Editor / Agent Spotlight

Editor Spotlight: Georgia McBride, Georgia McBride Media Group

Georgia McBride is founder and editor of Georgia McBride Media Group, which is home to Month9Books, Swoon Romance, and Tantrum Books. She has used her experience launching brands in the music business, licensing music to film and TV, launching new technology products, and marketing and product development to build the Georgia McBride Media Group brand. Georgia is one of Publishers Marketplace’s most prolific editors. She’s completed over 225 publishing, audiobook, and film/TV deals on behalf of three imprints since 2012. Georgia founded the #YAlitchat hashtag and weekly chat on Twitter in 2009.

Hi Georgia, thanks for chatting with us!
You’re publishing two of my 2019 middle grade debut-mates: Malayna Evans and Kristin Thorsness. Can you talk about what originally sparked your interest and made you want to acquire their debut novels?

Thanks for having me, and congratulations on your debut! Malayna’s Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh has everything a kids’ action adventure fantasy should have but most of all, it has heart. Sure it’s a time travel adventure that takes Jagger and his little sister back to the Ancient Egyptian court, but it’s also funny and full of historical references and gags. So, while readers go on this harrowing adventure, they learn about Ancient Egypt and laugh the entire time. Additionally, the characters in this series are biracial, like my own kids, so I definitely was intrigued when it crossed my inbox. Representation is so important, especially at this age.

On the other hand, Kristin’s The Wicked Tree, which went through a title change after acquisition is spooky, atmospheric, and creepy. When I read it for the first time, it reminded me of a spooky tree outside my bedroom window when I was about the same age as the main character, Tav. I remember seeing a figure in the tree one night and screaming at the top of my lungs. None of the adults believed me, of course. The Wicked Tree captured all those creepy feelings I had back then, and I knew it would have a similar effect on readers. It’s also got a pretty cool mystery. So readers can put on their detective caps while getting spooked out.

With both of these stories, and especially for middle grade, I’m looking for something that makes the story and its characters unique. In both examples, I made a personal connection to the characters in both stories, so that helped.

Both these novels, The Wicked Tree, and Jagger Jones & The Mummy’s Ankh are in some sense quest/mystery novels. And Jagger is set in a very remote historical period. Are there any particular challenges in editing these genres?

I’m a lucky editor in that the author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, Malayna Evans, has Ph. D. in Ancient Egyptology. That said, we did try our best to fact-check. We still asked questions, challenged assertions, and focused a lot on consistency during the edits.

For Kristin’s The Wicked Tree, we looked at the logic and reasoning behind the mystery and why characters did and said what they did – or why not. Mysteries can always be solved, and therefore, they have to follow basic and consistent logic, even with twists and even if it isn’t something a reader would personally do, think, or say.

Can you talk about your experience in the music business? What aspects do the music and book industry share?

As you can imagine, working in the music business is a lot of fun. It is also a lot of hard work. The music business and publishing business are very much alike in that my roles have remained basically the same. When I worked in music I did so mostly in marketing, talent acquisition, and packaging. Whether it is discovering, marketing, packaging, producing, editing, etc., the process and prospects are almost identical.

I miss the music business though. I no longer get free music now that I’m out. And, as of this year, I have had to pay to attend concerts. That is definitely new for me. I love what I do as a publisher, though. The similarities in my roles prepared me to hit the ground running in 2011. And now, I get free books and invites to all manner of spectacular bookish things.

What’s the number one thing authors can do, pre- or post-publication, to help boost sales of their books?

Be available. Be personable. Engage your audience in an authentic way. That may include in-person events, online, on social media, etc. I encourage those who write children’s literature to go where the kids are.

On average, middle schoolers spend 6-8 hours of their days in school. They receive book recommendations from teachers, librarians or media specialists, book fairs, etc. Engage that audience frequently, and you will soon start to build your own. Don’t give up or be discouraged if you don’t hit it out of the park on book 1. Stay focused, determined, and undeterred.

