The One with the Fabulous Maria Gomez

Okay--no contest post yet! Sorry, sorry, check back tonight! I have something even better lined up for this afternoon! I asked my friend Maria Gomez, Associate Editor at HarperCollins Children's Books, if she'd be willing to stop by and give a quick interview. I'm so happy she said yes! In addition to being a great mentor and giving me amazing advice about my career, she's a wonderful friend, a very funny girl, and, did I mention, a fabulous editor?

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Maria, tell us about how you got started in the industry! I know you had a very interesting path into the biz..

It was a fluke! A really lucky fluke, but still a fluke. I had been working in bookstores since I was seventeen. My first job was at a place called Bookshop in a mall. Then came the big time: Borders. I was living in Puerto Rico and I didn’t precisely know what I wanted to do with my life—all I knew was that I liked to read. A lot. Too much, really. When I graduated from University (with a degree in Psychology, no less) I decided that I needed to really look into publishing as an option—but what to do? How to start? It looked impossible to break into. I thought to myself, “I know, I’ll get a Master’s Degree in Publishing.” Brilliant. Luckily, I decided to first check out two Publishers websites (Random House and HarperCollins) and apply for entry-level editorial positions. Maybe if I was lucky enough to get an interview, it would be a good learning experience. Random House never called, but Harper did. I moved to NYC one month later. That was four years ago.

How do you think your time working in a bookstore has influenced you as an editor?

It was absolutely pivotal to my having been hired in the first place. Editorial positions are notoriously hard to get—thank goodness I was a little oblivious to this when I first applied or I would have been too intimidated to try. I didn’t even go to the Columbia Publishing Course! Thankfully, what I lacked in experience I made up for in sheer book knowledge. I knew the books people were dying to read. I knew the genres people liked the most. I knew from reading the books (and talking to the customers) why some books worked and other didn’t. As an editor, I don’t have the consumer insight that I once did, but I still recall enough to know when to say “Kids/Teens/Parents are just never going to look twice at that book.” and, to me, that makes all the difference.

So, to ask the question on everyone's mind: what projects have you recently acquired? What kinds of projects are you looking for?

Well, my first baby, THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS, is now out in stores, which is incredibly exciting. This was the first book that I acquired and it still has a special place in my heart—it’s a beautiful retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The author, Diane Zahler, has another three books coming out with us and I can’t wait!

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Recently, I’ve acquired an exciting teen paranormal trilogy, A BEAUTIFUL DARK, which is going to be epic, and a hilarious middle-grade series titled THE ROTTEN ADVENTURES OF ZACHARY RUTHLESS, which I’m absolutely in love with—I want to be Zachary Ruthless. Those are both coming out in Summer 2011.

As to what I’m looking for, in teen I look for earth-shattering romance, paranormal thrills, authentic characters and voices, and blockbuster hooks. In tween (middle-grade) I like fantasy and humor, projects that have series potential, and originality—oh, and, yes, authentic characters and voices. No one wants to read a book with a young protagonist who sounds like a middle-aged man (or woman). And, no, slang is not the answer.

What's a common mistake that you see MG/YA authors making?

Using language that’s too trendy in an effort to NOT sound like a middle-aged man (or woman). This usually results in the voice sounding inauthentic and therefore alienating. Straightforward prose won’t date your book. Twitter references almost always will.

Oooohhh, so tell us: what are your submission pet-peeves?

• People who have obviously not read a children’s book since SEE SPOT RUN, but think that writing one must be easy because THERE ARE LESS WORDS, RIGHT?

• Language that’s too trendy

• People who compare their books to HARRY POTTER and/or TWILIGHT (or both!). Be realistic, people.

• People who call me on the phone (when I have not given them my phone number) and want to chat about their manuscripts. Please do not catch me off guard. I probably won’t even know which submission you’re referring to. Email is always preferred.

• People who are not familiar with children’s books—if you have to ask me what the difference between a middle-grade book and a young adult novel is, then please do not send me your manuscript. Actually, do everyone a favor and do not send your manuscript to anyone before you know the answer to this question. There’s a reason God invented Google.

The list could go on and on, but let’s call that my top five for the sake of brevity.

Good advice all around! Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria! I hope everyone has a chance to check out her fabulous titles (and be so lucky as to work with her in the future)!