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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tamson Weston Interview

     I admit, Tamson Weston was not a name I knew until I got the latest edition of the SCBWI Bulletin.  In the back, they list market news which announced that Ms. Weston had left her position as senior editor for Disney-Hyperion to start her own editorial consultancy called Tamson Weston Books.
Since Dream Girl revisions are dragging on and I have no greater wish than to get it properly revised and start submitting it, I anxiously looked up her website.  It looked fantastic.  In fact, it was so compelling that I thought to myself, "I wonder if she'd agree to let me interview her for my humble blog."  Having nothing to lose, I asked and she did agree.  I found her answers very valuable and she's been excellent to work with, as an interviewer.  I'd love to have her as an editor someday.  So, without further ado, I give you, Tamson Weston: 

  Restless Writer (RW): What first attracted you to youth publishing?

Tamson Weston (TW): I was a bookseller for many years and was given the children's section to oversee.  No one else wanted it because it was always so messy and I loved it. Spending all that time straightening books and reading them along the way made me want to participate in their creation.  When I went to Emerson to get my MFA in Creative Writing, I took some children's writing courses with Lisa Jahn-Clough and then interned at the Hornbook Magazine.  It all unfolded from there!

RW:  What made you decide to stop working at a publishing house and start your own editorial consultancy?

TW:  The further along in my career I got, and the more the publishing industry evolved, the less time I had to spend actually editing books. Editing is the whole reason I got into the business. I've always loved working with new authors and illustrators and I'm pleased to have been able to work with people like Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Mark Newgarden, Megan Cash and others early on. I decided to leave because I felt that I could spend more time doing this if I didn't have the added responsibilities of profit and loss--creating profit and loss statements, estimate requests and so forth. And I was right. I spend much more time with manuscripts and authors now. I will always have non-editing work to do, too, but it has been greatly reduced in my current role.

RW:  What genres do you most enjoy reading?

TW:  I don't know that I have a particular genre that I enjoy most. I like good writing. I think, generally, I prefer picture books and middle grade the most because they tend to be more playful and less brooding than YA. That said, one of my favorite books is I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and another is THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING.

RW:  What are some of the most common mistakes you see in manuscripts?

TW:  INFORMATION DUMP is a big one. This is when authors withhold information in a story to create suspense, and then feel the need to provide all the answers somewhere just before the end. Key information should be revealed gradually and organically, not all at once like the final scene in PSYCHO when the psychiatrist explains why Norman Bates went crazy. And it's not necessary to answer every question. Readers can often imagine perfectly satisfying answers on their own.  That's part of the joy of reading!

RW:  What would be the traits of an 'ideal client' or 'ideal manuscript'?

TW:  I don't know if I have an ideal for either, but I really enjoy working with people who are honestly interested in improving their writing and/or manuscript and not just looking at me as a means to a publishing deal. I can definitely be that, but  the best way to make sure that your manuscript is going to attract the interest of the right agent is to work hard on revising and keep an open mind about its possibilities.

RW:  What should writers look for when hiring an editor?

TW:  I think it's a good idea to hire someone who has had experience working in the industry and has maintained those connections, because market awareness is pretty important, obviously, if you are trying to get published. But a writer should also be sure that he or she has an affinity for the editor.  Part of this means that the editor has either worked on or is interested in the same kinds of books that inspire the author.  Another part of this connection is being sure that you "click" with a person and that she has a sense of what you are trying to accomplish with your manuscript. The best way to find out if the chemistry is there is to communicate with the editor.  Sometimes it takes a phone call, other times it's an extended email exchange. The writer should be sure to ask questions about what the editor's process is before hiring him or her.
RW:  Should a writer send you a pitch or a query to see if the manuscript is a good match before you take them on as a client? 
TW:  I don't think a pitch is necessary. Authors should save this for agents and publishers! I'm trying to help the beginning author get to that point.  Usually, if the author is genuinely trying to improve his or her manuscript, I can find a way to help.
RW:  Do you believe there are manuscripts that are beyond the help of an editor? 
TW:  No. The only pre-requisite for making a manuscript better is a desire on the part of the author to do so. This doesn't mean, however, that every manuscript will find a home at a major publishing house. That's a different question.
RW:  What are your top five favorite books?

TW:  Ugh! This is the hardest question for me to answer. Kids books or adult?   I Capture the Castle, all of the Frog & Toad books by Arnold Lobel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by MT Anderson, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham, The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch. And of course, there are all the books I've worked on, but I can't even include any of those for fear of leaving out something crucial.

RW:  How do you feel about e-publishing?  Is it opening the door for more authors or opening the door for mediocre writing?

TW:  Well, honestly, probably a bit of both, but I still think it's worth it for the former. Having witnessed how many cool manuscripts I could not publish because of the business requirements of a large house makes me excited for all of the innovative, bucking-the-trend fiction that we will see in electronic form.  Buzz was always a very valuable publicity tool and I think we'll see some very interesting stuff rise to the top.

RW:  We know paranormal romance is still hot in YA literature right now, do you see any signs that a new trend is coming soon?  If not, is there a trend you'd like to see?

TW:  Well, there's a little bit of an alien trend on the rise with I AM NUMBER 4. And then there are all the Angel books--FALLEN, MERCY, etc., but I don't really know if these are significantly different than the paranormal trend. I keep hearing that there's a Steampunk trend, but I've yet to see it materialize in the same way that paranormal has.The truth be told, paranormal is still being acquired rather aggressively--I still see a great deal of these kinds of books still in the reports from Publishers Lunch, etc. In all honesty, I wish that publishers would adhere less to these waves of popularity and take more risks, but these are the realities of a competitive market.

RW:  Do you attend writer's conferences or workshops?  Do you have any appearances coming up?

TW:  I do attend conferences, but I don't have any scheduled at the moment.  
Hey, Pancakes! 
RW:  Do you write as well?    

TW:  Yes. I've written  a picture book called HEY, PANCAKES! that was illustrated by Stephen Gammell. I'm working on some other things now. Stay tuned....  

RW:  What is the most frustrating thing about being an editor?

TW:  Not being able to read as quickly as I'd like to!


  1. Great questions and answers. I take hope from Tamson's comment that most manuscripts can be fixed. She sounds like someone could really help get a manuscript ready to submit.

  2. how cool, the pancakes book!
    I thought of a pancake pb when the guest at our house from Guana reacted so positively to my offer, "would you like some pancakes"? he explained it was a food familiar to him. though, I have yet to write this idea. great interview, too!

  3. great interview! i knew tamson in college at UNH, and was so pleased to read this interview with her! thanks :) anna b

  4. Thanks everyone, glad you're enjoying the interview. She is a great editor, I would be so honored to work with her one day.

  5. You asked great questions, Sarah! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  6. Great interview! I had the privilege of working with Tamson and she is wonderful! Very thorough, professional and insightful. I would recommend her to anyone who is ready to take their writing to the next level.

  7. Great interview, Sarah! I find the advice about avoiding information dumps useful. And it's reassuring to know that the editor believes that all manuscripts can be "saved" if the author works at it.