by Nicole Gallucci, Dogwood Managing Editor
Throughout my past two years at Fairfield University I was fortunate enough to become involved in Dogwood. I reviewed the slush pile as an Assistant Editor, made my way up to Associate Editor where I got the chance to directly work on content and layout, and this year, was awarded the title of Managing Editor. Throughout my junior year, I had always admired those names listed under the “Managing Editor” heading towards the top of the “Dogwood Staff” page and dreamed of one day achieving the title myself. In January of 2015 my time had come. I entered Sonya’s Publishing Practicum where she bestowed the much-anticipated title upon me, and I took on my new responsibilities. Managing Editors hold the power to correspond with authors, work on layout in InDesign, copyedit, update the website, etc. I undertook each of these responsibilities with a strong sense of pride and constant encouragement from Sonya. While she continued to teach us the ins and outs of publishing, one of the great things Sonya impressed upon us this year was the importance of taking risks.
She gave us a final assignment for the course – to conduct an interview with an editor whom we greatly admire – and in doing so, she emphasized the fact that we should do our best to get in touch with someone we actually admired, as opposed to simply interviewing someone because they were easily accessible to us. As a graduating senior, I have been frantically researching and applying for a slew of editorial positions based in Manhattan. I knew that my ideal interview for this project would be with someone in the field of book publishing in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the industry.
With a great deal of support from Sonya, I took a risk and contacted Connie Hsu, Senior Editor at Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press. I explained the project to Hsu, along with my strong desire to hear about her current position, and past experience in the publishing world with editorial positions at Little, Brown and Company and InTouch Weekly. Now while I put on my confident Managing Editor mask for Sonya, as soon as I clicked Send on the email I thought to myself: “Who am I?! I just emailed a Senior Editor at Macmillan. There’s no way she’s going to respond!” However, much to my surprise and excitement, I received a sweet email from Connie, who was more than willing to answer any questions I had.
After receiving her undergrad degree in advertising and her Masters in journalism, Connie found herself living in New York, without much knowledge of the publishing industry. She began working at InTouch Magazine as a freelance reporter, and then at a startup for a TV Guide magazine called Inside TV. In 2005 the magazine folded and Connie found herself living a writer’s ultimate dream lifestyle: unemployed in New York City with a new lease. She began taking on odd jobs and eventually found herself as a substitute first grade daycare instructor. When recalling this job, Connie described, “I rediscovered my love of children’s books by reading picture books and chapter books to my students.” After one of her friends informed her of job opening at Little, Brown Young Readers, Connie decided to email the editor, Alvina Ling. Ling took a shine to Hsu’s somewhat unconventional background and journey to discovering a love for publishing and decided to give her an interview. As Connie recalls, “I walked in wanting to learn more about it and I walked out wanting the job desperately.” Needless to say, Connie’s strong passion for literature and eagerness to learn got her a job, and she went on to work at Little Brown for around eight years.
After hearing this exciting and inspirational journey from magazine to book publishing, I was very curious as to the differences between the two. Hsu explained that one of the major dissimilarities between magazine and book publishing is the day-to-day work life. Hsu described, “In magazines, you have one major deadline, so you have—very predictively—days when it’s a little slower such as when you’re developing a story, before you can edit or fact check it. Then, as you near the big deadline to publication it’s late nights, rush, rush, rush, get everything in. Everything gets done, and everyone is happy that they’ve finished another issue. Then you start that cycle over again.” What Hsu hadn’t expected about book publishing is that it’s ongoing. “At any give moment,” she said, “you could be working on two to three seasons, maybe even more, and there’s no final moment when you’re done because there’s always a new book in the pipeline.”
Hsu shared that currently, she is looking at marketing and publicity for a Spring 2015 book, trying to get blurbs and field early reviews for books on the Winter 2016 list, and Macmillan has just launched its Spring 2016 list that she is finalizing manuscripts for. Because picture books have a longer lead time, Hsu is currently finishing up sketches and sending artists to final art for Fall 2016 picture books, in addition to acquiring list books that will be slated for the 2017 year.
Unlike magazine publishing, although there’s never that moment of “I’m done,” Hsu explained that for her, the great thing about book publishing is her work has such permanence to it. She described, “When I worked in magazines, I cared and had pride in my work, but there was a ‘get it done’ attitude that was more important than having the time to make something the best it can be.” Hsu shared another perk of book publishing: the responses from people. Whereas magazines don’t tend to get much feedback from readers, with books, Hsu receives letters of gratitude, etc. from readers, including teens and parents of little kids.
