Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nancy: Falling Leaves Retreat Editors Respond

As the Assistant Regional Advisor for the Eastern NY SCBWI region, I chaired a novel master class retreat, titled Falling Leaves, last weekend. I was pleased to close out our weekend with 35 participants and have a waiting list - who would have guessed the weekend before Thanksgiving?

I asked each of the editors who attended to answer one question for me for Crowe's Nest - When did the editing bug bite? Please illuminate the path you took to becoming an editor.

Here are the responses:

Caroline Abbey (Bloomsbury): I decided I wanted to be a children's book writer in second grade. By college, it was still my dream and I was majoring in Creative Writing. But then, in workshops, I realized I was more interested (and better at) critiquing my classmate's work than working on my own. I got an internship at S&S in children's editorial and then I knew 110% that I wanted to be an editor!

Elizabeth Law (Egmont): I always loved to read, and in high school the children's librarian and I founded a children's book discussion group. So I knew I was crazy about children's books. In college, the legendary critic Zena Sutherland taught a children's literature course in which she told stories about editors she knew including Dick Jackson and Ursula Nordstrom. A lightbulb went off - editing was where I could really be in the middle of this industry - and art form- I liked best. So after graduation, I moved to NY and slept on a friend's sofa until I found an entry level job working for Deborah Brodie and Nancy Paulsen at Viking.

Alexandra Penfold (Paula Wiseman): I was an obsessive reader as a kid. I can probably attribute my living in New York today, at least in part to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, Eloise by Kay Thompson, and The Babysitter's Club Super Special #6: New York, New York! While I did a lot of writing and editing related stuff in high school and college, I actually started at Simon & Schuster as a marketing intern and then got a full time job here in children’s publicity. After a couple years an opportunity opened up to move over to the editorial side and work on Paula Wiseman’s fantastic list. Books have always been a great love of mine and it’s exciting to work in an industry with other likeminded folks.

Sarah Shumway (Harper): I started as a reader - my parents will tell you that I rarely wanted to leave my room if it held a new (or an old favorite) book. Day-in-bed-with-a-book days were better than anything. Then, I read a book where one of the adult characters had a job where she read books all the time - reading, I think, to scout what books might make good movies, and I thought, "I could read for a living when I grow up?" It's pretty wonderful, though maybe not as great as Day-in-bed-with-a-book days.

Jennifer Yoon (Candlewick):I attribute the desire to be a children's book editor to an internship with Arthur Levine at Scholastic Press. For a summer I was a member of a tight-knit and collaborative group of editors who were committed to making high quality books across genres and categories. Their drive to create classics - books to be read and re-read - inspired me to be a part of that process. And that continues to this day.

I think we will all agree that we are certainly glad the editor bug did bite these thoughtful and insightful professionals! My thanks to all of them for a wonderful retreat!


  1. Great post, Nancy! I am fascinated by editors because I think what they do is so so so amazingly difficult. I've worked as an editor twice before, and while I did "okay" as a copy-editor, finding ways to suggest structural changes without rewriting the work yourself in the process is REALLY difficult. As I work on my edits I realize more and more just what a collaborative process writing a book ultimately is.

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  3. (Here we go again.) It's great to read these inside views! Thanks, Nancy and all. Considering their scope of knowledge and love of books, and the responsibility that comes with their jobs,I have often wondered why editors would not rather be writers (not that some aren’t). But then, I also wonder at times why I chose to write and illustrate, especially on days when I exist on nothing but food and water. (Drat! That still didn't come out right. I think I need an editor...)

  4. This was insightful. Sometimes we forget editors and agents love books too. They work so hard, they have to!

  5. Yes, we all love books. And some of us (Kevin Lewis, Charlotte Zolotow, Patti Gauch to name a few) are writers. But I'm not at all interested in being a writer--I would be a mediocre one at best. But I do like to be helpful, and as someone else mentioned, I was always helping people with their papers in college. I think my gift is for seeing the big picture and helping a writer express his or her true voice. And in a way, the fact that I'm not a writer is helpful there--I have less of my own writer's style and opinion to impose.

  6. Thanks, Elizabeth. I know it is a gift, and I'm grateful for those who have it.

  7. What a delightful post! Thanks to all who participated. =)

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