Editor’s Notebook: Leah Larson, YM Books

Leah Larson is the founder and publisher of Yaldah magazine, now in its sixth year. The quarterly publication has subscribers worldwide, an editorial board of talented girls, a small staff, and is available in select Barnes & Noble bookstores. All the content is brainstormed and created by young girls. YALDAH’s mission is to inspire leadership and creativity, to celebrate Jewish girls and women, Jewish life, and Israel. The magazine also sponsors art and writing contests, girls’ summer and winter retreats, and unity projects. After receiving a monetary award from Wells Fargo bank in 2008, Leah created the imprint YM Books.

Leah is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including Microsoft Start Something Amazing Award, Guardian Life Insurance Girls Going Great Scholarship, Milton Fisher Scholarship for Creativity and Innovation, Jewish Children International Power of Children Award, and Next Step Magazine Super Teen Award. She also started a freelance graphic design business, LL Design. Leah is a sophomore at Yeshiva University and recently received its “Point of Light” award.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Tell us a little about YM Books, its mission, and its publishing program.
Leah Larson (LL): The YM Book imprint was started in 2008 as an extension of Yaldah Magazine and its related programs for Jewish girls which I founded in 2004. Our mission is to provide high-quality, Jewish-themed books of interest to girls. Some of our books are aimed at a broad audience, and others may be directed specifically toward Jewish girls or the observant market. Our books promote traditional Jewish values in a contemporary light.  Since Yaldah Magazine is created by Jewish girls, I was particularly interested in offering teens the opportunity to be a part of creating a book.  I co-wrote the first title, The Yaldah Year: Crafts and Recipes for Every Month of the Jewish Year, with Chava Resnick, a a teen with a talent for cooking.  Currently in production is Teen Talk, a book written by seventeen-year old talented writer, Chaya Freeman. She approached me with the idea of a teen-to-teen book addressing the questions and issues that observant Jewish girls face. I thought it’s a fantastic idea and a much-needed book. Chaya has been working on the book for over two-and-a-half years, and it’s been amazing to see how both the author and the book have grown from the process. Chaya is currently spending a year in Israel, so that slowed things down, but we’re looking forward to releasing Teen Talk later this year.

TWM: What attracted you to One Is Not a Lonely Number?  How did you come to publish it?
LL: I think this is quite an interesting story. For a long time I’ve wished for a mainstream book that featured an orthodox Jewish girl.  Of course there are some delightful books published by Feldheim and Artscroll which I enjoyed as a child, but they were not books I could recommend to my non-Jewish friends or stories that really reflected the growing diversity of the orthodox world.  So, when I started YM Books, I was determined to find such a book.  My mother is a professional writer and teacher who had two unfinished novels for adults in her drawer.  She is also a great storyteller and teacher. I knew she also shared my vision of a crossover book. I approached her with the idea of writing YM Books’ first novel.  After some convincing on my part, she agreed to give it a try. When I heard the initial plot outline, I was determined to see it through.  I wrote a contract and paid her an advance.

Leah and her mother, Evelyn

TWM: And for Evelyn, why YM Books? What was the editing process like?
Evelyn Krieger: When I first started writing the story, I became quite excited by the evolving characters and plot. I had heard writers saying that sometimes the “book just writes itself” and I never believed it.  I would say, with One Is Not A Lonely Number, I experienced a bit of this feeling.  By the time I realized I had a children’s book in me, I had already committed it to YM Books.  Perhaps because it was accepted before completion, I was spared the anxiety of rejection during the writing process. I found it kind of liberating, actually, though there was certainly a pressure to produce a compelling story (and on Leah’s timetable). I would send Leah chapters to read as I finished them.  We worked with a freelance editor who made some valuable suggestions for revisions. I also used a few children as test readers.  As unusual as the partnership may seem, we maintained a professional working relationship during this process.  Leah is extremely talented, and I have a lot of respect for her vision.

TWM: Leah, how many books do you plan to publish each year?
LL: Right now we are a very small press with big dreams. We are quite busy with promoting our two books and finishing up our third. So at this point, I am not sure.

TWM: What  types of manuscripts are you looking for?
LL: Something different–fiction and nonfiction that gives voice to traditional Jewish practice and values without being preachy. We’d also love to hear from talented young writers. I grew up on Harry Potter and am a big fan, so the idea of a fantasy novel with an orthodox character had been bouncing around my head. Not long after this, I read about Hereville! How exciting. I was thrilled by the ambition and creativity of his story.  We hope to review it in Yaldah Magazine.

TWM: Mazel tov on your first book achieving a Sydney Taylor Honor Award! Were you surprised? What will this mean to your publishing program?
LL: Thank you so much.  Yes, I was surprised because I know there are a lot of great new books out there. Still, I strongly believed in the book and felt very hopeful when I sent out the review copies to the committee.  The award is significant as it offers recognition and validation to our new imprint and will help us with publicity and gaining a wider book distribution.

TWM: How can authors submit to you?
LL: E-mail submit@ymbooks.org with a short query and bio.

For more from award-winning author Evelyn Krieger, read her Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour interview.

For more about the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour>>>

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About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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