Editor / Agent Spotlight

Interview with Francesco Sedita, President and Publisher of Penguin Workshop at Penguin Young Readers!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Francesco Sedita and take a workshop he was giving on humor. Besides being extremely funny, he couldn’t have been nicer.

If you don’t know him, he’s the President and Publisher of Penguin Workshop at Penguin Young Readers, and I’m thrilled to feature him in the Editor Spotlight!

 

 

JR: Hi Francesco, thanks for joining us today!

Before I even get into the publishing side, I have to say that your resume is all kinds of impressive. To start with, you had my utmost respect when I read that you used to do stand-up and interned on Saturday Night Live. Anyone who knows me, knows that humor and anything funny are always at the top of my must lists, so can you tell us what those experiences were like?

FS: Yeah, this was a majorly formative experience for me on a whole lot of levels.  The question people always ask, and we can get it out of the way, was who was on the show when I was there.  It was Mike Myers, David Spade, Adam Sandler, Jay Mohr, Tim Meadows, Julia Sweeney, Melanie Hutsell, Sarah Silverman, David Spade, Chris Farley, Ellen Cleghorne, Phil Hartman. (This is not in order of favorites at all, by the way.  And Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger hosted the Valentine’s show and Kim was one of the loveliest, kindest people I have ever met.  It’s one of my favorite memories of that time.  I once picked Courtney Love and a tiny Frances Bean up in the lobby to bring them to the show and she was incredibly kind.  And Nicole Kidman smells of elegant lilac.  And Sarah Silverman used to take me to the parties in her limo with Melanie and I felt VERY BADASS.)  It was all a terrifying dream come true.  Look, I made a lot of coffee for some pretty jazzy people, but I also did get to sit at the table and contribute a bit.  And that was really mind-blowing.  Norm MacDonald was writing there then, and he read my stuff and would talk me through my skits and I’m forever grateful.

JR: Okay, now that I heard all that, besides my respect, you have my jealousy as well! Wow, that must have been amazing! How about standup, another thing I’ve always wanted to do? 

FS: As far as standup, it’s something I have always admired and I just did it for a white-hot minute.  I really liked it.  I wasn’t out yet so it never felt true to my real humor and point of view.  I have warned my friends that I am going to text them and have them show up to the Comedy Cellar one night to try it again.  Gulp.  (Also, RuPaul accidentally outed me at a party when I was 19 and it is a story that I will tell one day very soon.  Yes, RuPaul.)

JR: Okay, now I must hear the RuPaul story! You have an open invitation to come back, if you ever want a forum to tell that on!

By the way, I practically lived at the Comedy Cellar and Cafe Wha? at around the time I’m guessing that you performed, so if that’s the place that you were back then, I might’ve seen you! Getting back to bookish things, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor/publisher, and working for Penguin?

FS: As with many things in life, this is best done over a cocktail.  But here’s the quick version:

I was living in the East Village, I had written, directed, and produced an immersive show (take that, “Sleep No More”) that ran Off-Off Broadway for some time.  I was making no money and my parents were very generously supporting me.  But then one day, my phone rang.  My parents had been at a cocktail party at their lawyer’s house and had met Si Newhouse.

#1: I didn’t know my parents had a lawyer.  Like, why?

#2: I didn’t know my parents went to cocktail parties.

#3: I didn’t know who Si Newhouse was.

I was really pissed.  The next day, someone from Random House HR called to set up an interview.  I went.  I had platinum hair and a nose piercing.

I wore:

#1: Sailors pants.  Real ones.

#2: A ruffled tuxedo shirt.  Like real ruffles.

# 3: Platform shoes.

The poor woman looked at me and said, “You should be in publicity!” And so I interviewed the next day at Knopf with the really lovely Paul Bogaards, who I consider one of the smartest people I’ll ever know, and he hired me.  (I didn’t wear the outfit, PS.  But the receptionist asked me to take my piercing out and I refused.)

I left a year later for grad school, freelancing at the Random House imprint to make some money.  When Bogaards found out, he sent someone to get me and told me I had to work at Knopf if I was in the building.  I returned.  He let me leave and go to classes during the day.  Then I graduated, left Knopf again, had two stupid internet jobs when everyone had them, and then wound up at Scholastic in the Reading Clubs.  My first interview there was meant to be on September 11, 2001.  So chilling and odd.  I’ll never forget that phone call.

Then the story goes that I was in Clubs for a few great years and then moved to the Trade group, where I became Creative Director and worked on Harry Potter and lots of other wonderful things, like Jeff Smith’s Bone and Goosebumps.  And then Penguin called.

JR: That’s an incredible journey, and way to hold your ground on the nose ring! 🙂 You met so many wonderful people. After all that, what was the first book you worked on?

