Thursday, August 6, 2015

1 Interview with Editor Liesa Abrams from Simon Pulse and Aladdin: Tips, Trends, and Titles

Liesa Abrams is VP, Editorial Director, Simon Pulse/Associate Editorial Director, Aladdin, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Books. At S&S, Liesa edits a variety of teen and middle grade projects including Rachel Renee Russell’s #1 bestselling DORK DIARIES series, Brandon Mull’s #1 bestselling BEYONDERS series, and Lisa McMann’s bestselling UNWANTEDS series. In addition, she edits bestselling authors Suzanne Young, James Riley, Christopher Pike, Scott Westerfeld, and many others. Liesa began her career in publishing at the company now known as Alloy Entertainment, where she worked on classic YA series such as SWEET VALLEY HIGH and also developed new properties. In 2003 she joined Penguin as a founding editor of their Razorbill imprint, where she worked with authors like Cate Tiernan, R. A. Nelson, Maureen Johnson, and Justine Larbalestier on her award-winning MAGIC OR MADNESS trilogy.

What title are you most proud of and how did you find the author?

This is a trick question! Obviously I’m proud of every book I’ve edited, and for so many different reasons. Every time I edit a book that I know can be a lifeline to a young reader (as books once were for me), I’m proud. And I’m well aware that those lifelines come in many forms—great fantasy stories can offer escape from difficult realities, while powerful novels about intense issues can make a teen experiencing them feel less alone.

There is one book I can mention specifically, for a really personal reason: Milo by Alan Silberberg. It’s a hybrid novel (text and art) about a boy whose mother has died and his efforts to keep her memory present for himself and his father and sister. One review for the book was from a parent whose husband had died, and she said that she read the book together with her young son, and that at one point she started to cry and her son picked up the book and continued to read. Knowing that Alan’s story was able to be a comfort to a child suffering the worst loss imaginable just floored me. My husband’s mother died when he was about the same age as the character Milo, and I knew how much a book like this would have meant to him. Truly, I edited this book for the child my husband once was. Alan and I were especially proud that Milo won a HUMOR award—the fact that a story about a kid losing his mom could win an award for humor reflected the way we’d managed to produce a book that really represents the truth of life and how sad and funny go hand in hand.

Great answer!! Sorry to throw you such a tough question! How important are trends when considering work?

If there is an incredible manuscript written from the heart that happens to capitalize on something current in the zeitgeist, then that’s awesome. 9.9999 times out of 10, however, someone has written to a trend without that true passion—and it shows.

What is more important: character, plot, or world?

I can’t imagine acquiring a manuscript that didn’t work on all three of those levels, but I will say that for any editor I know, it’s the character and voice that make us truly fall in love with a book. Make me care about the character, and then I’ll care about what that character wants, whatever it is.

Literary or commercial?

It’s like chocolate and peanut butter—not an either/or, but “they’re best together!” There’s no reason a book can’t have a really commercial concept—which is definitely our emphasis in Simon Pulse and Aladdin—paired with literary writing.

What book do you wish you’d edited?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

What’s your favorite part of being an editor?

The thrill of reading an author’s revised manuscript and seeing how the editorial back-and-forth has resulted in a fantastic new draft. There’s a real rush from a brainstorming discussion with an author where we can see how all of our ideas are building off of each other’s and leading to something amazing. I see plots like puzzles and when the pieces start to clearly form and fit together, there’s nothing like that feeling. When an author thanks me for helping make her or his book stronger, it means the world to me.

What would you like aspiring writers to know about the publication process?

So many things!
1) That it’s so very subjective and you shouldn’t give up on finding someone who will connect with your story. 
2) It’s a marathon, not a race—the authors I publish who began with modest advances and modest sales and have built steadily from there are also the happiest authors. It’s a lot of pressure to place super high expectations on the very first book deal, and if you want a long career publishing books, it’s important to be realistic about a long path ahead. 
3) Avoid comparisons! Every book and author is unique, and too many authors become focused on what they feel is happening for other books or authors, or feel pressured to do exactly the type of promotion they see other authors doing. It has to feel natural and organic to you to be effective.

Wow I hope everyone's paying attention, because that's some amazing advice! How many manuscripts come across your desk via agents and what percentage of those do you acquire? 

I receive between five and ten submissions a week, and I probably acquire on average three to five new books a year, since I already have a really robust list of authors. When I acquire something, I love it so crazily that I feel like it would be physically painful not to edit the book. Whenever I present a book in-house, they know that’s what it means to me to have made it onto my list. My coworkers tease me about being the editor who’s always making everyone cry at sales conference.

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