Nick Thomas is Executive Editor at Levine Querido in the USA. He has previously held roles at Bloomsbury, Chicken House, David Fickling Books, and Arthur A. Levine Books. Nick works on books of all kinds, including picture books, novels, graphic novels, and nonfiction. Among the books he has edited are Newbery and Pura Belpré-winning The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera; Newbery Honor-winning A Snake Falls to Earth and Locus Award Winner Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger; Printz Honor-winning Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth; and Walter Award-winning Man Made Monsters by Andrea L. Rogers.
What was your path to publishing?
It definitely all begins with my mom, who was a librarian and read to me a lot as a kid, really laid the groundwork for me in a non-prescriptive way to love books. I was a voracious reader as a kid and honestly still am -- there are few things that make me happier than reading a great book. Randomly there was a wonderful children’s bookstore called Books, Bytes, & Beyond down the road from where we grew up, so I was always going there and then worked for them in high school. The owners, Bob and Mary Brown, were very good to me and would talk to me about children’s books and publishing, and their son, Jordan Brown, was/is a great children’s editor at Harper. So I always knew that being a children’s book editor was a “thing.”
When I was in college, my mom (there she is again) forwarded me an internship opportunity at the imprint Arthur A. Levine Books at Scholastic. I applied and got it -- probably because of my experience working at BBB -- and did that for two summers with Arthur and the team and really loved it. When I graduated I had a brief moment where I wondered “Should I try another industry that pays more? Should I try adult publishing?” but kinda realized that the books I usually loved best were children’s books, and that I should at least give this publishing thing a shot because I would regret it if I didn’t. And here I am a decade later!
When I lay it all out like this it feels very tidy and linear but it didn’t always feel that way during; the consistent throughline was just a love of books and also a hunger to learn about the publishing business and understand what makes it tick. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of mentors along the way, most especially Arthur, who kinda showed me the way.
When you read a submission, what are the elements that make you say, 'I have to acquire this now?'
No doubt, the voice. If a writer can make me feel things consistently on a line-by-line basis then that is someone I’m going to want to work with. Because chances are good they have a book of their heart that I’ll find interesting too, and odds are that there will be more books to work on together after that. And you don’t really have to worry about other books out there stealing your thunder, so to speak, because if a writer has a great voice, they’re worth reading no matter what they’re writing about. This applies for illustrators too--just substitute “style”, or what have you, for “voice.”
I mentioned the phrase “book of the heart”, and that’s just my way of saying a premise that the author is really passionate about and HAS to tell, without much concern for trends or what they think others will sell. Those tend to lead to the best books.
For something nonfiction, I do tend to look a little more at the marketplace and ask “what’s out there right now in the same or similar vein? How does this stand out or fill a hole or tell something in a new way?”
Where do you typically find manuscripts? Strictly agent submission?
We get a lot of agented submissions and that’s a key way to find talent, for sure. We also do a lot of books in translation so we have a lot of relationships with international agents and rights directors, and there are a lot of submissions in that regard too.
I will often reach out to authors/illustrators whose work I enjoy, and who aren’t working in the kids space, and see if there might be something they’d like to tell.
Our authors will sometimes recommend us to other authors, which is nice.
And I LOVE going to writers conferences--some of my favorite authors and books have come from critique sessions or people I met there! Donna Barba Higuera, Aida Salazar, Andrea L. Rogers, Jaha Nailah Avery, Federico Erebia, J.E Thomas, etc…
Once you acquire a manuscript, what can the author expect when working with you?
I guess I will be honest in my reactions to their book--what I love, what wasn’t working for me, where I have questions; I won’t be too prescriptive with my suggestions, and overall I will give their book my all.
Also, we will put a great cover and design on the book and print it beautifully. :)
What's on your manuscript wish list?
Again, anything with a really distinctive voice.
Definitely looking for more Middle Grade and chapter books. Also, I would like to see more books that are shorter in length. Don’t get me wrong, I love long books both as an editor and a reader. But I feel like I see less and less books in that 30-60k word count length, and there’s definitely a desire for them.
SCBWI Members who have a manuscript that fits Nick’s wish list can query him for the month of November at email@example.com.