Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
DEBORAH NOYES WAYSHAK
Senior Editor, Candlewick Press
“It’s important to meand to Candlewickto find and nurture new talent,” says Deborah Noyes Wayshak, award-winning children’s author and senior editor at Candlewick Press. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick publishes picture books, easy readers, middle grade and young adult fiction, nonfiction, poetry collections, and more. Their lists are diverse as well as distinctive, including “only those books we believe in, only those books that speak to children, and only those that have both words and art of the highest quality.”
Candlewick Press is 100 percent owned and operated by its employees, making them one of the largest independent publishing companies, not just in the country, but in the world. Since they opened their doors in 1991, they’ve received more than 300 accolades and honors. Publishers Weekly recently named them “the fastest-growing children’s publisher in the U.S.”
Deb Wayshak (whose pen name is Deborah Noyes) has contributed to that growth since 1997in both marketing and editorial departments. Below, she talks with The Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop, sharing her editing and publishing expertise.
I. SUBMISSIONS, PUBLISHING, MARKETING
How many middle-grade and young-adult novels does Candlewick plan to publish in the coming year? What percentage of these novels are by debut authors?
We publish 30 to 40 middle-grade and young-adult novels per year, approximately 10 percent by first-time authors. We’re always eager to find and support new voices.
What are your submissions guidelines for novels?
As our website notes, we’re not technically accepting unsolicited manuscripts now, but attending conferences is our wayand a very effective way, we’ve foundof reaching out to new and unagented authors, and we always welcome submissions from conference attendees. For novels, I like to see three sample chapters and a synopsis.
How many manuscript pages do you usually read before deciding whether to continue, and/or before deciding whether it will be a good fit for your house?
Again, this varies. For me everything hinges on voice. I’ll read on if the narrative voice compels me to, if the writing interests me stylistically. Plot and character are easier to develop in my experience than voice, so I’ll make allowances; I’ll keep going even if I’m not quite sure where I’m going or with whom. But I won’t read far if the voice itself doesn’t rivet me. Never more than ten pages.
What makes a submission irresistible to you? Please include corresponding suggestions re: story openings.
This is going to begin to sound tedious, but Voice! Whether by a first-person narrator or a formal omniscient narrator, every tale is told by someone. There has to be a personality there, a unique perspective. Read your opening aloud… to a mirror, your friends, your teenage neighbor. Engaging the reader through voice is the single most important (and difficult, I think) task a writer undertakes.
Do you generally read the synopsis before or after reading a manuscript? Tips for writing one?
I glance at the synopsis first to get my head around the whole, but those I most appreciate are spare and precise.
What are your usual response and production times?
I do my best to respond to submissions within three months. Production time these days averages about 18 months from the time we submit a manuscript to Copyediting until the publication date.
What steps does Candlewick take to market its books? How can authors help?
Every book is different and requires a different sort and level of marketing, but we certainly make the best possible effort to market every book on our list. There are countless ways for authors to be involved in the process and promote their work: attend conferences and festivals; make school, library, and bookstore visits; drop in at bookstores while traveling and offer to sign stock, etc.
II. NOVEL GENRES AND TRENDS
Which genres and themes do you solicit or avoid in youth novels?
I don’t acquire by genre or theme. For me, the editorial process starts with a chemical reaction. It’s like falling in love. You can’t say when it will happen or why. It just does, and you’re grateful. I realize that’s not much help, but editors are just people with particular tastes and obsessions, and those tastes and obsessions affect their decision-making. So don’t be discouraged if you’re doing everything “right,” yet don’t connect with an editor or publisher right away. You want and deserve an editor who loves your work and shares your concerns. You shouldn’t settle for less, and neither should they.
What, if anything, is replacing raw, edgy, issue-driven teen novels?
I’m really bad at this sort of question for the reasons stated above. There are trends, to be surefantasy and chick lit continue to sellbut there will always be room for the raw stuff because adolescence is, for many, a raw time. You’re living on the edge of your nerves, and sometimes you need and deserve to see that intensity reflected. On the other hand, like adult readers, you just want to kick back at times with something light and frothy, sexy, spooky, whatever. Issues don’t drive books, characters with issues do, or should. If I get a manuscript and it’s about anorexia as opposed to a particular teen with anorexia, I lose steam quickly.
Sherry Garland says in Writing for Young Adults, “For YA novels, among the most common plots are the journey (quest), adventure, romance, survival, coming of age, underdog, and whodunit.” Do you believe these are timeless, along with friendship and family themes?
I guess I’d argue that the writing makes a theme timeless (or not). One writer’s very particular vision. Theme alone is just a scaffolding.
Sherry Garland (op cit) notes a YA literature paradox: “The more unique and controversial your story and characters, the more likely the book will be acclaimed. Yet... the more unique and controversial the story and characters, the more difficult it will be to find a publisher, given the risk of censorship and resistance by schools.” Which kinds of controversial books, if any, are you likely to publish or acquire?
Candlewick has published many controversial books for teens: books that have been challenged, books that challenge. Our goal is to publish the best books we can. If an author has a vision, and a book is true to its content and charactersas opposed to gratuitously shocking, gratuitous periodif the editor’s passionate about that book and eloquent in its defense, it will get published. Whether it sells or not, or to whom, is a question for another day.
III. ON A PERSONAL NOTE...
What are some distinctive youth novels that you’ve acquired or edited in the past few years? What aspects grabbed you?
Novels I’ve worked on lately that fit Candlewick’s focus and have fared well are Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (a Printz Honor book) and Vegan Virgin Valentine (ALA Quick Pick, New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age), and Carolyn Marsden’s middle-grade novels (Silk Umbrellas, Moon Runner, The Quail Club, The Jade Dragon). These are both writers with distinctive voices, I think.
What are 1-2 of your all-time favorite novels? Why?
The book that will always be dearest to my editorial heart is Sonya Hartnett’s novel Thursday’s Child. It originated with a publisher in Australia (Candlewick and our U.K. sister company, Walker Books, occasionally buy in foreign titles from other houses), so I had no hand in acquiring or developing it, but it was my first “discovery.” When I read the manuscript on offer, I cried like a baby in my cubicle and then e-mailed my boss and begged her to publish it. I was the U.S. editor of Thursday’s Childit ended up being my first real editorial assignment, and it’s still, to my mind, one of the best books I’ve ever read: tender and fierce, beautifully written, extraordinarily different from anything else out there.
How has meeting writers at workshops and conferences influenced you?
Writers in these settings are passionate about stories and storytelling, curious about process, generous with and enthusiastic about the work of their peers, and in general hungry to compare notes and leave inspired. They’re always learning and teaching, and I learn with them. It reminds me why I do what I do, what I love about the creative process.
What would you like writers to know about you, the individual who scrutinizes (and sometimes rejects) their literary labor of love?
All of the above! And this: rejection is all part of a necessary apprenticeship. This, I hope, is where writing/editing and falling in love differ!