Pauline Mermet is editor at Bayard Editions Jeunesse. She has worked with many prestigious illustrators, including Marc Boutavant, Emmanuel Guibert, David De Thuin, Marion Montaigne, Muzo, Yvan Pommaux, and non-fiction authors: Nathalie Tordjman; Anne-Laure Fournier Le Ray; and Yvette Veyret. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).
What made you decide to go into children’s book publishing?
PM: When I was young, I was full of anticipation each time I opened a book, novel, or comic book. My wish is to pass on that exciting feeling. Everybody has something to bring to build up our society, and I am proud to make children’s books my contribution.
In your opinion, what makes a good editor?
PM: A good editor listens to people, makes quick decisions, and is open-minded. The editor wants to pass along the best ideas to the authors and their work. That’s the heart of the job!
When you’re reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it’s something you want to pursue?
PM: When I receive a comic book, the quality of drawing is a key factor, and then I focus on the richness of the world brought by authors. It doesn’t take a long time to know if it is an interesting project.
What kinds of things “turn you off” a manuscript right away?
PM: When it’s weak (writing, drawing) and when I can’t see what it brings.
What are the “realities” of children’s publishing?
PM: Difficult and challenging, since the market is so crowded How could we propose something new or with a new point of view or a new object? The more difficult the market, the more relevant and creative we have to be.
What is your favorite thing about being a children’s book editor?
PM: To work with authors who keep a strong link with childhood is my favorite thing about being a children’s book editor.
What are some of your favorite books and why?
PM: There are so many books…both adult and children’s. Fiction is what I definitely prefer; it’s a way to share other people’s lives. Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Nancy Huston, Henri Bauchau, Emmanuel Carrère, John Irving, Vassili Grossman…are some of my favorite writers.
Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?
PM: Josephine from the Little Women, Alice Roy (the French Nancy Drew), Sophie from la comtesse de Ségur’s Les malheurs de Sophie, and Antigone (by Henri Bauchau). All female characters that show that being a girl can be combined with independence, adventure, wit, and still femininity.
What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?
PM: I think I’m proud of all the books I worked on. Each one makes me grow in some way. I especially liked working on La vie des Très bêtes because the relationship with the author was so good and because it was absolutely entertaining to receive a few hilarious scenarios each week.
Another book I liked working on is the Encyclo catho. It is the most challenging book I ever worked on: 544 pages with philosophical questions on almost every page. It was interesting to work with another editor on that book because an editor is often the only one in charge of a book, and for such a big and ambitious book, it was a relief–and also challenging–to be two in charge!
Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?
PM: The processes are different. In non-fiction, I like to initiate the project. In fiction or in comic books, I like to develop the writing (or drawing) of an author.
What does the ideal cover letter say?
PM: I am worth it. I’ll make you dream if you buy me (or teach you something at least)!
Is there any area on your list you’d like to “grow” at this time?
PM: I am thinking of developing the non-fiction section for little ones (4-8 years old).
How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house? A YA novel? Etc.
PM: Each editor has to be involved in the marketing of the book. In some way, it is “le nerf de la guerre” (how to translate that French sentence…?!)–the nerves of war! War of nerves!
Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children’s non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers’ Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008’s Bologna Conference.
The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.