So how does one begin?
At Writopia Lab, we focus on discovering and uncovering personal voice through memoir, fiction, dramatic scripts and poetry. Kids and teens work with published authors such as myself who support them in that process.
Writopians are both avid writers AND readers, honing their critical thinking skills through both practices, through delving into other worlds, developing empathy by creating and appreciating complex characters. They have their favorite authors, and of course may dream of being legit published themselves.
"I usually know if a manuscript is for me by the first two sentences," Julie told us late last Friday afternoon. Julie is the one and only Julie Strauss-Gabel, Penguin/Dutton publisher and editor to literary stars such as John Green, Lauren Myracle, Adam Gidwitz, Nina LaCour (and more!)
Julie is a friend and neighbor, and when I had casually asked if I could bring in some of my Writopia teens and college interns for a visit, she was more than game. (She is a veritable star in her own right, and her hyper-intelligence would make her daunting to have as a friend if she wasn't so down to earth and funny.)
"It's all about personal voice." How perfect for her to say to us?
After a quick tour of Penguin's Children's department, encompassing two floors, Julie spent two generous hours talking to us in the conference room, first walking us through the trajectory of her own career - Amherst grad, child development major, internship at Sesame Street - never considering publishing until the first job she got out of college was in subsidiary rights at Disney-Hyperion. She was a new editor at Penguin/Dutton in 2003 and was given a manuscript called Looking for Alaska by a 25 year old unknown author called John Green, and the rest is history!
(And yes, even though my teens are rabid John Green fans, they behaved themselves!)
She walked us through the lengthy process of making a book - from acquiring to several revisions with the author followed by a line edit and THEN copyediting, discussions on book jacket art and then marketing! Anna Jarzab, a colleague of hers from marketing and a published author herself brought us deeper through that maze that usually needs a year of lead time.
"What are you working on right now?" we asked.
Julie smiled slyly. "What am I NOT working on?" She has an armful of books at any given time in different stages of the publishing process. Julie only publishes about nine or ten books a year and is also constantly managing her authors' successful backlists. Publishing so few books a year, she very rarely takes on a new author. Her reputation is as a hard editor, but that is the dream - to find someone who takes an author's talent seriously enough to make them work hard and get the best out of them. After all, that's what I aspire to as a teacher, and what I hope for in an editor myself!
I think that her personal manner inspired my writers more than anything else - Julie talked to her teen and young adult visitors with the utmost respect, as though there was no place she would rather be.
AND she let them choose ARC's to take home! (You're our hero Julie!)
I really wanted to steal all the books there. Plus, I gasped out loud at seeing books I’d been anticipating for years and were not published yet. It was terrifying and thrilling to meet some high-end publishers and learn about the publishing process. -Maxine
Going to Penguin Publishing and meeting Julie Strauss-Gabel was absolutely fantastic. It was intimidating and extremely exciting to learn all about the publishing process - after Friday’s trip, I started brainstorming ideas for a possible novel! I loved getting an up-close look at publishing, and I learned what it takes to become a published author. The trip was so helpful and inspiring. --Kaley
And what about me? I've published one, written others, and have yet to publish that second novel. Yet I keep my seat at the table not only because of the contacts I've made, but because as I age it becomes less about me and more about others. My dreams and passions have morphed and changed to empowering my students, to arm them with compassion and confidence, to help them on their journey. My friends - fellow authors and editors alike - love that about me. And they know that I value friendship over publishing. Yes, having another novel out there would be wonderful, but it would be icing on an already rich, delectable cake.