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Chatting With Editors Who Make It Happen - Part Two

By Susan Hughes

more children's books

Welcome back! In this, the second part of my autumn blog, I continue my chat with some of the amazing editors which help make it all happen in the publishing world of children’s books. So please say hello (again!) to Patricia Ocampo of Simon and Schuster, Jennifer Stokes  of Kids Can Press, and Sarah Harvey of Orca. I know you’ll find their insights into publishing helpful and their enthusiasm for kid lit contagious.

Susan:

Thanks again for joining me. Could you each please describe your personal approach to editing a manuscript, from start to finish?

Patricia:

First pass: I look at the big picture. Does the structure work? Do any parts lag or need fleshing out? I also pay close attention to each chapter’s opening and closing paragraphs. Second pass: I edit each line, flagging repetition, clunky dialogue, and clichés. I compose an editorial letter and email it with the marked-up manuscript to the author. When it’s returned, I read it cold, meaning I don’t check to see if my suggested changes were made. Usually the same problems will jump out if they hadn’t been addressed. And so on, until I feel it’s ready to be copyedited.

Jennifer:

It’s a process that sometimes takes three drafts — and sometimes thirteen! With picture books, I read the manuscript aloud over and over again. I always try to read it to a kid or two. It never fails to amaze me how new problems will jump out at me when I read a draft out loud to a child — and it’s usually something surprising that I hadn’t even considered! When the author and I both agree that the manuscript is final, I circulate it in-house — often only to discover that it’s not final after all and still needs some tweaks. But that’s okay because it’s part of the process. Sometimes you get so close to a manuscript that you can no longer see it clearly. One of the things I love about working at KCP is that we have an outstanding, knowledgeable staff. It’s important not to work in a vacuum — to get thoughts and opinions from others and to truly listen. It always makes for a better book.

Sarah:

I try and have a phone conversation about the book before I send editing notes—this is especially important with new authors. It lets us get to know each other a bit before we dive in to the tough stuff (and there’s always tough stuff). I always say that editing is 25% mechanics and 75% relationship. Without establishing the relationship it’s hard to get an author to accept that their editor truly is working in service of the book. I usually am the one to say, “I think we’re done,” because most writers (myself included) will tinker endlessly. I know we’re done when I can read through the book and not want to mark it up! Sometimes that’s after three edits, sometimes eight, sometimes more. Usually authors are really glad to be told they’re finished with revisions!

Halloween Kid

Susan:

Please finish these two sentences.

I’m probably like most other editors in that I …

Patricia:

…don’t actually edit during office hours.

Jennifer:

…feel guilty a lot of the time. I always have a list of creators who I need to get back to, and there are never enough hours in the day.

Sarah:

… know what I like (and don’t like). I don’t like fairies.

 

I’m probably unlike other editors in that I …

Patricia:

…gravitate toward more commercial submissions than literary ones. When reading for pleasure, I almost always read literary, but I prefer to work on commercial books.

Jennifer:

… I started out as a copy editor. As a result, sometimes I get caught up in the minutiae and have to remember to pull back to look at the big picture.

Sarah:

… edit both fiction and non-fiction, and also write YA fiction.

Kids Can Press logo

Susan:

Do you feel like you and your publishing company are shaping the industry or do you feel somewhat at the mercy of the industry?

Patricia:

We are certainly trying innovative projects that, I think, have made the industry pay attention.

Jennifer:

I’m amazed every day by our exceptionally gifted creators, who invent unique and extraordinary ways to deliver stories and information to kids. We’re always eager to find new and quirky fictional characters and refreshing takes on non-fiction materials. We work hard to make special, one-of-a-kind books that will keep kids engaged and reflect their culturally diverse communities. We want kids to read! And we want them to see themselves in what they read. I don’t feel at the mercy of the industry, especially since books are created so far in advance that more often than not a trend would be long over before we had a chance to jump 0n the bandwagon anyway.

Sarah:

I think Orca is part of shaping the industry and is unique in its responsive to social and political changes in the world. I’m not aware that anyone at Orca feels at the mercy of the industry—we’re a collaborative group, ideas flow freely and commitment to quality is very high. I cannot say enough good things about the pod.

 

Susan:

Can you offer some tips to writers who want to be published with your publishing company?

Patricia:

Google is your friend! Research our list and study what we do. (Big hint: simonschustercanada.ca.) Frequent your local bookstore and ask them what’s selling well, what they personally recommend, what they wished they saw more of. This is invaluable market research. Notice what draws your eye first on the shelves or tables. For children’s book creators, definitely check out bookcentre.ca and canscaip.org for invaluable resources. The Canadian children’s lit community is the best there is. Seek out your people!

Jennifer:

We are looking for manuscripts with highly original approaches to a given topic or genre — books that you don’t feel you’ve read a thousand times before. Know your audience, and know your genre. Read everything you can find! Writers looking for ideas should scour school curriculums. We are always interested in books, both fiction and non-fiction, that support educators and help them to teach in a classroom setting.

Sarah:

Read a lot, write a lot (in other words, practice your craft), pay attention to what we do chose to publish, and most of all, learn to  WRITE WELL! Also, be realistic—getting published is not for the faint of heart. Be tenacious but not annoying.

Orca Currents

Susan:

Please add anything else you’d like!

Patricia:

I am a proud member of the Book Club in a Pub, a group with a very straightforward name that includes wonderful people from all areas of children’s publishing. I find it interesting that we chose to read and discuss children’s books even on our off time. That’s how much we love what we do. I think kidlit is the best—and coziest—corner of publishing, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

Jennifer:

My daughter babysat a lot when she was in high school, and she got into the habit of bringing a stack of her favourite picture books with her whenever she had a job. Most of those books were favourites of mine as well — and some of them I’d even edited! I realized that, through hours and hours of precious bedtime readings, I’d imparted my love for those books to her, and now she was doing the same with her little charges. This delights me and gives me great satisfaction. And that’s how I feel about my job. I get to have a small part in creating something that children all over the world will enjoy and hopefully share with others.

Sarah:

What I like best is working with (and being inspired by) all the creative people I come into contact with—colleagues, writers, readers, teachers, librarians. I also really like calling up authors and telling them we’d like to offer them a contract. So much fun! So much squealing!

The rest of my life is, well, private, although I can tell you I read a lot!

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Patricia Ocampo is managing editor and children’s book editor at Simon and Schuster Canada. She is a past president of the Canadian chapter of the International Board on Books for Young People.

Jennifer Stokes has worked as a children’s book editor — both in-house and freelance — for almost twenty years, and also had a brief stint as the Kids Manager at McNally Robinson Booksellers. She currently works in-house at Kids Can Press.

Sarah Harvey has written a dozen books for children and teens. She is the Senior Editor at Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, BC.


Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website, www.susanhughes.ca.