Maggie Lehrman, Editor, has been with Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books for four years, after starting her career at HarperCollins. At Abrams she edits middle grade and YA fiction, as well as non-fiction and fiction picture books. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in English, focusing on theater.
How would you describe your house’s publishing focus these days? Abrams Books for Young Readers is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and Amulet Books (the imprint for middle grade and YA) is turning five, so we’ve been growing every year since our start. We’ve always been a small-ish house, though, so when the economy turned we were well-prepared for a little belt-tightening. We’re also lucky to have published the successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney, which has increased our exposure in the industry and in the bookstores, and has allowed us to keep growing and developing our list even in this climate. I think our focus is on what we’ve always tried to do: Publish beautiful, innovative books and stories that we want to read again and again.
How do you feel the children's book market as a whole is doing? It’s a difficult time to be in publishing, and when I look at the numbers year-to-year it never looks good. But I do get the sense that children’s books are more resilient than the rest of the market. People will always buy books for kids; they want kids to read even if they themselves don’t!
Sudipta's first book with Maggie
What kinds of books do you love working on? I think how you define “kinds of books” is important — it would be hard to choose between different genres and age groups, though I do love older fantasy books or funny picture books or middle grade mysteries. That doesn’t mean I don’t love everything else, though. The “kinds of books” I really enjoy working on are those where I feel like the author and I are both invested in making something really exciting, and when that exciting feeling spills out into the design, marketing, production, and sales of the book.
Which of your house’s upcoming books are you most excited about? It’s impossible to choose! I’m working on Spring 2010 right now and there’s a very exciting and innovative graphic novel by Jason Shiga called Meanwhile that I can’t wait to get into people’s hands, partly because it’s so hard to describe in words. Then there are some debuts I’m thrilled about: Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron, which comes out this fall, and The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, a spring book. And a spring picture book: Over at the Castle by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. And of course Sudipta’s next book with us, coming out next fall!
What would you like to see more of in submissions? What would you like to see less of? For picture books, it’s hard to keep seeing lovely, poetic ideas without any structure or larger appeal. And I’d love to see something that makes me laugh unexpectedly. For middle grade, I hope for a nice stand-alone story (in any genre) that isn’t clearly setting me up for eighteen sequels. For YA, I’d like to see more writers take the challenge of writing for teens seriously. This doesn’t necessarily mean the story should be angsty and melodramatic, but I think a lot more thought could be put into what it means to be a teen and what kind of writing would appeal to that group.
What is your biggest pet peeve about submissions? Other than the fact that I never have enough time to read them? Sloppiness drives me crazy, or ungrounded whimsy. Just because kids have amazing imaginations doesn’t mean that any old thing you think of can be made into a picture book.
What is your favorite book (in each genre would be helpful) published in the last few years? Again, so hard! I’ll just pick one and silently stew about all the other ones I loved. Picture book: All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Nikki McClure (a slight cheat because it’s from our list, but it’s amazing) Middle Grade: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall YA: King Dork by Frank Portman
What advice would you offer an aspiring picture book author? An aspiring novelist? Read everything. Don’t stop reading, ever. Know all the current books and trends, and have a hint of what’s come before that lead us to this point. Then just write what you want to read. And write some more. Write a bunch of different genres, formats, ideas — you never know what will feel right until you try. And a few un-serious questions: What is your favorite color to wear? Green What is your favorite type of sushi? Spicy Tuna If you could be an animal, what would it be and why? Parrot; they can fly and they’re still reasonably smart — and some can talk (a little) Do you have a theme song? No, but maybe I should get one! Something upbeat with lots of trumpets.