I'm excited to share this exclusive interview with Sarah Rockett from Sleeping Bear Press. I can speak from personal experience and say that any author who has the chance to work with Sarah is a lucky one.
Among this year's awesome lineup of prizes for the annual RYS Writing Contest, Sarah has kindly donated "Skip the Slush Pile Passes" for the first place winners in each category. Submissions are now open for Picture Books, Nonfiction Picture Books, Middle Grade and YA novels. The contest closes on August 15th and all proceeds go directly to charity. Read below for a taste of what Sarah is looking for and visit the link at the bottom of the interview for more about the RYS contest.
Thanks so much for joining us, Sarah! Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a children's book editor?
I've always loved picture books and middle-grade novels--I'm a sucker for a good story. The idea of a career telling stories led me to a degree in journalism. After graduation, I moved to NYC and worked for a travel magazine before realizing that my heart was in books. First, I got a job with an academic book publisher. Then, I took a position in production at one of Penguin's adult imprints and was later able to transfer internally to the editorial group at Puffin/Penguin Young Readers. After a few years there, I knew I wanted to move back to Michigan, so I started pestering the owner and publisher at Sleeping Bear Press (based in Ann Arbor, MI) and finally convinced them to bring me in for an informational interview--and eventually hire me. I consider myself extremely lucky to work in the industry and help people tell stories for a living.
As an editor, what are some of the most common mistakes you see aspiring authors make?
Sending in a manuscript with art samples or full illustrations. Not checking a publisher's catalog/website to make sure the manuscript is a good fit before submitting. Pitching a picture book as a series or a middle-grade as "the next Harry Potter." Not selling yourself in the pitch letter (publishers are investing in the manuscript AND the author).
What do you look for when reading through manuscript submissions? Are there certain themes or styles you lean toward?
I always look for something with a timely hook (girls/women with agency, environmentalism, diversity, kindness, etc). Sleeping Bear Press loves stories with the potential for educational or activity-based backmatter. And, because it's hard to do well, I'm always looking for truly funny stories.
How would you describe your editorial style?
Collaborative. I really enjoy the back and forth with an author. I generally call out problems/inconsistencies, then let the author come up with some solutions or work on brainstorming solutions together. I like when an author is up to try a few different things--even if it means we eventually go back to the way it was originally. The story is the author's first, and I always want to be sure they are happy with the final product!
Do you have any recent releases / upcoming books that you're particularly excited about?
Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a new one I'm very excited about. The artist, Gwen Frostic, is someone I've loved forever--I even have a tattoo of her work. Mother Ghost is a collection of spooky reimaginings of classic Mother Goose rhymes that I can't wait to see on the shelves. And in the upcoming seasons, I'm looking forward to The Boy Who Grew a Forest--which I think is going to be beautiful and timely.
For more about Sleeping Bear Press you can find them online at: www.sleepingbearpress.com
Now polish up those manuscripts and head over to the Rate Your Story contest page to submit for your chance to win critiques, memberships and the opportunity to skip to the top of Sarah's slush pile.