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An Exclusive Interview With Erin Clarke Editor, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Erin Clarke
Editor, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

By Lesley Williams

July 2006

"There's nothing more gratifying than playing a role (albeit a small role) in producing excellent literature for children."

 

—Clarke

AUTHORLINK: How did you first become involved in publishing?

 

CLARKE: After graduating from college, I attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course and then accepted a job as a publicity assistant at Random House Adult. I joined the Knopf BFYR editorial group in 1999.

AUTHORLINK: What did you do before occupying your current position?

CLARKE: I was an editorial assistant for legendary children's book editor Janet Schulman.

AUTHORLINK: What job would you do if you could do any job in the world?

CLARKE: I think I've found the ideal job. There's nothing more gratifying than playing a role (albeit a small role) in producing excellent literature for children.

"Reading was a big part of my childhood."

 

—Clarke

AUTHORLINK: What is your earliest memory of your love for words or books?

 

CLARKE: Dr. Seuss, of course, was a huge influence on my love of words and books as a child.

AUTHORLINK: Who influenced you most as a child to read?

CLARKE: My parents are both big readers, though of very different genres. My mother prefers literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, while my dad sticks to straight nonfiction. Reading was a big part of my childhood.

AUTHORLINK: Who are your favorite two or three authors?

CLARKE: I'll not mention any of my authors because I couldn't possibly limit my favorites to two or three.

Thomas Hardy, Betty Smith, Ian McEwan, Philip Pullman

AUTHORLINK: Why do you like each of them?

CLARKE: They are each excellent storytellers.

"I acquire picture books, middle grade, and young adult books, both nonfiction and fiction."

 

—Clarke

AUTHORLINK: What is your favorite book of all time and why?

 

CLARKE: It would be impossible for me to choose just one book.

AUTHORLINK: What categories do you acquire for?

CLARKE: I acquire picture books, middle grade, and young adult books, both nonfiction and fiction.

AUTHORLINK: What other categories personally interest you?

CLARKE: I'd love to acquire a good mystery. I don't think I've had the fortune to edit a mystery, yet. I'm also looking for well-written middle grade novels at the moment.

AUTHORLINK: Of the projects you've edited and published, can you give us two examples of books (titles and authors) that would best represent your interests or tastes?

CLARKE: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume.

"I want to get an idea of your writing in a query letter."

 

—Clarke

AUTHORLINK: What do you want to see in a query? How long?

 

CLARKE: I want to get an idea of your writing in a query letter. If you've written a picture book, please don't send a query letter—just send the manuscript with a cover letter.

AUTHORLINK: Do you accept direct queries from authors or do you prefer to work with agents?

CLARKE: I prefer to work with agents, but if I've met you at a writer's conference, I will consider your query.

AUTHORLINK: Do you accept email queries?

CLARKE: No.

AUTHORLINK: Specifically for literary agents, do you have advice for what you expect from them in a query or submission?

CLARKE: Please become familiar with the Knopf list to see if a particular submission is right for our list. I'm happy to send agents our most recent catalog if that would be useful.

AUTHORLINK: What advice, if any, do you have for the new writer trying to break in?

CLARKE: Read as much as you can!

"Packaging, typeface, etc. matters little to me—it's the writing that matters most."

 

—Clarke

AUTHORLINK: What are your three biggest turn-offs when you're considering a manuscript (packaging? typefaces? no SASE? viewpoint shifts?)

CLARKE: I do not like to see manuscripts submitted via email, unless I've asked for them to be submitted to me as such. Packaging, typeface, etc. matters little to me—it's the writing that matters most. My biggest turnoff is when people spend too much time concentrating on these sorts of details and not enough time on their writing.

AUTHORLINK: What was it about the last three manuscripts you've acquired that caught your eye? Made the decision for you to buy?

CLARKE: Good writing!

AUTHORLINK: Do you have a favorite quote or first line of a novel, some wisdom that has guided you?

CLARKE: "Children are deeply creative, and react creatively to the work of the most creative artists." by Ursula Nordstrom.

Lesley Williams