Julie Strauss-Gabel is the Associate Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books. Some of Julie' s books include Put It On the List written and illustrated by Kristen Darbyshire; New York Times bestseller If I Stay by Gayle Forman; Printz Medalist Looking for Alaska, Printz Honor Book An Abundance of Katherines, and New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award Winner Paper Towns, all by John Green; Edgar Award Winner Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready Peace, Love & Baby Ducks and Thirteen by Lauren Myracle; Safe by Susan Shaw; Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee; and the forthcoming Hold Still by Nina LaCour.
What was your journey to becoming an editor?
Despite the fact that I had always worked with kids and been a reader—especially children’s and YA books—it wasn’t until I was almost done with college that the idea of working with/in children’s books truly took shape. One fabulous class in my junior year inspired my next few years of study, in both college and graduate school, as I pieced together a self-designed children’s lit curriculum comprised of comparative lit, developmental psychology, and folklore study. Despite my intense focus, and my growing certainty that I wanted to have a career dedicated to children’s literature, it wasn’t until I completed grad school that I started to consider publishing as a career path (ironic, since I devoted my entire junior high school, high school, and college career to working as a newspaper editor). I started my career working in subsidiary rights (for children’s books, at Hyperion Books for Children), not editorial. It was an unplanned and serendipitous way to begin, introducing me to aspects of the business that I still use daily in my job. I was fortunate to then move to Clarion Books as an Assistant Editor. After several years of learning from many of the best in the business at Clarion, I came to Dutton in 2002.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
What’s not to love? I am lucky enough to have a challenging, fun job where every day is as intellectually stimulating. I work with extremely talented authors and publishing colleagues who share a deeply felt belief in the importance of quality for our audience, the importance of creating something that will, hopefully, have a lasting impact on readers for several generations. I love both the trance-like bliss of sinking into the editing of a manuscript (and especially the collaborative process of revision) as well as the business of working with my colleagues to introduce that book to the world.
Tell us about Dutton. What is unique/interesting/ in the works for you?
Dutton Children’s Books is an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. We are a hardcover imprint, publishing about 50 books a year, pre-school through upper YA. Though I relish the opportunity to publish exciting new picture book voices (we’re always excited to find new author/illustrator talents), most of my list is now fiction for older readers. There are so many wonderful things coming up that it feels impossible to single anything out! Sticking to this year, Fall 2009 will bring two new YA voices my list. An Off Year by journalist/humorist/pop culture guru Claire Zulkey is about Cecily, who arrives at her dorm room on the first day of college, and turns around. It takes a look at the very common—but too rarely discussed—crisis teens face when leaving high school and deciding just what “the future” means to them.
And Hold Still by Nina LaCour is a stunning debut that we’ll publish in October. It’s been electric to watch as every reader at Penguin has embraced this sincere and gorgeous account of one girl’s recovery in the wake of her best friend’s suicide.
I read a lot of manuscripts, but when something has a captivating and original voice—when it demands against the logic of my ever-growing “to do” list to be finished immediately—that’s something that’s impossible to ignore. My taste is typically YA contemporary, but there’s no preparing for what one might fall in love with . . . which is why editors are typically loathe to limit our submissions to any sort of confined, prescriptive list. Originality and ambition, fearlessness and a genuine voice. These are the elements that, in my experience, make a book literary, and commercial as well.
What are your editorial sensibilities? When do you say to yourself, Wow! this is a book I really need to acquire?
One question on everyone's mind - the economy. How do you see the long term effect on publishing in general, your house in specific.
Penguin is in a strong place, and I’m so proud that we maintain that strength by publishing exceptional books. I publish books I believe in, and my house not only supports that, but excels at bringing them to young readers. I think it’s a time to make careful, thoughtful publishing decisions . . . but I’ve always felt that way. Why not expect the best? We should be publishing the books we love that will stand the test of the marketplace and time—books kids and teens will love, too. We should all share the job of being careful strategists and preserve the very important opportunity to take risks—by taking risks carefully and thoughtfully.
If you weren't an editor, what would you be?
Probably a therapist . . . or a wedding planner (seriously).