FS: The first book I edited was when I was Creative Director at Scholastic.  It was my dear friend (and writing teacher in grad school) Ann Hood’s first middle grade novel, How I Saved My Father’s Life (And Ruined Everything Else).  Ann and I still love the parentheses on that one.  I was petrified to edit such a great writer.  She was kind and patient.

JR: What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

FS: You know, sort of everything and nothing.  We will always want great voices, great, authentic points of view, and to make objects that people will hopefully hug when they turn the final page.

JR: Speaking of changes, you’re also a producer on the wonderful Netflix program The Who Was Show?, based on your great history series of the same name. I devour shows about history, and yours is done very well. What has that experience been like and how heavily involved with the show are you?

FS: Now, this is another dream come true.  It started as an “I dare you” kind of thing from my boss at the time, the great Don Weisberg.  And so I called two amazing friends from grad school and we made a short pilot: What would happen if Andy Warhol met Laura Ingalls Wilder??  We had casting calls, shot in a friend’s farm, laughed a lot and stressed a lot.  It was a dream come true.  And then Penguin sold it to Netflix!  #WHATWHAT?!?!

JR: (Since the interview, The Who Was Show was nominated for FIVE Daytime Emmy Awards! So, if anyone isn’t watching, get to it! Congrats and good luck, Francesco!)

JR:What do you enjoy the most about your job?

FS: This incredible Workshop team that I get to work with every day.  They are bold, funny, curious, daring, and committed to making magic in every title.  That’s not easy and I love them all for it.

JR: What sort of books do you look for?

FS: We are so open.  Make us feel something.  We like to laugh, I LOVE to cry, and do so at least once a day in a meeting.

JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

FS: Yes.  Unless the author is like “um, personal space, please” then I will stop asking you to go out for lunch and drinks.

JR: Can’t be too many authors turning down free lunches! 🙂 What’s the state of publishing right now, in particular, Middle Grade? 

FR: It’s exciting.  It’s a time to take big risks, a time to challenge ourselves to think different, to think bigger, and to strive for the ever-evolving definition of relevance and excellence.

 

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

FS: Write your face off.  And stop asking what’s going on in the marketplace.  Write what you want to write, what you need to write.  Let us people on the other side worry about the marketplace for now.  (This changes when you sell the book.  Then you gotta know.) Oh, and don’t walk around thinking you deserve anything just because you write or have an idea or have written 46 books.  I say this to myself all the time.  I will write all weekend sometimes on my personal projects and I find myself thinking things should HAPPEN because I decided to shut off The Real Housewives and commit to my craft.  Not happening, buddy.  Not happening.

 

JR: Excellent advice. I think I was given similar when I first started, “Don’t believe your press clippings.” What was your favorite book as a child?

FS: Charlotte’s Web.  My mother read it to me many times and it’s so vivid in my head that it vibrates.

JR: I think I bawled my eyes out when I first read it. Definitely a moment I remember from childhood. And speaking of childhood, what’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

FS: Smurfs.  With me in total control.  I have some ideas for Azrael that would change the face of cat books!  And Gargamel is totally going on Queer Eye.

 

JR: Now all I can think about is Gargamel on Queer Eye. I think Jonathan is going to have his hands full with those eyebrows.

 

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

FS: I’m terrible at Twitter and a little meh on fb so find mr_francesco on Insta, where you can see my adorable cat, Alfredo!

JR: I can’t believe we didn’t include pics of Alfredo! 

JR: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, and the best of luck with the Daytime Emmy Awards!

 

Well, that’s it for now, my Mixed-Up friends. Dorian Cirrone says I’ve mingled with the public long enough and wants me to get back to my cubicle at Mixed-Up Files Headquarters, so until next time . . .

 

Jonathan

The Business Of Author-Agent Relationship in Writing And Publishing

Today, at Mixed-Up Files, we discuss the business of author-agent relationships.

Behind every successful novel, the author-agent team works together for months and years to turn an idea into a finished product that the editor and the reader will love.

Author Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez  and Agent Linda Camacho talk about how their enthusiasm to place a good book in the hands of readers propelled their relationship.

Suma:  Yamile, your novel On These Magic Shores will be published by Lee & Low/Tu Books in 2020. You also won the New Visions Honor Award for this manuscript in 2015. Although, it was one of your earliest novels, it was not the one that first sold. Tell us more about your journey with this novel, how you first got published, and what kept you motivated to keep writing?

