Publishing Profiles: Megan Tingley, Senior VP, Publisher, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers at HBG
This article was contributed by YPG member Lauren Rohrig. If you are a YPG member and would like to contribute articles on publishing-related topics for our site, please contact Tara Powers at email@example.com.
Recently YPG spoke with Megan Tingley, Senior Vice President, Publisher, at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers at Hachette Book Group, to get insights on her path to publishing and (what else?) Twilight.
YPG: What did you study in school? What path led you to book publishing?
MT: I went to Macalester College in Minnesota and studied comparative literature. I spent a lot of time reading and writing reports analyzing different books, which has really helped me with evaluating submissions today. After I graduated, I moved to Chicago and started working for a temp agency. It was there that I landed my first publishing job, at Playboy magazine of all places!
I later moved to Boston with the hopes of getting a job with Little, Brown (a professor of mine was one of their authors and wrote me a referral letter). In the meantime I was working temp jobs and happened upon a one-day temp job at Atlantic Monthly magazine. There I met a woman who knew someone who was vacating an editorial assistant position in the Little, Brown Children’s department. It was a lucky break that I was in the right place at the right time. I got the editorial assistant position in 1987 and have been working for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ever since.
YPG: Did you always want to work in editorial?
MT:I was always interested in reading and writing, so editing seemed a natural fit for me. However, I was also always interested in publicity and marketing. It was definitely frustrating as an editor to hand off projects to different departments after my job was completed. I wanted to be able to be a part of all aspects of the book’s success. In my move from editor to publisher I was able to impact all areas of the book.
YPG: How have you traveled through the publishing industry? Where did you work before Hachette?
MT: Prior to working in publishing, I had worked with children in various capacities (day care, camp, elementary school) so that experience did help me in terms of understanding the audience for children’s books. But my first “real job” out of college was with Little, Brown. I started as an editorial assistant and then climbed the ladder rung by rung—to assistant editor, associate editor, editor, etc. until eventually I was offered the opportunity to be VP, editorial director, of my own imprint, Megan Tingley Books. Eventually, I became editor in chief and then I was asked to be publisher of the whole division in 2006. Little, Brown was owned by Time, Inc. when I started and we went through many changes as we merged with Warner Books, then with AOL, and eventually were sold to Hachette. I was lucky to be able to grow with the company.
YPG: What do you feel has been the best career move you ever made?
MT: Moving from Boston to New York City. While I loved my time in Boston and it allowed me to focus on honing my editorial skills, when Little, Brown moved our office to New York it opened up many opportunities to build relationships with authors and agents and work with a wider pool of diverse and talented colleagues. One of the first things I got to do was hire an editorial staff and build a fiction list. At that time, 2002, we were still primarily at picture book house, but we had had some recent success publishing the best-selling series Cirque du Freak and Gossip Girl. We went to visit agents to let them know we were interested in acquiring more fiction and our first stop was Writers House. The manuscript for Twilight was sent to me the next day.
YPG: What kind of material do you like to read most? Does that correspond to the kind of material you most prefer to work on?
MT: My standards are the same for books I read for pleasure as for the books I look at to acquire. I want to read something original and emotionally compelling. I am not a genre reader; I read all kinds of books. I go through phases, reading fiction, nonfiction, biographies. The last book I read was Gone Girl and I loved Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
YPG: How do you stay on top of what is trending? (What do you read? What media outlets to you follow? Twitter? Facebook? Do you keep up with any particular blogs regularly?)
MT: Funnily enough, the easiest way to follow trends in the children’s/YA business is to simply watch what your kids and your friends’ kids are doing. Talking to other parents and seeing what books kids are passing around, what music they’re into, what movies they want to go to, etc. is very immediate and compelling. That said, the acquiring process for me is all about the read. First, I have to love the manuscript. Then, if the storyline happens to coincide with a current trend, that gives us a great publicity and marketing opportunity. In my experience, it is harder and less satisfying to do it the other way around—to identify a trend and publish into it. Trends come and go quickly, especially with kids and teens, but an exceptional voice and story will last forever.
