Senior v-p and publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group
John Keller was head of children's books at Little, Brown, back when we were celebrating its 150th year on Beacon Hill, and “twilight” was just a lovely time of day. I was thrilled when he hired me as library services manager, and we began a professional and personal relationship that has lasted over 30 years. John taught me nearly everything I know about publishing books for children, and even more about how to live both an honorable life and a life of the mind. Some of our best times were spent on the road, from the Boston—New York shuttle (often weekly!) to our favorite ristoranti in Bologna to sales conferences in Phoenix (which we dubbed “phonics”) and the dreary British Midlands to Legoland in Denmark to the White House... often in pursuit of that elusive fellow, Waldo. Once, when we were checking into a huge, vulgar hotel in Las Vegas for an ABA convention, convulsed in laughter, the desk clerk couldn't believe we wanted separate rooms since we looked like such a happy couple. Because it was always so easy and so much fun to learn from John, any success I've had in my career has always felt like a tribute to him
Executive editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books
A few months into my job as editorial assistant to Virginia Buckley, longtime head of the now-defunct Lodestar Books (and now editor at Clarion), she asked me to write an editorial letter to an author. She was busy running an imprint, and she and I were the only editorial staff. I read the manuscript, wrote the letter, showed it to Virginia, and sent it off. The author called Virginia and said, “I was reading your letter, and suddenly I got to the end and found it was signed by someone else. It sounded exactly like you!” In my desire to emulate the great Virginia Buckley—to become the great Virginia Buckley—I had completely adopted her tone, her style, her editorial persona. Now, years later, my mentor's style and editorial philosophy still inform my work. I am fortunate to have had such a stellar example to follow.
Associate marketing director, Scholastic
Lori Benton hired me fresh out of college, and we worked together for the better part of 10 years—and on two coasts. As an education major, I entered the field with a respect, knowledge, and affection for children's literature. But I had a vast amount to learn about navigating the workplace and the industry.
She taught me how to balance and flavor professionalism with a healthy dose of humor and perspective; how to motivate and retain staff; how to keep an eye on results, while being flexible on the road taken to achieve them. And long before it was a buzzword, Lori taught me the value of networking.
Lori is the queen of the seating chart, and she taught me how to work a cocktail party. She enforced a strict “no clumping” rule for staff at our events. We were there to mingle with guests and to help our authors and illustrators circulate.
It's been several years since I reported to Lori, but her influence still shapes and informs my work today. And I think that's one of the truest hallmarks of a mentor.
Executive editor, Egmont USA
During spring break of my senior year of college, I spent the second week trying to earn back all the money I'd spent the first, by filling in at Curtis Brown. While there, a distinguished woman with a clear style and an almost gravelly voice—she reminded me of Katharine Hepburn—took notice of me. As I watched her sweep off to Bologna carrying her Louis Vuitton bag and two huge shopping bags spilling over with work, dictating to her assistants, I thought, “I want to be just like her.”
I began working for Marilyn Marlow a year or so later. In my first week I learned some of her “rules” and they have stood me in good stead ever since. The first: “Always get the assistant's name. Deal with that assistant and deal well. You never know where s/he'll end up.” Margaret Ferguson and Nancy Paulsen were two names on that tatty, much crossed-out sheet above my desk. A second piece of advice: “There are people who will get out of their chairs and people who won't. Find the person who will get out of his chair.” Using this, I have managed the impossible at times, including late payments hand-delivered on New Year's Eve after hours.
Another: “Take time to help.” Marilyn was renowned for helping people find positions, and we “Marlowettes” try to emulate her in this. I have been amazed at the goodwill returned to me.
Craig Virden and I used to discuss putting all her rules together and publishing them, but sadly we never got around to it until too late.
I would not be in children's books except for her.
National accounts sales director, Disney Book Group
Before flipping over to the children's side of the business, Larry Dorfman hired me for my first national accounts job at the Globe Pequot Press. I replaced a guy who was fired and hadn't written a call report or spoken to anyone in at least a year regarding his sales efforts (or lack thereof). I had no contact names, no idea how the accounts bought, and the operations and finance teams gave me a fairly negative take on all of my accounts, some of which were coming off negative years. I went home and cried after my first day.
The next day I spoke to Larry and told him I wasn't sure I could do the job, and he told me he knew that I could do the job which is why he hired me. I asked him what I should do, and he told me to visit each account and listen to them and ask questions and then figure out how to do all their work for them and present things in such a way that all they had to do was push the button and say yes.
