Monday, April 13, 2015

Alexandra Alter: On Julie Strauss-Gabel, Editor of Children's Books - or Should that be of Young Adults' Books?

Julie Strauss-Gabel
Photo by Josh Haner
The New York Times

I've just finished reading an article by Alexandra Alter about Julie Strauss-Gabel, editor and publisher of Dutton Children's Books, who's known for "Her Stinging Critiques [that] Propel Young Adult Best Sellers" (NYT, April 10, 2015), given that her editing almost invariably ensures critical and commercial success in the world of children's book publishing, and all that due to her rigorous standards:
"I am naturally exceedingly picky," she said. "If I'm not in love with someone's writing at the sentence level, then I'm not going to sign up the book."

Her knack for spotting and developing talent is apparent on this week's New York Times young adult best-seller list, where novels that she edited hold five of the top 10 spots. She has edited 22 New York Times best sellers . . . . Ms. Strauss-Gabel's unconventional taste and eye for idiosyncratic literary voices have helped her identify and build up some of young adult fiction's biggest breakout stars . . . . Ms. Strauss-Gabel, 42, remembers the precise moment she realized children's books could be just as sophisticated and challenging as adult literature. She was in eighth grade, already reading grown-up books, when her earth science teacher gave the class a trivia challenge for extra credit. The question - where is the East Pole? - stumped her. She learned it was in "Winnie the Pooh," and read the classic for the first time. "It was an utter revelation to me," she said. "I fell in love with the book. It's an extraordinary work of literature" . . . . Even in college, when most English majors tackle Proust and Tolstoy, Ms. Strauss-Gabel was obsessed with children's books. She took a course in children's literature and a seminar on the Brothers Grimm, and wrote her senior thesis on fairy tale tropes in young adult literature . . . . [She received] a master's degree in education from Harvard, where she took classes in comparative literature and folklore . . . . Ms. Strauss-Gabel's books are strikingly diverse, covering science fiction and dystopian worlds, psychological suspense and works of social realism. She favors realistic, contemporary fiction . . . . Sometimes she'll see potential in a manuscript that no one else will touch. Several years ago, the literary agent Sarah Burnes sent her a chapter of Mr. [Adam] Gidwitz's debut book. It had obvious problems . . . . [as] "an illustrated children's book, in which the children are decapitated by their parents," said Mr. Gidwitz . . . . But Ms. Burnes knew that Ms. Strauss-Gabel was a fan of dark fairy tales, and thought she might appreciate the book’s weirdness. When the three of them met, Ms. Strauss-Gabel said there was no market for the book but suggested that Mr. Gidwitz rewrite the story as a novel for older children. She offered to read it and give him notes, with no promise of publishing it. A year and three excruciating drafts later, she bought the book . . . . "A Tale Dark and Grimm," [which] turned into a best-selling trilogy that has more than 500,000 copies in print. It was listed as one of the best children's books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Mr. Gidwitz still remembers the pep talk Ms. Strauss-Gabel gave him before the book was published. She wasn't just hoping for a best seller; she aimed to make the book a children's classic. "She said, 'Our goal is for this book to never go out of print.'"
This dark, Grimm fairy tale sounds like one for me to read. See how effective Ms. Strauss-Gabel is? Just by reading about her, I've already fallen under her spell! I wonder if I should re-market my novella as children's literature - or more appropriately, as  young adult - and get her attention focused on my novella . . .

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