YOUR BEST BOOK is just around the corner, and we'd like to introduce you to our awesome staff and this year's guest speakers!
Sarah Barley, Editor, HarperCollins Children's Books
Sarah Dotts Barley is an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Among the authors and illustrators Sarah is lucky enough to work with are Georgia Byng, Miriam Forster, Gwendolyn Heasley, Geraldine McCaughrean, Wendell Minor, and Joyce Carol Oates. Her most recent acquisition is a YA retelling of Brideshead Revisited. Currently high up on her ever-changing acquisitions wish list are voice-driven middle grade adventure, historical and romantic fantasy, retellings of fairy tales or classic stories, especially from a minor point of view, a reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, historical fiction that feels fresh and new, and really anything that feels different and daring. She is currently reading Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis.
Question: What’s your favorite part about being an editor?
The most exciting part of being an editor is probably when I’m reading a manuscript and I feel this spark, can’t stop turning the pages, and I know that this is a voice and a story that we have to publish. I also love the feeling that I’m helping someone tell their story, even in small ways. And hearing from teachers, kids, or parents that a book I worked on made an impact on them never gets old!
Q: Why did you decide to get in YA/MG instead of another age group?
I fell in love with books and reading very young and never really took a break, so many of the most impactful and influential books for me were published for young readers. I read and enjoy many adult books now, but I don’t think I’ve had the same intense, emotional reaction to any that I did when I first read Frog and Toad, Amelia Bedelia, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, or Ella Enchanted, say. I also like that you can work on so many different kinds of books as a children’s and YA book editor. It’s always seemed to me that editors for the adult market have such specific areas of expertise or focus, and I love so many different kinds of stories and characters that it would be so hard to choose just one genre or category!
Q: What would you love to see from the YA or MG market that isn’t out there yet?
Something that the market never knew it needed—and that I don’t know it needs yet, either, until I see it! I’m drawn to projects that feel different from everything else, and I appreciate stories that cross or defy genres. They say that every story has been told before, but it’s so nice when you have the feeling that familiar themes or stories are being told in a completely new and fresh way. I love being surprised by a voice, a point of view, or an unusual twist. I’m looking to be surprised, delighted, moved, caused to think. I wish I had a more groundbreaking answer here, but I never think authors should write to trends or something that they think an editor might want!
Q: What was your favorite book growing up?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, hands down! I dressed up like Mary, had a part of my mom’s garden that was just mine (as secret as it could be!), and wished I lived in a depressing, cold, and howling place like the Yorkshire moors, instead of hot and bright Alabama. Mary was too hot in India, and I felt similarly oppressed in Alabama. My secret garden was in the shade.
Q: What is one thing you feel is absolutely crucial to keep in mind when writing for a YA and/or MG audience?
Every writer is different, but I’d always ask yourself: Would you have been compelled to read this story, wanted to stay up late to finish this story, as an eight-year-old, a twelve-year-old, at sixteen?