What’s an under-represented middle-grade genre or topic that you’d like to see more of?

This fall we published BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS about a little girl who has difficulty making good choices. Her mother’s impending wedding to a widower with two kids compounds her difficulties. Of course, being TantrumBooks/Month9Books there’s magic and some spooky goings on in this story also, thus the wolves and raven on the cover!

As parents, we tend to focus on perfect behavior and good decision making for our kids, and sometimes fail to realize that our kids may struggle with impulse control and or feelings of anxiety. We expect our kids to manage their emotions and feelings well most of the time. Some kids are going through so much at home, and it can sometimes manifest as acting out. I love that BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS tackles these issues. In her new blended family, Bertie’s parents are very much around, and are trying to help her cope. I would like to see more stories about coping with life in general and all the pressure twelve-year-olds are under to adapt in these modern times.

Do you have other forthcoming middle-grade novels you’d like to introduce us to?

Of course we have the sequels to Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh and The Wicked Tree releasing in 2020. We also have The Prince and the Goblin, a heavily illustrated adventure fantasy told from the point of view of a goblin who wants more from his life. Then there’s Kids from G.H.O.S.T, a graphic novel about kid ghost detectives, and The Fate of Freddy Mitchell, which is the new one from Andrew Buckley, author of Hair in all the Wrong Places.

Thanks so much for your time, Georgia!

Thank you!

Follow Georgia on Twitter: @georgia_mcbride
On Instagram @iamgeorgiamcbride, @month9books
Or visit her website at https://www.georgiamcbride.com/

Interview with Editor Jonah Heller – Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

We are delighted to have with us, Jonah Heller, associate editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Jonah!

Hey, thanks for having me!

 

Could you share your editorial journey at Peachtree with us?

My editorial journey with Peachtree started shortly after I graduated with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. I was fortunate enough to have a network of peers connected to Peachtree who helped advocate my intern application, and I did my internship with Peachtree in the summer of 2016. Through hard work, careful attention to detail, and routinely showering everyone with baked goods, I left enough of a positive impression that I was hired on as a publisher’s assistant on January 1, 2017.

From there, I was entering orders for sales, organizing mailings, proofing our catalog, and doing just about anything that needed an extra pair of hands while also training into editorial assistant work. As my supervisor left for other horizons—I eventually did take on more editorial work and started dipping into acquisitions by examining imports from Frankfurt and Bologna. It was great exposure to literature abroad and an excellent opportunity to develop my own taste and direction. Of course, the reward for work done well is—more work! So lots of paperbacks and reprints and editorial outreach as an assistant editor. And now I’ve been upgraded to an associate editor, so I’ve been set loose into the wilderness to go find exciting things and build my list. Woo!

 

What are some books you’ve worked on?

Peachtree is very well established in the picture book arena, so plenty of those!

In terms of middle grade: Peachtree is a smaller house, so that means it’s an all-hands-on-deck environment and everyone’s got their hand in the cookie jar at some point. I’ve helped proof various stages of our Charlie Bumpers and Nina Soni series. I’ve also overseen the paperback adaptation process for quite a number of our middle grade titles, which can involve anything from a new cover and revised back matter to substantial text edits and updates with the author.

                                               

Working on imports as an assistant, I adapted The Bookshop Girl from Scholastic UK and oversaw the illustration process from sketches to final art and cover. It’s a fun mystery about a girl who can’t read and has to save her family’s recently acquired bookstore from a shady con man. A good choice if you love whimsy and the idea of a mechanical wonder bookstore with rooms dedicated to rocket ships or pirate treasure aquariums.

What are some subjects you’d like to see authors tackle in middle grade?

