A Cafe Chat with Editor Katie Heit, by Joanne Roberts

We are excited to be hosting a FREE webinar series this summer dedicated to those all-important first impressions. We call it “First Page Center Stage.” In this webinar series, industry professionals will provide live feedback of participants’ First Pages (for manuscripts) or First Looks (for illustrations). Each webinar in the series will focus on a single category: PB, CB, MG, YA, and NF. The second webinar in the series will be led by Scholastic Editor Katie Heit, who will be giving first pages feedback for nonfiction manuscripts on August 16. To find out more about the webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.

In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Good News Coordinator, Joanne Roberts, was able to chat with Katie recently at our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say!

A Café Chat with Editor Katie Heit, by Joanne Roberts

Joanne: Good morning, Katie. We’re thrilled to have you as a guest editor for our First Page Center Stage Nonfiction Night on August 16. Did you always intend to edit children’s books? What is most satisfying about your work at Scholastic?

Katie: I always had the idea that I would edit children’s books, but picture books were a surprise! I was sure I would always be a YA fantasy author, but I fell in love with nonfiction picture books. At Scholastic, it’s been so satisfying to be able to focus almost completely on exploring nonfiction!

Joanne: Speaking of nonfiction, I’m looking forward to the upcoming You Are a Star picture book series from Scholastic. Can you tell us what makes it special to you? I’ve heard biography is difficult to pitch right now because the market is highly saturated. How can creators write a biography submission that stands out?

Katie: I completely adore how You Are a Star is coming together! The first book, You Are a Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is out this December. I think this is a perfect example of how any topic—even one as popular as RBG!—can become fresh with the right approach. Dean Robbins takes a humor-first approach with this series. Every page includes a two-panel comic that connects to the texts and makes you laugh aloud, and Sarah Green has done an amazing job on the illustrations. I’m always looking for ways that authors appeal directly to the child reader, and humor is a great way to do it.

You Are a Star Ruth Bader Ginsburg, written by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Sarah Green

Joanne: That’s great advice. In your work with nonfiction manuscripts, which historical time periods do you see too much of? Which not enough?

Katie: In picture books I don’t see a ton of historical manuscripts, but I always feel any historical topic has the potential to be expanded. What is the angle that hasn’t already been covered? I think a good example is the Civil Rights movements. So many of our books focus on one or two of the same historical figures and events, but there are so many important people and moments quickly becoming lost to history. If a child’s textbooks are only going to cover so much of a rich topic, what element of an event could be fresh and new to the reader? 

Joanne: Thank you. As nonfiction writers we have lots of work ahead of us. You also work with chapter book series. Are you open to untested authors who show series potential? Or would you recommend they try to break into a different target age with their first manuscript?

Katie: I definitely think new authors can break into chapter books! My recommendation would be to educate yourself on what type of chapter book you want to work on. For instance, our Acorn and Branches chapter books at Scholastic are crafted to be early readers and have very specific guidelines to keep it within certain reading levels. Other brands have longer chapter books, like Judy Moody or Amelia Bedelia, and focus on key topics like school, friendship, and family. With chapter books, it’s just really important to be familiar with the market. 

Joanne: I love all the Branches series! Our First Page Center Stage series will be starting this week. How can participants get the most out of this webinar experience? Any tips?

Katie: I think the most important thing is to pay attention to patterns that may pop up. Any group of 10 manuscripts that I see will have broad notes that apply to many of the manuscripts. Even if the manuscript being reviewed doesn’t seem connected to your own, it’s great to see what critiques come up again and again that could apply to your own work. 

Joanne: You’ve been such a good sport. Are you ready for the lightning round? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I ask—

  • What’s at the top of your TBR pile? 

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States—I’m about halfway through!

  • Which book would you most like to reread? (if you had the time LOL) 

I reread Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series every few years! 

  • Which book would you love to see made into a movie or Netflix series? 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

  • What do you miss most about pre-pandemic NYC—something you can’t wait to get back to once things return to normal? 

Working somewhere other than my living room!

Joanne: Thanks for your kindness and generosity. If you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to contact Kristen and me regarding the webinar. Otherwise, we’ll see you on August 16. Thank you, and enjoy your summer!

Katie Heit is a picture book editor at Scholastic Books where she edits nonfiction picture books and chapter books as well as select fiction picture book titles. She works with many nonfiction authors, including Monica Clark-Robinson, Charles R. Smith Jr., Sandra Markle, and Denise Lewis Patrick, among others. She is drawn to books that approach nonfiction in a unique, kid-friendly way and is especially on the lookout for nature and STEAM topics. You can keep up with Katie on Twitter @KatieHeit and see what she’s looking for at #MSWL.

Webinar Info

To find out more about our First Page Center Stage FREE webinar series and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-first-page-center-stage/.

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