Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Interview with Candlewick editor, Kaylan Adair

Kaylan Adair, Judge of Childrens/YA category of The Sandy
By Theresa Rizzo
Date: October 28, 2008

Kaylan Adair is an Associate Editor at Candlewick Press in Somerville, Massachusetts. Kaylan acquires everything from picture books through upper YA, although she specializes in middle-grade and young-adult fiction. Among the projects she's edited are the YA novels DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN by Steve Watkins and SWIM THE FLY by Don Calame, and the early reader SQUIRREL'S WORLD by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. She is the American editor of the YA novel THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness, winner of the 2008 Guardian children's fiction prize. Previously, she was the American editor of the Maisy books by Lucy Cousins. Kaylan is looking for fresh, original voices and compelling stories. She loves characters with a lot of heart, whether the story itself is humorous, quiet, sad, or gritty. She tends to shy away from poetry, non-fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.

Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category is your favorite?

Answer: I actively acquire picture books through upper YA. I tend not to acquire much non-fiction, poetry, sci-fi, or high fantasy. While I do love picture books, I’m specifically looking to build my middle grade and young adult fiction lists.

In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?

Answer: I have no desire to acquire books about ├╝ber wealthy teens. I would love to see more literary middle grade novels and young adult novels with unique and compelling voices. I am very much drawn to stories with heart, be they sweet or funny or gritty or tragic.

Do you accept unagented and/or email queries?

Answer: I don’t accept email queries, though I will accept electronic submissions. Technically, I don’t accept unsolicited submissions or queries, but I am open to receiving submissions (see below) from authors attending this conference up to three months after date of the conference.

What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?

Answer: For picture books, I prefer to receive the entire manuscript. For fiction, I prefer to receive the first three chapters and a brief summary. I only ever skim the summaries, so please don’t agonize over them!

What are the compelling elements that you think are necessary for a good read? What particularly grabs your attention?

Answer: Personally, I am drawn to a strong voice. If I can get a sense of your character’s personality within the first page – or even the first paragraph – then I’m much more likely to be interested in his or her story. However, I would advise authors not to try to force a strong voice on their characters; if it doesn’t come organically, it will probably feel phony.

Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?

Answer: I always respond personally to conference submissions and make an effort to give some specific feedback. If I meet an author or hear an author’s pitch and am intrigued by the concept, I might put the submission at the top of the pile, but even so my response time can be abysmal. If you haven’t heard from me within two months of submitting, please feel free to send a friendly email or postcard; I never mind an author checking in now and then, so long as she doesn’t do so every week.

Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?

Answer: Contest wins are a nice bonus and should be mentioned in the query letter, but it’s not going to make me sign up a project I am otherwise unsure about. I do like to see that an author is familiar with the publishing industry in that she knows how to craft a query letter, when (and how) it’s appropriate to follow up, what kinds of books we publish, etc., but I certainly don’t expect her to know everything going in. I really enjoy working with debut authors because everything is so exciting to them – and to me! One of my favorite things about the job is sending a first time author the very first copy of her book. What could be better than that?

What do you love most about your job?

Answer: Whoops, I already answered this one! But I also really love the nitty-gritty parts of editing and watching a story take shape over multiple drafts. I love presenting a new book to the sales and marketing teams and watching them get excited about it. I love seeing the book on the shelves of bookstores and hearing from kids who fell in love with it. We work in an amazing industry and there are so many parts of it that I love.

Do you have any pet peeves?

Answer: One of the hardest parts of my job is dealing with the cold, hard reality of the book business. Not every book will be a bestseller, no matter how much I love it or how much the author loves it. I think it’s important to remember that your editor is on your side and wants your book to do well, so it’s hard for me when I have to deal with authors or agents who think of me (or of my company) as an adversary. But I am blessed to work with some of the nicest people in the industry, so this isn’t too much of a problem.

What’s your favorite genre/type of:

  1. Book: To edit: literary middle grade and YA; to pleasure-read: literary adult books
  2. Food: As much as I wish it were otherwise, I really love steak!
  3. Music: I love cheesy ’80s music (though perhaps that’s redundant), but I also love contemporary female singer/songwriters, if that’s a genre.
  4. Movie: Dramas, comedies, and chick flicks, depending on my mood!
  5. Hobby: Reading! Though I also cross stitch (I’m working on a Christmas stocking at the moment)

What are you addicted to?

Answer: Books, for sure – both reading and collecting. I also have the predictable weakness for chocolate.

What have you always wanted to do?

Answer: Spend a year in Ireland researching my family history, possibly writing a “faction” account of my ancestors’ experiences both in Ireland and in the U.S. (a la Alex Haley’s Roots).

Do you have a favorite quote?

Answer: “‘Now’ is the operative word. Everything you put in your way is just a method of putting off the hour when you could actually be doing your dream. You don’t need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating.” – Barbara Sher


Yat-Yee said...

Thanks, Therese, for the interview. Very informative.

jwhit said...

Thanks Therese, for the interview, and thanks Kaylan for the answers! I'm confused, though. In the question about do you take unagented submissions, it appears that you take paper queries and email submissions? Or submissions without queries? No unagented submissions, only those from conference attendees?

As someone who lives on the other side of the planet and has a zero chance of meeting you at a conference, what do you suggest for sending you my work?

Thanks again!

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Very interesting.

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Ch. 1 & Book trailer are online!

Edie said...

I never heard that quote before. I love it!

Lynn E. Hazen said...

Great interview.

We are looking forward to having Kaylan Adair as one of our speaking and critiquing editors at SCBWI San Francisco South's Asilomar Conference in Feb. 2009. After reading this interview I am looking forward to meeting her all the more!

If anyone is interested in the conference, you can find all the details, and information about the editors, agents, authors & illustrators(and registration process) at

A warning though, this conference sells out very quickly, so register soon. We've got a great lineup again this year.

Lee Wind said...

super quote!
and a very nice, informative interview!