Ultimately, I’d like to see them tackle whatever interests them. That’s the best place to start. But as far as my wish list for this group…

Themes: adventure, animal points of view, comedy, coming of age, contemporary, magical realism, mystery, wilderness survival,

Craft: character driven; compelling voice; page-turning digestible plot; 3-dimensional protagonist & antagonist

It’s one of those things, where I’ll know it when I see it and get into the first ten pages. So I try to keep a wide net cast. I would, however, especially LOVE ownvoices LGBTQ+ stories.

Could you share with us your ideas and goals when it comes to the representation of diversity in the books you publish?

Everyone should be able to reach out to literature and see themselves. That’s critical not only to a sense of belonging but also to establishing empathy for other walks of life outside of our own experience. I strive to be mindful and thoughtful in my acquisitions, because I don’t want a one-note list. I’d be very bored and disappointed with that and, ultimately, so would my publisher and our readers.

Putting that into practice: I don’t ever actively look to check off a box and then move on to something else. I don’t think that’s a good approach, nor a sincere one. My goal is to ultimately acquire talent from all walks of life, who can deliver an excellently crafted story while also offering authentic mirrors and varied experiences. I don’t want to just acquire you and your one book and then be done with it:  I want to build a long-lasting relationship with you and work on lots of cool things for years to come.

What are some common reasons for a manuscript to make it to acquisitions at Peachtree Publishing?

For middle grade fiction, it’s usually character- or voice-driven. You can really latch onto someone’s journey and empathize with their trials and triumphs if the writing lets you step close enough. It’s not really theme or topic that drives fiction for us; it’s a fully satisfying story and arc of growth. You walk away from the book, having had some sort of raw emotional experience that sticks to you and you carry around for a while.

Nonfiction: it’s not my area of expertise, admittedly. But this can be topic or theme driven at first and then develop into something that will ultimately be more for the institutional market. So, we’ll ask: how can this be used in the classroom? What makes it different and specialized from everything else already out there? How can we grow it further from this one book? Etc.

What advice do you have for writers who want to query you?

So if you’re unagented, I’m on snail mail at the moment. It’s not everyone’s favorite method, but it’s mine and it keeps me organized! You can find Peachtree’s address and submissions guidelines on our website, and if you were dutiful enough to read this then you’ll now discover that if you don’t put my name on the envelope, it won’t ever come to my desk.

My general wish list is above, but it’s always a good idea to check out a publisher’s catalog and see what kind of stuff they’ve done. That’s always step one. Ask yourself: does it feel like they’re a good fit for my work, or am I going to be an odd duck out here? Or, if they’ve done something similar: how is my work going to stand out?

As I’ve said, nonfiction isn’t generally my cup of tea. But maybe I’ll surprise myself one day.

I’m also probably not the right editor for a divorce or abuse story, unless it culminates in healing and/or some type of cathartic and triumphant resolution. Additionally, fantasy and science fiction haven’t been as prominent at Peachtree, so the pacing, world building, and character work has to be top-of-the-line.

Other tips:

  • Spelling the editor’s name right is cool
  • Showing up at their office in-person is not cool
  • Neither are frequent phone calls
  • Explore resources on writing query letters

What’s going on in Middle Grade at Peachtree right now?

I’ve been Americanizing an illustrated adventure from the UK, called Mr. Penguin. It’s Indiana Jones meets Sherlock, but with a penguin and a kung fu spider. So basically loads of fun.

                                         

 

Our Nina Soni series continues, and upcoming for 2020: we’ve bought the US text rights to Lavie Tidhar’s Candy from Scholastic UK. It’s an awesome film noir-like mystery following young detective Nelle Faulkner as she uncovers the shady underworld of candy smuggling in a town that’s outlawed sugar. We will be re-illustrating, so expect a fun story and a fresh American package!

Domestically, I’m on the verge of some exciting things I can’t share just yet. So stay tuned and be on the lookout for Peachtree’s middle grade!

