Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jenny: Interview with Editor Heather Alexander

Today, I'm sharing one of the most fun and engaging interviews I've ever had the chance to post. I get to interview my very own editor, Heather Alexander, who cultivates fantastic reads at Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin. Every author should have such a witty, insightful editor, and I can't wait for you to see her answers. Enjoy!

Jenny: I think many people don't fully understand what editors really do. To you, what is editing children's books all about?

Heather: I finally stopped trying to convince people that my job isn’t drinking tea in a chintz lounge reading rhyming stories out loud to the animal friends gathered at my feet. I suppose there is some truth to that scenario (I do drink tea). Most days, I feel more like an orchestra conductor, setting tempo, trying to pull out parts of a manuscript while pushing back on others, getting the whole thing to work together and sound amazing.  Combine this with contract negotiations, marketing material approvals, email avalanches, and about 200 meetings a week, and you get a clearer picture.

Jenny: In becoming a (marvelous) editor, was your path straightforward or were there detours? When and how did you realize this was the right profession for you?  

Heather: This is my second career, but I always thought publishing was a glamorous profession.  As a child, I realized by reading front matter (yes, I was that kind of book nerd) that most publishers were in New York, and since my main goal at age 8 was to live in New York, publishing seemed like a Job I Would Like, even though I had no idea what it entailed.  I read middle grade and young adult novels as a grownup, and when I went back to school, I took a kid’s literature class which sealed the deal.  I started off in Managing Editorial, and that was a great way to see the big publishing picture, but it was only a few months before I moved into Editorial.

Jenny: What's it like to read submissions? What do you look for?  

Heather: A lot of times, there is an instant gut reaction when reading submissions.  But once I know I like something or don’t, I focus in on the concrete reasons why.  Has this story been told before?  Who is the audience?  Is the character active or passive?  Is the plot unfolding naturally?  Can I clearly picture this world?  A great voice can trump everything else, and I’m always looking for solid characters that I connect with right away.

Jenny: In acquiring titles for your list, how do you know a book is right for you?  

Heather: I wish it were as easy as “I like this!” and stamping it “publish” but there are a lot of factors that make a project right for a particular editor.  It has to be something I love first and foremost, but it also has to be different from things currently on my (and Dial’s) list, and something we think the public will embrace.  I know a book is right for me when I can happily ignore my email inbox in favor of reading (in my chintz lounge, of course).

Jenny: What's the most exciting aspect of your work?  

Heather: One of the most exciting things is being able to call a debut author and say “you’re getting published!” and another is finally seeing that book in stores.  Reading good reviews never stops being exciting.  It’s a lot of hard work to put a book out into the world, so it’s nice to have that work recognized.

Jenny: What inspires you, in work and in life?  

Heather: I’m inspired by a lot of different things, but especially by just being in New York.  There are so many interesting things happening here all the time, and I feel like my brain works overtime to connect the overly serious gallery opening and the 1 train Mariachi band and the Chinese wedding in the park and the man wearing a tophat and riding a scooter decked out in bells.  And of course, getting to meet and talk to so many extraordinary people every day is like living in an inspiration factory.  When my brain needs a break, I like to flee to the woods where I remember what it feels like to think about one thing for a long time, and what air smells like.

Jenny: What books should our readers be looking out for?

Heather: Definitely pick up a copy of Nerve by Jeanne Ryan for a page-turning reading experience.  If you want to make little ones giggle, try I Know a Wee Piggy by Kim Norman and Henry Cole.  And if you want to cry a little (or a lot) while learning all kinds of things you didn’t know about World War II, give My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve a read.  And of course, keep an eye out for Tracked by Jenny Martin, coming soon.

Heather Alexander has been with Dial Books for nearly five years, where she edits books for all ages (board books through YA).  When she was a kid, she knew kids’ books were better than grownup books because her dad never laughed so hard he cried when he read his own books, just hers.  She was pretty sure there could never be a book better than Roald Dahl’s The Twits, and she’s been mostly right about that.


  1. What a fun interview. Thanks to both of you for making it available. I'll be looking for those books.

    1. Thank you, Christina! This was a lot of fun to do. :)

  2. I met Heather in Des Moines at a SCBWI conference two weeks aga. She was indeed breathing in the fresh air. She has the greatest hair that goes with the greatest smile. Hope you have the privilege of meeting her one day.

    1. Ann, that's so cool. I haven't yet met Heather IRL, but I can't wait!

  3. Great interview, Jenny! And thanks to Heather for the interesting answers. I'm looking forward to reading Tracked!

    1. Oh Meg, thank you for all your support. I'm so glad for you!

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