An Interview with…Katie Lawrence, Fiction and Non-Fiction Editor, Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
By Aimee Haldron, Laura Jones and Michaela O’Callaghan
What does your day-to-day look like? What are the tasks that feature most heavily in your workload?
My day-to-day can be incredibly varied, given that I’m often juggling lots of different titles. So, I could be focusing on the structural edit for a recently commissioned book, feeding back to an author, fleshing out the styling of a book or jacket with my fantastic design colleagues, liaising with marketing and publicity on a recently published book, reading submissions and getting a feel for new talent or diving into the nitty gritty line-editing for a book that I’m getting ready for print. It really is a huge privilege to be able to publish books that help to shape the next generation of readers, and I’m always excited for new challenges.
What is the hardest part of your job?
That’s a tough question – I genuinely enjoy every aspect of my job, but the hardest part is probably making sure all of the book’s external copy is spot on. It’s so important to keep in mind exactly who the book is for, and that we’re championing the book in the best way possible. I try to get that across in every piece of copy I write for a title – be it for online or the back jacket, you really have to think about who the consumer is. If it’s online, it’s likely that an adult will be purchasing the book, but in person, kids will probably be the ones picking up the title, and you need to write different types of copy for each. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s always so satisfying when you nail it.
You work on a number of really exciting books. Which children’s titles do you think have been the most influential in the last twelve months and why?
Oh my goodness, it's so hard to choose just a few! Children’s publishing has exploded more than ever in the last eighteen months – thanks in part to the pandemic – but it’s also moving in a much more representative direction than ever before which is why it’s SO important for the publishing industry to keep striving towards. Readers need to see themselves represented in books, and this is especially true for children. Fiction books like A Kind of Spark (and anything Elle McNicoll writes should be on children’s bookshelves), Benjamin Dean’s Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow and The Upper World by Femi Fadugba are just some of the incredible fiction titles published recently. In terms of non-fiction, Amy and Ella Meek’s Be Plastic Clever, A Different Sort of Normal by Abigail Balfe and Be Resilient by Nicola Morgan are educating kids on important global issues, as well as helping them understand and respect others and themselves.
What is the best way to spot upcoming trends in children’s publishing? And how would you show this knowledge to potential employers?
I’d say that you want to be out there, in person, exploring the shelves in bookshops as much as you can. For me, it’s one of the best ways to see what’s selling well and what’s being promoted and championed by booksellers. Try to go to as many bookshops as possible, so you can get a feel for what different types of booksellers are loving – from indies to big chains. Also, keep an eye on bookish news published on The Bookseller, Twitter, and of course the recommendations section on The Publishing Post! Finally, if you have access to it, BookScan is an excellent tool that you can use to compare and research how well titles have sold over their lifetime and in the last twelve months – it’s a brilliant way to find out what’s been trending.
What are the top three skills you would look for in editors of the future?
Creativity, passion and communication. In my opinion these three skills are intrinsically linked to everything you do as an editor and they will all help you to champion and publish brilliant books. Creativity is essential for everything from editing to briefing designers, copywriting and pushing for new book ideas. In my previous role at DK, I believe that working alongside some fantastic design colleagues helped my creative skills to grow massively. It’s all about working with different people from different teams and a boost to your creative skills will naturally follow. Be passionate about your work, your books, your team, your authors, and people will be passionate about those things, too. Shout about what you’re most proud of! Being a good communicator might sound a little cheesy, but it’s one skill that you use all the time. Whether you’re grabbing your morning coffee, emailing a colleague in marketing and publicity, briefing freelancers or heading into an important meeting with an agent and author, communication is all about how you come across and how you are understood. Keeping lines of communication open with your authors is one of the ways you collaborate to make their vision come to life. Finally, (and I know you only asked for the top three skills!) in children’s publishing especially, one thing I’ve learnt is to always keep the reader in mind. Remember who you are publishing a book for, tailor it to the age range, and have fun with it!
Thank you so much for giving your time to answer these questions, Katie!