It was really simple advice, which has proved to be 100% correct, and whenever I start to lose my way in sales I go back to it.
There are few conversation stoppers more powerful than telling someone asking about your future job plans that you are majoring in English and Philosophy. Trite, but oh so true. Thankfully, when Lenore Markowitz, a family friend, found out that I was majoring in English and wanted to work near or around books (and in New York) she understood. Oh, you should think about book publicity. I'll help you, she said. And she did. A lot of people reading this knew Lenore. And she knew everyone. For 30 years, Lenore ran her own media escort company: Celebrity Publicist Services of Dallas. And she was both powerhouse and delight in every way. She explained to me the intricacies of her job (she was once quoted joking that an escort has to be a “confidante, psychologist, nurse, and packer of clothes”) and why being on the publishing end might suit me well. She inspired me to attend the NYU publishing intensive, where my interest in the crazy life of escorting authors as a job and talking about their work at will turned into a plan. It was Lenore who helped open doors and phone lines and told me to keep calling and e-mailing, my post-collegiate green ever apparent, but her wisdom and bold approach to career guiding me through—always with style and her beautiful laugh.
Executive v-p and publisher, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
When I was 15, a tiny B. Dalton bookstore opened in the small town in South Dakota where I grew up. I haunted it until the manager finally hired me. Her name was Kim Brown. She soon moved on to a larger store in Minneapolis, but we kept in contact. Not only did she give me invaluable advice (rural South Dakota is not the best place to live if you want to be in publishing), she propelled me through every step of my career. It must have seemed like I was stalking her! I followed her to Minneapolis (where she got me a job in a bookstore) and into the B. Dalton corporate headquarters (where she got me an interview after the HR department had refused me one) and on to New York when Barnes & Noble absorbed B. Dalton (she came as the bargain book buyer and I as a children's buyer). After 10 years, I left B&N to try the publishing side of the business (with additional recommendations and referrals from Kim), and she is now doing the same at Sterling. It's rare that you can point to one individual, time and time again, over a 30-year span, who has guided you at every single stage. But I can certainly say that about Kim, and for that I will always be grateful.
Co-publisher, HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray
For some reason, Lisa Holton believed that I, as a very young editor, could do almost anything—handle our top literary authors, start up a chapter-book program, develop licensed properties, buy in paperback reprints—none of which I had ever done before. And largely out of terror of disappointing her, I did manage to do all these things. At meetings, Lisa, publisher of Hyperion Books for Children, would ask, “What do you think, Donna Bray?”—and I would voice an opinion I didn't even know I had. Her energy and enthusiasm and belief in me—sometimes greater than my own belief in myself—propelled me, forced me to become a better editor. From Lisa I learned to solicit ideas from every member of the team; to celebrate successes; to develop and support creative people; and to think like a publisher every day.
Executive editor, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
In my early days of learning how to be an editor as an assistant editor at Knopf, I had two important mentors in Anne Schwartz and Frances Foster. Anne taught me the necessity of conviction, of following your own sense of what works in a book and what doesn't, even when it seemed few in the industry agreed with you. From Frances I learned the gift of restraint, of not forcing your own vision upon the authors' books, but rather helping them discover exactly what it is that they are trying to communicate.
Assistant editor, Chronicle Books
I was 22, just a few months out of college, and on the precipice of a five-month internship at Harper's magazine. One of the editors I was assigned to was Colin Harrison, the magazine's deputy editor. I remember being awed by his writers—Jane Smiley, Russell Banks, Jonathan Franzen. Novelists. On my second day as an intern Colin handed me a floppy disk (as in Apple II-series floppy disk—it was bendable) from David Foster Wallace. My task was to figure out how to extract the 20,000-word manuscript so Colin could edit it.
During his 12 years as a magazine editor, Colin managed to write four novels, and many of the writers he edited for Harper's had written books. Colin always seemed to be straddling both worlds—magazines and book publishing—and I thought this made him an especially acute editor. Now a book editor myself working in an increasingly digital landscape, I often think of that time with Colin and how I learned that it is crucial to be flexible—even bendable—and not tethered to one particular format, genre, or audience.
Executive editor, Holiday House
Early in my career, I had the great opportunity to work with Norman Bridwell, author and illustrator of the Clifford the Big Red Dog books. Over the course of our 26-year relationship, I have learned many things from Norman, most important among them, that nice guys can and do finish first. Easy-going, cooperative, gracious, and kind, Norman has always been a delight to work with. As a result, everyone in every department and in every division of Scholastic wants to work with him.
