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Publishing Interviews: Stacy Whitman, editor at Tu Books (Lee & Low)

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 Stacy Whitman, editor for Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low!


What makes Tu Books special?

Tu Books focuses on fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults. What makes us special is that our mission is to diversify these genres—every book we publish features a person of color as the protagonist.

What book do you think every teen should read?

The one that’s right for him or her. There is no one book that would be the right answer for every single teen. The challenge—and the fun—of working in books for teens is making sure there are choices out there for them, so that each person can find the right books for themselves, sometimes with the help of librarians, peers, parents, and other people who recommend books.

If you had to pin me down to an answer of one actual book, I’d say the Harry Potter books. At this point, perhaps that might be a cliche, but they were popular for a reason. They’re a cultural touchstone now, and even if the reader eventually ends up disliking the books, I think it’s good to try them out and see what all the fuss is about.

What up and coming books/authors should we be watching for? 

Our fall books are on shelves in bookstores right now, or you can find them online on our site and at all major retailers.

For spring, we’ve got a couple great books to look forward to:
Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley (author of Sucks to Be Me)

Nat Ng’s Class D (as in dumb) talent of talking to cats doesn’t measure up to what her super-Talented family can do: levitation, lie-detecting, chameleon-like blending into one’s surroundings. Nat’s Talent isn’t something they ever discuss, and she’d rather no one—ever—knew about it anyway.
But when Nat’s celebrity-addicted best friends show her a viral Internet video of a celebrity blogger being attacked by her own cat, it’s only Nat who can see the true story—the blogger is an imposter, and the cat knows it. To find the real kidnapped blogger and prevent a murder or two, Nat and her friends must race through Ferris Bueller’s Chicago from movie set locations (such as Wrigley Field) to the suburbs, accompanied by wise-cracking cats. Perhaps Cat Girl might save the day after all!

Vodník by Bryce Moore
When Tomas was six, someone—something—tried to drown him. And burn him to a crisp. Tomas survived, but whatever was trying to kill him freaked out his parents enough to convince them to move from Slovakia to the United States. Now sixteen-year-old Tomas and his family are back in Slovakia, and that something still lurks somewhere. Nearby. It wants to drown him again and put his soul in a teacup. And that’s not all. There’s also the fire víla, the water ghost, pitchfork-happy city folk, and Death herself who are after him. If Tomas wants to survive, he'll have to embrace the meaning behind the Slovak proverb, So smrťou ešte nik zmluvu neurobil. With Death, nobody makes a pact.


What would you love to see in your sub pile?

I’ve been looking for an Asian steampunk for about a year now. Get on it, writers! :) I’d also love to see strong stories for middle grade girls, a voice that’s sometimes hard to get right. I’d love to see unique settings, inspired by real-world cultures but creating new fantasy worlds. I’d also like to see more contemporary fantasy featuring characters of color, particularly African Americans.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Find your voice. That’s really the one thing an editor can’t teach when it comes to craft. I can give suggestions for plot, characterization, pacing, worldbuilding, and all sorts of other things, but voice is something that you have to find within yourself. And then work on those other things too, because of course the better it all flows together, the more likely I’ll be to want to work with that book. Oh, and when it comes to submissions: be patient. Books may be transitioning to a faster pace when it comes to ebooks, but the editorial process still takes time.


How did you come to be an editor?

It was a long, long road of trial and error, actually. I grew up on a farm, raising horses and rabbits for 4-H and FFA. I started college as an animal science pre-veterinary medicine major, but due to my allergies, I had to admit that I couldn’t sustain that as a career. I changed my major to human development with an emphasis in child development to stay in the same college and keep my scholarship while I figured things out. I loved my classes, but didn’t want to become a social worker, teaching preschool wasn’t for me, and the other options didn’t sound appealing to me either. I worked my way through school, though, in publishing-related jobs, typesetting college books, reporting for the local paper, and so forth. Finally, after years dabbling in classes in other departments, I took an elementary education children’s literature class as an elective, and it dawned on me: I could combine my experience in publishing with my degree, add to it my love of books, and actually do something I loved! It was an epiphany.

After graduating college, it still took a while to get the kind of editorial job I wanted. I edited for a trade magazine, and decided to get a master’s in children’s literature. To work my way through grad school, I edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, and got further experience in children’s lit interning at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide and working as a Barnes and Noble bookseller. Finally, several years after graduating from undergrad, I got my master’s degree in children’s lit and my first job in children’s literature as an associate editor at a children’s book imprint (Mirrorstone/Wizards of the Coast).

If I had been willing to move to New York and start again as an editorial assistant in children’s publishing (moving backward from associate editor at the trade magazine), I might have been able to do that rather than getting a master’s in children’s lit. But I don’t regret getting the master’s—it was the right thing for me, and it helped me move laterally from one publishing industry to another.

What are your most and least favorite things about the job?

Most favorite: working with authors, making their book the best it can be—especially at the developmental and line editing stages, when everything is fresh and exciting and I haven’t already read it five times. I love discovering something new in my submission pile that really excites me enough to want to read it on the train home, and continue reading when I get home. That is a rare enough occurrence that it stands out when it happens.

Least favorite: Cover, catalog, and other sales copy. I’m never really sure if I have included spoilers or if the copy is persuasive and intriguing enough. But most editors I know hate cover copy, so I’m not alone.


Last book you read

Variant by Robison Wells and Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry. (I never read just one book at once.)

One thing you can't live without

Modern technology. I used to think I was born in the wrong century—my grandma used to say I have an “old soul,” and that I should have been born in the 40s or even the 1800s. But I couldn’t give up my CDs/iPod/Hulu. Or indoor plumbing.

3 words that describe the kind of books you want to edit


If you could have one superpower, it would be... 

Is there an “unending health” superpower? I don’t mean eternal life. Just something that would get rid of these aches and pains and chronic things like allergies...

If you weren't an editor, you would be... 

The owner of a cat cafe, like the ones that are popular in Japan right now.

Thank you, Stacy! 

You can read more about Tu Books, along with their submission guidelines here. 
Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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  1. What a great interview! Tu Books seems like an awesome publisher - love the story behind the name (yes, I stalked the company site). I really want to read Cat Girl's Day Off :D MEOW!


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