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Publishing Interviews: Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

In our Publishing Interviews Series, we sit down with people on the other side of book publishing -- agents, editors, and more -- providing insight into industry happenings and just what goes into getting a young adult novel on shelves.

Today we welcome Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan. She was fantastically thorough, and I thank her for all the time she spent!


What book do you think every teen should read?
Oh dear. Why do you have to start with the hard one? The reason this is so difficult for me to answer is that for each person, a different book is THAT book. And it can change with time, too. For me, at different times in my life, that book has been: Walk Two Moons (the book that made me aware there was such a thing as children’s publishing, and if I didn’t get to work in it I would probably die), Howl’s Moving Castle (the book that introduced me to the phenomenon of literally falling in love with a fictional character), The Outsiders (the book that taught me what it was like to cry over and over again at the same scene), To Kill a Mockingbird (the book that will have me looking in knotholes for the rest of my life), and The Words by Jean-Paul Sartre (the book that made me realize how a life can be stitched together from words—writing them, listening to them, reading them, rearranging them, savoring them). And so many more.

But…ok, if I have to choose ONE book, off the top of my head, I would say M. T. Anderson’s Feed. Because the way we are interacting with the world changes every day, and teens are at the forefront of that. I think it’s important to look forward to what our actions and habits can mean (technological or otherwise), and Feed demonstrates this importance in a natural, accessible way. Plus it has one of the best first lines in YA literature. No, I’m not going to put it here. Go read it!

And I will recommend Shirley Jackson to anyone who will listen (and many people who won’t). Her grasp of what I call the emotional specific—that intangible twinge of FEELING—is more perfect than anyone else I’ve ever read. For teens, who so often feel that no one has ever felt what they’re feeling before, that can be really powerful. (Who am I kidding? I still feel that way! Don’t we all?)

What up and coming books/authors should we be watching for?
There’s so much great stuff coming out right now. Recently, I loved Chime by Franny Billingsley. I have been gobbling up interviews with her, since she always has interesting things to say about craft. I cannot wait for Hark! A Vagrant, a collection of comics from Kate Beaton, whose online comics I read rabidly (and rapidly). There will be new ones in this collection, which is indescribably exciting. I’m looking forward to reading Jo Walton’s Among Others—it’s published as adult but I’ve been told that there’s a lot of crossover appeal. I loved Walton’s trilogy which started with Farthing (alternate historical), and I when I read her posts on I constantly find myself saying things like “uh-huh! That’s RIGHT” out loud at my desk. So I have high hopes for this one.

From my own list, I am really excited about Unison Spark by debut author Andy Marino, coming out this fall. It’s funny, smart, and creepy, all at the same time. Next spring we’ll publish a book called 37 Things I Love by Kekla Magoon, which makes me cry (in a good way!) every time I read it. (And let me tell you, when you edit something you read it over and over and over again.)

Next spring will also see the first in a trilogy by Leigh Bardugo—we haven’t settled on a title yet but I can’t stop talking about this book. It’s influenced by Russian history and mythology and it’s just gorgeous


What would you love to see in your sub pile?
I am most interested in books for the older set: teen and upper middle grade fantasy, steampunk, and sci-fi, fairy tale retellings that have something new to offer, mysteries, historical fiction and/or historical romance (in this area, I am especially drawn to medieval and Victorian Europe), and contemporary fiction. (I’m not so into what I would consider really high fantasy--so less like Robert Jordan and more like Diana Wynne Jones. Other authors I love in this area include Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix—I could go on!) I’d also love to find a good ghost story.

What are your manuscript pet peeves?
- I don’t like being underestimated as a reader (and I think most teens feel the same way). Don’t tell me something straight out if I can figure it out on my own.
- Please, no more manuscripts that begin with someone waking up! It’s a cop-out.
- Jumping into action is all well and good, but if I don’t know the characters yet, then I don’t really care what happens to them. Let me get comfortable in the world of the book before I land in the middle of a long, technical swordfight.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Read everything you can get your hands on. Know what’s out there!


How did you come to be an editor?
I interned at Simon & Schuster in college—I had actually already sent in an application for the internship when I went to a career day at S&S, and the HR person who was talking told us to put whatever makes us unique (and relevant) into the cover letter. I very clearly remember her saying, “If you babysit all the time and read books with the kids, tell us about it.” I rushed up to her afterwards and said, “That’s me! I do that!” She very kindly told me to send my info directly to her, and I got an internship after meeting with the wonderful people at Aladdin.

After I interned with them for the summer, I was asked to stay on for the fall semester. I was in school in New Haven, so this sounded crazy, but I did some good hard thinking and realized that it was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up. So I smushed all my classes into Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday, and came down to NYC to intern on Thursdays and Fridays. I had to arrange a whole thing calling this an independent study, and wrote a (completely unrelated) paper at the end. It was about portals in children’s fantasy literature, and allowed me to reread all my favorite books for school.

When I graduated I didn’t have a job yet, so I stayed in New Haven for a couple weeks while I tried to set up interviews in New York. I was staying in my friends’ apartment while they were on a two-week trip, and I was just starting to wonder where the heck I was going to live when they got back when I got the email from Laura Godwin telling me she wanted to meet me for a second interview. She offered me the job in the interview. I was so excited to get it that I moved to New York with a job but no home—I lived on a boat on the Hudson River for a month while I figured things out.

What are your most and least favorite things about the job?
My favorite thing is easy: I love reading a submission and knowing I want to edit the book. It’s a completely different kind of reading from when I’m reading for fun. When I’m reading for acquisition it’s all caught up in how to make something better, and that is tremendously exciting.

My least favorite thing…well, that’s easy too. I hate writing a letter or an email which I know will disappoint someone. It’s part of the job, and most people are very professional about it, but it’s difficult when I know how much work goes into the submissions I get. 


Last book you read: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

One thing you can't live without: stories

If you weren't an editor, you would be...: SO, SO SAD. 

Weirdest food you've ever eaten: Raw horse. (…I know! I was in Japan.) 

Something no one would guess about you: I’m a triathlete. A really, really bad one, but still.

Want to learn more?
You can find Noa on twitter: @noawheeler

Thanks so much, Noa!

Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. I live in Japan and I eat raw horse too!!! (It's amusing the little things you'll be happy to have in common with famous pplz)

    Great interview.

  2. The interview was great, but it was the last line (about being a triathlete) that had me cracking up!
    (I usually don't point this out, but my word verification is suessess. The female version of Seuss??)

  3. Raw. Horse. o.O

    *adds to foodie list*

    Awesome, awesome interview! Thank you so much, Noa and Kaitlin!

  4. A book about Russian mythology sounds interesting. I am not well-versed in the genre. It would be interesting at the very least.

  5. It was great to get to learn a little more about Noa.


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Item Reviewed: Publishing Interviews: Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kaitlin Ward