Norman also taught me that each author has his own writing process. As a young editor, I assumed that, in the creation of a picture book, words come first. Norman showed me how a picture book can start with a visual idea. Norman shared his techniques with me, and I have shared them with other author-illustrators.
Assistant editor, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
I was a junior in college when a sign went up on the door of a tiny office in the corner of the Education Resource Center. It said, “Distinguished Scholar of Children's Literature.” Curiosity got the better of me, so I shyly approached the office's resident and said something to the effect of “I didn't know you could even be a Distinguished Scholar of Children's Literature!” That conversation led to a friendship with Barbara Elleman, who was indeed distinguished (and also wise and wonderful!); she was a former editor of Booklist, the founding editor of Book Links, and that year, she was serving her second term as a Caldecott Committee member. Barbara let me pore over the many boxes of books that appeared like magic to her from publishers, eventually offering to guide me in an independent study course about children's literature. For three hours every week, we talked about stories and the way art and text work together. And if this was a children's book, that would be the point where “suddenly, everything changed!” A whole new career path that I'd never even really known existed opened up in front of me because of her knowledge of the children's book industry—and it's no mistake that to this day, I call Barbara my Fairy Godmother.
Senior v-p, special markets, HarperCollins
Over 14 years ago I interviewed at Random House and met with four executives, and they told me I needed to come back for one last interview with a man named Chip Gibson. At the time I was in my early 20s and quite confident, but felt a bit nervous since apparently Mr. Gibson ran the entire Crown Publishing Group. I met with him on a rather hot April day and he was confident, smart, and very witty but for a few minutes I couldn’t even focus since he was wearing a seersucker suit well before Memorial Day. I thought to myself, I bet he knows a lot about the publishing business and who knows, he could be my mentor one day but he certainly doesn’t know the rules of fashion. We ended up having a wonderful dialogue about the future of publishing and knew from that moment that I wanted to learn from him.
I got the job and worked there for seven years under Chip’s direction. He taught me to be diplomatic, focused, to work really hard but to have fun along the way. When he believes in you, he gives you a chance and may invite you to a high-level meeting but then expects you to do the work. He also sets a good example for me and others about giving back to the community and being charitable. Chip has pushed me to be a better manager and person while building on my individual strengths.
Jason M. Wells
Publicity and marketing director, Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books
In 1997, at the tender age of 22, I entered publishing as a marketing intern, and quickly took a spot as assistant in the brand-new publicity department in G.P. Putnam’s Sons’ children’s publishing division. While college teaches you some important lessons, working with a bestselling author can help you learn much more. I was lucky enough to get to work with Tomie dePaola on his fall 1997 tour for the book Mice Squeak, We Speak. I took away at least three things from him that I will never forget. 1) Upon arriving at lunch the first day Tomie asked me if I, too, wanted to order a Bloody Mary. I didn’t know what one was, but I ordered it anyway. My weekend brunches have never been the same. 2) When checking into the Four Seasons in Chicago, instead of lounging in the lobby like Tomie did, I went to the gift shop to buy postcards. Upon return Tomie told me I had just missed seeing the Rolling Stones. Having a story about a celebrity sighting is always better than writing home. 3) I had no idea that some restaurants require men to wear ties. Luckily I had brought one with me. Unfortunately I had never learned how to tie it. Tomie came to the rescue. All those who invite me to formal affairs and weddings owe Tomie a big thanks.
V-p and publisher, Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster
In 1986, Bonnie Verburg hired me away from my marketing assistant job at Clarion Books, and I moved to the Wild West of San Diego to be her editorial assistant at Harcourt Children’s Books (then Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). She had come from college publishing and had no official children’s publishing experience, but that didn’t stop her for one second. She was fearless and passionate about pursuing projects she believed in—and she included me in every step of the process. We edited together (at work, at a coffeehouse, and sometimes at her kitchen table until 2:00 a.m., accompanied by—obviously—much wine); we entertained authors together (like taking Newbery Medalist Robin McKinley to see Shamu at Sea World); and we didn’t always follow the rules together (which once got us summoned to HR because we may have taken a few of the centerpieces from an HBJ School Department party to decorate our offices).
Bonnie was rigorous and detail-oriented in the best way, and working with her was a true apprenticeship. I learned how to edit from her; I learned how to craft letters; I learned how to write flap copy that actually has a voice; but above all, I learned that the most important thing about our work as editors is our relationships with authors and illustrators. She was fierce in this belief, no matter what political, financial, and production-schedule pressures swirled around her. It informed everything she did.
