Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
SUSAN VAN METRE
Senior VP/Publisher, Abrams BFYR and Amulet
“I consumed books as a child,” notes Susan Van Metre, whose surname rhymes with “reader.” As soon as she finished one book, she’d start another immediately, because “I had a terror of being inbetween books.”Susan’s love of stories has continued through adulthood. She majored in literature at Mount Holyoke, spent a year studying Victorian literature at Oxford, and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course—coincidentally the same year that our 2011 faculty editor, Joan Slattery, attended this course. They look forward to team-teaching at our October seminar. The quintessential dynamic duo!
Susan is now senior vice president and publisher at Abrams Books for Young Readers (BFYR) and its imprint, Amulet Books. Abrams publishes bestselling and award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for children and middle grade readers. Amulet Books encompasses both fiction and nonfiction for middle grade and teen readers. Its premiere list includes Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Sisters Grimm. “The breadth of my reading has given me wide-ranging tastes as an editor,” Susan says. She will consider acquiring fiction genres such as contemporary, historical, multicultural, and fantasy.
Susan also teaches at The New School University in New York, which offers an MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Susan’s students applaud her approach: “Taking her class is like getting an intense workout and eating dessert at the same time,” says graduate Caron A. Levis, author of the forthcoming The Blooz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). With her myriad editorial responsibilities, Susan Van Metre has carved out time for the following interview—giving our October workshop enrollees a taste of what’s to come.
I. GENERAL TOPICS
How would you characterize your editing focus and/or goals?
Recently, I read a book by Francis Spufford called The Child That Books Built, a memoir that showed how books played a vital role in shaping the author, morally and intellectually, when his own parents were distracted by the needs of his terminally ill sister. My parents were more attentive, but my family moved often for my father’s career in the Navy, and I was frequently between friends and a little adrift. Books were my constant, my lifeline in many ways. It’s this lifeline that I want to throw out to children who, for a million different reasons, aren’t getting a full supply of moral, intellectual, and spiritual sustenance elsewhere. I look for books that will challenge and shape them the way I was challenged and shaped.
How many MG and YA novelists does your house publish annually; how many do you personally edit?
On the Amulet list, we publish 25 to 30 original novels each year. Because we are a relatively new house, I would say we publish probably 40 percent debuts. I personally edit 10 to 12 novels per year.
What are three youth novels you’ve edited and published in the past few years?
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, Shine by Lauren Myracle, and Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty.
What aspects appealed to you from the query and/or manuscript’s first lines?
Origami Yoda appealed to me because the concept is so unusual: a boy brings a finger puppet of Yoda to school and makes his friends speak to it. It turns out that though the boy is pretty clueless, the puppet is very wise. The students can’t figure it out, and the book is their investigation into the matter. This struck me as an original yet authentic take on middle school and the fads that can grip students at that age.
Fluffy Bunnies reminded me of one of my favorite books from my youth, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but with rabbits—very tongue in cheek and featuring Andrea’s brisk, witty writing.
As for Shine, it’s special for the beauty of Lauren’s writing and for her sense of what makes people do the often harmful things they do. I was also impressed with the setting, a rural mountain town. That’s the sort of place little explored in contemporary fiction for teens.
(Queries, Synopses, Manuscripts)
Some editors give preferential treatment to conference attendees’ submissions for only one to three months after the event. What’s your time frame?
I am happy to consider submissions for up to a year after the event.
Some editors say they hardly read queries; others say queries are an important reflection on the author and the story. Which is true for you, and why?
A brief, polite, well-written query leaves a lasting impression.
What’s your usual response time to queries?
Typically, one to four weeks.
Do you consider unsolicited queries?
No. Officially we are a closed house, except through referrals and submissions from workshop attendees.
What makes a query irresistible to you—or not?
Knowledge of our list and an idea of where the project might fit in impresses me. Including a pitch doesn’t hurt. Spelling mistakes give me pause.
Please state your synopsis guidelines. What makes a synopsis intriguing to you? Do you read the synopsis before or after you read the manuscript?
I prefer no more than one page, double-spaced. I read the synopsis first. [Ms. Van Metre adds that she’d rather not be more specific about what makes a synopsis intriguing; she simply looks for a plot summary that holds her interest.]