Erin Clarke, Editor
Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, Random House Children's Books (2003)
Erin Clarke graduated from William & Mary College, where she double-majored in English and government. Immediately after college, she attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course. She accepted a job as a publicity assistant at Random House in adult books after the course and worked there for a year on some very exciting publicity campaigns. She knew her passion lay in children's books, however, and in 1999, she became the editorial assistant to (the legendary) Janet Schulman at Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, imprints of Random House Children's Books. She is now an editor. Erin also works two Saturdays a month at a library in the Bronx in the children's room.
Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers NO LONGER accepts unsolicited manuscripts. All manuscripts MUST be agented.
How many books does Knopf/Crown publish every year and what kind of books are they?
We publish approximately 70-80 books a year including nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. We publish books for every age level - board books, picture books, middle-grade, and young adult.
How many do you edit per year?
I edit between 5-8 books a year. Some of these are paperbacks or reissues of backlist titles. I also assist Janet on her books. She edits between 20-25 books per year.
What have you edited recently?
BEFORE WE WERE FREE by Julia Alvarez; AMERICAN PATRIOTS by Gail Buckley, adapted for young readers by Tonya Bolden; TITUS RULES! by Dick King-Smith; a forthcoming YA novel and picture book by Julia Alvarez; THE BIG UGLY MONSTER written and illustrated by Chris Wormell; MOTHER, MOTHER I WANT ANOTHER by Maria Polushkin, illustrated by Jon Goodell; and a middle-grade novel by Dick King-Smith.
Were any manuscripts you edited from the "slush pile"?
Is the slush pile an actual pile? Where is it? How many manuscripts are in it?
It is a pile. I have around 100 manuscripts in a box under my desk, which is true for most of the assistants at Knopf/Crown.
What percentage of manuscripts from the slush pile do you estimate get published?
A very small percentage of manuscripts are published from the slush pile. Do not give up hope, though! One of our most successful authors, Wendelin van Draanen, was found in the slush pile.
Why does so much NOT get published?
Honestly, either because it's not good enough or, in some cases, it didn't make its way into the right person's hands. My best advice is to write what you're passionate about and then (and only then), if you're serious about getting it published, spend the time researching to find the appropriate house for the manuscript.
How long does it take Random House to read a manuscript?
It varies - if it's an agented manuscript, an author with whom I've worked previously, or a foreign submission, the turn-around time tends to be quicker.
Describe a typical day at work. Be specific!
I spend the first half hour or so reading posts on YALSA-BK (a YA librarian list serve) and CCBC (a list serve for people interested in youth literature). I also read Publishers Lunch and PW Daily. Depending on which day of the week it is, I'll attend editorial and production meetings. I write editorial letters, rejection letters, jacket copy, catalog copy, and title information sheets, which our sales reps use when selling our books. I review mechanic's circulating through copy editing, editorial, design, and production. I create contract requests. After 5 p.m., when the office quiets down a bit, I'll close my door, turn off my computer, and read manuscripts.
Do you usually read manuscripts at work or at home in the evenings and on weekends?
I read at work after 5 p.m. and on the subway or bus. I also read on weekends.
What kinds of books do you like to work on?
I love being able to acquire a wide variety of books for many different age levels. I look for kid-friendly books of high literary quality.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Oh, so many.... CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, HORTON HATCHES THE EGG, FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, RAMONA books, HARRIET THE SPY.
Do you have any favorites now?
OLIVIA, MAKE LEMONADE books by Virginia Euwer Wolff, HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy by Philip Pullman, HOLES by Louis Sachar, THE WANDERER by Sharon Creech.
Is it every editor's dream to discover the next Sharon Creech or Avi?
Sure. They're two very talented writers and we're always looking for new talent.
What must a manuscript have to get your attention?
A manuscript must be well-written for me to be interested. I've read manuscripts with compelling plot lines, but had to pass on them because the writing didn't hold up.
Do you read manuscripts all the way through or do you read just the first page? First chapter? First paragraph?
It depends. I tend to read more than the first paragraph, but my initial instincts when reading a manuscript are usually right.
Describe the acquisition process. Let's say you found a manuscript you want to acquire. What happens next? Be specific!
I'll give the manuscript to a colleague to get his/her feedback and then I'll take it to an editorial meeting to discuss with all of our editors and designers. If I think it has promise, but needs work and I've never worked with the writer before, I might send an editorial letter with some suggestions, and invite the writer to send the manuscript back to me should they choose to revise it. This way, I get an idea of how the writer and I might work together. When I'm ready to buy a manuscript, I'll work out a profit-and-loss statement to determine how much of an advance and royalty I can offer the author. If it's a picture book, I'll work with a designer to come up with a wish list of possible illustrators.
Do you think "celebrity books" are on the rise?
Fortunately, they are not on the rise at Knopf/Crown.
Do you ever love a book that you have to turn down?
Do you read manuscripts addressed to you or do you have an assistant?
I read all manuscripts addressed to me, as well as many manuscripts submitted to Janet.
When you make an offer to an author, do you expect the author to negotiate the terms or accept the offer on the spot?
I am open to negotiating, so I'm never surprised when that happens.
Are offers made by telephone or email?
I like to telephone with offers. Sometimes I'll send a follow-up email so the author/agent has the offer in writing to consider.
Which parts of a publishing contract is the publisher most flexible about?
If the author/agent is making a reasonable request, it's usually not a problem.
How often do you send "personal rejection letters" versus "form rejection letters"?
I send a personal letter to anyone who has sent me a manuscript directly.
What is the approximate print run of a picture book these days? A novel?
The average picture book print run is 10,000-15,000, novels around 7,000-12,500, poetry around 5,000-7,500.
How long can the average picture book be expected to stay in print these days? The average novel?
I would estimate an average of 3-5 years.
Is it true that today's books stay in print less time than yesterday's books?
It's hard for a book to stay in print as long now because of the number of children's books published each year.
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"?
It may be true, but I have the good fortune of learning from people such as Janet Schulman and Wendy Lamb, who will edit a project as long as it is necessary to make it right for publication. Neither of them is afraid of taking on projects that need work.
How has the field changed since you've been an editor?
I've only been an editor for four years, so not too much has changed. I do love to hear about the old days of children's book publishing from my boss, though.
How has Harry Potter changed the field?
Harry Potter exposed middle-grade and YA books to an even wider audience. They're cool to read, write (which might help to explain the number of adult authors who are trying their hand at writing children's literature), and discuss! It's such an exciting time to be involved with children's books.
Have big chain stores, like Barnes & Noble, changed the field? How?
Dates for materials have been pushed up considerably as our sales reps meet earlier and earlier to discuss our future lists with chains such as B&N and Borders. I am currently working on summer 2004 books.
Have Internet sites such as Amazon.com changed things?
I'm not sure how it's changed children's book publishing as a whole, but I love being able to read the reviews and lists of favorite books created by teen readers, middle-graders, and parents buying picture books.
Do you think these changes are for the better or worst?
I'm excited by the future of children's books - the number of quality books published each year for children continues to grow.