Lynne Missen is publishing director of Penguin Canada Young Readers, its children and young adult program. Lynne has been an editor for over 20 years. Prior to joining Penguin Canada, she was executive editor of children's books at HarperCollins Canada. Young Adult (YA as Lynne calls it) is at a really interesting spot right now as the books that fall in this category are being read by adults too and some of the best-selling books out today fall in this category -- think Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games. Next spring, she will be launching Razorbill books here in Canada, an imprint of books for teens that are authentic, compelling and entertaining. I, like many others, have always dreamed about one day being a published author so it was great to hear from Lynne about what goes into publishing a book.
We ate at a BBQ joint on Roncesvalles. If you haven't had the chance to check out Roncy since the construction was completed, you should definitely get down there and go for a stroll. It's lovely. The lunch menu was a bit too small. They offer five or so sandwiches, a few salads and sides. That's it. Lynne had the special -- pulled pork sandwich with a spinach salad on the side. I had the pulled chicken sandwich with bacon and a smoked tomato soup on the side. My sandwich was delicious but the soup was too acidic -- it didn't have anything in it to cut the acid. We both drank sparkling water. Overall I will be back to try the dinner menu as I've seen pictures of the ribs and they look amazing. Total bill was $27 with tax.
The lunch lesson:
I asked Lynne how one might hypothetically get a book published, say if that was, you know, something someone might want to do. She let me know that Penguin, as well as most of the other big publishing houses, doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts and they receive manuscripts from unknown authors through agents. She mentioned that there are publishers that do accept unsolicited manuscripts. She said that finding an agent can be just as difficult as finding a publisher -- maybe even moreso. She said the most important thing is to find a publisher or agent that is putting out the type of books that you're writing. Lynne doesn't publish a lot of picture books so if that's what you're shopping around, she isn't the best target. Finally, she said when you do pitch your book, don't say "it's the next Harry Potter" but do indicate what type of book it is similar to and then explain why it's similar and most importantly, what makes it different and more interesting that what else is already out there. It helps them to understand how it will fit into today's market.
I was really excited to meet Lynne for lunch because I have long thought about taking a publisher for lunch to learn more about the book world and once I did outreach to Penguin, Lynne was incredibly kind in her emails and seemed to be looking forward to the lunch as well.
Lynne spends a lot of her time editing manuscripts. She reads through them and provides a list of questions and comments and sends it back to the author -- questions about character development, plot lines, areas of confusions, etc. The author revises the book, sends it back to her, she reviews, then it goes to a copy editor, then proofreader, back and forth a few times and then printing. To be safe, Lynne says it can take about a year from when a manuscript is received to publishing. However, Penguin's sales reps are now meeting with book sellers about spring 2012 releases, so orders come in for books while they're still going through the editing phases. She showed me a brochure of Penguin Canada's 2012 titles that include a novel that Lynne was going home after lunch to continue editing. Now that's a lot of pressure. But even with the pressure, reading books all day, revising them and making them better does sound like a pretty fun job.
I have always loved reading and usually my reading falls into three categories -- beach reads (chick lit, detective novels, etc.), more serious fiction (mostly chosen by the smart people in my now defunct book club) and non-fiction (like Thomas Friedman and my previous lunch guest Doug Saunders). To be honest, I haven't read a lot of YA books as an adult but I think they would fall nicely into my beach reads category -- great stories, great characters and the inability to put the book down. I think Lynne really won me over on our lunch today.
But whenever I do think of YA, I think of an overabundance of books about vampires. And I don't really want to read a bunch of books about vampires. Well Lynne said that the vampire market is pretty saturated right now. She said a popular genre right now is dystopian, which Hunger Games falls into. These are stories that take place in a society in a repressive or controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. I wonder if somehow vampires could exist in this state. Two birds, one stone. Boom. Bestseller.
I remember reading YA books back in the day. We had Babysitter's Club, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High and one of my faves, Christopher Pike. His books scared the crap out of me. I used to throw it on the ground when it got too scary and would wait days to pick it back up. But when I was growing up, we never had a Harry Potter-type series that EVERYONE read. Seeing kids in line to buy a book is pretty awesome. And that's what Lynne thinks too. Not every book has to have a lesson -- getting kids into stories and reading can create a lifelong passion for books and is just as important.