Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
Editor and Publisher
“I look for authors I respect and can learn from, whether established or new, whom I will enjoy working with,” Simon Boughton advises our 2012 seminar enrollees. Simon is senior vice president and publishing director of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. He heads three of its imprints: Farrar, Straus & Giroux BFYR, First Second (graphic novels), and Roaring Brook Press. Previously, he worked at Knopf Books for Young Readers. While Simon’s credentials and successes are impressive, he still offers authors an “old-fashioned, small-shop kind of attention.”
Personalized attention is also a hallmark of our seminar. Our intimate size allows for relaxed, in-depth dialogues between faculty and writers. This year, we will probe examples of what Simon considers “the very unusual—books that are eye-opening and original.” He also seeks manuscripts that demonstrate “confidence, vision, voice, and an awareness of audience.” We’ll examine our enrollees’ manuscripts in light of these literary qualities.
In the following exclusive interview, Simon cites elements that make books and queries engaging—those that surprise him with their freshness, crafted by authors who clearly understand today’s publishing landscape.
I. GENERAL TOPICS
How would you characterize your publishing focus and goals? What grabs you?
I look for confidence, vision, voice, and an awareness of audience. I am seeking the very unusual—books that are eye-opening and original. We look for fiction that combines literary and commercial appeal; we don’t have a lot of series or high concept fiction; we generally don’t acquire by category or genre, but by author.
I like to be surprised: to open a book and hear a voice I haven’t heard before. If something feels familiar, contrived, or imitative, I’m less likely to be interested. And I look for confidence: the sense that the writer really understands and inhabits the character and the world he or she has created. Think of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (before the imitators): that felt like something new and completely self-assured. Or The Book Thief: complete confidence and control of voice and point of view.
How many novels do you publish per year? Cite some typical titles.
FSG publishes 20 to 25 fiction titles per year, evenly divided between middle grade and teen. Roaring Brook publishes 18 to 20 fiction titles per year, also pretty evenly divided between middle grade and teen. In both imprints, two to five titles are likely to be debuts.
Fiction titles that define FSG include Elsewhere (Zevin), Holes (Sachar), Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester (O’Connor) and the Escape from Furnace series (Smith). Some typical Roaring Brook fiction titles are Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading (Greenwald), Birthmarked (O’Brien) and Revolver (Sedgwick).
What’s the outlook on youth novel trends? Is YA evolving past trends, such as first-person present POV?
We’re continuing to see a lot of teen dystopia submissions, but there’s a definite sense that this category may be overpublished, [leading to a hunger for] a “hot” replacement category. There’s some interest in romance at present, both with and without paranormal elements.
Will you publish controversial novels?We don’t court them, but don’t avoid them either. Topical or controversial books may create a publicity opportunity, but the driving consideration behind an acquisition is the strength and originality of the book: the strength of the writing, voice. Both FSG and Roaring Brook aim to be trend-setting, rather than trend-following, imprints.