We are so lucky to have Associate Editor Alex Borbolla of the Atheneum imprint of Simon & Schuster joining us for our 2020 Pocono Retreat in April. Alex will be part of our fantastic faculty lineup and will also be offering critiques. Our Eastern PA SCBWI Field Trip Coordinator, Virginia Law Manning, recently interviewed Alex in preparation for the retreat. Here’s what they had to say.
Virginia: Is this your first time coming to Eastern PA and the Highlights Foundation for an event? If so, what are you most excited about?
Alex: It is my first time! When I mentioned to my coworkers I had been invited to the Pocono Retreat, all of them immediately told me to go. Those who had been previously have only positive things to say about the people and atmosphere at the Highlights Foundation—I’m most excited about experiencing what everyone is raving about! Plus, what city girl doesn’t dream of escaping into nature every once in a while?
Virginia: You’ve moved around a lot! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and travels? Were books always an important part of your life?
Alex: When I tell people how much I moved around, they usually assume I was an Army kid, but really my parents just kept getting great job opportunities—I’ve ended up moving every 4 to 6 years my entire life! I was painfully shy when I was younger and I HATED moving, so I relied on books to get me through those difficult transition periods. I won’t say books were my only friends, but they were definitely my main source of social interaction until I found some humans to hang out with—ha.
Looking back, I’m grateful now that I had the opportunity to live in so many different places; it exposed me to different kinds of people and cultures (ask me about the time I thought Midwestern hospitality was a guise for attempted murder) and has ultimately made me a better person and editor. And for those curious: I went from Jacksonville, Florida to Ft. Lauderdale to Cincinnati, Ohio to Scottsdale, Arizona then Orlando for college—including a semester abroad in London—and NYC after that. We’ll see if New York will make it past the 6-year mark!
Virginia: Has your taste in books changed from the time you were a child-reader to your present taste as an editor?
Alex: Honestly? Not really. I’m one of those people who never made the transition to reading adult books; I’m just not that interested in reading about failing marriages and major life regrets and characters with a bad case of ennui—sorry! I love children’s books because no matter how they end, there’s always hope and a sense that there’s something better to come, and that’s the message I want to send out into the world.
When I read submissions, I’m looking for a voice that feels as welcoming and all-encompassing as Meg Cabot’s, whose books I absolutely devoured; stories that inspire readers to try something new and aim for something better like Looking for Alaska and Perks of Being a Wallflower did for me; and books that will make a kid who has never seen themselves or their family in stories before stop dead in the middle of a bookstore like I did when I saw Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. The books we read as children shape who we are as adults, and they definitely shaped what I look for as an editor!
Virginia: From your social media posts, it looks like you’re very close to your editorial family. What is life/work at Simon & Schuster like?
Alex: Thank you for phrasing “clearly codependent” so kindly—ha. But seriously, anyone will tell you the best part of working at S&S is the people. It’s like being in your favorite college English/media/art course every day. Children’s publishing definitely attracts a certain type of person, and I’ve ended up meeting some of my best friends through S&S—I was even a bridesmaid in one Production Associate’s wedding!
Publishing a book is truly a collaborative effort, and we are so lucky to not only have a team of insanely talented and passionate people in every department, but also to have such a friendly and supportive environment to work within.
Virginia: When you’re interested in a manuscript or hiring an illustrator, how important is the creator’s social media presence? In terms of social media, what are you looking for?
Alex: I don’t usually look at an author’s or illustrator’s social media when considering their work, actually. Unless the basis of the project is the author’s or illustrator’s platform (i.e., if they’re using that as a selling point), social media doesn’t influence my decision to move forward with a manuscript or illustrator. When it comes to social media, I think for authors and illustrators it shouldn’t be about what an editor or agent is looking for, but rather about creating meaningful connections. Book Twitter is REAL, and the support of fellow authors and illustrators as well as book bloggers, librarians, booksellers, etc. will be invaluable down the line.
Virginia: From your experience and education, what is the most precious bit of wisdom you’d like to share with picture book writers? How about MG and YA authors?
Alex: For picture book writers: Read your book out loud—and more importantly, have other people read your book to you. Picture books are meant to be read aloud to kids, and that will be the real test for success! Also, keep in mind the logistics of illustrating. I’m not saying add an art note for every line (please don’t!), but everything will eventually have to be illustrated—make sure what you’ve written can translate into art.
For MG and YA authors: Respect your audience. It’s clear when an author is writing what they think kids sound like because it’s just a little too over-the-top, whether that be in terms of precociousness or angst. And okay, yeah, tweens and teens kind of are overly dramatic, but part of the reason MG and YA are so appealing is because at that age you are allowed to feel fully and without shame. I would love to roll my eyes and make a dramatic exit every time I’m told to do something I don’t want to, but I am an adult and that would be weird! But for a teenager that’s just a Tuesday. And that should be treated as an asset to your work.
To find out more about our Pocono Retreat and to register, click here.
Alex Borbolla joined Simon & Schuster in April 2015 as managing editorial assistant but was drawn more to story editing than copyediting, so she moved down the hall to Atheneum in May 2016. As assistant to Caitlyn Dlouhy, Alex has been lucky enough to work with multiple award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors, and is the editor of her own talented authors including Margaret Finnegan, Jennifer Moffett, Laura Taylor Namey, Alexis Castellanos, Kira Bigwood, and Paola Peretti. She earned a BA in English and Communications from Rollins College, and holds an MS in Publishing from NYU. Follow her on Twitter @Alex_Borbolla.
Thank you for this great interview! I will unfortunately miss the Pocono Retreat this year, but it is guaranteed to be a worthwhile and fabulous time. Best wishes for a great weekend at Highlights!
Thank you for reading the interview, Trish! I’m sorry you won’t be joining us this year!!! I hope all goes well!
Ooooh, I *wish* I could go to this retreat! I’ll put it on my bucket list and in a year when I don’t already have several other conferences/workshops already signed up for, I will do it. 🙂
Thanks for the great interview, Alex! We joke about moving at that same 5 year window, too. We moved into our fourth house in twenty years, though in the same town, and have hit that four year area in the 4th house. But, we plan on staying until retirement 🙂 See you at Highlights!