Welcome to a series of interviews with nine world-class editors. Today you will meet Anica Rissi of Simon Pulse who works with Class of 2K9’s Lauren Strasnick and Albert Borris, Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books who works with Donna St. Cyr, and Miriam Hees of Blooming Tree Press who works with our class president, Beverly Patt.
Anica Rissi is a senior editor at Simon Pulse, a YA imprint of Simon & Schuster. Prior to joining Pulse in 2007, she was an editor at Scholastic Inc. Anica acquires commercial, high-concept, and literary fiction that appeals directly to teen readers. A Maine native and a graduate of Yale University, Anica now bakes, sleeps, and flosses in Brooklyn, New York.
Madeline Smoot began her career in children’s publishing in 2004 as an associate editor for Blooming Tree Press, eventually working her way to editorial director. She left Blooming Tree to lead CBAY Books, which publishes mid-grade and young adult fiction. As publisher and senior editor, Madeline shepherded CBAY’s initial offerings to the children’s literature world in the fall of 2008.
Miriam Hees started the business plan for Blooming Tree Press more than 12 years ago. Blooming Tree Press began publishing Children’s and Young Adult Fiction in 2002 and will begin publishing Adult Fiction and Graphic Novels in 2010. With 5 current imprints, Blooming Tree Press will have 28 books in print by the end of 2009. Miriam is a 4th generation Texan with a fabulous husband and two wonderful grown children. She loves to quilt, sew and crochet for her favorite charities and is also a pretty darn good amateur chef.
What was your journey to becoming an editor?
Anica: I stumbled into my first editorial assistant job (working for David Levithan at Scholastic) through pure dumb luck, but I have always been a reader, a storyteller, and obsessed with words. I started out editing middle-grade paperbacks, including Candy Apple Books and The Princess School (a series I’m still proud of!), then moved to Simon Pulse in 2007 to focus exclusively on YA.
Madeline: My route was a little more circuitous than most people’s. I originally wanted to be an author, and I do still write. But while I was taking writing classes and working in critique groups, I discovered that the quality of my critiques exceeded the quality of my writing. I also realized that when it came down to it, I liked reading better than writing.
Then one day I had the opportunity to shepherd a pair of editors around. Since I didn’t have a book to pitch to them, I spent the day learning all about their jobs. What they said intrigued me. A few months later I contacted Blooming Tree Press – the only local children’s press – about an editorial internship. I worked for Blooming Tree for 5 years eventually becoming the Editorial Director of Children’s Books. In January I left Blooming Tree to focus exclusively on CBAY.
Miriam: I was a writer long before I was a publisher - having written over 17 manuscripts. But as a 30 year plus business woman the idea of helping others to get great books out there began to bloom. Some 12 years later Blooming Tree Press printed its first book. I am hopelessly in love with the whole process.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Anica: I get to work with words, stories, characters, and ideas, and with smart, interesting, creative people every day. What’s not to love?
Madeline: I enjoy many aspects of my job – reading, editing, laying out the text and covers – but getting the final book back from the printer is the best moment every time. There’s just nothing like seeing all the hard work of several people come together in one finished product. The feeling is truly indescribable.
Miriam: Finding that great manuscript. Researching and finding out it will work for BTP. Then placing that call to the author.
Tell us about your house. What is unique/interesting/in the works for you?
Anica: Simon Pulse is a hardcover and paperback imprint with a focus on contemporary, commercial fiction that appeals directly to teen readers. Some big things in the works at Pulse: Leviathan, the new steam punk novel from Uglies author Scott Westerfeld; Strange Fate, the long-awaited conclusion to L.J. Smith’s Night World series; and a new fantasy series from Orson Scott Card, his first written specifically for a YA audience.
One of my favorite things about being an editor is the opportunity to nurture and develop the careers of talented debut novelists. In addition to editing the amazing Classof2K9 novels Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick and Crash Into Me by Albert Borris, I am honored to be the editor of these other fantastic 2009 debuts: Pure by Terra Elan McVoy, Break by Hannah Moskowitz, The Hollow by Jessica Verday, Beautiful by Amy Reed, and Stupid Cupid by Rhonda Stapleton.
Madeline: CBAY Books is dedicated to publishing quality children’s books with a controversial edge. Our books take on things like traditional theology and mythology. We have 4 books coming out this year, all of them with a unique perspective. In Donna St. Cyr’s The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate, the hero takes on some of the monsters of Greek mythology with nothing more than some blocks of mystical cheese. In The Amulet of Amun Ra by Leslie Carmichael, the Egyptian gods interfere with us mere mortals, even sending one of them back in time. Finally, the sequels to CBAY’s books from last year continue the sagas of Daphna and Dexter from the Sacred Books Series and Benjamin’s adventures in The Forgotten Worlds Series.
Miriam: Blooming Tree Press is a small independent press. Every time we look for a title, we want it to be completely different from all the books we already have. This gives our readers a lot of choice. We think that makes us unique and interesting.
What are your editorial sensibilities? When do you say to yourself, Wow! This is a book I really need to acquire?
Anica: I’m looking to fall head-over-heels in love. I am a sucker for quirky or dark humor, smart writing, compelling storytelling, and characters that I can’t get out of my head. My tastes tend toward the dark and edgy.
Madeline: I know I need to consider acquiring a manuscript when I can’t stop thinking about it. I know have to acquire a book when I also love it. Personally, and editorially, I prefer chapter books, mid-grade, and YA fiction. I skew towards fantasy, science fiction, mystery and adventure books. Not shockingly, this is primarily what CBAY publishes.
Miriam: I know a book is great when it totally takes my attention from everything else I am doing. When I can say, "Oh. What time is it?" I know the writer has grabbed my attention. As far as if it can be acquired, each author and manuscript has to go through a lot of hoops to see it is saleable and if the author will keep up their end by marketing it to the best of their ability.
One question on everyone’s mind – the economy. How do you see the long-term effect on publishing in general, your house in specific?
Madeline: In the long-term, the economy means that all publishers from large to small are becoming more cautious with their acquisitions programs. They are buying fewer numbers of books, trimming or eliminating imprints, and reducing the number of editors on staff. They are exploring cheaper methods of getting books to readers. Specifically at CBAY, the economy has so far not affected my publishing program. We already had an extremely conservative acquisition program with no plans to produce more than 2-4 books a year.
Miriam: I think the economy is going to test the very core of every publisher. This might be a good thing as some publishers might take more interest in each title (fewer titles) rather than just getting out large amounts of books to meet the quota. On the other hand it's a bad thing because some very good books might not come out now or at all. That is a tragedy.
I'm afraid it will take at least a year or two before we see publishing going "back to normal". Readers are going to think more about their purchase. Publishers must be up to the challenge of publishing for the new buyer.
BTP is going to produce more affordable paperbacks and hold off on most hardbacks until they are more viable again.
If you weren’t an editor, what would you be?
Anica: A baker, crafter, fiddler, and dog walker. And, of course, a reader.
Madeline: I don’t know. Maybe a librarian.
Miriam: One, I would have my own restaurant and two, I would have a quilt and handmade craft store.
What question have you hoped someone will ask (but hasn't yet?) And what's your answer?
Miriam: Do you really read everything you get and do you care about the writers?
The answer is yes and yes. I might not personally read everything but one of my editors do. I read a LOT! As far as the writers are concerned I adore all of you. I so admire what you do and the courage it takes to put yourself out there. If I could publish all of you I would. Just know I hold each and every one of you in the highest regard.