I have never forgotten that.
Sharon K. Hancock
Executive director of school and library marketing, Candlewick Press
My first boss in publishing was Mimi Kayden—yes, the Mimi Kayden. I had come from the world of children's bookstores, where you know sales reps, not necessarily v-ps of marketing, so I was unaware of her stature. Mimi hired me to be the trade marketing manager for Penguin Books for Young Readers. The first thing she handed me was the launch party at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings (the book had taken Tom 15 years to create). The guest list was huge and included Tom's extended family plus friends including Max Roach, Ed Bradley and many well-known authors and illustrators. I asked her what my budget was and she said, “Make it nice.” When I stared at her with disbelief she looked at me and said, “You can do this.” She hired people, treated them like professionals, and left you alone to do your job.
She was prickly, opinionated, a hater of meetings, fierce in her defense of her staff and librarians. She took me to my first ALA—Penguin hosted 60 author signings and she introduced me to Bill Morris and Zena Sutherland. I loved it—she’s the reason I do what I do.
Senior editor, contracts manager, Charlesbridge Publishing
I have a deep wrinkle between my eyes that I call my Sheldon Fogelman Wrinkle, as I developed it in my early 20s while in Shelly’s employ. (He often made me squint quizzically, and apparently it stuck.) Shelly taught me everything I know about contracts and negotiations, skills that I still use, both in my professional life and in dealing with my charmingly bull-headed children. Shelly was generous and picky, infuriating at times but always protective of his clients and his employees. He taught me how to be a New Yorker, even though he never took the subway. He loved sharing his experiences, sometimes telling the same stories over and over—but hey, they were good stories. (Ask me about Jim Marshall and the shoe some time.) I’m particularly grateful for the way Shelly would shepherd me around industry parties, taking the time to introduce me, a 24-year-old Midwestern hick, to luminaries like Richard Peck, Walter Dean Myers, Dilys Evans, and Jerry Pinkney.
A few years ago I made a list of 75 Things I Learned From Shelly, in honor of his 75th birthday. Among the many nuggets of wisdom were: “Anticipate questions and have the answers ready.” “ ‘I’ll have to get back to you’ is an acceptable answer.” “If you don’t understand, ask questions until you do.” “Flirting can be an acceptable method of negotiation.” “Be nice, even when you reject people.” “Real power is having the thermostat in your office.” And of course, “One Sweet-N-Low and a little milk.”
Executive editor, Scholastic Press
I began my editorial career at Scholastic in 1992. While I learned the craft of editing from Dianne Hess and Jean Feiwel, it was Marijka Kostiw who taught me the most about bookmaking. I was an unseasoned assistant when we met, but Marijka immediately took me under her wing and educated me in the art of the book. Even though most of early my interactions with her took place while I was trafficking Dianne’s books, Marijka always invited my input or explained why she had made a particular design decision.
One of the first books we worked on together (after I had climbed the ranks and was editing books on my own) was You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chesley MacLaren—a smart, subversive nonfiction picture book about the woman who made it possible for all of us girls to wear pants instead of poufy dresses. The tone of the text is irreverent and fun. Taking inspiration from this, Marijka suggested that we look outside our normal pool of picture book artists and try a fashion illustrator. I loved this idea; it taught me to think outside the box. And it was refreshing to create a nonfiction book that had all of its facts well in place but did not take itself too seriously. The idea of combining accuracy with playfulness was novel to me at the time, but is now, thanks to Marijka, how I approach much of the nonfiction I edit.
And then of course there is the design of Amelia Bloomer itself, with its whimsical typography, varying font sizes, lively jacket, and flaps that can be trimmed off to turn the jacket into a poster—not to mention the obligatory bar code tucked gracefully into the art, something Marijka is famous for. Watching Marijka pay so much attention to such a small detail showed me that every inch of the book matters—the copyright page, folios, head and foot bands, jacket flaps, endpapers, case covers (oh, how we labor over case covers, hoping someone will peek underneath the jacket), and on and on. Her goal—and one I now share—is always to create a work of art from cover to cover.
Bad bookmaking upsets Marijka. If a poorly designed book crosses her desk, it can ruin her whole day. I love this about her because I have come to see that a poorly designed book is more than just unfortunate, it is an affront to beauty. And one of the things I love most about this business is creating objects of meaning and lasting beauty. Eighteen years since Marijka and I first began working together, she continues to inspire me to do just that.
Executive director of marketing, publicity, and events, Candlewick Press
I have been lucky to have not just one but two significant mentors in my publishing life, which speaks happily to my good fortune but also less happily to my age.
