Jen oversees the acquisition and development of all MG and YA fiction for the Little, Brown. She edits an impressive list of award-winner, bestselling and über-popular authors including Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, Cornelia Funke, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Pseudonymous Bosch, Cressida Cowell, Walter Mosley, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Jewell Parker Rhodes. (She is also the proud editor of SCBWI’s very own Aaron Hartzler!)
Jen is offering two breakout sessions--PEAK TO PEAK: HOW TO BUILD A CAREER AFTER YOUR FIRST BOOK and AN INSIDE LOOK AT LITTLE, BROWN BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS--and participating in a panel--A VIEW FROM THE TOP: 4 PUBLISHERS DISCUSS OUR INDUSTRY.
You worked in marketing, at MONEY magazine, and in adult editorial before you began working on books for young readers. What drew you to publishing for this audience?
I really love the idea of marrying narrative with a visual component, which I truly got the experience of when I worked at TIME magazine. I worked for the website, and we were able to work with the writers from the magazine but also add interactive and visual elements to the stories. While that’s what initially drew me to it, what’s kept me in it and made me passionate about it are the intelligent, creative, hard-working people that are a part of the “children’s creative community.”
You're kind of an editor rock star, working with many award-winning and popular authors (Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, Cornelia Funke, to name a few). Why do you think you're you so good at spotting the gems? And can you mention some upcoming books you're particularly excited about?
Hahaha. That’s very kind of you to say. What’s been great for me at Little, Brown is that I’ve been given the freedom to acquire the things that I love, and that’s truly how I make my acquisitions. I never care about anything other than the writing and it doesn’t matter to me if the writer is established or just starting out. If I hear it on the page, I’m excited about it. And my focus never wavers from my goal--which is to create great books for kids and teens. Books that hopefully shed a unique light on their experiences.
I’ve been very thrilled about a book that just came out, SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi. This is a writer whose work blew me away from the first page and I’m thrilled that teens will have a chance to experience his master level of world-building and storytelling. I’m also very excited about a middle grade I have coming out called NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes, which is a coming of age story that takes place during Hurricane Katrina. Some of my favorite stories to work on are about kids who are easy to overlook--which doesn’t mean that their lives are uninteresting. I love it when a writer is able to bring them to life with the level of exquisite detail and dignity that they deserve.
What qualities attract you to a manuscript? What should writers be concentrating on?
Voice is first and foremost, because I feel it’s the most difficult thing to teach or master. And as an editor, if I feel someone’s able to catch my attention with a great voice, it gives me a great deal of confidence that we can conquer any other problem their manuscript might have.
Why do you participate in SCBWI events? What do you get out of them?
As I mentioned earlier, I love the children’s creative community as a whole. We’re a unique bunch and it’s fun to be around other people who are as excited about kids and books as I am. I also want to honor the efforts that people make to learn more about the industry and to strengthen their own craft—so I’m always happy to participate in this because I want to say thank you for making the effort to take your work seriously. I consider it an honor to be asked. What I get out of these events, hopefully, is the opportunity to work towards strengthening editors’ and writers’ common goal of bringing our best to this genre.
You're doing a session called PEAK TO PEAK: HOW TO BUILD A CAREER AFTER YOUR FIRST BOOK. Can you give us a teaser?
Any other words of wisdom/advice you can offer those working toward publication?
The most important thing to focus on is your writing, and nothing is going to make you better at it than sitting down and doing it. No amount of networking, blog reading, tweeting, etc. can substitute for making sure your number one priority is working on your craft. Because, ultimately, that’s what’s going to capture an editor’s attention.
Click here for information and to register for the Summer Conference where you can glean more wisdom and tips from Jennifer Hunt and all the other fabulous editors on the faculty.