How did you get your start in publishing?
The old-fashioned way: networking. And by accident.
I had been writing and reading for as long as I could remember, but never thought much about the process by which a book is made. I mostly imagined them springing onto my bookshelves fully formed, a la Athena from the head of Zeus. After graduating college I emptied my bank account, stuffed a red Jansport backpack with as many clothes as it could hold, and ran away to New York City to find my fortune. There may also have been a handsome guy waiting for me at Grand Central Station—most of the questionable decisions I’ve made in my life involve a handsome guy. Although I had no apartment of my own I got a job in a restaurant on the Upper East side that same day and spent the next few months couch surfing and loving life, as only a 22 year old girl could do. But I knew I didn’t want to wait tables forever.
At the time a friend was doing reader reports for a literary scouting agency. When she got a full-time job at a big publisher, she recommended me to the agency and I took up the task.. After a few months another friend introduced me to the head of the internship program at a prestigious literary agency and encouraged me to apply. I almost didn’t. Things had ended terribly with the handsome guy and I was content to spend the rest of my life in my pajamas waiting for the next disk of Buffy to arrive from Netflix (this was back in the olden days, before streaming). But allure of all those shining, possible books was too much to resist. I was granted an internship and upon completion of the program I was hired on as an assistant. Things took off from there, and nearly a decade later I’m still working in this industry and love it as fiercely as ever.
What sorts of genres and categories do you prefer to read, and is that different from the categories you prefer to edit?
Right now I read a lot of YA, and especially YA fantasy, which is a somewhat recent development—within the last five years. I appreciate the scope of books aimed at Young Adults, and I think some of the best and most innovative storytelling is currently happening in that genre. I also read a lot of literary fiction, narrative non-fiction (food writing in particular), and picture books, because I have a 20 month old daughter.
My reading preferences don’t differ all that much from my editing preferences. I love fiction above all else, so in an ideal world all my editing projects would be fiction. But the most recent book I worked on was educational non-fiction–not a narrative in sight. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I think one of the most wonderful parts about freelance editing is that it brings me to books that I wouldn’t otherwise seek out on my own. I’m a person who loves the security and comfort of routine and tradition and well-met expectations in both my reading and my life, so I love that freelance editing has pushed me beyond my own sphere and forced me to engage with new things.
You once had to explain to me the difference between Plot and Story, back when we were in our NYC critique group. Now I blog about that all the time at PubCrawl, but why you don’t—in your own words—tell us the difference?
Plot is the material used to build the Story. Plot is a collection of points on a map: from A to B to C. Plot is a list. Plot is what happened and how it happened. Plot is the skeleton.
Story is the meat, the soul, the hammering heart. Story is the kernel of truth at the center of a book. Story is never what or how, but always why, why, why.
We both love archetypes, so I have to ask: Which member of the Babysitters Club are you?
I’m Mary Anne. I’ll own it. With maybe a smidge of Dawn.
For years and years and years, I resisted being labeled Claudia because I didn’t want to be identified with the only Asian girl in the group. (C’mon, too obvious!) Also Claudia wasn’t a good student, which offended my straight-A sensibilities. However, I have finally come around to admitting that, yes, I am Claudia Kishi, and I’m okay with it.
We go out and suddenly it’s no longer a PubCrawl but a Pub BRAWL! What weapon are you wielding?
Hermione Granger’s wand. Boss witch.
If you could craft the perfect “literary cocktail”, what would it contain?
Friendship, adventure, a generous sprinkling of humor, deft and wonderful prose, riveting conflict, and a touch of believable romance. Magic often helps.
KELLY VAN SANT is a Publishing Gal Friday with nearly a decade of experience in the industry. Currently she handles contracts for Quarto Publishing Group and provides a variety of services through Pen & Parsley Editorial.