One of my first jobs was as the publicity manager at Scholastic. I had never done publicity before, and Barbara Marcus hired me probably against her better judgment… it did take several interviews before I was offered the job. The Baby-sitters Club had been gaining in popularity but was just hitting its publicity peak when I arrived. Barbara met with me most every evening, and helped me learn the business; she arranged meetings for me with experienced publicists and people who owned media companies, and she supported me in every way. She was fun; she had a fabulous sense of humor. She taught me the value of being accessible, and of making sure work was enjoyable. She also taught me the value of outsourcing and seeking help and support from different sources.
Later I had the pleasure of working with Walter Lorraine for 10 years at Houghton Mifflin as their director of marketing. Walter was a brilliant publisher. He had absolutely no qualms about saying exactly what he felt, to his staff, to reps, to his authors, anyone. He taught me to allow authors and books to be the unique things they are. He did not follow trends, did not look to repeat successes, and did not cut anyone slack. Because of this he received the best from those around him. I am grateful beyond words for having worked with him and his incredible list of authors and illustrators.
I will never forget my first public appearance with Walter; it was at an event with David Macaulay who was receiving the Washburn Award at The Museum of Science in Boston. It was one of those events filled with donors and older wealthy patrons of the Museum, and Walter was bored. I remember a jeweled elderly woman asking him who he was. Then she asked how he spelled his name. Walter responded that is was “L O R R”—and at that point he stopped and said, “I always feel like a dog when I get to that part”—and proceeded to say “R R, AR, AR, Roar, Roar” and leant up over the table barking like a wild dog. And that was the beginning of many memorable, not-at-all boring events.
One of my first Midwinters with Houghton was in L.A. after there had been an earthquake. We had had to move hotels and everything was a bit chaotic. After no call came through on the morning of the press conference, we headed to the convention center. Walter was pretty low. When we arrived, Susan Roman was waiting for us at the top of the escalator. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN??” she said, and pulled us into an elevator and pulled the emergency stop switch. “Grandfather’s Journey has won the Caldecott and The Giver has won the Newbery,” she said. I thought Walter was going to collapse. He kept saying “Both...you mean both…” It was euphoric.
V-p and publisher, Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster
When I walked into the Dial offices in the mid-1980s with an English degree and a little over a year’s experience as a copyeditor, I could correct punctuation in a sentence like the best of them, but I didn’t know much at all about being an editor. My incredible luck was to have Amy Ehrlich as my first real boss in publishing. Amy was skilled in so many way and took me under her wing as her assistant. She invited me to editorial meeting with Mary Pope Osborne on one day and Kate McMullan on another. She included me in sales conferences where we all saw what real editors did. And when I looked more than a little lost, she would invite me to her great apartment in Brooklyn for a dinner of stir fry and jazz music. But most of all Amy shared with me not only the craft of editing but even more how an editor must listen to, believe in, and support the writers she works with.
Art director for the Clarion and Harcourt Children’s Books imprints of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
It was the first time in my career where I had a boss who was really looking out for my book design education. My calling was to be an art director/designer of children’s books, one of the highest callings outside that of nunhood and Harriett Barton was there to guide me. She was the art director of Harper & Row, as it was called at that time in 1988, and I was a senior designer on her staff.
Harriett taught me things like when art-directing an artist, only use the dead ones as reference. They don’t feel competition with the dead artists. Or don’t pick light yellow for an endpaper, it’s a non color. I confess, I used it anyway. Use a thin black outline around display type if you can’t read it against a background. This was, of course, before we have the fancy computer programs we have now where you can change the background so the type can read.
My apprenticeship was slow and deliberate but what I gained in working under her watchful eye carries me to this day. We live in a very fast-paced world made faster by technology. What a luxury to have someone with years of experience stop and critique your work with tenderness and yes, sometimes briskness.
Harriett is now retired but her work lives on, in me, and in other designers and artists I give my attention to. Thank you, Harriett Barton.
V-p and publisher, Sterling Children’s Books
When I interviewed for my first publishing job, as Arrow Book Club editor for Scholastic Canada, I had a terrible cold and sat with a box of Kleenex during my interview with Iole Lucchese, who was then the book club manager (and is now co-president of Scholastic Canada). I was certain I wouldn’t get the job because I was so sneezy and bedraggled (and was wearing a borrowed interview outfit that didn’t remotely fit), but Iole saw beyond my pathetic exterior and gave me my break in publishing.
