Publishing Profile: Jill Santopolo, Editorial Director of Philomel Books

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Photo by Charles Grantham

Photo by Charles Grantham

Interview by Erin Cavoto

For many in the publishing industry, work and life begin to blend together due to one’s voracious passion for books. For Jill Santopolo, Editorial Director of Philomel Books, this certainly rings true. In addition to her position at Philomel, Santopolo is also the author of several books including the Sparkle Spa series, the Alec Flint Mysteries, the Follow Your Heart books, and, most recently, the internationally bestselling novel, The Light We Lost. Santopolo’s devotion to books also shines through at Philomel where she has edited many critically acclaimed books from authors including Lisa Graff, Amy Ephron, and Chelsea Clinton. We caught up with her to discuss her experiences in publishing, balancing editing and writing, and advice she has for those young to publishing.

 To kick things off, could you tell us about your publishing background and what brought you to the industry? 

I first fell in love with children’s book publishing when I was interning at Penguin Young Readers during college (though the division had a different name back then). I loved getting to work with words as well as art, and I loved the idea that books that I was helping out with could potentially open a child’s eyes, change their perspective on the world, or be their first step toward becoming a lifelong reader. After my internships at Penguin—first at Philomel Books (where I work now) and then at Dutton Children’s Books—I interned at Holiday House, and then started working at HarperCollins Children’s Books two weeks after I graduated from college. While I was at Harper, I got an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts (it’s a low residency program), and after seven years there, I came back to Philomel, first as an Executive Editor and now as Editorial Director. I’ve been at Penguin Young Readers for a little more than eight years now.

How has your experience as an editor influenced your experience as an author (or vice versa)? 

I think having experience on both sides of the process has made me able to understand the author’s perspective when I’m editing, and understand the publisher’s perspective when I’m writing, which—I hope!—makes me a more thoughtful editor and a more thoughtful writer, and a better communicator in both directions.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career in publishing? 

The most rewarding part of my career has been meeting kids or parents who tell me that a book I worked on is their favorite or helped them through a difficult time or made it possible to understand a point of view they hadn’t considered before.

What is an aspect about publishing that surprised you when you first began your career? 

How long everything takes! I couldn’t believe that picture book texts we acquired one year might not end up as finished books in bookstores until two or three or more years later.

Your adult book, The Light We Lost, was recently published this spring. Is there advice you have for juggling being an author and working in publishing at the same time? 

My one piece of advice to any aspiring writing-and-editing-career-at-the-same-time jugglers is that time management skills are key. The only way I’m able to do both is by blocking off time in my schedule for different tasks, and making sure I get those tasks done in the amount of time allotted. So I guess self-discipline is important, too, and efficiency—and knowing approximately how long a specific task will take. On another note, I think it’s hard to balance them if you don’t love both jobs. I really love editing and really love writing, so being disciplined and working all seven days each week, and missing out on some other things so I can get all my work done feels like a more than fair trade-off for getting the chance to do two things that I truly adore doing.

Is there a book you’ve worked on over the years that stands out from the rest? 

There are so many books that stand out for various reasons—because of their content or awards they’ve won or bestseller lists they’ve been on or responses they’ve gotten from readers. But if you want me to name just one . . . Lisa Graff’s The Thing About Georgie was the very first novel I edited, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

What is one piece of advice you have for young people starting out their careers in publishing? 

The one thing I’d tell people starting out in publishing is that, as acquiring editors and designers, as marketers and publicists and sales folks, we all have a chance to help shape the cultural conversation and touch people through story. I’d encourage people to feel that power and use it to help shift paradigms and shape society.

And finally, what’s your favorite book? 

A book that I have loved since I was in fifth grade and have read at least a dozen times over the course of my life is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I think about scenes in that book often, and still marvel at the power it has to transport me into Francie’s world.

 

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