Erica is an assistant editor at Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books.
She is interested in picture books, middle grade, and young adult. Particularly realistic fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. She’s not a good match for non-fiction or thrillers. *Please note that Erica only accepts submissions through literary agents and conferences.
To connect with and learn more about Erica . . .
What do you love most about your job? Was it in your career plan or did it happen along the way?
My favorite part about my job is definitely working with authors. I love that my job puts me in contact with so many creative, talented people. And while I’m not a writer myself, seeing my edits and collaboration pay off in an improved draft is profoundly satisfying every time.
(Aside from the editorial heavy-lifting, there are plenty of other times at work when I sit back and think, “It’s crazy that I’m being paid to do this!” Like when we were working on the Origami Yoda activity book, and I spent the day making Star Wars characters out of origami, or when we were trying to woo a major author at a robot-themed meeting, so I spent the day making robots out of juice boxes.)
I’ve known since I was an English major in college that I wanted to work in publishing, but I didn’t necessarily think of children’s books until I was actually working full-time in the industry and saw that that’s where the really fun stuff was happening. Now it feels like a natural fit for me and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
What is the hardest part about being an editor?
Time management! It’s tough to tackle that submissions pile in a speedy yet thoughtful way. You have to be confident in your tastes and be able to make a judgment quickly, in only a few chapters. And just be a really fast reader I guess.
I would also say, perhaps not for being an editor but for being an assistant editor, the hardest part is acquisitions. Making those first few book deals are the toughest I think. You have fewer people submitting to you, so it’s less likely that you’ll find that perfect project. And if you do find it, plenty of other people probably love it too, so you might get outbid or pre-empted by another house. I think (slash hope!) this gets easier over time, as you have more connections and a reputation to bank on.
Is there anything that would make a submission an automatic no?
Well, it’s not enough for the submission to be great in general, it has to be great for Abrams, so it would be an automatic no if it just wasn’t the kind of thing we would publish. Genre-wise, we don’t publish much non-fiction, especially self-help and science. Category-wise, we don’t publish early readers or new adult, for example. So, you just have to pay attention to who you’re querying, be it an agent, editor, imprint, or house, and what they’re specifically interested in seeing.
What does it take in a manuscript for you to share it with others?
This is the tough, unquantifiable question that probably drives authors crazy, because when I really love something, I just feel it. Argh! It would be easier if there were a set formula. I will try: fresh premise + commercial appeal + smart writing + good fit for imprint + personal resonance. How’s that?
I often respond to books with multiple hooks and layers. So often, perfectly good proposals often just feel too quiet, or too thin. I want to know what the takeaway is, but not in a heavy-handed “message-y” way. I want to be able to sum up in one sentence what the book is about, but also have a lot of angles to latch onto. There are so many factors to balance if you try to step back and analyze what makes an editor choose a manuscript, but at the end of the day, I think when editors find the right project, they just know.
If you decide you love a manuscript, what happens next?
If I love a manuscript, I would--after some hooting and hollering and telling my boss “Oh, I love this, yay!”--bring it to an editorial meeting. It’s a meeting once a week with the other editors in my department, a sales person, and our art director. They would have read about 20 pages if the manuscript is a novel, and we discuss. It’s sort of like a professional book club, but we weigh in a lot of more objective factors—sales figures, author platform, the needs of our list, etc.—that extend beyond our personal tastes. If the conversation is generally positive, another editor and my publisher may volunteer to read more and see if it’s ready for Pub Board (acquisitions).
What happens in an acquisitions meeting?
Well, it’s a lot of big-wigs in a conference room. Our CEO, CFO, head of sales, head of foreign rights, head of publishing operations, publishers, editors-in-chiefs, etc. meet once a week to discuss buying projects. Beforehand, the editors send out profit-and-loss statements for their projects (which factor in numbers like quantity, author advance, and production costs) and manuscripts for the sales team to read. Typically, if the project has gotten to an acquisitions meeting, it’s gone through enough hoops (the editor, editorial meeting, and publisher) that the CEO won’t block the offer entirely, but he may say to lower the advance or quantity or some other part of the proposal.
What would you love to find in your inbox?
My next acquisition, of course! I’d love to find an emotionally gripping, contemporary YA romance like Eleanor and Park or Amulet’s own The Infinite Moment of Us. I also love fantasy that balances quick storytelling with lyrical writing in the vein of Kristin Cashore and Maggie Stiefvater. And I’m drawn to male narrators with very distinct voices, full of intelligence, grit, and dry humor, like Gary Schmidt, John Green, and Amulet’s own Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. I’d also like to try editing a graphic novel or a younger, boy-friendly, high-concept chapter book series.
What advice would you give to writers?
To read as many children’s books as possible, for one. It’s super-helpful when querying to have a sense of the market and know how your book fits into it. Also, to get involved! Conferences and writers groups are great ways to get feedback on your work, connect with other authors, and get a sense of the industry. It’s a pretty small, welcoming industry once you make those first steps, and with agents’ and editors’ in-boxes overflowing, personal connections are a tremendous asset. And not to give up!
A BIG thank you to Erica for joining us!
Posted October, 2013 – Always check for current info and guidelines.