Joint Author & Editor Spotlight: Jennifer Gennari and Catherine Laudone
Oct. 9, 2020
Today we have a treat: a joint interview with middle grade author Jennifer Gennari and editor Catherine Laudone, and the book they worked on together, MUFFLED! (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), coming out Oct. 27. Be sure to read Catherine's myths about R&Rs.
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Jen, tell us about yourself and MUFFLED!
Jen: First, thank you for inviting me and Catherine to chat with your readers. I can’t wait for readers to meet Amelia, earmuff wearer and reluctant trombonist! MUFFLED is the story of how ten-year-old Amelia learns to cope with her sound sensitivity and step out of her comfort zone. It’s also about her friendship with Madge, who I’m sure will win some hearts!
Over the years, I’ve worked as a news editor of a small weekly to serving as a communications director for nonprofits. I’m now writing full-time as well as teaching online. Next spring, I will be teaching a class on Line Editing at the Highlights Foundation.
Catherine, what was your path to becoming associate editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers?
In high school, I already knew that I wanted to work in children’s publishing so I specifically looked for a college with a publishing major. I ultimately chose to attend Emerson College because of their strong undergraduate publishing program and because Boston is a very literary city with internship opportunities. As a student, I interned at literary agencies in Boston during the semester and participated in a mentorship program. I was also fortunate enough that my parents lived about an hour outside of New York City, so during the summers I interned at several literary agencies and publishing houses, including HarperCollins and Sourcebooks. I graduated a semester early in December 2012 and started job hunting in New York City and a few months later, I landed my first job at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers as an editorial assistant. I assisted a senior editor and deputy publisher and began growing my own list of titles over time. Fast forward a little over seven years later and here I am, an associate editor.
Jen, what inspired you to write MUFFLED? Catherine, what about it drew you to the story?
Jen: Two things—first, a blizzard that stopped all the traffic in the Boston suburb where I lived as a child. I loved the silence! Second, my husband is a highly sensitive person, and he shares some of the attributes I gave Amelia. Imagining what it must be like to live with a sound sensitivity helped me to understand what it’s like for many people in our noisy world.
Catherine: The first thing that drew me to the story was Amelia’s narrative voice. Amelia sounded like an authentic, relatable ten-year-old: she was both smart and observant, while also still struggling to come out of her shell and learning to make friends. I also was drawn to the fact that Amelia’s noise sensitivity was a part of her coming-of-age story, and that her parents played such a positive role in supporting her. There is a real need for more books featuring children within the special needs community—and for more books where parents aren’t being killed off or negligent. Lastly, I loved that it was set in Boston, where I had gone to college. It was fun to see Amelia visit some of my own favorite spots in the city.
Tell us how a request to revise and resubmit (R&R) led to acquisition!
Jen: My agent Andrea Cascardi began shopping around my novel-in-verse, MUFFLED, in 2018. After 14 rejections, I began to contemplate the possibility that the form wasn’t serving my story. So when Catherine said she loved MUFFLED but wanted the “more” that comes with prose, I was ready to give it a try even though I knew there was no guarantee that she would acquire it. I owe a big thanks to Andrea who affirmed that it was my decision. We let Catherine know in February 2019 I was open to an R&R, and she responded right away.
Catherine: As I was reading Amelia’s story, I kept finding myself wanting more inner dialogue from her, more information about how her sensitivity was being handled at home and school, and more scenes where we could see her relationships with her parents and classmates fleshed out more. It was a case where I felt that the verse wasn’t the best format for the story Jen was trying to tell because it limited how much the reader could feel immersed in Amelia’s world. So I e-mailed Andrea, Jen’s agent, and asked if Jen would be open to revising the story as prose. I was elated when Jen was game to give it a try. I sent an e-mail with some revisions notes for Jen and then we set up a phone call so that Jen and I could get to know each other and chat about my feedback before she started the revision.
What was the phone call like?
Jen: I was nervous! I had to sneak into a conference room at work. Fortunately, Andrea was on the phone too. Almost instantly, Catherine put me at ease and I grew very excited. Revision is my friend, and I loved Catherine’s enthusiasm.
Catherine: I was very excited! When I really love a project like MUFFLED, I can’t wait to tell the author how much I enjoyed it and what elements really spoke to me. After I finished gushing about how much Amelia tugged on all my heartstrings, I asked Jen if she had any questions about my feedback. I answered her questions, clarified a few of my notes, and brainstormed a few new ideas with Jen based on her intent for a specific scene or the story overall. I told Jen to take her time with the revision and to feel free to reach out to me if she had any more questions or wanted to bounce any ideas off of me while she worked on the revision.
People often say R&Rs are risky. Jen, why did you decide to go for it? Catherine, why do you ask for R&Rs?
Jen: Catherine “got” Amelia’s story and my favorite moments! And even though I didn’t agree with all of her editorial suggestions, I addressed and implemented them. I am committed to writing the best story I can. When I switched to prose, I was happily surprised by how much better MUFFLED became. I found places to add scenes, deepen secondary characters, and improve the tension. I was absolutely thrilled to hear that Catherine liked that revision enough to acquire the book!
