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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Caitlyn Dlouhy, Executive Editor

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division (2003)

Caitlyn Dlouhy received a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire in English and philosophy. She then took graduate English courses at University College Cardiff, Wales. She finished her master’s degree in fiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She has been at Atheneum for nearly five years after working at HarperCollins in the Laura Geringer Books imprint for seven years.

She left HarperCollins for Atheneum for two reasons - while she loved working with Laura - she publishes astonishing and wonderful books! - she wanted to be able to acquire more of her own books, which is difficult to do in a small imprint. And she chose Atheneum because she knew they published exquisite novels, and were also looking to develop their picture book line, and she was interested in publishing in both areas.

Atheneum accepts unsolicited manuscripts. Send them to Caitlyn Dlouhy, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

How many books does Atheneum publish every year and what kind of books are they?

We publish anywhere from 85 to 100 books per year, and for most ages: early picture books, story picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, poetry, and some select nonfiction.

How many do you edit per year?

I edit approximately 20 books per year, but that fluctuates.

What have you edited recently?

Since I've been at Atheneum, some of the books I've edited include DOVEY COE by Frances O'Roark Dowell; CLEVER BEATRICE by Margaret Willey/Heather Solomon; ALL THAT REMAINS by Bruce Brooks; SILENT NIGHT by David Hughes; BEAST by Donna Jo Napoli; MAATA'S JOURNAL by Paul Sullivan; GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX by Erin Dealey/Hanako Wakiyama; THE GOOD FIGHT by Stephen Ambrose; FIELDS OF FURY by James McPherson; AUDREY & BARBARA by Janet Lawson; IN NED'S HEAD; DANGLING by Lillian Eige; IMAGINE A NIGHT by Rob Gonsalves; ANGEL FACE by Sarah Weeks/David Diaz; TWO EGGS PLEASE by Sarah Weeks/Betsy Lewin; AUDUBON by Bob Burleigh/Wendell Minor; THE VERY FIRST THANKSGIVING DAY by Rhonda Gowler Greene/Susan Gaber; STARTING WITH ALICE by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; PATIENTLY ALICE by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor....to name a few.

Were any manuscripts you edited from the “slush pile”?

GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX (and its upcoming companion book) were from the slush pile.

Is the slush pile an actual pile? Where is it? How many manuscripts are in it?

It is INDEED a pile. It grows and grows in a cabinet just outside my office. Sometimes it's 1 pile. Sometimes, to my horror, it's 3 piles. It can contain from 25 to 100 manuscripts at any given time.

What percentage of manuscripts from the slush pile do you estimate get published?

I'd say probably 2%.

Why does so much NOT get published?

Quite frankly, because so much just isn't strong enough.

How long does it take Atheneum to read a manuscript?

I try to read “slush” within three months. Sometimes I'm much quicker than that, and, alas, sometimes it takes a bit longer. It really depends on my schedule and when the increasingly rare “down periods” are...

Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!

Oooh, there is no such thing as a typical day in children's publishing — part of the thing I love so much about it. But I can give you a rundown of what I could potentially do in any given day: check mechanicals; read galleys; edit picture book manuscripts; answer phone calls; argue with agents; go over picture book dummies; look at portfolio submissions; read unsolicited manuscripts; read agented manuscripts; write flap copy; write catalog copy; decide I hate the flap copy I wrote and rewrite it; choose endpaper colors; decide whether a book should have any type of “special effect” on it (i.e., spot varnish on the title, or a fifth color, or embossing, or matte lam on the jacket, etc.); answer email (about 3 million times a day); go over design of book with design department; put together acquisition material for a project I want to publish; run profit and loss statements to determine whether we can afford to do a project and figure out what I can pay the author and illustrator; go over blues; present new potential projects to the acquisitions committee to see if others are as excited about a potential project as I am; present a project that's nearly ready for publication to our sales and marketing and publicity department in a Positioning Meeting; go over the layout for the catalog; go to a production meeting to make sure every single little part of every single book is on track to make its specific publication date; meet with my assistant to oversee her projects; meet with my publisher to discuss new ideas or projects in the works; go over copy edited manuscripts; write long editorial letters to novelists in need of revising their manuscripts; revise said long editorial letter twelve times; write shorter editorial letters to picture book authors and illustrators; write letters to illustrators explaining why a particular manuscript I'd like them to consider is so very perfect for them; read reviews of published books; write notes with reviews to send to authors and illustrators of reviewed books; meet with new illustrators or authors; send books to key people in the industry to help start an early buzz about a book; go over color proofs of a picture book with art and production departments; meet with marketing/publicity departments to discuss how books will be promoted; negotiate contracts; go over contracts before sending them to an agent; discuss a manuscript on the phone with an author after they get the revision letter and want to talk about it; try to coax a due date out of an author or artist who's late with work; eat lunch at my desk most of the time; take an author/illustrator/reviewer/agent out to lunch every once in a while; drink lots of water; run over to design department about 10 times a day to discuss something about a particular book; run over to copy editing department another 10 times a day for the same reason; look at sample types for novels and picture books; okay copy for posters, ads, postcards, merchandise products to do with the book; write notes or call authors/illustrators to let them know of books winning awards or making state lists; write special notes to children who send in their manuscripts; look for my favorite green pen; you know, I could go on for about another page, but my hands are aching typing all of this...

Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?

All three.

What kinds of books do you like to work on?

I like to work on all of my books - I seem to fall madly in love with every one of them, but then I suppose that's why I've taken them on.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Hmmm — there were a number of favorites — two favorites that I see in my head I unfortunately have no idea what their titles were, and frankly that's driven me a bit crazy for years now. One was about the sun refusing to come up one morning in the jungle, and the other was about a girl who was very very little and scared she would never get big. I adored all of the Babar books, but Babar and Zephir in particular, and the Madeleine books, and loved loved loved Little Bear.

Do you have any favorites now?

Oh, lots. SANTA CALLS by William Joyce is definitely in the top 10. MEAN MARGARET by Tor Seidler is another... And, as I said, as I fall in love with the books I do, many would be considered favorites!

Is it every editor's dream to discover the next Sharon Creech or Avi?

Or Bruce Brooks or William Joyce or Nancy Farmer or Ian Falconer or or or or or. Yes, I would suppose so.

What must a manuscript have to get your attention?

A true-blue voice.

Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?

It absolutely depends on how good the manuscript is. It's easy to tell when something's just dreadful, and then you stop within a few pages. The better it is, the more I read.

Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!

If it's by a new, unpublished author and needs a bit of work, before I go any further I will write an editorial letter and ask for a revision because I don't yet know what the author is a capable of or willing to strengthen, so I'd need to see a revision first. Then, usually, but not always, once the manuscript is strong enough, I will bring it to an acquisitions meeting, where select members of the publicity, marketing, design, and paperback departments get a copy of the manuscript, and I see if there's the same enthusiasm for the project as I have. And sometimes others don't see the same potential in a book as I do, but I'm given the green light on it anyway, on the basis of my level of enthusiasm about the project. Once I get the green light, I create a profit & loss statement, a financial form with which I show that I can give both author and illustrator (if a picture book) an advance and still manage a profit for the company. I determine a potential trim size for the book, page count, and print quantity at that time. That then is signed off by the Atheneum publisher, the S&S publisher and CFO, and then I'm free to make my offer.

Do you think “celebrity books” are on the rise? Why?

I think they are, because publishing houses are ever hard-pressed to make more profits than the year before, and because a celebrity is already well-known, the chances are greater that you can get out a good number of their books in the first year — it's a relatively “safe” bet — it's much easier to get out 50,000 copies, of, say a book by Jon Lithgow, than of an unknown first-time author.

Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down? Why?

Actually, I just had to do that yesterday! It happens rarely, fortunately, but in this case, the piece, which was just beautifully written, was of a very depressing subject for a picture book, and given the current climate, we feared it wasn't the right time to be able to take a chance on it. Those are always very difficult decisions, and as I said, fortunately, they don't happen often. Every once in a while I will adore a book and no one in-house agrees with me, or doesn't agree that it will sell, and I'll have to turn it down, again, rarely.

Do you read manuscripts addressed to you or do you have an assistant?

I have an assistant, but actually, I do read at least part of every single manuscript that comes to me. With novels, if one is showing promise, but isn't instantly un-put-down-able, it will go to my assistant for a reader's report. If it's un-put-down-able, well, I just am compelled to read it through (that's what happened with DOVEY COE).

When you make an offer to an author, do you expect the author to negotiate the terms or to accept the offer on the spot?

While I love it when they accept the offer on the spot (heh heh), I'm not shocked to have them negotiate certain terms. However, I try very hard to make the best initial offer from the get-go, so there's usually not a lot of negotiating to be done.

Are offers made by telephone or email?

Always by telephone — it's one of the most satisfying and exciting parts of publishing, in my opinion, to be able to call an author or illustrator and tell them that I love their work and want to publish it. I love to hear their reaction.

Which parts of a publishing contract is the publisher most flexible about?

It really depends on where someone is in their career. It's not very flexible on a first book.

How often do you send “personal rejection letters” versus “form rejection letters”?

When I find an author whose work is very strong, but not quite right, I will often tailor a response to that person. So, it fluctuates depending on the quality of a submission.

What is the approximate print run of a picture book these days? A novel?

This is impossible to approximate, because there are so many factors to take into consideration, including the author's previous track record, in-house enthusiasm for the book, subject matter, etc.

Is it true that most books lose money for the publisher if they don't sell out their first printing? Why?

A first printing is generally based on the number of copies we hope to get out for a given book within about a year - it's not necessarily the printing we need just to make the necessary margin. So I'm not sure how to respond to your statement.... For instance, if an author's previous book sold very well, we'll likely do a larger print run on the next book, but that doesn't mean if they don't all sell, we'll lose money. Or we might do a larger print run because it's always more expensive to reprint. There are so many factors at play here....

How long can the average picture book be expected to stay in print these days? The average novel?

Again, impossible to say - it absolutely depends on how well they sell!

Is it true that today's books stay in print less time than yesterday's books?

I think in many cases this is true — it's a battle editors (and of course others within the company!) are constantly fighting — to keep books in print longer.

Is it true that editors have little time to “edit” these days? Is it true that they are looking for manuscripts that are more "finished"?

The editors I know, myself included, do extensive editing on projects, and are willing to do just about anything to help make a potential project as strong as it can be. It's what makes us editors!