This is an interview between Joy Peskin, Editorial Director at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and my editor Susan Dobinick.
Joy Peskin: Congratulations on your first acquisition, which was just announced last week. Why did this manuscript appeal to you, and how does it align with your personal tastes and interests?
Susan Dobinick: Thank you! There is so much that I love about Edith Cohn’s SPIRIT’S KEY that I could really talk about it for hours. The voice is great, the characters are well drawn, and the setting is just so atmospheric and magical. I love ghost stories, and this one has ghost dogs, which it turns out I like even better than ghost people. But what really won me over the most is that I think kids will love this story—it’s filled with mystery and heart and is inherently fun because it’s about a girl psychic.
Joy Peskin: You’re one of the few members of our staff who was a teenager after the YA boom began. What was your favorite YA novel as a teen, and why did you love it?
Susan Dobinick: When I was a teen, the YA boom had started, but it still wasn’t quite acceptable for bookish teens to be reading books that weren’t serious adult novels—people didn’t seem to understand that literature for kids and teens is still literature. I sneakily read the entire SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS series with a friend at the local Barnes and Noble, but we always hid the cover so people wouldn’t judge us for it. I loved the distinct personalities of each character, which is so hard to do when you have four protagonists, and I have been a sucker for summer friendship stories ever since.
Joy Peskin: You work closely with two children’s books legends, Frances Foster and Margaret Ferguson. In what ways has working with them shaped your own editorial style?
Susan Dobinick: I think they are brilliant, and I am so lucky to learn from them. In terms of acquisitions, they have helped me to learn to set the bar high and not settle for just good enough. When it comes to editing, they’ve taught me to trust authors to know the story they want to tell, but still look closely at the details to help authors figure out the best way to make that story come across.
Joy Peskin: What’s next for you in terms of acquisitions? What sorts of books would you like to add to your list—style, age range, etc.?
Susan Dobinick: The fun thing about children’s books is the variety, so I want to work on everything. Right now I am especially looking for funny middle grade girl novels. In the young adult realm, I’d like to see books that tackle big social issues but aren’t preachy. With picture books, I like short and funny; I prefer quirky stories over cuddly. Across all formats, I’m a fan of books that have depth but are accessible—so that both kids and critics will love them.
Joy Peskin: When did you decide to become a children’s books editor? If you weren’t doing this work, what else might you be doing?
Susan Dobinick: I think I probably wanted to edit children’s books from when I was little and would read the same books over and over again, but somehow it didn’t occur to me until college that I could actually get paid to do that. I would probably be teaching college freshmen English composition classes if I weren’t here.
Joy Peskin: You are one of the most productive people I have ever met. How do you get so much done? What is the secret to your ability to effectively juggle a hundred projects at once?
Susan Dobinick: I read Lifehacker and Real Simple, which make me feel guilty for not being productive enough. Lifehacker just had a post about people lucid dreaming so they could solve problems in their sleep, and even thinking about that stresses me out–so any productivity from me is shame induced from reading self-help articles about more efficient people.