Nancy Sondel's Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop
15th Annual    September 22-24, 2017    Master Class to Masterpiece
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“I love encouraging people and helping them get a little closer to their goals.
If I can do that, that’s good publishing karma!” — Kristen Pettit

pencil bullet  Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.

KRISTEN PETTIT

Executive Editor

HarperCollins Children’s Books

Kristen PettitHaving worked in publishing for twenty years, Kristen is interested in a wide range of middle-grade and YA fiction—from contemporary and fantasy, to character-driven historical and multicultural, to re-imagined folk tales, and more. She'd “love to participate” in our workshop and find new talent. See more of her bio here.

I. GENERAL TOPICS

Why did you become an editor or agent; what do you enjoy most about the work?

I became an editor because I had a taste of what children’s publishing was early on. I had an internship my senior year of college at Parachute Publishing, the packager that handles R.L. Stine. As I was filing at one end of the table, two editors were at the other end passionately debating the rules governing the monster in the book they were working on.

After trying my hand at journalism and publicity and hating both, I thought, oh my god, I'm home! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life—care deeply about completely made-up things that could, in the end, actually tell us something true about ourselves. 

Approximately how many MG and YA novels do you sell/edit/publish per year? What percentage (or how many) are debut authors?

Twelve to 16 per year. Thirty percent are debuts.

Which novel genres are you soliciting, or not? Will you acquire controversial and/or crossover genres, or New Adult fiction?

I am not soliciting any particular genre. I am soliciting authors with a firm command of their talent who are able to tell a gripping story in the most compelling way possible.

What’s the outlook on YA novel trends—or is YA evolving past trends?

Get published.I do think we are seeing a little of everything working. People say dystopia is dead, and then The Testing hits the bestseller list. Fantasy is burning up the charts. Sci-fi is making itself known in a wonderful way, and of course contemporary realistic always finds its place.

Name up to three representative MG/YA novels you’ve sold in the past few years. Which aspects of each novel appealed to you from the query and/or manuscript’s first lines?

I am publishing Magonia, an ambitious, modernist slipstream YA fantasy with incredible intelligence and heart. I am publishing Emmy and Oliver, an emotionally satisfying and smart contemporary realistic YA. And I am publishing A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic—a thoughtful, heartstring-tugging middle grade novel with a hint of magical realism.

If there is one theme that I can say exists in each of these novels, it’s the struggle and eventual triumph in finding the people you belong with, and in the place that you call home.

II. SUBMISSIONS

Queries, Craft and Critiques

a) Queries

Many publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions. Do you consider unsolicited queries; i.e., those without a referral (not a workshop attendee, etc.)? What are your usual response times—to queries and to requested manuscripts?

I do not accept unsolicited queries. I try to respond to agents within a few weeks of receiving a submission, and mainly succeed.

Are query letters peripheral for you, or are they an important reflection on the author and manuscript? What makes a query irresistible to you—or not?

The first page is far, far more important than the query. In the query, I want the logline and a little background information on the author, then let me get right to the good stuff.

How many pages do you usually read in a manuscript before deciding to continue reading, request a full, or reject the manuscript?

Fifty pages is the first milestone. After that, I decide whether to keep going or move on.

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