Molly O'Neill: a 'sucker' for friendship stories #NY13SCBWI

The always delightful Molly O'Neill has spent a decade working in the wonderful world of children's books, and for the past several years has been an editor at HarperColllins' Katherine Tegen Books imprint.

She publishes the gamut: literary and commercial fiction in the picture book, middle grade, and YA categories. You've no doubt heard of Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT and INSURGENT, both No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. She also edited A DOG'S WAY HOME by Bobbie Pyron; the INSIGNIA trilogy by S. J. Kincaid; A CHRISTMAS GOODNIGHT by Nola Buck and Sarah Jane Wright; DESTINY, REWRITTEN by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (forthcoming); and WILD AWAKE by Hilary T. Smith (forthcoming). 

She has a really great blog, named for the daily walk she takes to the subway. And she was kind enough to give us a preview of what she's looking for and what she'll talk about in New York.

Can you give us a preview of what you'll be talking about in New York?

I’ll be talking about my list—sharing some of what drew me to each of those books, as well as some of the questions I ask myself when I’m thinking about acquiring a project.

How does the market look these days? And is there any particular type of story you're hungry for?

The market’s tough! And it’s more bestseller-driven than ever, because all the means of social communication that are so big in our world right now make it really easy for everyone to want to be part of the conversation around the same topic: whether that’s a book, a movie, or the latest viral video about hilarious animals. That means that as an editor, I have to do a lot of honest thinking about how (and if) there are ways to help a story resonate with as many different kinds of readers as possible.

What I’m hungry for as an editor changes, depending on what I currently have on my list—I am usually looking for the opposite, kind of like how when you’ve had too much cake, you eventually start to crave vegetables. In the business world, I think this is called “diversifying your portfolio.” In any case, my list is heavy in the dystopian/futuristic/sci-fi categories right now, so I’ve got my eye out for memorable middle grade, charming or humorous picture books, and YA that feels fresh and non-derivative. I’ve also published a lot of series books lately, so I’m eager to balance my list with the kind of standalones where I know that I’ll be building an author’s strong voice over time, even if his/her books are not directly-connected stories. And I’m eternally a sucker for stories where friendship plays a pivotal role or where the author has created a vivid setting and sense of place that weaves into the story in meaningful ways.
When you're reading a submission, what things do you look for that make you want to work with a particular writer?

The sense that the writer is curious, and actively engaged by the world and its many fascinations. A compelling voice. A richly-layered story that makes me think in interesting or meaningful ways. Authorly confidence in the story and characters and world he/she has created. A writer who has clearly devoted significant time in honing his/her craft as a writer. (See also this post that I wrote back in August:
The speed round: Coffee or tea? Salty or sweet? Cats or dogs?

  • Coffee, unless I’m editing. Then I drink jasmine or peppermint tea. I have no idea why.
  • Usually salty.
  • Cats. Though I’m pro-dog, too.

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Here are some favorite posts from Molly's blog: