Editor Round Table: Razorbill

Biographies of the Razorbill round table editors:

“Kristen Pettit has been in the publishing industry for thirteen years. She began her career at Parachute Publishing, a packager of teen and middle grade books. During her six year tenure there, she worked with mega-selling authors like R.L. Stine and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. At Razorbill, her focus has been on stand-alone teen books with original voices and undeniably broad appeal. Highlights include Kirkus-starred, Borders November Original Voices pick, and BBYA Nominee Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Barnes & Noble bestselling hardcover series Bloodline by Kate Cary, Barnes & Noble bestselling paperback Pretty Little Devils by Nancy Holder, KLIATT-starred, YALSA Popular Humor Pick, and upcoming Lifetime Original Movie True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglass, BCCB-starred Catch by New York Times columnist Will Leitch, Edgar Award-nominated middle grade series Wright and Wong by Laura Burns and Melinda Metz, and graphic novel and ALA Quick Pick Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle by Nathaniel Marunas. In the spring, she’ll publish Razorbill’s lead title, Audrey, Wait! by debut author Robin Benway.”

“Lexa Hillyer interned at a literary agency for a few months before beginning her editorial career at HarperCollins Children’s Books in March 2003, where she worked on books by Meg Cabot, Rachel Vail, Maureen Johnson, Hailey Abbott and others. She was on the editorial panel for the inaugural HarperTeen fanlit contest, brainstormed the upcoming Running Horse Ridge Series, and was on the judging panel for the Ursula Nordstrom Prize for Fiction. Lexa joined the Razorbill team in May 2007 and now edits the brand new tween series from Zoey Dean, Talent, in addition to other exciting upcoming teen projects. Her taste runs from the younger end of tween to the older end of teen; from strong, literary, voice-driven novels to fun, fast-paced, addictive series. She is mostly interested in chick lit, realistic fiction for girls and some paranormal stories, but is always looking for the next great thing with a fresh story, fun hook and impressive prose.”

“Jessica Rothenberg joined Penguin as an Editorial Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher after graduating from Vassar College in 2004. While at Penguin, she worked on a variety of fiction and nonfiction titles with such bestselling authors as Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Susan Vreeland, Richard Shell, and Guillermo Martínez. Since jumping (more like skipping) across the street to Razorbill, she’s had the pleasure of editing a number of truly fabulous books—including the South African sensation Spud, the cheeky and hilarious Those Girls series, and the B&N bestselling paranormal romance series Vampire Academy (excerpt)(think Twilight, but racier), to name a few. Other exciting upcoming projects include Zorgamazoo, a whimsical fantasy novel written entirely in rhyme, Hottie, a ‘tween series about a Beverly Hills princess with superpowers, and the much-buzzed-about YA debut from New York Times Bestselling author Allegra Goodman, The Other Side of the Island. She’s always on the lookout for fresh, funny, voice-driven fiction—whether YA or middle grade—and is most interested in teen romance, literary fiction, and hilarious, high-concept ‘tween and teen series that kids can’t put down.”

“Laura Schechter joined the Razorbill team in January 2007. She is interested in projects as diverse as fashion manuals, literary YA fiction, and big, scary stories for boys involving many-legged monsters.”

Could you give us a brief overview of Razorbill? What sorts of books do you publish?
Kristen: There are books like the one I just published, Thirteen Reasons Why, a stand-alone hardcover which is the perfect YA book. It’s a fast-paced psychological thriller, but its combination of high-concept, deep meaning, and strong plot transcend genre, appealing to every teen.

Jessica: Then we do books like Spud, a hilarious coming of age novel about a boy in boarding school that appeals to kids and adults of all ages and has been compared to The Catcher in the Rye because of its original voice.

Lexa: Finally, we do books like Talent, a big contemporary paperback series with really broad appeal and a fun hook that fits right in to what teen and tween girls are reading and buying.

Do you have a certain philosophy or approach that characterizes your list?

Laura: We’re looking for big, broadly appealing material with voices that are original and gripping: books kids will want to buy, pass around to each other, and stay up late at night reading. Whether it’s outrageously funny, deeply moving, or edgy and unique, we’re looking for the kind of read that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

What is the history of the imprint? What inspired its launch? How has it evolved?

Kristen: Razorbill was formed in 2003 to give Penguin a real focus on YA stand alone titles and series. Under the direction of Ben Schrank, Razorbill has continued to hone the nature of the books and the public awareness of the imprint.

Lexa: It’s a continuing process and we’re all excited to be involved in it.

Jessica: In the past year we’ve worked hard to be as dynamic and exciting and fresh as possible. Our goal is always to be at the front of this area of the industry.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

Lexa: Everything!

Kristen: It varies from author to author. In some cases we get involved at the concept level and help authors step by step to build and plot their books. It’s tremendously exciting–a gift really–to be that much involved in the story.

Jessica: We’re friends, mentors, cheerleaders and therapists by turns.