 

Jonah Heller is an Associate Editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc. in Atlanta, GA. He graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned his BFA in Dramatic Writing for Film and TV at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His editorial focus ranges from board book to young adult. Say hello on Twitter @jrheller87

 

 

Interview with Kendra Levin, Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a treat today! As many of you know, this past spring I went on a retreat for Jewish Literature and was fortunate enough to have been in a workshop taught by Kendra Levin, Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Besides leading a great workshop, she couldn’t have been nicer! If you don’t know her, you’ll get to know her now!

Hi Kendra, thanks for joining us today!

JR: To start with, I had a great time in your workshop and learned a lot. I know that you do a lot of coaching as well. I’m sure that must be very rewarding for you. How did you get started in that?

KL: I’m so glad you got so much out of the workshop! I became a life coach in 2008. A few years before, when I was new to publishing, I met a woman at a party and asked her what she did for a living. “I empower women,” she said. I thought, Wow! I’d like to be able to do something like that! She was a life coach, and by getting to know her, I found out about a field I hadn’t heard of before then. Around the same time, I’d been getting a little too deeply involved in my friends’ lives and challenges, and needed to find a healthy way to channel my desire to help people. So I enrolled in a year-long certificate program and my life as a life coach began. I love coaching, and though my work as a coach has remained a sideline to my publishing career, I’m grateful for the ways my coaching expertise helps me in my work with authors and with my colleagues.

JR: Could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor in children’s books?

KL: Publishing wasn’t a career I was aware of as a young person, but I had the good fortune to get an internship in college working for the amazing Joy Peskin, who was an editor at Scholastic at the time. We became friends on day one, and she introduced me to so much about the publishing industry and made me want to pursue editing as a career. After working full-time at Scholastic after college in the Book Clubs, I joined Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, where Joy had become a senior editor, and getting to work with her again cemented my interest in being an editor. This is such an apprenticeship-based business and I’m so grateful to have had a great mentor throughout my career!

JR: What was the first book you worked on?

KL: As an intern, I loved working on the Magic School Bus books, but the first book I ever acquired was The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong, which Sharyn November helped me acquire as an assistant editor, and which went on to become an ALA Best Books for Young Adults in 2010.

JR: How did you land at Simon & Schuster?

KL: I spent fourteen amazing years at Viking and made my way up the ranks from editorial assistant to editorial director. Working under three different presidents, two different publishers, and through the merger into Penguin Random House, I got to bear witness to so much change and reinvention. Even so, I reached a point where I was curious what it would be like to work somewhere I hadn’t spent most of my adult life, so when Justin Chanda asked me to come to Simon & Schuster to become editorial director of Books for Young Readers, I decided to take the leap, and I started there in September 2019.

JR: That’s some interesting journey! What do you enjoy the most about your job?

KL: Mentoring, coaching, and managing a team. As much as I love editing and publishing my own list, it brings me so much joy to help other editors do the same. I love watching junior folks discover what publishing is all about and grow in their knowledge and experience, and I’m so proud to see some of the editors I’ve worked with go on to shine in the industry. One of the aspects of working at S&S that I’m already loving is getting to work with some great junior folks there, like Amanda Ramirez, Catherine Laudone, and Dainese Santos. Keep your eye on them—they’re going to be the rising stars in the industry!

JR: What sort of books do you look for?

KL: I always try to cast a wide net, because the variety is part of what I love about being a children’s book editor—on any given day, I could be working on a funny picture book, a heartbreaking YA novel, and an adventure-filled middle grade all at the same time, not to mention graphic novels and nonfiction, all of which are in my wheelhouse. But the threads that run through all the formats and age levels I work on are empowerment (stories that will empower young people), transporting (stories that will take me on a trip and allow me to see a new part of the world or an imagined world), and representation (stories that will allow a child to see themselves reflected in a new way).

JR: How do you like to work with your authors?

KL: I try to adapt to their style and communicate clearly to find a way of working that makes sense for both of us. Some authors like to take my editorial letter, go away, and reappear on (or at least near, hopefully!) their deadline with a draft; others prefer to chat on the phone throughout the process, bounce ideas off me. I like to be flexible—again, I enjoy the variety of working with different personalities and different processes.

