John Scognamiglio got a taste of the publishing industry at a very early age. When he was in fifth grade, Scognamiglio, who is now the editor-in-chief of Kensington, adored the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books—so much so that he decided to write his own version. “It was called the Lana Girls,” he said during a recent interview in his office on the 22nd floor of Kensington’s building in midtown Manhattan. “They were sisters, and the book was called The Mystery of the Leopard’s Eyes.” Knowing that Grosset & Dunlap published his two favorite series, Scognamiglio sent the company his manuscript, eventually receiving a form rejection letter.

While he was in junior high, Scognamiglio, who was undeterred by his first defeat in the literary world, latched on to the idea of eventually working in the industry. “The lightbulb went off,” he recalled. “I decided I wanted to work with authors and books.”

Growing up in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn in a large Italian family, Scognamiglio was “the shy, quiet kid” who spent much of his time in the library. In fact, he recounted his childhood through stories centered on books. Without any difficulty, he called to mind the book his mom used while teaching him to read (Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene King and Margaret Bloy Graham), the book he got teased for reading at school (Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder), and what he was reading when he got into hot water with his father for breaking a window pane (Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot).

His desire to become an editor prompted Scognamiglio to pursue a degree in English at New York University, which proved a fruitful choice. “The greatest thing I got out of NYU was my publishing career,” he said, explaining that he scored his very first job in publishing, as a sales assistant at Beaufort Books, through a posting at the student employment office on campus. He worked at Beaufort part-time during his sophomore year, and, for a brief period, added another gig as a file clerk at Simon & Schuster to the mix. He stayed on at S&S after graduating in 1988, working his way through the various departments at the house—as a contracts assistant and a freelance manuscript reader—eventually winding up in the managing editorial office, bringing him “one step closer to editorial.” His desk sat outside the office of then-president Irwyn Applebaum, and from that vantage he “watched and absorbed like a sponge.”

Scognamiglio finally landed in editorial when he was hired as an assistant under Pocket editor Linda Marrow. Recalling—again, with little effort—the books Marrow asked him to read to familiarize himself with her list, Scognamiglio said, “I still remember, she gave me a Julie Garwood, a Joan Johnston, and a Linda Lael Miller.”

Scognamiglio worked at Pocket until 1992, when he joined Kensington as an editor. In his 22 years at Kensington, he’s carved out a role acquiring and publishing adult books with the same commercial appeal as the paperbacks he was drawn to as a child. “I’ve always been a commercial reader,” Scognamiglio said.

“I always knew I wanted to work at a house that did mass market. I’m not really a hardcover fiction buyer.... I’m more willing to take a chance on a new author in mass market and trade paperback. I think a lot of readers are like that.”

At Kensington, Scognamiglio worked his way up from editor to senior editor, then to editorial director, and finally, in 2005, to editor-in-chief. “One of the things I love about Kensington is that we’re the little guys,” he said, adding that while he knows a few larger publishing houses have succeeded in poaching some of his bigger authors, “the [authors] who have stayed at Kensington don’t regret it.”

Scognamiglio currently edits bestselling series writers Lisa Jackson and Joanne Fluke, and he signs up talent with the “goal of building the career of that author.” Jackson, whose breakout book was 2002’s Cold Blooded, has published over 30 titles with Kensington, and has 20 million copies of her novels in print. Fluke has published over 20 novels with the company, with over one million copies of her books in print. Scognamiglio also works with New York Times bestselling authors Leslie Meier, Alexandra Ivy, and Hannah Howell.

Looking forward, Scognamiglio is especially enthusiastic about a recent addition to his list: Kim Michele’s Liar’s Bench, a novel set in 1972 Kentucky that is slated for publication in spring 2015. From his description of the acquisition process, it seems that, even now, Scognamiglio still hangs on to a bit of that Brooklyn boy who always had his nose in a book. “I’m very excited,” he said. “I was so engrossed in reading [Michele’s] manuscript that I missed my subway stop!”

Age: 47

Current title: Editor-in-chief at Kensington

Higher education: B.A. in English, NYU

Favorite books: Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins, and I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan.

The One That Got Away: The first Sookie Stackhouse novel, Dead Until Dark. “I didn’t know how to publish it, so I passed on it.”

Publishing Motto: “It’s like gambling: you place your bets and wait to see what happens.”