s books, and I acquire everything from picture books up through young adult. I mostly acquire fiction, and not much non-fiction. Personal love is what drives my acquisition choices. Some of my authors include Wendy Mass, Susan Collins, and Sarah Litman.
KRISTA: What is more important to you: voice or plot?
JENNIFER: It’s all about voice! With great voice we can fix plot.
NICK: I’m a plot guy. Of course I want to find both, but if I have to pick I’ll choose plot. I need a hook, one sentence that I can really wrap my head around. That will cause me to pick something up and read it. But an unfulfilled idea won’t work. It must have good writing. But if I did come across something with a really amazing voice I could be convinced.
KRISTA: Well, an editor has to convince others as well, too.
CLAUDIA: The voice really needs to come organically with a manuscript, but plot an editor and author can work out. Great character is important. You can’t have an unlikeable character. Character development is really important and has big appeal.
KRISTA: Name two books in the last ten years that really inspire you.
BRENDA: In My Own Words which is a Bigfoot biography. It’s absolutely hilarious. And also, the biography of Claudette Calvin. It just came out. I love the photos of Brady.
NICK: The Hunger Games! Anything by John Green, Scott Westerfield. Those books really win over guy readers.
CLAUDIA: What I Saw and How I Lied, and it’s older than ten years, but, Little House on the Prairie.
JENNIFER: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
KRISTA: Do you find inspiration outside of the trade book world?
CLAUDIA: I watch lots of TV and read magazines to come up with series ideas. The show Barefoot Bandit inspired a series.
NICK: I think it’s important to notice where kids are looking if they aren’t reading. Like checking out YouTube. That can really help inform packaging a book.
BRENDA: It’s important to try to create a tie in with television, if possible. I love planet earth and discovery channels, I’m always looking for trends there. I also look at news articles and magazines. Great non-fiction books can come from hot news items like the presidential election or the oil spill, or something like the anniversary of WWII and the Attack on Pearl Harbor which is coming up.
JENNIFER: I try to keep an ear to the pulse of what people are talking about. NPR is very inspirational, a story from NPR was the basis for Eleven Birthdays which is coming out soon. I also have a six year old boy, so I try to notice what he thinks is cool.
KRISTA: What are you looking to acquire?
NICK: Guy books. High concept books.
BRENDA: With non-fiction, if you can tell me something I didn’t know before, and tell it to me in one sentence then I will be intrigued. Fascinate me. I like both modern and historical. And of course I’m always looking for that gem. Looking for something new and fresh is difficult, if you have an old topic but it is well written then there can be a way to find a place for it. Put a fun spin on your idea. Make it appeal to kids.
CLAUDIA: Beautiful prose. But I’m also looking for people who can write fast! We like to keep a ramped up schedule. I’m also into tween books and teen mysteries.
JENNIFER: Fascinating writing and voice, but something that is also commercial. Ask yourself if it has a wide audience or not. We get really excited about something with wide potential.
KRISTA: What are your pet peeves? Things authors should not do, or common mistakes you see?
JENNIFER: A package that is not professional. I don’t like synopsis that are boring and phrased as “… and then this happened…etc.” I also need authors that can promote themselves in a positive way.
BRENDA: When I get a submission and the author has done no research before submitting. They have no sense of what is already in the market, what’s on the shelves, what’s similar to their book, etc. I want you to sell it to me first! Have credibility if you are a non-fiction writer. Tell me why your book is unique.
CLAUDIA: I don’t like query letters that have no personality. I want to be interested in the author, I want to see who you are on the page. Put all of you into your work.
NICK: I agree with Claudia. The relationship is a huge part of the job. Facebook is another tricky thing. Yes, I will respond to you if you send me a message there, but it can be tricky and unprofessional.
KRISTA: Do you read slush?
JENNIFER: We don’t accept slush, but we get it. And yes, the interns do read my slush for me.
BRENDA: The first book I ever published was found in the slush. But my interns go through it/read it first.
CLAUDIA: Check a house’s submission guidelines. Eventually someone will look through the slush. But you may not get a response. We used to have slush parties where we’d all order pizza and go through the slush. You’d be surprised how much of it is from people in prison.
NICK: If you’ve done your research it will show and stand out in the slush. Don’t randomly send out work.
Audience Question: How do you make sure your agent represents you properly when they are writing the query letters?
JENNIFER: I will often ask to speak to the writer when I find something I like. That will give me a good sense of who they are.
CLAUDIA: Work with your agent before submitting.
Audience Question: Can you comment on books that get rejected quite a bit before finding a home, like The Book Thief?
NICK: I can speak specifically to The Book Theif, but not all queries represent the book as well as they should. It is hard to communicate something high concept in one sentence. Be inventive to make sure you communicate what your book is about.
CLAUDIA: The real question is – did someone respond eventually? Yes. I found and published a book from a contest and the author told me that they were about to give up on writing. That book had been rejected 16 times before. You’ve got to keep plugging away, and find the editor to gets you.
KRISTA: I agree. You need an editor who has the same vision as you do.
About the Editors:
Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Nick Eliopulos is an editor with Scholastic, following a 5-year stint with Random House Children’s Books. He has edited many middle-grade and young-adult titles, including the Tapestry series, The Pricker Boy, Unfamiliar Magic, and the forthcoming Sons of Liberty graphic novel. He has also worked on chapter books, cutting his teeth as an assistant on the Magic Tree House series.
Jennifer Rees got her start in children’s books as a children’s bookseller in Ohio. Since then, she’s found great joy in working as an editor at Scholastic Press, where she acquires and edits fiction and nonfiction picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels. A sampling of projects she’s edited include The Hunger Games Series, Winter’s Tail, 11 Birthdays, Purge, and Girls and Dangerous Pie.
Brenda Murray was once a 6th grade teacher who went on to receive an M.S. in Instructional Technology. She’s been at Scholastic since 2002 and has worked on more than 200 nonfiction titles. She is currently managing a list of approximately 45 children’s books per year in grades ranging from Pre-K through 8th grade.
Claudia Gable is a senior editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, acquiring developing middle grade and YA fiction in a variety of genres. Her best-known titles are Summer Boys, The Scarlett Wakefield Mystery Novels, and In or Out.