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Bonus: The Building Blocks of Feather Flores

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

Hello! My name is Feather, and I’m an editor with Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. I joined S&S in 2022 after four years editing children’s titles at Chronicle Books in San Francisco—and between these two publishers, I’ve worked on nearly every format you can imagine. Novelty books and board books, formats (puzzles, card games, even wooden stacking games), picture books, early readers, chapter books, illustrated nonfiction compendiums, middle grade and young adult fiction, graphic novels—whew! Each one is rewarding, and delightfully challenging, in its own way.

I’m a very visual editor, but since joining Atheneum I’ve especially loved expanding my list into voice-y novels for older readers. Atheneum is known for publishing books that feel fresh yet timeless, and my taste is a similar blend of literary and commercial: I acquire books with enough hook to intrigue consumers on premise alone, that then deliver deeply memorable, beautifully executed reading experiences. With each book I edit, I hope to instill in young readers a sense of their own agency and significance—as well as the knowledge that they are never alone.

What special topics will we find on your wishlist?

My list consists of voice-driven stories by, about, and for people from historically marginalized communities; I have a very detailed breakdown of my taste over on my full manuscript wishlist. Lately I’ve been hungry for good travel stories, particularly with BIPOC protagonists—because too often, when traditional publishing buys stories that feature characters with these identities moving across borders and state lines, the characters and their communities must do so because of a tragedy, a genocide, a generational trauma wound. I want to see more stories in which characters of color—and queer characters, and disabled characters, and poor characters—get to travel the world and have experiences that give them room to explore who they are,

in all the ways we’ve gotten to witness from their more privileged counterparts (a la 13 Little Blue Envelopes or Love & Gelato, for example) and more. I also love stories of returning to ancestral homes, or grappling with culture and identity in different contexts/countries (and boy am I eager for more fiction set outside North America!), or even just really great road trips.

How important is the query letter? What do you like to see in it?

Unless authors and author-illustrators are submitting to me as part of a conference or other opportunity, I usually see query letters from agents (since Simon & Schuster editors don’t accept unsolicited submissions). However, those query letters are still important! If I’m interested in acquiring the book after reading the manuscript—I’m one of those editors who gives the query letter just a cursory glance, preferring to dive straight into the materials—the query letter is where I’ll go to pull, at minimum, the author bio. And if I like the wording of the pitch enough, and/or I feel that the comps and positioning are strong enough, I’ll often use elements of those in my pitch memo for acquisition, too.

In the author bio, I want to see previous publications, if any; bookish experience, if any (connections to libraries, classrooms, bookstores, etc.); relevant awards, accolades, and degrees/coursework (grants, fellowships, masters, etc.); approximate location; link to up-to-date website (shoutout to Dahlia Adler when I say: update your website!!!!); and, ideally, passions! The bio is a place to be professional and succinct, yes, but it’s also an opportunity to let your voice and “brand” as an author shine through, particularly if your passions inform the story on submission. This is the most important element for me, since filling in the rest is part of my job, but I also love to see thoughtful comps and loglines—if these demonstrate to me that you’re aware of the readership and successful titles/tropes in your genre or format, and able to not only envision but articulate how your book fits into that market, I will always take note. That’s an impressive—and necessary—skill in publishing!

What do you believe should be conveyed in an opening paragraph of a story?

Voice. Voice, voice, voice. Yes, your opening paragraph should lead into an interesting moment/scene (not waking up in the morning, but instead the moment right before something terrible or exciting or unexpected happens, for example). And yes, it should establish pace and character and world—but the way this is accomplished is through voice.

I’m sure many of us have heard editors and agents alike say, “I never thought I’d be interested in a hockey book / a space romance / a retelling of Peter Pan with werewolves (etc.), but the writing was so good that I was hooked!” You’ve likely experienced this for yourself, too—and it happens because of voice. Voice is atmosphere; it is tone and character and world. If there’s one thing to give readers a sense of right away, from the very first line of your text, it’s this.

Name a favorite book you have recently read and share what drew you to it?

I just finished the fourth book in Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series (The Last Devil to Die), and it’s an excellent one to read if you want a mentor text for propulsive pace and distinctive voice. Plus, it’s just plain fun!

BONUS: Ask yourself (and answer) a question that you wish we had asked.

What excites you about the future of children’s publishing?

We’re undergoing so many shifts right now, both in terms of the retail landscape (how people discover and buy books, how retailers buy and sell books, etc.) and how we as a country are going to address ideological questions of control and access to narrative, information, and art. For as anxiety-inducing as this can be, I am also excited to see how publishing entities will show up and push back—because we do have to; there is no neutral position—as well as how we’ll find new ways to adapt, innovate, and bring more stories to the young readers who not only need and deserve them, but who hunger for them. Humans are a meaning-making species, and we will always come back to story—because that’s where truth lies. And I am excited for us to continue finding it.

PRIZE: Feather has generously donated three (3) submission opportunities, one to each of three lucky winners who have submitted a manuscript that may be of interest to her according to her wishlist. Thank you, Feather!

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