Lexa: We’re also the spokesperson in-house for the author and the book, building enthusiasm with the sales and design teams and looking out for the best way to find success for the book and develop the author’s career.

Kristen: Because we are the ones who are closest to the book, we also do our best to help marketing with cutting edge ideas for how to build buzz and grow interest.

Jessica: Also we sneak into Barnes & Noble and rearrange the books on the shelves, hand copies out to everyone we know, and…

Kristin: … Occasionally dream about the characters.

What are its challenges?

Lexa: Everything! It’s a challenge to balance the author’s vision for the book with the other needs the book often requires in order to make the biggest splash possible in a very complex and crowded marketplace.

Jess: …To get people in-house excited about the book when they have to think about every other book in every other imprint just at Penguin alone.

Kristen: You have to pick between your children as well, and you want every author to feel special and getting the attention he or she deserves.

Laura: Sophie’s choice!

What do you love about it?

Jessica: Working with the authors so closely, collaborating with them at every stage. Seeing a manuscript turn into a beautiful finished book is incredibly rewarding.

Kristen: So few people actually make something anymore: we turn an idea into a physical object that goes out into the world and makes people’s lives nicer.

Laura: Discovering authors who can become beloved by a whole world of readers–paving the way for them to reach a big audience.

Lexa: Yes, and inspiring kids to read.

Laura: Plus the salary. Not!

How has publishing changed–for better and worse–since you entered the field?

Kristen: I think YA publishing has changed for the better. Our readers are very sophisticated. Our industry has discovered and addressed that in the last 10 years.

Jess: Our books deal with things that kids really go through.

Lexa: And there’s a much stronger awareness of what makes a satisfying story. We don’t take for granted the attention of the readership because there’s so much competition with other media now. People realize editing a book for a teen may even require more rigorous work than editing an adult book because teens have so much else pulling their attention away constantly. We have to fully understand what they’re interested in and how that’s evolving.

Jess: We have a whole new way of accessing kids now via the Internet, which has really changed the nature of how teens read and how we get the books into the world.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript?

Lexa: A voice I haven’t heard before, a story I want to know the ending to, and something in the character that surprises me.

Laura: A very detailed, well-articulated world full of convincing elements.

Jess: A voice I respond to emotionally–either laughing or simply caring enough for the characters that I want to see what happens to them.

Kristen: For me plot is king. I really want something that’s going to sweep me up and take me out of my surroundings, rendering me unable to stop.

Jess: And a concept that’s totally fresh and appealing with a great hook.

Laura: You want to be transported: either by the voice, the world, the plot, or the characters (and hopefully all of the above).

Lexa: And something that feels like it will awaken excitement in teens because it fits what’s happening culturally.

Kristen: The book needs to reflect the emotions and experiences of the average teen reader.

How can writers/illustrators get in touch with you/the house?

Lexa: Through their terrific, hardworking agents.

Any submission recommendations or pet peeves?

Laura: Sending submissions that are clearly outside the scope of what we publish, showing me that no research has been done about our imprint.

Kristen: Multi-media submissions: your work should speak for itself.

Lexa: Unrealistic expectations.

Kristen: Defensiveness or justification about writing a teen book (we know why it’s a good idea to write for teens!).

Lexa: Comparing your book to Harry Potter. That and getting my name spelled wrong on the letter. Oh, and lies! Don’t lie in your letter.

Please describe your dream author.

Laura: A dead one! Ha, just kidding. But we did just acquire a zombie novel so I’ve got the dead on the brain.

Kristen: Two words: Jay Asher. But seriously! Someone who is talented, unpretentious, and devoted to the cause of promoting his own words.

Jessica: An author who trusts you and knows you’re doing everything you can to make the book successful.

Kristen: A partner, someone who doesn’t sit back and wait for you to do the work

Jessica: Someone who understands it’s about more than just writing a book, it’s about getting it out there

Lexa: I always admire an author who is timely and professional in addition to endlessly passionate about their story. Writers who understand that writing is a project–it’s hard work, it involves stress and angst and it’s worth all of that and more to make the book great. Not just okay, here’s my first draft. . .

Kristen: …Right. “My mom loves it, it’s truly a perfect novel as is.”

Jess: …If that were the case we’d all be out of jobs!

Please describe your dream illustrator.

Laura: We don’t work with them extensively, but . . .

Kristen: People who add a new dimension to the story.

Jess: Illustrators who bring something creative to the book and enrich it.

Do most of your books begin as submissions from writers, writer-illustrators, or agents? Why?

Lexa: Agents. We don’t accept unagented material.

What do you do when you’re not reading, writing, or editing?

Kristen: Funny! My husband just asked me that same question last night.

Lexa: Breathe and sleep

Laura: What do you mean? Are there other things to do?

Everyone: Drinking heavily and in each other’s company.

Jess: “Gilmore Girls.”

Lexa: Tune into to what’s hot in the rest of the world, so we can steal it and put it right back into our books.

Kristen: Ruin the plots of TV shows and movies for those I love.

Lexa: Me too! So true.