JR: That’s great that you vary your style to suit your authors. What’s the state of publishing right now?

KL: That’s a big question! Though I’m not sure I can answer that succinctly, or that I have a real answer, I would say that from where I sit, publishing is facing challenges, but that’s been true since the day I walked into Scholastic as a nineteen-year-old and I’m sure was true well before that. And I’d also say that publishing is also full of opportunity. We’re seeing such an exciting moment right now for voices that have historically been underrepresented by the books selected by mainstream publishers, and I think many of my editorial colleagues and I are pushing ourselves creatively and asking ourselves questions we might not have before—questions that can lead to not only a more inclusive future for publishing, but a future in which publishing is seen as more relevant, more crucial, by the society it’s supposed to be representing.

JR: Besides being an editor, you’ve also authored a self-help book for writers, The Hero Is You. Is it difficult to take your editor’s eye on your own books?

KL: Haha, I would say it’s more difficult to stop applying my editor’s eye to my own work and get out of my own way! Writing The Hero Is You was one of the biggest challenges of my life, and while I’m glad I did it and proud to have a book that represents a decade of everything I learned and observed as an editor and coach about the creative process, the hardest part was hitting pause on that critical voice in my own head.

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

KL: Read my book! 😉 Seriously though, most of the advice I have for writers and other creative artists is in The Hero Is You. I spent six years filling it with all the wisdom I could draw from my career and my interviews with working writers, so it’s kind of a container for all my most useful insights.

JR: I’ll make sure everyone buys the book! 🙂 What books do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

KL: I’m in a transitional period because books I edited are still coming out from Viking and, while I have projects in the pipeline at Simon & Schuster, they won’t be emerging for a while. On the Viking list, I’ve had a year I’m incredibly proud of, with books like SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson, Lovely War by Julie Berry, and All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing A Phoenix First Must Burn, a YA anthology of fantasy and sci fi stories by Black women and gender nonconforming authors edited by Patrice Caldwell, come out in 2020. I’m also looking forward to The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman, a middle grade novel about friendship set against the Chernobyl disaster.

JR: What was your favorite book as a child?

KL: I would never have been able to pick just one! I was a voracious reader as a kid and had a different favorite book every year, maybe every month. Lois Lowry was one of my top authors—I think I read every one of her books—and I adored All-of-a-Kind Family, Paula Danziger, Katherine Paterson. My mother was an elementary school teacher for many years, so I had a lot of Newbery winners on my shelf!

JR: What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could make a comeback?

KL: Unstructured play. I had the privilege of growing up with a backyard, and I spent so many hours out there running around in imaginative play, or inside drawing and creating, constructing worlds with my Legos and dolls. Kids seem very programmed right now, and parents very focused on optimizing their childhoods, mostly with good intentions, but I worry about kids not having the space to be bored and then find a way to entertain themselves. (Adults, too—I just read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell and it makes such an important statement about unstructured time.)

JR: Agreed 100% about unstructured play. Definitely not enough. Before we go, is there anything else that you’d like us to know, that I might not have asked?

KL: If you know a person of color who’s interested in becoming an editor, or even who may simply be a book-lover looking for a career path related to their passion, please direct them to the Representation Matters Mentor Program, which senior editor Joanna Cardenas and I co-founded in January 2017. It’s a free mentoring program that pairs editors with mentees to give them exposure to the industry and vice versa, and to date more than two dozen mentees have found internships and/or full-time jobs in publishing.

JR: Where can people find you on social media?

KL: You can find me infrequently on Twitter @kendralevin and Instagram @kendra.levin, sporadically writing for Psychology Today on my blog The Heart of Writing, and always at my website, kendracoaching.com.

JR: Thanks again for taking the time to speak to us today!

 

That’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers, wishing you all a very Happy Halloween!

 

Jonathan