Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
PCCWW is pleased to offer this exclusive interview with Erin Clarke, an editor who’s passionate about her work—exemplified in the detail and depth of her responses below.
Erin started her career at Knopf in 1999 as an assistant to legendary, veteran editor Janet Schulman, “who taught me so much of what I know, including a valuable history of children’s book publishing.” Previously, Erin had worked for one year in the publicity department at Random House Adult, which gave her first-hand knowledge of what happens to a book after it leaves the hands of its editor.Erin has now helped bring many distinctive books to young readers, including the acclaimed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Erin’s congeniality, teaching experience, and broad-but-discerning tastes make her an ideal faculty member. She is “thrilled” to meet writers. Come meet Erin at our August 2009 seminar!
Please characterize your personal focus and that of your publishing house.
I’m interested in publishing good stories regardless of genre or themes that might be contained in them. After all, who would have thought that a story about a 12th-century Korean orphan who learns pottery would be of any interest? And yet, the moment you begin A Single Shard, you’re instantly drawn into the story.
My role in editing books is twofold. First, it’s to find new voices to bring to readers. Second, it’s to be the reader’s advocate. This is not to say that I’m looking to create a conflict with my writers, but rather that I’m trying to help them connect with their readers.
The importance of children’s books is impossible to quantify. If we don’t get readers when they’re young, chances are they’re not going to grow up to become readers.
What are some distinctive youth novels you’ve edited in the past few years? Which aspects appealed to you from the query and/or manuscript’s first lines?
The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane is a gem of a book about a girl who can throw a knuckleball pitch. The writing is elegant, crisp, and memorable. I fell in love with this middle grade novel as soon as I read the title of the first chapter, “A Heartbreaking Dream About Toast.”
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, a middle grade novel by Lesley M. M. Blume, has the ability to instantly transport the reader to a different time and place. It’s the type of book you want to read in one sitting on a blustery winter’s afternoon because it will warm your heart.
Vintage Veronica (spring 2010) by Erica S. Perl is a YA novel about a girl who is 15, fat, friendless, and addicted to vintage clothing. It’s full of humor and heart and readers will never step into a thrift store again without thinking of the main character, Veronica.
Efrain’s Secret (spring 2010) by Sofia Quintero is a gritty story about a good boy who makes a bad decision—one that could destroy everything he’s worked so hard to achieve. Set in the South Bronx, this YA novel is intelligent and substantive while at the same time entertaining and accessible.
I signed up Markus Zusak thinking he could write contemporary fiction that would appeal to boys (he did just this with I Am the Messenger), and then The Book Thief arrived on my desk. The book is set in Nazi Germany, nearly everyone dies in it, and, oh yeah, it’s narrated by Death. And yet, it is one of the finest and most inventive pieces of literature out there. I love working with writers who are not afraid to take chances and Markus is the poster child for this.
How many MG and YA novelists does your house publish per year? How many do you edit? What percentage of your authors are first-timers—or were, when they signed with you?
We publish approximately 45 to 50 novels each year. I edit six to eight novels per year. (I also edit picture books.) The percentage of my first-time writers varies. When I first started acquiring for Knopf, most of my authors were first-timers. Now about 20 percent of my list is made up of first-time writers. I work with them in the hope that we will work on many future books together.
[For example, Erin “discovered” debut author Lesley M. M. Blume, and is now editing Blume’s fourth novel.]