Zoe Walton is Associate Publisher – Children’s and YA Books at Random House Australia. She’s kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us today (and not just because I stalked her on social networking sites). Zoe has some amazing books that she’s worked on and is currently doing great things in the YA market here.
What drew you into the fabulous world of publishing and editing? Did the free cake and all the books you could read have anything to do with it?
The free cake is a serious hazard in this profession. Not only is there regular birthday cake to be had, but we have some baking addicts at work who bring in their latest experiments for us to try – and we are willing guinea pigs.
Cakes aside, I’ve always been drawn to a life in books, probably ever since I was school library monitor in Year 5 (which was more of an honorary position, since I spent every lunchtime reading in the library anyway). While I studied at uni, I worked in a bookshop (which I would always recommend as a great way of learning about the industry), and then I found a job as an editor of tax and accounting books. And ever since then, I’ve worked my way to where I want to be – publishing and editing books for children and young adults. I’m sure I’m among friends here when I admit that the children’s and YA section of the bookshop is where I go to find the best new books. I like that children’s and YA books are about the essence of our lives – what’s more important than our friends, our family, our hopes and dreams, our fears? And I love playing a part in bringing those stories to the world.
Another thing that drew me to the children’s and YA book world is how much of a community it is. There are so many ways to connect with other writers and children’s book people. You can get involved in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Children’s Book Council, or writer’s groups. I get a lot of news and book recommendations from blogs and Goodreads and Twitter, and when I have time I participate in the tweetchats such as #kidlitchat and #yalitchat, where people from around the world have intense, fast-paced conversations about books and publishing. It’s a great way for a new writer to dip their toe in and get advice from professional writers and editors.
Do you have any favourite books you’ve worked on? Or are they all marvellous?
There’s something marvellous about all of them – otherwise I wouldn’t be publishing them!
But to mention a few of the YA books I’ve published, and why I love them so: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper for tugging at my heartstrings with its exquisitely crafted story; Three Wishes by Isabelle Merlin and When Courage Came to Call by LM Fuge for being so thrilling that I almost missed my stop while reading them on the train; and Quillblade by Ben Chandler for grabbing me from the first page with its utterly charming Bestia – the animals who provide power and light for the airship, and prove to be extremely useful when you’re being chased across the skies or fighting demons in the Wastelands.
And I should mention three series that have been there on this publishing journey with me right from day one (or soon after). When they each come to an end some day, it’ll feel as though a part of me is missing: Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, Laws of Magic by Michael Pryor and The Floods by Colin Thompson, I salute you.
What does an editor actually do all day – other than eat cake and read books?
We make to-do lists, and then freak out about how many things there are to do. And then we get stuck into getting the things done.
My to-do list right at this moment includes:
- Reading three manuscripts that have just been delivered (for books we have already acquired), and making sure I do it quickly so the authors don’t start worrying that I don’t like their book!
- Reading another three manuscripts that have been through their first round of editing and are back from the authors, so I need to find out what’s changed and whether any more structural editing is needed.
- Then editing two of those manuscripts, and handing over some of the others to our excellent children’s editors who’ll be working on them.
- Reading some sample material from two authors I work with who are developing new projects and would like my feedback on the direction they’ve taken.
- Writing briefs for designers and illustrators to create covers for several of the books on next year’s schedule.
- Keeping an eye on the other ten or so covers that are underway, and making sure the designers are delivering on time and that I get sign-off on the cover look from our children’s team at each step of the way.
- Thinking up the perfect new title for a couple of books. (Tricky!)
- Writing back cover blurbs and other selling material for … hmm, looks like eight books need those written at the moment.
- Reading around twenty manuscript submissions – with more arriving every day.
- And if I like any of those submissions, preparing publishing proposals so that I can convince our team why we should publish those books.
Eek! I better get cracking!
What story would you be desperate to see cross your desk this year?
It’s impossible to say what the story will be that grabs my attention and won’t let go – but I’ll know it when I see it.
Is the downturn in the economy affecting publishers’ willingness to take on debut clients? What is it about a debut story that will influence you to acquire it?
We’re very careful about what books we acquire. The economic climate of the last couple of years has made us determined to do more with less, and to do it brilliantly – perhaps to publish fewer books than we have in the past, but to give those books the best possible chance to sell in a tough market, through targeted marketing and publicity campaigns, a focus on strategy and attention to the details that could make a difference.
Does this make us less likely to take on a debut author? Not at all! In fact, some of our plans for doing more with less have made it easier for us to find new authors. For instance, we’ve switched to an email query submission system (check out http://www.randomhouse.com.au/kidssubmissions for details). It’s easier and faster for authors and for us – authors send us a query about their project, and we aim to respond within two weeks to say whether we’d like to read more. So the manuscripts we do call in have passed that first hurdle: we like the writing and the concept, and we hope that we’ll be even more impressed when we read the full manuscript.
We’ve actually signed up three new authors since we started our email query system – it’s so much easier to find the gems when you’ve sifted for gold first!
What would you say to a teen who is writing their first novel? Any helpful hints that will make the process go a bit easier?
Don’t rush – take the time to redraft and work on the craft of writing. And remember that it may not be your first book that gets published – it might be your second or third. So keep writing!
While you’re writing, find out more about what it takes to get published and to be an author – read blogs, go to writers’ festivals and conferences to hear authors and publishers giving advice about the process, and find other writers to talk to.
And then, when you feel that your manuscript is as developed and polished as it can be, go for it. Being young is no barrier to getting published these days – look at LM Fuge, Steph Bowe, Alexandra Adornetto, Jack Heath and William Kostakis.
If you could stalk any author, without being caught, who would it be and why?
I would say Melina Marchetta, because she’s one of my absolute favourite authors – but as she lives near me and I see her at the supermarket, that would be a bit weird.
So I’ll say Gail Carriger, so I can admire her steampunkish sartorial elegance, get tips on how to drink a cup of tea while wearing dainty gloves, and finally feel as though I’m not the only woman in the world who carries a parasol everywhere I go.
Oh good call on the Gail Carriger stalking, I’m right there with you, although I just want to steal her parasol. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule we appreciate it. Zoe, I brought cake for you, but unfortunately it’s not going to last long enough to send it through the net.
Don’t forget that Random House is taking online queries, such a great opportunity for writers to get their work in front of editors.