Catherine: In order to make an offer and acquire a project, I have to first share it at a staff meeting, where the other editors, editorial director and publisher in the Books for Young Readers imprint read it and then give their thoughts and raise any concerns they may have. If I get a greenlight at my staff meeting, I then bring the project to an acquisitions meeting, which is where the other departments like sales, marketing, sub rights, etc. weigh in and we decide how we might position a book and how much to offer for it.
Keeping that in mind, sometimes I will connect with a full manuscript or an option proposal (a synopsis and sample chapters) and have a clear editorial vision for what elements I’d want to work with the author on after I acquired it. But if I feel the current draft or proposal materials of that project are too rough and won’t get a “yes” from my colleagues at the staff meeting, I may ask the author to do an R&R upfront. Other times, I may bring a project into the staff meeting and although the team may agree with my editorial vision, my publisher may want to first make sure that the author is able to execute my suggested changes before I bring it into acquisitions. Or, if my publisher is concerned that the acquisitions board may not be able to envision the necessary changes without seeing some of them implemented in the draft itself, he may also ask me to go back and request a partial R&R in that situation.
So I request R&Rs when I am emotionally and editorially invested in a project and believe a round of revision will help increase my chances of getting the greenlight from my publisher and others in-house to move forward in making an offer on the project.
Myth: Debut authors always get asked to do R&Rs. True or False?
False. The decision to request a R&R is based on the shape and execution of the initial draft or proposal that has been submitted. Some manuscripts by debut authors get the greenlight without an R&R. And on the flip side, sometimes we ask an author we’ve already published before to submit an R&R of a new project. It really is a case-by-case basis.
Myth: R&Rs don’t always get acquired. True or False?
True. Sometimes an R&R draft just doesn’t achieve the level of execution or depth that an editor was looking for. BUT the good news is that many times R&Rs DO get acquired! So far five titles on my list have been R&Rs, including MUFFLED, and they all were acquired.
Myth: You have one shot to get an R&R right. True or False?
True and false. Some editors may only be willing to review an R&R draft of a project once. But many editors (including me) are often willing to review and give feedback on 1-2 drafts of a R&R, or until we feel it’s strong enough to share in-house.
Myth: You have to get an R&R back to an editor as soon as possible. True or False?
True and false. Sometimes an editor will ask for an R&R within a certain timeframe (they are often flexible and can negotiate the schedule with your agent). But for the most part, there’s no rush. I personally tell authors to take their time. In the past when an author has gotten a revision back to me very fast (within a week), often not enough of the concerns and feedback has been addressed and I have to wind up passing on the project.
Myth: The editor has lost nothing if they ultimately pass on a project after an R&R. True or False?
False. There have been many times when I gave notes on a project and asked for an R&R, the author and agent agreed, and then they got back to me later and said they had received another offer or interest for the original version of the project. If they ultimately decided to accept another offer or a pre-empt, it was likely that the author took my initial R&R notes and still implemented those changes in their revisions with another editor. In that particular situation, I lost the opportunity to see a return on the time, effort and emotional labor I put into reading and crafting my editorial feedback. Similarly, if I receive a new draft after an R&R and the author wasn’t able to address some of the points we’d discussed and I have to pass, I still have missed out on seeing a positive outcome from the work I put into giving the notes and reviewing the manuscript a second time.
Myth: If an editor asks for an R&R but the author doesn’t agree with their requested changes, they HAVE to do it anyway. True or False?
False. Like Jen said earlier, the decision to do an R&R always lies with the author. If you don’t agree with the editor’s vision for the R&R and your project on the whole, it’s totally okay to decline. R&Rs are sometimes valuable in allowing you to see if you and an editor are compatible as a team—if not, you’re better up passing on an R&R and waiting for the right editor’s shared vision and offer instead.
Myth: Doing an R&R is risky. True or False?
True and False. There is always the risk that an R&R might end up in a pass from the editor. But the alternative is perhaps getting a rejection outright, and not having the opportunity to work with an editor and potentially receive an offer. From the editor side of things, if I’m asking for an R&R it’s because I see real potential in an author’s work and because I feel that offering editorial feedback without any guarantee of an acquisitions greenlight is a risk worth taking.
Where can people find you online?
Jen: I’m on twitter @JenGenn and on Instagram @Jennifergennari. You can learn much more about me, my books, and editing and teaching at www.jengennari.com.
Catherine: I’m on Twitter @CatherineLaud and on Instagram @catherinelaudone. You can also learn more about the books I’ve edited and about my freelance editorial services at www.catherinelaudone.com and Reedsy.com.
Jennifer Gennari is the author of MUFFLED (Simon & Schuster, 2020), a Junior Library Guild selection, and MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), a Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year selection and an American Library Association Rainbow List title. A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, she lives on the water in the San Francisco Bay Area where she enjoys kayaking, reading, and photographing birds.
Catherine Laudone is an associate editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers with seven and a half years of experience editing picture books, middle grade and young adult novels in a wide range of genres. She earned her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and, starting in January 2021, she will be pursuing her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In her spare time, she writes, freelance edits, plays tennis, and watches her favorite Gilmore Girls reruns while drinking chocolate tea.
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