As current Senior Editor for Children’s Books at Macmillan, Connie shared that a day in the life of her job usually starts with emails. She explained that human connections are so important in the industry, and it is her responsibility to respond to everybody that has touched a book along the way. She explained that the editor is the main person who answers queries or touches base with marketing and publicity. She has to send updates to sales or let agents know if they have a new cover to look at, and then meet with those same people she spends her day emailing. Hsu explained that another big part of the job is going out on agent lunches. She said around 95-99% of books come to her through agents, and these days a lot of publishing houses are closed to direct submissions from authors. These lunches allow editors to cultivate relationships with agents. They get to know each other and make personal connections so that they not only know what an editor is looking for, but also get a chance to develop an interest in wanting to work with them in the future.
When asked about the rejection process at Macmillan, Hsu shared that an editor can get upwards from 300-1,000 submissions a year, and every editor has their own philosophy. She explained that some editors do form declines for almost everything, just so they can give some sort of feedback quickly. However, Hsu shared that she was trained to always offer some insight as to why something isn’t working. “For instance” she explained, “you might say, ‘With this project I just didn’t love the voice,’ but at times when I really love something and see a spark of talent or potential, that leads to a more detailed rejection letter because you’re hopeful that person will improve or come back with a new project.” Hsu discussed different levels of rejection and her belief that sometimes, an author can take a rejection letter as a means of encouragement if feedback is provided.
Connie explained that one of the things she enjoys most about working for Macmillan is the fact that the imprint she is a part of – Roaring Brook Press – is extremely intimate. With a six person editorial team, Connie is able to get that small imprint feel. However, she explained that because Roaring Brook is part of the big five publishing houses, she also gets really nice support from a larger sales, marketing, and publicity team. She greatly values the sense of community at Macmillan, and has developed strong and meaningful relationships with her co-workers. When asked about the most challenging part of the job, Hsu explained that, it goes back to the on-going publication process of several books and seasons. “It’s really hard to switch off,” she said, “I could have a moment where I’m editing a manuscript and that’s all I’ll want to be focusing on, but there are other timely matters at hand.” Hsu balances sharing reviews with authors, talking to marketing and publicity about book launches, corresponding to agents about new projects, and talking to her publisher and acquisitions team. In addition to all of those responsibilities, Hsu acknowledges that one of the most challenging part of her job is, “Taking a step out of the job itself to be aware of what’s working in the industry and important news and going-ons in publishing in general.”
Hsu explains that as for the publishing industry as a whole, one of the prominent challenges is currently diversity across all fronts. She discussed a massive movement in Children’s books called, “We Need Diverse Books.” This group – founded by authors and partnered with a multi-cultural publisher called Liam Lowe – was formed in response to last year’s Book Con. The convention’s headlining authors were all white males, and so this group banned together to give diverse authors a voice. Hsu shared that a lot of publishers, including Macmillan, are starting their own diversity councils with the idea of bringing diversity to the books published, the authors worked with, and the people who work in the industry.
When questioned about her personal inspirations, Connie shared her belief that, “For most people in publishing a definite inspiration would be Ursula Nordstrom, former editor and chief at Harper & Roe, and acquiring editor of many classics such as, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Harold & the Purple Crayon, and Where the Wild Things Are. Hsu also described the challenges she faced by not growing up in an English speaking family. “We spoke mandarin at home,” she said, “and so in Kindergarten and first grade I spoke with accent.” After being put into the remedial reading group in the first grade, Hsu found herself very discouraged. “I felt very stupid and very behind my peers, and at that time I remember thinking ‘maybe I’m just not good at English, maybe I’m just not good at reading.’” Hsu recalled that her parents used to take her and her brother to the public library on weekends where books were her babysitter. After she came across the Great Valley Twins Series, her life was changed. “I was hooked,” she admitted, “…I think I tore through that series and just went on to The Babysitters Club, and more, and more, and more, and by the time I got to third grade I was reading above level, and I had a lot more confidence.”
As you can see, Hsu’s journey– although somewhat unconventional –has led to a passionate and fulfilling career. When asked what advice she would give to aspiring editors and publishers like myself, Hsu thoughtfully replied, “I would say to be patient. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was from my first manager, Alvina Ling, editor at Little, Brown Young Readers. She always says, ‘follow your compass, not your clock.’ I like that because when you first come out of college you’re anxious. You’re anxious about finding your first job, you’re scared and excited and you’re always going to be looking at other people and asking, ‘Why am I not there yet?’” Hsu explained that while advancing in the publishing ranks does take time and effort, “Every new responsibility is actual growth…just concentrate on what you’re doing, and remind yourself that if you still love what you’re doing and still love what you produce that you’ll get there.” She explained that she herself didn’t get into publishing until the age of 25. As Hsu explained, publishing is a passion industry, not a lucrative career choice. Her words of wisdom were extremely reassuring to hear as a second semester senior about to jump headfirst into the real world, and I aspire to one day achieve her level of job satisfaction and success.