Yamile: On These Magic Shores has been growing from the moment Minerva Miranda walked into my mind in 2014 until it turned into my love letter for the child I once was, a child with a lot of responsibilities but who still wanted to do all the things we associate with childhood. When I started writing it, I didn’t envision how deep into this character and her journey to reclaim her childhood I’d go. It’s amazing to see my growth as a writer as I see the growth of this story. Since it took such a long time for this story to finally be accepted for publication, I worked on different things in between revisions. When I won the New Visions Honor I was just starting my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. While I was in the program I had the opportunity to try my hand at genres or age groups I’d never tried before, like picture books and poetry. In between semesters I wrote a poem for my children, which later I shared at my graduate reading. The public’s reaction was so strong and positive that I submitted my poem to my agent, believing it would be a wonderful picture book but not expecting much to happen from that. To my surprise, the story resonated with my agent and then several editors she shared it with. WHERE ARE YOU FROM? sold at action and it will be published by HarperCollins on June 4, 2019. After this contract, my agent and I have signed many others for middle grade and young adult novels, and I’m also a contributor in several anthologies. My publishing journey hasn’t been a straight line of overnight success, but the result of years of working on my craft, a wonderful team by my side, and a little fairy dust for good luck.

 

Suma: How do you balance your family responsibilities and your writing deadlines?

Yamile: Writing is my full time job, and I have a big family composed of five children, several animals, and a husband with a very demanding job. Like his job, writing is also very demanding, so my husband and I are equal partners in taking care of our family and home, and supporting each other in our professional endeavors. My writing time is sacred, just as time with my children is sacred. But we make it work one day at a time.

 

Suma: What advice would you give to writers facing rejections?

Yamile: My advice is twofold: keep writing and remember the why. My journey until I met my agent was also a long road paved with rejection notes, but in the end, I knew that if I stayed true to my voice, I’d find the right agent. And I did.
The novel my agent signed me with never sold, and I’m grateful that she was interested in my career as a whole and not just a book. My mind is always bubbling with ideas, so by the time the rejections start arriving, I’m already invested in a new story. Because ultimately I didn’t start writing for publication or acclaim. I started writing with a desire to share my vision of the world and to connect with the child living inside me, to hopefully connect with a child reader who could see themselves in the words that come out of my heart. Publishing and writing are such separate elements. Remember why you’re doing this, and pick up your pen, or open the laptop and write.

 

Suma: Linda, what impressed you about Yamile and her work when you took her on as a client? How would you describe your relationship with Yamile from the beginning to where you are now?

Linda: It’s all in the voice, really. Yamile’s writing has a beautiful, distinctive voice that comes from a genuine place, somewhere that’s as authentic as the creator herself is.

In terms of our relationship, while I’ve been in publishing for about fourteen years now, I was new to agenting when Yamile signed with me several years ago. I’m fortunate that she took a chance on me then, and I think it’s pretty special that we’re growing and learning together as the years pass.

 

Suma: What is the best line from a query letter or a manuscript or proposal that you read that made you want to sign the author right away?

Linda: Oh wow, that’s a tough one, since I’m the absolute worst at picking the best anything! This makes me think of Yamile’s picture book Where Are You From, actually. When I signed Yamile, I’d signed her on the basis of a middle grade manuscript. And I knew she was interested in writing young adult as well. Then one day she said she had a picture book manuscript and I was a tiny bit afraid, lol, since I had no idea if it would be any good. Needless to say, it was amazing. I read it, cried a little, then went out with it without editing it at all–It was that terrific. It went to auction and is now coming out from HarperCollins this June. Where Are YourFrom is about a little girl who gets asked where she’s from, so she turns to her grandfather for an answer. This is a line from it: You’re from hurricanes and dark storms, and a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep. Yamile’s writing is so lyrical and lovely and, above all, memorable.

 

Suma: What advice would you give to agents facing rejections?

Linda: As someone who experience rejections pretty much every day, I know it’s tough, but I would tell them to take heart. We took on a project for a reason and we have to keep the faith that if we keep submitting, the right editor will fall in love with it. And if not, then it’ll happen for the next one. The only way to get there, though, is to keep at it. Just like creatives do.

 

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American who loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She’s a PB, MG, and YA author. Yamile is also part of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She’s represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary. You can find her online here and here.

Linda Camacho was always a fan of escaping into a good book, so the fact that she gets to make it her career is still surreal. She graduated from Cornell with a B.S. in Communication and has seen many sides of the industry. She’s held various positions at Penguin Random House, Dorchester, Simon and Schuster, and Writers House literary agency until she ventured into agenting at Prospect. She’s done everything from foreign rights to editorial to marketing to operations, so it was amazing to see how all the departments worked together to bring books to life. Somewhere in between all that (and little sleep), Linda received her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, Linda continues to work with colleagues and clients who inspire her every day in both the children’s and adult categories. You can find her online here and here.

