I’ve always been fascinated with what happens behind the scenes…whether it’s with movies or music or even sports. A lot of people contribute to a book and I interviewed a couple people that have played a huge role in the publishing process of Awaken. Here’s an interview with my editor, Julia Richardson, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
1. How did you land a job working at one of the top publishing houses in the country?
The story actually begins about twelve years ago, when I worked at Disney/Hyperion. There, I met Mary Wilcox, another editor. Eventually, I went from Disney to HarperCollins. There, a job opened up that I thought Mary would be perfect for, so I suggested her for it. She took the job, and once again we were working together.
Fast forward a few years and now she’s working at Houghton Mifflin and I’m at Simon & Schuster. (People move around a lot in publishing.) In 2006, she called me to say a job was opening up at HM. They were looking for someone to launch a children’s paperback program. I had been working in paperbacks for many years at S&S under the tutelage of Ellen Krieger. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. So I went for it and here I am now.
2. What is a typical work day like for you?
I’m editorial director of the paperbacks group, so that means I spend a lot of time at my desk answering emails. Each one tends to be a problem that needs to be solved, so I’m consistently working with people to find solutions to whatever needs to be fixed. Once a week, though, I work at home. Here I try to stay away from email for chunks of time, so I can read manuscripts or edit or do whatever else needs to be done that takes my full concentration.
3. How many manuscripts do you read in a typical week?
Not as many as I used to. Probably one or two.
4. What makes you pass on a book?
If the voice doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, I’ll put the manuscript down. Or if I like a manuscript, but it’s too similar to something we’ve already got on the list.
5. What makes a book stand out to you?
An original voice. Plot points and grammar can be fixed. But the voice of an author has to come from inside him or her. So if a person’s writing voice doesn’t touch me emotionally in some way, there’s not much I can do about it. It’s like the “it” factor the judges always talk about on American Idol. You either have it or you don’t.
6. When did you know Awaken was something special?
As I read the first paragraph. It’s so evocative and thoughtful. I knew this book was going to be beautifully written and make me think.
7. How often do you take on debut authors? Is this a risky endeavor, or do you enjoy discovering new talent?
I tend to work with quite a few debut authors. Yes, it can be risky, but there are ways to mitigate the risk. And the potential is so great, it’s completely worth it. I love it!
8. You work in the children’s department at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. What makes you prefer this genre over other kinds of books?
I initially got into children’s books, because of how much I loved books as a kid. I wanted to pass that on to the next generation. But also, I really love kid’s books. I love reading about characters who are just spreading their wings, trying to find their place in the world.
9. Any advice for aspiring writers trying to get published?
Write! Writing is an art form just like dancing, music, singing, or any other art form. It takes practice! Remember the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! It’s the same with writing. How do you get published? Practice, practice, practice!