Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cheryl Klein: How I Got Into Publishing

My how-I-got-into-publishing story is the oldest and most commonplace of them all:  Girl falls in love with books, decides to devote life to reading and making them. The only distinction I bring to this story is that I truly started making authorial connections very, very young . . . at about six months of age, in fact. My grandfather, Philip Sadler, was a professor of children’s literature at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri, not far from where I grew up. He founded and organized one of the nation’s very first children’s literature festivals, where dozens of authors would come and meet hundreds of children for a few days every spring. In March of 1979, when I was about six months old, my mother went to pick up Barbara Robinson (author of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever), Gertrude Bell (Where Runs the River), and Clyde Robert Bulla (The Ghost of Windy Hill) at the Kansas City Airport, and as Mom tells it, I cried and cried as long as I was in my car seat. Thus Barbara held me for the next two hours -- and my career collaborating with children's authors began.

From such a beginning, I grew up surrounded by books and book people -- constantly read to, and, once I learned myself, constantly reading. When I was in high school, my mother brought home a book from the library called Careers for Bookworms and Other Literary Types by Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler, and I read about life as a book editor. A job where you lived in New York, read all day, and worked with authors to make books sounded absolutely awesome to me, so I began consciously shaping my life to achieve that end: I went to a college that had a good English program; I majored in English and took classes in bookmaking and economics (though the latter didn’t turn out to be all that useful); I read Publishers Weekly in the college library. . . . And all the time, I kept reading for pleasure -- or more accurately, I couldn't stop reading for pleasure, especially kids’ books, alongside all the reading I had to do for classes.

I wanted to do a publishing internship, but I also needed to work in the summers to pay for my college expenses, so I couldn't afford the cost of spending three months in New York. To make up for this, after my college graduation in 2000, I attended the Denver Publishing Institute, a four-week course at the University of Denver that teaches Publishing Business 101. Industry professionals lead the classes, so there were lots of opportunities to make great contacts; and one of them was Susan Hirschman, the founder of Greenwillow Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), who was so clearly in love with her books and her authors and her job that I thought, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” Moreover, while I'd gone to Denver knowing that I wanted to be an editor, her speech reminded me of how much I loved children's and YA books in particular, so children’s editorial really was the perfect fit. I talked a lot with Susan during her visit -- in particular, and without knowing it, I said the best possible thing one can say to an editor:  that she edited one of my favorite books ever (in this case, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley -- and I meant it too!). She was kind enough to tell me to keep in touch.

After I returned home to Missouri, I wrote to Susan, told her I was planning to come to New York for a week to interview for jobs, and asked if any positions were available. She told me she didn’t have any open slots, but Arthur Levine of Scholastic was looking for an editorial assistant, and she’d sent him my resume. I knew that Arthur was the American editor of the Harry Potter series, which I loved, so this thrilled and terrified me in equal measure. Susan’s recommendation was enough to win me an interview, and while my interview was kind of awful (because I was so nervous, because I wanted the position so much), Arthur still gave me the opportunity to write reader's reports on three manuscripts. Thankfully, I knew how to write great reader’s reports from my time at Denver, and those reader’s reports got me the job. I'm now the executive editor in the Arthur A. Levine imprint, where I work with a terrifically wide range of authors and illustrators on an equally wide range of books. 

To bring this full circle:  Two years ago I went back to Missouri and spoke at my grandfather's children's literature festival, in memory of him and in honor of all the authors who had taught me to love books and reading. Barbara Robinson was there again, and she gave me a wonderful hug. And this post on my blog goes into a little more detail about the path I followed to become an editor, with some practical advice and links to more.

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