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Robin Friedman : author and journalist

Cecile Goyette, Editor

Dial Books for Young Readers (2004)

As of June 2005, Cecile Goyette has moved to Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, Random House Children's Books. Her interview is still here for informational purposes.

Cecile Goyette has a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in the Bronx in American history and political science. While working at her first job in publishing, Hyperion Books for Children and Disney Press, she took a course in editing taught by a wonderful editor on the adult side of Penguin publishing. Her instructor heard about a job at Dial and was kind enough to recommend Cecile. After being at Dial for about 18 months, she was promoted to editor.

Cecile accepts unsolicited manuscripts addressed to her at Dial Books for Young Readers, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

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

Dial publishes about 60-70 books per year, broken up into 3 seasonal lists. We publish only hardcover “trade” books, mostly oriented toward the retail market, though with some crossover to the school and library market as well. Dial publishes every genre of books for kids ages 2 to 15 with the exception of ornate fantasy and science fiction, though more mainstream stories with those elements are fine.

How many do you edit per year?

I'm not sure how many books I edit a year but I'd say about 12-14 books I've edited get published per year. There's often a long lapse between editing the manuscript and when the art process commences.

What have you edited recently?

I'm a generalist editor and am currently working on books from just about every genre: picture books of all sorts, poetry collections, early readers, middle-grade and YA novels. Specifically, some recent titles are: WHERE'S PUP? by Dayle Ann Dodds, RISE THE MOON by Eileen Spinelli, AGNES PARKER...Girl in Progress by Kathleen O'Dell.

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

I have signed up well over a dozen manuscripts from the slush pile. In several instances some additional revision was needed before I could recommend the manuscript to my editorial director and publisher. I enjoy working with new authors.

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

My slush is actually in piles, or at least very unwieldy, messy stacks. There's a seemingly endless supply of slush.

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

Probably less than 1 percent. If I were an aspiring author, I'd ignore that statistic and soldier on.

Why does so much NOT get published?

Too many reasons to list really, but a big one is that many stories advance an adult's agenda and point-of-view, rather than being genuinely child-centered. For example, do a lot of kids truly care about keeping their rooms neat? I sure didn't! Another reason might be that the author hasn't done the necessary homework and has targeted their project to a house whose publishing program isn't the right fit for that type of story. Sending for catalogues and spending lots of time in bookstores can help with this part of the learning curve.

How long does it take Dial to read a manuscript?

My reply time is a woeful and embarrassing 3 to 4 months.

Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!

I don't have a typical day at work. I make lists because they help me feel more organized and focused but then the day begins, the unexpected inevitably crops up, and the lists must be changed, ignored, added to, or forwarded to the next day. The only thing I can say with certainty that I do every day is check my Email, though I can't always reply right away.

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

I mostly read manuscripts at home on weekends.

What kinds of books do you like to work on?

I like books that are grounded in some emotional reality of childhood and in which the details, plot, characters, and voice explore and reflect that reality. Oh, and funny stuff is good for me.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES over and over again and cried every time Matthew died. A WRINKLE IN TIME and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH also captivated my mind and heart.

Do you have any favorites now?

I believe we are experiencing another golden age of children's literature. Recently, I loved FIREBOAT by Maira Kalman, FEED by M.T. Anderson, Emily Frank's AMERICA, and Mo Willem's DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS.

Is it every editor's dream to discover the next Richard Peck?

Editors are an extremely diverse and opinionated group and I don't think any one author is the right fit for all of us — though Mr. Peck certainly is a gem!

What must a manuscript have to get your attention?

It has to have voice and it has to hit my gut (a maddeningly subjective call to be sure), fit with Dial's publishing program, and be able to distinguish itself from similar fare in theme, plot, characters, and, again, voice.

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

I don't read every manuscript all the way through. I'll always read the first page of a picture book manuscript and the first few pages of a longer work. If I'm not hooked pretty fast I'll likely skim-read the rest or stop altogether.

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

When I've found a manuscript I want to acquire, depending on its strength I may send it directly to my editorial director/associate publisher, or I may show it to another editorial colleague first to get their take on it. If it passes muster with my editorial director, it'll be forwarded to our publisher, who might consult with us but who does have the final word.

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

Celebrity books are on the rise because they provide a book with an automatic marketing and sales profile — a tough-to-attain and valuable asset.

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

I've turned down manuscripts I've loved because they weren't right for our publishing program, because there's a too-similar book on the market or on our list, or because my colleagues don't share my assessment of the work - an outcome that's bound to happen in this subjective and opinion-driven enterprise.

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

I read all manuscripts addressed to me. I don't have an assistant.

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?

When I make an offer to a first-time author, there isn't much, if any, room for negotiation. Beyond that, it's the author's prerogative to react to and handle an offer as they see fit and I don't assume any particular response.

Are offers made by telephone or email?

It's much more fun to make an offer by phone. People have cried and screamed!

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

For the most part, I send a form letter with specific comments that I hope are constructive. I will send a personal letter to those I've worked or corresponded with.

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

There are too many variables to make an accurate generalization. For a new author, I'd say 8,500-10,000 for a picture book and 5-6,000 for a novel are typical first print runs for us.

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

Yes. Picture books are extremely costly to produce and the market will only bear up to a certain retail price. The amount of the advances are another factor.

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

I don't know the answer to this but I can say that a factor in our deciding to take on a manuscript is its potential to become a backlist title.

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

It seems true to me.

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"?

I would say it's increasingly difficult to find time for editing but I don't believe editors are truly cutting corners or not giving projects thorough attention. That would really be terrible. Whatever amount time is needed for editing has to be found somewhere; I just let other things languish. I think it is true that manuscripts have to be more polished before they can be signed up these days and this frustrates me a bit.

How has the field changed since you've been an editor?

I think computers are an obvious and enormous factor, as is the increasing consolidation of publishing houses into multi-business and multi-national corporations.

How has Harry Potter changed the field?

I'm a HARRY fan and feel Ms. Rowling's books have given children's book publishing as a whole a greatly increased “attention must be paid” profile in the business world and within global popular culture. And, most importantly, she's brought new and avid readers into the fold. The only negative aspect is the increase in Harry imitators and poorly written fantasy that crosses my desk.

Have big chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, changed the field? How?

They are a force to be reckoned with and have brought increased visibility to books and publishing. That said, they are certainly not the only avenue through which a book can gain notice and sales. The chains, independent bookstores, and librarians and teachers each contribute in combination to the destinies of books and their potential to reach readers.

Have Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed things?

They have a convenience factor, are a valuable research tool, and means of publicity.

Do you think these changes are for the better or worst?

Every change has its yin and yang, its assets and deficits. I recognize both sorts of reverb from these changes but I don't wring my hands over them. Good work is still being done and good books still happen.