Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pub Story: Erin Downing

Author guest blogs + publication paths = Pub Stories. It's a Tuesday thing. Click here for more info (esp. if you're an author wanting to participate). Click here for a list of all participants.

About Erin: Erin Downing is a one-time book editor who now works at Nickelodeon. She spent a few months as a cookie inventor (but had to quit after she ate too many). Erin has lived in England, Sweden, and New York City and now resides in her native Minnesota. Visit her at http://www.erindowning.com.

The Story

I’m Erin Downing, author and snacker, and this is my Pub Story.

To set things up, I should let you know that I am probably one of the few authors I know who can’t honestly say, “I have always wanted to be a writer.” But the fact is, I haven’t. I grew up loving to write essays for English class, and I’ve always loved reading and writing about books…but writing fiction? Getting inside my own head and putting it on paper? No, thanks.

In fact, I was never even a journaling person. I was just a reader and an English major and a wannabe actor (this last whim only lasted a very short time—the ultimate prize would have been a starring role in one of those very amusing tampon commercials).

Besides reading and English-majoring, the one thing I have always been good at is being honest and sharing my opinion. Quite honestly, I’m too honest and opinionated most of the time. But this honesty and a love of critique and reading made me realize I’d like to pursue a career as a book editor. Specifically, a children’s book editor. Even more specifically, I decided I’d like to edit very commercial fiction that a lot of people would like to read, which to me meant something like The Babysitter’s Club series.

So I went to my college guidance advisor in Minnesota and told her so.

I would like to become a children’s book editor. Can you help me?
HER (chuckling):
That is not a career. You mean you’d like to be a journalist?
ME: No. An editor—of books?
HER: Good luck with that. There is no such job.

Well, she was crazy, of course. There is such a job—it just meant I would probably need to move to New York and make almost no money, both of which I was more than happy to do. I was ready for the big city and glamour! So I sent resumes to every publisher I could think of, and somehow managed to schedule an exhausting round of interviews with approximately eight different publishers (some of whom were so stuffy that had I gotten a job there, I would be a much—uh, different—person today). I ended up extending my visit by two days to fit in one last-minute interview…at Scholastic.

I hustled straight from the interview to the airport to fly home, and while I was in the air headed back to Minnesota, I got a voicemail message from Scholastic offering me my dream job. I was hired by a fellow named David Levithan (ahem—heard of him?) who was, at the time, editing the last books in The Babysitter’s Club series! Can you believe it?

To skip through time a bit, I will just summarize the next few years by saying that I worked on some awesome books with amazing authors who remain my idols to this day. The things I loved most about my years as an editor were working with authors to bring their characters to life and helping them plot out sticky spots in their manuscripts. It was some time during these years that I subconsciously realized I wanted to create characters of my own, and began to understand how much I enjoy molding the structure of a story.

Some stuff happened (which I won’t bore you with), but I eventually quit my Scholastic career and moved to Stockholm, Sweden, with my husband for a year. Now, finally, we get into the writing piece of this Pub Story.

While I was living in Sweden, I had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I started playing with some stories on paper, and spent a lot of time people-watching and daydreaming characters. One day, I went to see that dumb movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the one where she has amnesia? See, I don’t even remember what it was called, but I do remember that I came home from the movie and wrote the first scene of what would eventually be Dancing Queen, my first book. (For the record, the scene I wrote that day was eventually edited out and a new one took its place. That happens.)

I worked on the first few chapters and an outline of what the book would look like, with the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy line in mind. Why? Well, one of my fellow Scholastic editorial colleagues was responsible for that line at the time, and I knew she would be kind enough to look at my submission, but would also be painfully honest about whether my book totally sucked. I counted on her to tell me I should just give up, if that’s what she thought I should do. But she did not. In fact, she told me to keep playing, keep tinkering, keep writing, and gave me heaps of suggestions along the way. Unlike other stories like this that end badly, I did eventually get a contract for that book once it was written, and my first book was published by Simon Pulse approximately nine months later.

Side note: I do not have an agent, but I am very comfortable being pushy to get what I need/want and I love to negotiate. That’s another story.

Back to the story: While I was on maternity leave with my first daughter, before Dancing Queen was even in bookstores, I was brainstorming with my husband and good friend/author-extraordinaire Robin Wasserman (read Skinned!) for a new book hook. We hit on the concept for Prom Crashers, my second book. I wrote a proposal for my editor, she bought it, and I was given five months to write it so we could get it out in time for the next prom season. I did it!

At this point, my editor left Simon & Schuster, and I was assigned a new editor. Nothing good happened for about nine months. Many rejected proposals later, I was down in the dumps and worried I would never be published again. Then, out of the blue (without realizing how good her timing was, since I’d mentally given up), I got an email from Anica Rissi, who had just started as a new Senior Editor at Simon Pulse. It said (to paraphrase), “We miss you at Pulse, and I am going to be your editor moving forward, if that’s okay with you.” Okay? Okay!

I sent her a new proposal I’d been working on – for Drive Me Crazy, a book that will be out in June – and she loved it. Once again, tight deadline. And, get this—in a totally crazy twist of fate, the very same week I got a “yes” to a proposal I’d submitted for Scholastic’s Candy Apple line. Juicy Gossip had a deadline four weeks before Drive Me Crazy, and I suddenly had less than six months to write TWO books, and have a full-time job, and be a mom to not-yet-one-year-old twins and a toddler. I survived.

That was last summer. After the insane deadline frenzy, I took some time off to play with my kids and some ideas for *different* types of books that I’d been wanting to dig into. My lovely editor Anica and I spent some time talking about my writing career, and we had some very similar ideas about where I should go. Throughout last fall and into early this spring, I worked on a proposal for a new teen book called Kiss It. It’s very different from my earlier work, and I’m in the middle of writing it now. Assuming I finish writing it, Simon Pulse will publish it in Summer 2010, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

Until then, I’m really enjoying the ride.

Thanks for reading my Pub Story, and my books!

Thanks, Erin!


ellie_enchanted said...

Cool! I really love the Pub stories.
I haven't read any of the RomComs yet, somehow. Why is it that looking at book blogs makes me feel like I haven't read a thing?

halleyjane said...

Great Pub Story! I love the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy line of books - totally great for summer!

rr said...

Great pub story! And I love the Simon Pulse comedies, they're great light reads.

Heather Zundel said...

Oooh! I loved this Pub Story. What an interesting path to take, and with no agent to boot. I love your tenacity.

Amee said...

Great story! I like that you never really wanted to be a writer but fell into it. Most of the time I figure I could never be a writer and am just a reader, but maybe I could fall into it someday too! :)

Anonymous said...

Steph - Thanks for hosting me!! Can't wait to read more author Pub Stories...I love to see how everyone gets to where they are.
Thank you! Erin.

Summer said...

That's a great pub story! I really enjoyed it

Iryna said...

One of my favourite days of the week are Tuesdays. Why? Because I get to read your weekly Pub Stories! I think it's a fabulous idea!

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

I love the weekly pub stories! I've read a few RomCons, but I'll defintely be checking her's out. Sound like fun reads!


Brittany said...

I like the fact that people don't think editing books is a real job. I also think I will have to purchase and read a few of these books they look like great summer reads!

Liviania said...

Awesome pub story! (I also loved learning how you became an editor, since that's what I want to do.)

Kelly said...

It's really interesting to hear about how even after you publish a book, things can slow down based on editors moving around, etc.

Wrighty said...

What a great story! Erin knew what she wanted and went after it. I love how she got to edit The Babysitter's Club books too. I look forward to reading all of these.

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