Agent Spotlight: Stacey Kendall Glick

Literary agent Stacey Kendall Glick is Vice President of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC. She brings a varied background in film and television development to her work as a literary agent, having held varied roles in entertainment including scouting for books to be adapted into feature films, a position as a story editor, and as a child actress who appeared on TV, in films and in theater. She represents a wide range of titles from nonfiction to adult, YA, and middle grade fiction and picture books. Her clients include four middle grade debuts for 2019: Jennifer Camiccia (THE MEMORY KEEPER), Wendy S. Swore (A MONSTER LIKE ME), Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo (RUBY IN THE SKY) and Jenni Walsh (the SHE DARED series). Stacey notes on her web page that she “wants to see more heartwarming, inspiring middle grade fiction and nonfiction.” Learn more about Stacey Glick at https://www.dystel.com/stacey-glick/.

Hi Stacey! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us. I’m really curious about how your background in film and TV influences your taste in middle grade fiction. Do you think you gravitate toward stories that feel like they’d be well suited for the big screen?

I think I’ve always been a naturally visual reader. As a childhood actress, then working in film and TV development before becoming an agent 20 years ago, stories that jump off the page and have a visual element always appealed to me. But I also appreciate quieter stories too. Not every book can be or should be a movie.

Several of your Novel19s middle-grade debut clients this year deal with some form of trauma. In Jen Camiccia’s book, THE MEMORY KEEPER, Lulu has a syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), which essentially means she recalls with near perfect clarity every moment of her life. And at the same time, her grandmother is suffering from trauma-induced amnesia and losing her memory. What drew you to this story?

I have four daughters, all of whom are middle grade (or newly graduated from) readers so I am always looking for books that resonate with me personally but I know will also appeal to my girls. I’m drawn to contemporary realistic stories that explore the often complicated relationships between family and friends, and kids who struggle with challenges and need to find solutions to their problems. To me, that’s real life and if we can teach our kids through books how to better navigate and manage a difficult world, we’ll all be better off for it.

Let’s talk about your another of our debut middle grade clients, Wendy Swore. Her book, A MONSTER LIKE ME, publishes on March 5. It’s been compared to both Wonder and The Thing About Jellyfish. Sophie, the protagonist, is a monster expert. And she’s also convinced that she is a monster because of a facial disfigurement. Can you talk about that a bit?

 

I loved the idea of this book from the pitch, and the minute I opened the first page, I had a feeling it was going to be a winner. The book is so warm and genuine, and Sophie is such an endearing character. Her struggles are unique to her but familiar enough to feel relatable to all readers. Her way of looking at the world and managing in it, despite having something that makes her so obviously “different” is what really made me fall in love with the book in the same way I did with Wonder when I first read it with my girls.

Are you an editorial agent? Is there any one piece of advice you give to middle grade authors? In other words, are there any common kinds of problems that you are good at helping MG authors fix?

I’ve been very fortunate to work with talented authors who are able to craft and create stories that are often in great shape at first draft stage. Both Jennifer and Wendy sent manuscripts to me that were almost ready to go. I really appreciate authors who go through multiple drafts and get feedback from writers’ groups and beta readers before they send it out to agents. It makes our job easier to be able to think about sales strategy and business decisions without having to focus too much on editorial concerns and an elaborate revision process. That said, if I fall in love with something and think it needs work, I will do what I have to do to create the best draft possible for submission before sending it out.

What can middle grade authors do to help teachers deepen the reading experience, or better help students engage with their texts, in the classroom?

I love when authors have the opportunity to engage with students. It’s such a wonderful way for a reading experience to come to life. Asking questions that readers can use to discuss the book and see things from a different perspective can help. This season I also represented the start of a middle grade nonfiction series called She Dared by Jenni L. Walsh. The series focuses on accessible biographies for middle grade readers of strong, brave young women. The first two books in the series are about Malala Yousafzai, the Afghani activist author, and Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost an arm to a shark attack but went on to become a professional surfer.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the middle grade authors you represent, once they sign their first contract?

I think the hardest thing is to overcome what might be seen as modest sales for a first book, and then trying to sell a second book when an option publisher passes. It’s easier (though not easy) to do in children’s books than adult. But it still requires a very different and sometimes a more creative approach.

I should also mention another of your debut authors this year, Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo, whose marvelous contemporary middle grade, Ruby in the Sky, published in February to starred reviews in Kirkus and Booklist. It’s already become one of my very favorite middle grade novels. I needed to read that one with many tissues in hand. And you have a gorgeous picture book, Bird Watch by Christie Matheson, that just published yesterday. You’ve had quite a year!

Anything else you’d like to elaborate on that I haven’t asked you? How’s life treating you?

Good! I really enjoy my work with children’s books and authors. I also help to run a wonderful conference affiliated with Rutgers University, the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (this year on October 19, 2019), which your readers might be interested in learning more about. It’s the only conference I know of that offers attendees a one-on-one meeting with an editor or agent, and because it’s local to NYC and just one day, we get a lot of agents and editors to attend. There’s always a great keynote speaker as well. Last year, we had Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple. Thanks for having me!

 

Connect with Stacey on Twitter at @staceyglick