For many years Abby Levine did freelance editing for Oxford University Press and other academic publishers and then worked at the University of Pittsburgh Press with scholarly books. When she moved to the Chicago area, she answered an ad for an editor in children’s publishing, a branch of publishing she had never considered. She has been at Albert Whitman, a ninety-year-old independent publisher, ever since. She is also the author of eleven picture books.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What attracted you to editing?
Abby Levine (AL): Like all editors, I always read a lot as a child and adult, but I never considered an editorial career. When my kids were very little and I was home with them, my sister (also an editor!) let me try my hand at freelance editing, and I found I really liked it and was good at it. Later I got a full-time job at the University of Pittsburgh Press in academic publishing, and still later at Albert Whitman.
TWM: What is the best thing about your job? The greatest challenge?
AL: I work mostly with picture books. It’s always exciting to go through the slush pile (we still accept unsolicited manuscripts) and find a gem.
It’s very satisfying to read a few pages of type on paper and visualize it as a book that is beautiful—and then make that happen.
The greatest challenge is finding just the right artist for each text.
TWM: How much revision do you typically engage in with an author prior to and after signing a contract?
AL: This depends on how much revision is needed. I sometimes work with the author to resolve some questions before submitting the book to our acquisitions committee. Otherwise, the author and I work mainly after the manuscript is accepted.
TWM: What do you think are the most important skills for an author–beyond writing?
AL: A picture book author must be able to envision a variety of interesting illustrations as he or she writes the text. Then there’s revising—a whole other skill, and a vitally important one. Along with this, the author must have flexibility and an open mind and be willing to consider other approaches or wording than the ones he/she started with.
For nonfiction books, it’s important to be good at research.
TWM: What kinds of manuscripts are you looking for?
AL: Whitman is looking for short, simple stories for the very young; picture book stories with good characters and plots; picture book nonfiction; “concept” picture books (stories about problems children face such as asthma, diabetes, bullying, parental divorce); early readers; middle grade fiction (see our Buddy Files series); and now we have launched a YA series and are looking for strong stories that will appeal to a teen audience. We have expanded our list considerably.
TWM: Your list includes Jewish titles and Albert Whitman publishes several Jewish writers including Jacqueline Jules, Linda Glaser, and Michelle Edwards. What are the opportunities for Jewish-themed children’s books with Albert Whitman?
AL: We will generally publish one or two Jewish-themed books each year.
We are always interested in Jewish holiday books and stories that show Jewish values and contemporary Jewish life. I would be interested in a story about a family where the parents are intermarried.
Folktales are also a possibility. I have been working for several years with the folks at the PJ Library program, which has adopted many of our books.
TWM: What advice would you give to writers of Jewish-themed content for children?
AL: I would like to see more books based in contemporary Jewish life, not with aproned grandmas who slap their foreheads and say “Oy!” but with families who look like families we all know. I’d like the portrayal of Jewish life to be appealing and informative, sometimes light-hearted, but never didactic. See our The Hanukkah Trike by Michelle Edwards; Charlotte Herman’s First Rain; and Linda Glaser’s The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes and (with little bunnies) her Hoppy Hanukkah! and Hoppy Passover!
TWM: How can we submit to you?
AL: By regular mail to me at:
Albert Whitman & Company
250 South Northwest Highway, Suite 320
Park Ridge, IL 60068
It usually takes about four months for me to respond. Because we have been receiving so many manuscripts, as of last November, we no longer respond to submissions unless we are interested, even if an SASE was enclosed.