Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Editopia: Simon & Schuster/Aladdin editor Amy Cloud

You all know we like our "topia"'s here at YAtopia and we've seen you waving pom-poms for our Guestopia, Agentopia, and Teentopia series. This month we're crazy excited to introduce a new regular series, Editopia, where we bring you interviews with kidlit's top editors!

For our inaugural interview, I'm going directly to the cream
of the crop to introduce you to MY adorable (and oh-so-
smart!) editor, Amy Cloud with Simon and Schuster's 
Aladdin imprint. She's a Brooklynite by way of Michigan, 
who loves 90's movies (further proof of her awesomeness) 
and foisting kale salads on unsuspecting friends (she'll never get me).

Hey, Amy! Giant hugs for being our brave first 
interview subject. Let's start with some basics. How did 
you get your start in the industry? Did you always want 
to be in publishing?

Like so many editors, I’ve always loved to read and thought
it would be ideal if I could somehow get paid to do it. After
a few post-collegiate stints at trade journals in my
native Michigan, I was accepted into the Columbia
Publishing Course, a six-week “crash course” in the New
York publishing industry. There I met Nicholas Callaway, who at the time owned a boutique publishing firm called Callaway Editions. I spent the next eight years of my life working with a tiny and tight-knight team on everything from Madonna’s children’s stories to a New York Times photo book about President Obama. It was a nontraditional publishing experience, but turned out to be the perfect way for me to learn the ins and outs of the business. (It didn’t hurt that I got to meet Madonna my third week on the job.) It was there that I realized my true love was kids’ books.

Ooh, meeting the Material Girl... so glamorous! Speaking of glamorous, most authors are surprised to find out that editors’ days aren’t spent kicking back at their desks with mugs of tea and piles of manuscripts and that, in fact, most work reading happens outside of work. Describe what your “typical” day actually is.

When I’m not in meetings, my mornings are usually spent answering emails, writing copy, answering more emails, approving layouts, writing editorial letters, reviewing contracts, creating P&Ls, putting together publishing plans, and, um, answering ever more emails. Lots of multitasking! I prefer to spend my afternoons doing what I love most: editing. Unfortunately, my mornings tend to run over into my afternoons. If I have any extra time in the day I’ll spend it reading submissions, but these days most of my reading takes place at home.

What does your to-read pile look like? How many manuscripts are in your inbox at any one time?

It depends on the time of year; over the summer and holidays can be slower in terms of submissions. But I’d say there are always at least 8 to 10 manuscripts hovering in my inbox at any given time.

What trends are you seeing in kidlit these days? Are there any subjects or genres you don’t want to see in your inbox? Any you want to see more of?

Lately I’ve definitely seen more Fault in Our Stars-type stories making the middle-grade rounds: realistic, somewhat quiet books with self-aware narrators, often grappling with medical conditions. There have also been a lot of realistic stories about kids travelling through space and inhabiting other planets.

As for what I don’t want to see: I’m really over the whole dystopian thing and I’m not a huge fan of high-level fantasy. I’d love to find more cleverly constructed mysteries and funny, contemporary tween novels with a strong hook.

What are some things that would make a manuscript stand out to you?

I’m all about voice and character. Authenticity rules supreme! I adore quirky, slightly offbeat humor—anything that produces a good belly laugh. A strong hook is a must. And honestly anything that gets me through a commute. If I can’t put down, there’s usually something there. Extra points if I miss my subway stop!

For the right book, ending up at Coney Island would be worth it, wouldn't it? Can you describe what the acquisition process is like at Aladdin? What happens once you’ve found a book you love?

If I’m over the moon about something I’ll pass it on to my Aladdin editorial colleagues for their thoughts. After they read it, we’ll get together and discuss what we like, what needs to change, and how it fits with our larger list. If they agree we should pursue it, we’ll take it to an acquisitions meeting, where our sales, publicity, marketing, and management teams all weigh in with their perspectives. From that point we crunch the numbers and make an offer.

