Martha Mihalick, Editor, Greenwillow Books | January 1, 2012
MARTHA MIHALICK, editor, Greenwillow Books
What was your first job in children’s publishing? How did you come to publishing/editorial?
Believe it or not my first job in publishing was . . . at Greenwillow! I met Greenwillow’s publisher, Virginia Duncan, at the Denver Publishing Institute the summer after I graduated college. And I started at Greenwillow as the editorial assistant just a month after that!
How long have you worked at Harper Collins?
Ten years! Gulp!
What was the first manuscript you worked on?
This almost feels like a trick question, since I worked on a lot of manuscripts even as an editorial assistant. For instance, I remember logging in Peter Sis’s art for Scranimals very early on. But the first manuscript I ever edited myself was Marlane Kennedy’s wonderful middle grade novel Me and the Pumpkin Queen.
How did you make the transition from the assistant level to the level of Editor? Can you share a piece of knowledge you wished you had known while making that transition?
This was more a gradual transition than anything for me. I kept expressing interest in helping out with the books my superiors were acquiring and kept building relationships with agents and writers so that I started getting great submissions myself. One thing I wish I had realized earlier than I did is that it’s okay to be aggressive with agents when you admire their taste and think they might have a project you are going to love.
Tell us about the experience of your first acquisition, or one of your favorite acquisitions.
My very first acquisition was a picture book called Do Not Build a Frankenstein! by Neil Numberman. I discovered Neil’s website one day, saw a couple of paintings of a Frankenstein character, and thought there might be a good story to go along with him. I contacted Neil, who thought it was a great idea, and many months and many dummy revisions later, I took it in to acquisitions!
Can you describe your typical day?
Typically, I go into the office thinking, “Oh, I’ll be able to read/edit this manuscript for an hour or so today.” And typically, instead, I am emailing, going to meetings, writing copy, doing p&ls, checking proofs, etc, etc….
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
To trust my gut, not to be afraid to be aggressive, and that it isn’t my job to know how to fix a manuscript, but to know where it needs to be fixed.
What skills do you think are indispensable to working in editorial?
Being able not just to read carefully and form opinions about what you’re reading, but to be able to articulate those thoughts well and clearly. And also, the somewhat conflicting skills of being able to immerse yourself fully in someone else’s world and voice, and being able to draw back and see a story from the outside.
What is one of the worst (it doesn’t have to be the worst) mistakes you’ve made? How did you get beyond it?
Luckily, I don’t have one of those “I left Famous Artist’s illustrations sitting too near the garbage can and they got thrown away” stories that you hear about as publishing urban legends. But as far as the more everyday mistakes we all make, I try to recognize the mistake, remember not to do it again, and figure out what the solution in that instance is so I can do my best to fix it.
Any funny, interesting, surprising anecdotes (about your own experience or publishing in general) you want to share?
There are always surprises in publishing! So many things pop up that you would have never expected to be part of editing children’s books. Researching whether Garth Williams’s house had a name (which involved calls to Ursula Nordstrom’s former assistant and Williams’s ex-wife), taking photos of subway cars for an author to use as reference, giving the model the shirt you’re wearing during a jacket photo shoot . . . Who knows what tomorrow will bring!
What is your favorite word?
I’ve been really stuck on “terrific” and “incredible” lately. Also, I enjoy “seriously.” And “parsnip.”
What is your favorite industry-related website or blog?
I love Bookshelves of Doom!
What are you reading now? Or what was the last book you really enjoyed?
Right now I’m reading manuscript revisions for our Winter 2013 list, mostly! But for fun I’m reading Pure by Julianna Baggott and Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James.
Recent years have seen a rise in picture-book biographies. Were your life ever to be chronicled in such a way-and don’t be modest, now-who would you choose to illustrate it?
If I have to choose just one, Lynne Rae Perkins, for sure. Just wait till later this year when you get a peek at Seed by Seed, the picture book about Johnny Appleseed she illustrated.
A little birdie told us that you were on one of the first ECC boards. What is your favorite ECC memory or story?
Planning the Extreme Trivia Challenges was always one of the most fun things of the year! The two that stand out in particular were the years hosted by Jon Scieszka and Mo Willems. They both were really into it and very funny! I met a lot of the people I’m still good friends with through either the ECC board or the events we held, so that is also one of my favorite things about the ECC.