Karen and Katherine (speaking simultaneously): If there’s such a thing as book twins, we probably meet the definition. We’re both YA novelists, we share both an agent and an editor and both Karen’s WHILE HE WAS AWAY and Katherine’s THE SUMMER OF NO REGRETS release on May 1. Our names even start with the same letter! So we thought it would be fun to do a joint interview with our editor, Leah Hultenschmidt.
Picture us in matching outfits. Sometimes we switch places just to confuse our teachers.
Karen: When did you discover you wanted to be an editor, and how has your career evolved since you made that discovery?
I think I knew I wanted to be an editor when my fourth-grade teacher asked me to start helping classmates with essays. In college, I had a couple internships copyediting at newspapers—the Times Union in Albany and The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel—but my heart was always in books. I was lucky enough to be hired at a great house four days after I graduated college.
I started as an editorial assistant, moved over to marketing and publicity for a while, then jumped back to the editorial side for good in 2005.
My latest venture has been working on YA and bringing me to fabulous new authors, such as Katherine and yourself. It’s been absolutely fantastic.
Karen: I am very grateful for your editorial guidance on While He Was Away. You were able to respect my voice and vision as a writer, but also share your objective perspective on exactly what the book needed to better reach its audience. How do you do it? How do you enter so seamlessly into other peoples’ writing processes and help them know how their books need to grow?
Magic. But seriously, that’s one of the nicest compliments any editor can get. Thank you.
Katherine: What were you reading when you were a teen? Were there particular books or authors that impacted your life?
I read just about everything I could get my hands on: Terry Brooks’ Shanarra series, David Eddings, Cynthia Voight, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Orson Scott Card, Christopher Pike, historical fiction from Philippa Gregory and Susan Kay Penman.
Sharon Kay wrote a book called PHANTOM, a retelling of Phantom of the Opera. To this day, it’s one of my favorites and I’d love to get a YA version with a stronger Christine figure.
Karen: Sourcebooks describes itself as a publisher of “independent vision,” who “publishes authors, not books.” How have you experienced this in your work as an editor?
The “we publish authors not books” often comes down to career planning. When we sign an author, we want to work with her over a number of different books. We want to launch her (or relaunch her) and build her audience. Whenever I bring a project into an acquisitions meeting, one of the first questions I hear is, “What is the author planning after this book? What comes next?”
What I love about the “independent vision” is that we’re not afraid to experiment and work on building that audience in a non-traditional way.
Katherine: Both Karen’s and my books involve the traditionally controversial issues of politics and religion—the Iraq War in WHILE HE WAS AWAY, and a girl exploring different spiritual paths in THE SUMMER OF NO REGRETS. What made you willing to take on topics that may make another publisher nervous?
It’s a rare topic that makes me nervous in the YA space if I feel teens will be able to relate to it in some way. With WHILE HE WAS AWAY, I was pretty amazed there weren’t many other books in the category that dealt with a girl whose boyfriend goes off to war…how it changes him, how it changes their relationship. And, really, it can apply to just about any long-distance relationship.
And it was hard not to see a bit of myself in Brigitta in THE SUMMER OF NO REGRETS. I didn’t have a maybe-celeb living next door <g>, but what struck me was that fine line between girlhood and becoming adult, that line of when are you too old to keep playing make believe in the woods.
Karen: You are the Senior Editor of both Teen Fire and Casablanca Romance at Sourcebooks. How do you balance your dual roles? How do they inform, challenge, and complement each other?
Well, you definitely don’t want to get any love scenes mixed between the two! Having a romance background makes me really tough on any relationship aspect in YA. Obviously, I want it to be authentic from a teen’s point-of-view, which often differs drastically from adult romance. But at the same time, editing romance has given me a ton of experience in knowing what relationships feel believable.
Katherine: In an ideal world, what would you be publishing—if you didn’t have to be concerned about market at all?
It’d be hard to get much closer to the ideal than what I’m doing right now—especially with the YA world being so wide open. Just about anything is possible, and that’s a great space to be in.