What parts of your job comes most naturally to you? What’s the biggest challenge?

Honestly, I think the actual editorial part—diving into a manuscript and taking it apart to assess what works and what doesn’t—is my favorite aspect of the job. I’ve always had a critical eye.

Since I still identify as a shy kid, I’d say presentations of any sort terrify me.

I have to admit I was very surprised by that answer- you don't seem shy to me at all! So, in your opinion, what makes a good editor?

First and foremost, a true love of reading. There is such an abundance of reading involved in this job that you have to be willing to devote plenty of personal time to it. Being organized and detail-oriented is a big plus; book editors these days do a great deal of juggling, and you have to be able to stay on top of projects at all stages. Being able to trust your instincts is also key, though I think that’s something that comes with age and experience.

I know it’s just plain evil to ask a children’s book editor to name a favorite book… so I won’t. Instead, tell me about your favorite children’s book covers.

Hilary Knight’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle covers, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, Kay Nielsen’s cover for East of the Sun, West of the Moon, any of the Wildwood books, Winger by Andrew Smith. And I will always love love love the cover of Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

Nothing tops the man hands! I promised no naming favorites, but is there maybe a particular book that sparked your love of reading or a book that you re-read time and again?

When I was a kid I devoured books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Paula Danzinger. I think I read The Cat Ate My Gym Suit about twenty times before I was twelve! They made me feel connected to a larger experience, like what I was going through at the time wasn’t so weird or uniquely scary. As an adult I realized I wanted to work on books that would help and transform kids in the same way.

As far as adult books go, I usually read Lorrie Moore’s short story collection Self-Help at least once a year. She’s heartbreaking and hilarious in the same breath.

Adding to my towering TBR list! Granted, you're almost always reading, but when you do put the books down, what are your favorite things to do?

I love to cook meals for friends and loved ones, see live dance and music, spend time in the country, and scour second-hand stores for vintage finds.

Editors: they're just like us. Okay, last question. And actually it's not even a question. It's a chance to plug a few books on your list you’re excited about. Whatcha got?

I’m thrilled to be working with Bruce Coville on his much-anticipated funny and fantastical sequel to Goblins in the Castle, to be released in summer 2015.  He’s such an icon and it’s been an absolute honor to work with him.

Don’t Fall Down is a hilarious and touching winter 2015 debut from author Gail Nall about the competitive world of figure skating as well as finding your own voice.

Though it’s not on my list, Jodi Lynn Anderson’s beautiful middle-grade novel Ordinary World is coming from Aladdin in summer 2015. Her writing is simply gorgeous, and I can’t wait for others to fall in love with it.

There's also this wonderful tween concierge story coming up this summer that I'm sort of over the moon about. It's called At Your Service. J

*Blushes* I'm a little excited for that one myself. And as a lucky critique partner of Gail's, I can certainly vouch for the fabulous Don't Fall Down. Watching the Olympic skating this week has me itching to reread it. Amy, thank you so much for letting me ask you alllllll the questions. I hope tons of other lucky authors out there get the opportunity to work with you!


  1. Fantastic interview. What a great insight into the day-to-day job!

  2. Great interview! Although I am a bit biased... :)

  3. Hi, Jen! Your post on Twitter sent me over here. It's amazing to read about the process a book goes through from the time an editor first sees it to the time an offer is made. And that's only the beginning of the work. And how exciting that she got to meet Madonna! I'd probably faint if I passed her on the street. Your first Aladdin M!x book is releasing right after mine, so I feel like we have a common bond! I can't wait to read At Your Service.

  4. Stephanie- Thanks for following the link. I just finished 30 DAYS OF NO GOSSIP last week and adored it! Such a great premise and I loved how hard Maddie's challenge was- as I imagine it would be for all of us, not just the middle school crowd. Great job making a flawed character so likable. Aladdin M!x for the win!!

  5. This was really informative. We see plenty of interviews with agents--editors, not so much.

    This was a fun read. Thanks!