YPG: What advice can you give to those looking to move up in publishing—in editorial or elsewhere?
MT: Read a lot. (1) Become an expert in something. It is good to be a generalist, but to know one thing well will help. (2) Always be on the look-out. Be proactive; be actively looking for projects. Don’t just sit at your desk and wait for the right manuscript to appear. (3) Be savvy online. Stay up on self-publishing, social networking, and promotion opportunities. Be really aware and comfortable in the online world.
YPG: You found one of your children’s book authors, Naoko Stoop (Red Knit Cap Girl) on one of your personal expeditions—can you tell us about that?
MT: I started my career with picture books so I have a soft spot for them, and as an editor I am always on alert, always thinking of ideas. I was in Brooklyn on my way to pick up dinner for my family. I was in a rush but passed a gallery and saw a painting in the window of a little girl in a red knit cap. It caught my attention right away and it stopped me. I went inside to see more. I fell in love with the artist’s work. I asked the gallery owner for the artist’s name and learned the young woman had just moved to Brooklyn and was just starting out. I had her come in for a meeting, and after an hour and a half I signed her on the spot. She wasn’t a writer, but I could tell she knew this character very well and had all these stories in her head, little adventures for the red knit cap girl. It was exciting!
YPG: I’ve read rumors that Twilight was almost lost to the slush pile. Is that true? Who “discovered” it and realized that there was something there?
MT: No, Twilight was not lost in the slush pile here. It landed in Writers House Literary Agency’s slush pile. An intern ultimately read the author’s query letter and the manuscript, recommending it to the agent who then submitted it to multiple publishers, including Little, Brown.
YPG: Why do you think the book caught on like it did?
MT: The manuscript had the timeless element of all great love stories, like Romeo & Juliet, but with this surprising and completely compelling element of mystery and danger layered into it. So, it was undeniably a great read. But I think the reason it became such a phenomenon is that it tapped into a universal emotional desire for unconditional love. That theme really spoke to readers in a very deep and personal way. And the world Stephenie created was so compelling that readers really wanted to spend time there and return to it over and over again. So, the book became more than a story, it became a way of life. On top of that, the publication happened to dovetail with the rise of social media, particularly MySpace, which allowed the author to connect with her readers in a personal way and allowed us to build a powerful fan base for the series. In the end, everything just went right with Twilight. Great story, great author, great title, great cover. It fired on all cylinders.
YPG: How has the series’ success affected your day-to-day life as an editor?
MT: Twilight changed my life. It allowed me to start thinking bigger on every book, every manuscript that came across my desk. It taught me the importance of the connection authors and readers have, and the power that relationship has on a book. It was also hugely validating. I was right.
YPG: During its peak, Twilight was frequently compared to Harry Potter. Do you think that set up expectations or comparisons for the series?
MT: What the two series have in common is that both authors are extraordinary storytellers and they created vivid and compelling worlds that readers want to inhabit. While I find the stories very different, clearly they both strike a deep emotional chord with readers. Harry Potter definitely helped pave the way for Twilight to find a wide audience. It awakened a desire in readers for an immersive reading experience and opened the door for adult readers to read fiction published for young readers. And, the media was hungry for a new human interest/publishing story and Stephenie and Twilight fit the bill perfectly.
YPG: What do you think of the vampire trend that Twilight gave rise to? The trending nature of the YA genre in general?
MT: I never thought of Twilight as a vampire novel. If I had, I would have never bought it. I think of it as a love triangle with a strong female heroine. For me, the best part of publishing Twilight is not that it spawned a huge trend in paranormal romance, it’s that it introduced a love of reading to so many people of all ages. We hear from so many fans that they never liked reading before they picked up Twilight. That is enormously gratifying! I am proud to have played a part in that.
Lauren Rohrig is currently an editorial assistant to the senior nonfiction editor of Center Street, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. She previously worked in their Nashville division assisting the senior vice president and publisher as well as the FaithWords fiction editor. You can find her on LinkedIn or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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