Interview with an Editor: Beth Potter of FSG Books (Plus a Giveaway!)

Beth Potter, editor extraordinaire of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (and my dear friend) has stopped by the blog today to answer a few questions about life as a children's book editor, and to give away a super-fantastic galley. What could be more awesome?

Welcome to Smack Dab, Beth! Let's get started. What is the name of your publishing house/imprint and what is your official title?

I am an associate editor at Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, which is part of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

What made you decide to become an editor? What was your career path?

During my senior year of college, confronted with the idea of pursuing my majors—art history and philosophy—I realized that while I loved studying both, I didn’t want to devote my career to either one. I have always been a voracious reader and had a vague idea that publishing was where I really belonged. I attended the Denver University Publishing Institute, which is a fantastic introduction to all the different roles in publishing (and kinds of publishing!) My experiences there confirmed for me that children’s editorial would be the right fit.

I moved to New York City and spent a few months interviewing and networking before landing a job as an editorial assistant at FSG. (Lisa was the other editorial assistant and our friendship grew over marathon mail opening/slush reading sessions and lots of lunches outside in the park.) I gradually worked my way up and began building my own list about four years later.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? Your least favorite?

My favorite part of my job is actually, literally editing books. I love immersing myself in a story, living and breathing alongside the characters, and figuring out all the ways it could be even better. I love how epiphanies come while I’m in the right zone—on the subway or while making a fried egg sandwich. This probably sounds lame to writers, who inhabit this creative mindspace all the time—but I am only able to access it though my authors’ work. Like some kind of editor-parasite!

Least favorite parts: meetings and paperwork.

What do you think distinguishes a superb middle-grade novel from an only-okay one?

Well, I think superb middle-grade novels have the same qualities of excellent fiction for any age: a unique voice; an interesting, compelling plot; well-realized characters who feel like real people; carefully-crafted prose; et cetera! I most admire middle-grade novels in which the author is able to access and express something that feels uniquely, genuinely true about being eight or ten or twelve—I think it’s hard for many adults to really remember how it felt to be a middle-grader. (It’s much easier to remember how it felt to be a teenager!)

What is your favorite middle-grade novel from your childhood?

My favorite book hands-down is CHARLOTTE’S WEB (and it has been since I first read it when I was six!).

I read completely indiscriminately as a child, gobbling up whatever books were in my path, rereading them all a thousand times... Everything from The Babysitter’s Club and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street to the Little House books to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. My grandmother gave me a lot of books, and it wasn’t until I began working in children’s publishing that I realized that she had given me (and I had read over and over) a huge amount of Newbery Medal and Honor Books—Miracles on Maple Hill, Caddie Woodlawn, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and many more.

What are some of your favorite non-book-related activities?

I love to cook (and to bring it back to books, am always on the lookout for a good middle-grade or YA novel involving food or cooking!)

Do you have any books coming out that you are particularly excited about and would like to share with us?

I adore Tami Lewis Brown’s THE MAP OF ME, which comes out August 30. It’s a funny, poignant middle-grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl who steals her daddy’s car, kidnaps her kid sister, and spends a long rainy night careening around Kentucky looking for her momma.

I am also right now putting THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas into copyediting—this is a book that makes me laugh and cry every time I read it! It’s a middle-grade fantasy novel about a girl named Trinket who travels the land accompanied by Thomas the Pig Boy. Trinket is collecting stories because she wants to be a bard… but she’s really looking for her father who disappeared years before. She meets gypsies, selkies, fairies, and a really scary highwayman and gathers plenty of story material—but the last tale, in which she learns the truth about her father, is the most important and is deeply moving. Look for it in Fall 2012!


Thanks so much for visiting with us, Beth!

Galley Giveaway


Beth is giving away a galley copy of THE MAP OF ME by Tami Lewis Brown to one lucky blog reader. (Side note: I had the pleasure of reading an early draft of this book when I was at FSG, and it is stupendous.) To be entered in the giveaway, simply drop me an email at graff [dot] lisa [at] yahoo [dot] com with the subject line "MAP OF ME." The winner will be chosen at random on August 1st.


The giveaway just got even better--Tami Lewis Brown is throwing in an autographed bookplate to go along with the galley! Thanks, Tami!!

The giveaway is now closed. Congrats to galley winner Lauren!


  1. great interview--and thanks for the contest!

    -- Tom

  2. I'd love to read Tami's new book.

  3. thank you so much for the shout-out, Beth!

    And fried egg sandwiches rock!!


  4. Wonderful interview! Looking forward to Shelley's middle grade fantasy novel!!

  5. This is such a great glad Beth dropped by! Fascinating what she said about "creative mindspace"...

  6. I guess everyone has to deal with the pain of paperwork. Great interview! I found you from Shelley's blog. :)


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