Back in September you might remember I mentioned going on the Best Retreat Ever. While I was there I was lucky enough to meet the wonderful Sarah Ketchersid, Executive Editor at Candlewick. She edits picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA fiction, as well as those extremely popular OLOGY books. (We own Dragonology and Egytptology.)
In between jetting to exotic places like Frankfurt and editing books with release dates as far away as 2015(!), Sarah was kind enough to take a few minutes for this interview.
It was great to meet you, too! The retreat was amazing, but, yes, very intense. I really have to be on my game for two whole days. Yet the time I have with each individual author is very short—just 15 minutes, and that includes listening to him or her read the work out loud. So I’ve got to listen carefully and then respond almost instantly with something coherent, and I hope, intelligent, insightful, and encouraging all at the same time! It definitely helped that all of the authors were so open and willing to hear my feedback. And it was especially gratifying to listen to the first pages session on Sunday morning and see how well the writers revised based on our feedback.
Have you ever found a new author through a conference?
To be honest, I haven’t yet, but I’m ever hopeful. Once at a conference I met an author whose work I was already considering and we had a chance to talk in person about the manuscript, and then I signed it up a month or two later. Being able to connect with someone one-on-one like that goes such a long way toward building a trusting working relationship.
Good to know there's hope!
You recently went from Senior Editor to Executive Editor at Candlewick Press. Can you explain the difference?
Thanks for asking about this. I don’t think there is a general answer for what makes one editor a Senior Editor versus an Executive Editor—it really depends on the company and the dynamics of the editorial department there. For myself, I am adding some more responsibilities, including working more closely with our Foreign Rights Team. So I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany a few weeks ago for the first time.
Oooh, I'd love to attend Frankfurt some day. Did it live up to your expectations?I have to say that it did. It was huge! They even have a mini bus to take people from one hall to the other, because it's so big. It was so interesting to see publishers from all over the world as well--it felt as if nearly every country had at least one booth there.
Sounds incredible! Some day... :)
I think you said you’ve been with Candlewick for ten years. How did you get into editing?
I was an English major in college and wasn’t sure what I was going to do after graduating, when a recruiter from Penguin came to campus. I thought, Publishing! That’s it. I’d always loved books and reading so I knew it could be a good fit for me. My work study job was as an aide at the campus day care center, so I was also interested in children and their development. After I got my degree I worked for a year as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble in the children’s department which helped me realize that I wanted to work in children’s publishing. I was eventually hired as an editorial assistant at Dutton Children’s Books, and was there for six years before I joined Candlewick in 2001.
Candlewick is a relatively young press (started in 1991, right?) but your books have made such an impact on children’s literature. How does that award-winning past factor into the choices you make for future books?
Thanks so much for saying that. We do take a lot of pride in our work at Candlewick and in creating the very best books we can. That comes into play in a variety of different ways from the kinds of books we acquire to the quality of the paper we print on! I think all of us editors feel a responsibility to only take on the best of what gets submitted to us, in order to keep that goodwill that we seem to have built up over the years of publishing such wonderful books. Our designers also work so hard to create truly beautiful and beautifully designed books, right down to the smallest details.
Over dinner one evening you explained that the company is 100 percent employee owned. How does that work? How does it affect your approach to books and authors?
The company was founded by Sebastian Walker (as Walker Books) in London in 1978 and Candlewick Press, the American arm of Walker Books, was started in 1991, just before Sebastian passed away. When he died, he left the company in trust to his employees and now employees are given shares in that trust. So we all own a part of Candlewick Press and of Walker Books in London and Australia. It is a good feeling to know that as a company we are only answerable to ourselves and not to a larger company, whose main business may not even be books. I think that gives us the opportunity to take a few more creative risks and to follow our editorial instincts when we sense that something is right.
I know you were excited about ABOVE WORLD by Jenn Reese. Can you tell us about the book and some of the others you have coming out in the next few months?
Yes, I am very excited about ABOVE WORLD! It’s coming out next February and it’s a middle grade novel set in a future where humans have turned to genetic engineering in order to survive in extreme environments, like growing tails to live under the ocean, or wings to live in high mountains, or horse bodies to survive in the desert. It’s a great adventure with strong characters that I simply love.
Sounds like my kind of book! I'll have to look for that one.
The other middle grade novel I’ve got coming out next spring is the fantasy novel THE PRINCESS OF TRELIAN by Michelle Knudsen. It’s the sequel to THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN which came out a couple of years ago. People might know Michelle as the author of the picture book Library Lion. She’s also an amazing fiction writer. Here is another novel whose characters I just fell in love with! I’m very excited for this sequel to come out—I know a lot of young readers who have been waiting.
I’m also excited about two lovely picture books publishing this spring: HAPPY LIKE SOCCER by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Lauren Castillo; and STEP GENTLY OUT by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder.
And I’ve also got a very funny new illustrated chapter book from Daniel Pinkwater called MRS. NOODLEKUGEL.
And the eleventh Ology book is also coming out next spring: ILLUSIONOLOGY, which is about magic and illusions. I didn't know anything about magic before starting work on that one, and now I can do some pretty cool card tricks and mind reading feats!
Now I wish I had brought a deck of cards with me to the conference. I could have learned some magic and impressed my daughter! I know she'll want that book. She's always buying magic kits and trying to do tricks :-)
How many books are you working on right now? How many new projects have you signed on in the last year?
I’m working on lots of different books in various stages of development—from looking over proofs near the end of the process, to line editing or reviewing sketches in the middle, to giving feedback on plot synopses and first drafts right at the start. In 2012, I’ve got about 15 books coming out, and in 2013 I’ve got 11 so far. And then I even have a few books already scheduled for 2014 and 2015. In the last year I’ve probably signed up about 7 to 8 new projects.
2015? Dang, that's so far away!
Will you be at any other conferences in the next year?
I actually don’t have any writer’s conferences scheduled right now, so I’m not sure!
Have you been practicing your karaoke for the next conference? :-)
Ha ha! I really should! I think was a little ambitious taking on ABBA’s "Fernando." Did I really do that?? A true “one-night only” performance that I don’t think will (or should!) be repeated ;) It was so much fun, though!
It was fun! There was something in the air that night... :-)As was this interview. Thanks, Sherrie.
Thank you, Sarah!
Find out more about Candlewick Press at their website.
A few of Candlewick's bestselling/award winning books:
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
The Magician's Elephant by Kate diCamillo
Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney