Lisa Yoskowitz is an Executive Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, where she acquires and edits middle grade and YA fiction and narrative nonfiction, including Bad Luck by Pseudonymous Bosch and Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Before Little, Brown BYFR, she worked on children's books across genres and age ranges at Dutton and Disney-Hyperion, with authors including Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Cinda Williams Chima, Michael Fry, Tamara Ireland Stone, and Elizabeth Wein. Drawn to voice and character-driven stories, Lisa has a soft spot for misfit, maverick, and mischief-making characters.
What in a query encourages you to ask to read the entire manuscript?
In addition to an interesting-sounding project that I think will appeal to the intended audience, I look for clarity of message, indications of what makes the manuscript exciting and different, and a sense of the author’s style and personality. The very best query letters accomplish a lot in a short space, reflect the writer's voice and tone, and make me want to dive into the manuscript immediately!
When you read the first pages of a submission, what makes you keep turning the pages?
Voice and tension. It’s often clear from page one whether a writer knows his or her characters well and has a command of their voices. Seeing that skill and confidence on the page with a clear, appealing, authentic narrative voice that instills a belief that the scene I’m reading could truly take place (even if it’s the most outlandish fantasy world!) will always get me excited and make me turn the page. And then tension comes into play by making me want to find out what happens next, by using the space between the lines to ask questions (not literally!) that readers will want to see answered. Inherent suspense and solid pacing are really important parts of creating a page turner.
What is your process when you are working on a book with an author?
The editorial process is one of conversation and back-and-forth, and the fine points vary based on the needs of an individual project and the author’s style. I always like to talk to an author even before we agree to work together, so that each of us has the chance to get to know the other a bit and to make sure we’re on the same editorial page. Once we have a signed contract and move forward, my first step is almost always writing a comprehensive editorial letter informed by that initial conversation and any follow-up, covering “big picture” points and offering suggestions for how to strengthen the manuscript. I’ll read a manuscript a number of times and organize my thoughts based on its needs, generally breaking my notes down under headings of characters, plot, world-building, pacing, voice, etc. From there, the author and I will usually speak to brainstorm and strategize further, then he or she will work on revising. Once I have their revision in hand, the process starts again, but getting to finer and finer points at each stage until the manuscript is ready to be marked “final!” That’s always a rewarding, exciting moment for all involved.
What advice do you have for first time authors? Published authors who are switching genres?
Whether you’re working to have your words published for the first time or turning to a new topic or genre, it's always a good idea to do your research. Depending on your goal, that might mean reading other recently published books in your genre (the fun kind of research!), or it might mean spending hours scouring books and the internet to come up with your ideal gent submission list. It might mean attending an SCBWI conference or workshop to learn about the industry and how to get your query letter into shape, or it might mean spending hours reviewing microfiche to learn everything there is to know about the subject you’re writing about or all/none of the above. Think about where you want your manuscript to be in a week, month, or year, and then put the legwork into discovering how to give yourself the very best shot at succeeding!