Iole wasn’t even 30 at that time, but had extraordinary confidence, grace, charm, and intelligence. Iole made me want to work hard, because I wanted to be just like her one day. Sixteen years later, I still want to be just like her one day. She created a work environment that was both deeply focused and deeply goofy. It was perfectly normal for a budget meeting to be stopped in its tracks because we just noticed someone’s fabulous new pair of shoes. When I finally finished my masters’ degree, Iole dressed me up like Miss America and wheeled me around the office on a mailroom trolley. Iole taught me that doing a great job at work and having a great time at work were inextricably intertwined. She inspired me to work hard and she taught me to seek joy. She helped me become a better person. And she has the best hair in publishing.
Executive director of publicity, HarperCollins Children's Books
My first job at a publishing house was working as Marly Rusoff’s assistant at Doubleday. Marly was the v-p/associate publisher who handled marketing and publicity for select titles. She worked on many of Nan Talese’s books, as well as Jackie Onassis’s titles, and others. Marly taught me to view the publishing process from beginning to end, to see the connections between acquisition, editorial, design, production, sales, marketing and publicity. Marly taught me a lot about author care. But she didn’t teach by telling me; I just had to watch her in action. Authors just loved Marly, because she always made them feel so cared for, in a very genuine way. Many ended up becoming her friends (not surprisingly, she is a literary agent now). There was nothing fake about her. I remember her telling a book reviewer at the New York Times Book Review that she had a bad dream about a book she was working on, that it was in the basement of a house that was flooded, and the book was getting lost, and how sad she felt that no one would ever know about it. Only Marly could get away with a story like that! The reviewer was quite affected by Marly’s story and gave the book and author major coverage in the Book Review. Marly was always so kind, gracious, and generous with her time. Perhaps one of the most important things she showed me was that if you trust and nurture the people who work for you, and give them some measure of autonomy, they will be happy, and thrive in their work.
Associate art director, Candlewick Press
I give complete credit to Sally Bindari for where I am today in my career as a book designer. Sally was one of the four founding members of Designworks, a design studio in Cambridge. In the early 1980s she hired me as a design assistant when I had very limited experience, in fact, no formal training at all as a graphic designer.
I worked with all four designers over several years, but most closely with Sally. From her I learned the basic principles of book design and layout, and the importance of exacting attention to detail. She was sometimes harsh, relentlessly critical, but always in the most instructive way. I was terrified of her, but realized early on that I was working with a master. Little by little she gave me more responsibility and freedom to design text and photo essays as we worked on a series of books together. A book-lover all my life, I was dazzled to become immersed in the very design and making of books. I am still in awe of Sally, and ever grateful to her for instilling in me the practices and strong work ethic that provided a foundation for my future.
V-p, managing editorial/digital publishing services, HarperCollins Children’s Books
The setting: The tiny corner of the Franklin Watts empire that was boutique children’s publisher Orchard Books.
The time: The launch year of the Orchard list, 1987, during one of the periodic NYC recessions, spiced this time with the raging crack epidemic.
The dramatis personae: Several esteemed and beloved children’s editors, including Richard Jackson. Already by then the mentor/editor to generations of the most talented and beloved authors and artists in the field—and, perhaps most famously, the discoverer of Judy Blume. Along for the ride: a couple of junior staffers, including the greenest and most junior, yours truly.
The scene: As the first Orchard catalog is being prepared, the office is bustling. But the greenest staffer apparently has time to stand in the hallway and chat with another junior staffer… and babble on about the failings of one of the launch books, a first novel by an older professor.
Suddenly I felt a tight grasp of my elbow and I was yanked aside, up against a wall. The eyes of the genius editor whom the office revered were an inch from mine. They sparkled, as usual, and he seemed to be smiling, sort of. But the malice was unmistakable. The grip on my elbow did not loosen as he explained to me, briefly but with great clarity, that I should never, ever forget that we who work in publishing are at the service of the writers, who “bleed on the page.”
I worked at Orchard for just another few months. I took up freelance copyediting, and it turned out that Dick liked my work. As Orchard was my first client as a freelancer, I don’t know what would have happened had Dick not continued to ask for me as a copyeditor. Freelancing eventually led to happy full-time employment. More than 20 years later, I always keep Dick’s passionate support for authors and artists in mind. He may not have been a mentor to me, exactly, but he gave me the most important message I’ve ever received in my career, as well as crucial support of my work. And to top it off, he did in fact become a mentor to my wife, Mariah Fredericks, publishing her debut YA novel and several subsequent books before retiring.