Quick Questions: An Interview with Farrar, Straus, Giroux BFYR Editorial Director Joy Peskin

joy peskin photo march 2015As editorial director of Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Joy Peskin manages a department of six editors and edits a range of books for children and teenagers. Books she has edited for FSG BYR include Brandon Stanton’s Little Humans, a New York Times Bestseller; Kristin Elizabeth Clark’s Freakboy, which garnered three starred reviews; Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life, which received two starred reviews; and Rachel Bright’s Love Monster, a #1 Publishers Weekly Bestseller. Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead, which Joy edited, will be published in twenty-two languages around the world, and has been optioned for film by the production team responsible for The Fault in Our Stars.

Before joining Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers in February, 2012, Joy was the associate publisher of Viking Children’s Books and an editor at Scholastic. Her favorite type of books, both to read and to edit, are contemporary, literary, realistic stories about real people facing real challenges. Authors with whom she has worked include Laurie Halse Anderson, Aaron Starmer, and Emily Jenkins.

Joy has also taught writing to aspiring authors, homeless youth, incarcerated women, and teens in a juvenile detention center.

And now, to the questions!

What advice do you have for writers to improve their craft?

As they say, practice makes perfect. The more you do something, the better you get at doing that thing. I was recently at a novel writing retreat at Vermont College, and the wonderful author Kathi Appelt shared advice she had once received: Write for five minutes every day. I loved that advice, because five minutes seems so doable. I also really recommend that writers hone their craft by taking classes and participating in writing programs. I’m still kind of high off of the Vermont College Novel Writing retreat, which was all kinds of wonderful, so I definitely recommend that low-residency MFA program. But folks not in the MFA program there can still attend retreats like the one I just attended.

What’s the best part and worst part of the editorial process for you?

There are lots of best parts. I love finding a new manuscript I feel like I just have to have and rushing into my boss’s office to tell him all about it. And I love that first talk with an author when/if she and I are really connecting over the phone. I also really love digging into a manuscript and giving an author line notes, and writing the editorial letter. I do enjoying writing the editorial letter, because for me, that’s my chance to have a dialogue with the author—to tell her what parts of the story that are really working and what parts I think could be improved upon, and why. And then of course it’s awesome when you get that first finished copy of the book. It’s sort of like magic. Just a few months ago this was a stack of paper, and now it’s this beautiful object. There is exactly one part of the process I don’t like, and that is sharing covers with authors. I want the author to be happy, and I’m so nervous sharing covers that I always do it at the very end of the day, and then I dash from my desk and try not to check my Blackberry until I’m almost at my train. When I hear back right away that the author is pleased, I’m so relieved! And when the author isn’t pleased, well, we work very hard to adjust the cover to make her happy in the end.

What did you read when you were a kid? Does it stand up to the test of time? If it were sent to you now, would you publish it?

I had a few childhood favorites. My mother read me The Velveteen Rabbit many time she and I always cried at the end. I adored that book. I read it to my son when he was a baby and it totally stands the test of time. If it was sent to me now, I hope I would have the intelligence to publish it, even though it’s a bit of an odd format (short illustrated chapter book). Other childhood favorites were Charlotte’s Web, the All-of-a-Kind Family books, and A Cricket in Times Square (which happens to be an FSG backlist gem). I was also into a Scholastic series called The Girls of Camby Hall and then when I was a little older I was all over Flowers in the Attic. I read it again not so long ago and I’m not going to lie: It’s sort of awful, but I enjoyed every page of it.

Taking the need to make money out of the equation, if you could work at any job in the world, would you stay in publishing? If not, what would you do?

Good question! I love what I do. My only complaint about my job here at FSG is that the days are over too quickly. I always wish I had more time with the books and more time with my colleagues. So I would not pick any other field outside of publishing and within publishing, I would not pick any job other than one I have. If I could split into two people who had two different jobs, though, the other me would be a child psychologist.

What’s currently on your manuscript wish list? What’s definitely not on the list?

I’d be very happy to receive a smart and keenly observed MG or YA ms about a character with an eating disorder. As for what I’m not looking for, I’m usually not one for fantasy or science fiction. If the book has trolls or magical lands or talismans or some such, it’s likely not for me.

Thanks for participating, Joy!

Thank you, Linda! This was a lot of fun.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Quick Questions: An Interview with Farrar, Straus, Giroux BFYR Editorial Director Joy Peskin

  1. Natasha Sinel

    Thanks for that! I always love to hear what Joy has to say.

  2. Well done, Linda and Joy. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Enjoyed the interview. Great job.