Interview with an Editor: Jill Santopolo of Philomel Books (plus a giveaway!)

Today I feel especially honored to be posting an interview with Jill Santopolo, who is not only an extraordinary editor and fantastic writer (her Alec Flint mysteries are some serious fun), but who also happens to be my editor.Jill has edited all of my middle-grade novels to date (including the latest one, DOUBLE DOG DARE, coming to a bookstore near you this April (woot-woot, self promotion!)), and I can honestly say that my books wouldn't have turned out half as good without her editorial genius. Um, also, check out this adorable photo of Jill as a middle-grader. Are you smitten yet?? :)

And just to top off how super-awesome she is, Jill is offering a giveaway of not one but TWO middle-grade galleys. So enough from me. Let's get interviewing!

Hello, Jill! We're so thrilled to have you. First of all, just to be official and stuff, please tell us the name of your publishing house/imprint and your title.

I’m an executive editor at Philomel Books, which is an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group.

How long have you been working at Philomel?

I started at Philomel in August of 2009. Actually, if you want to get specific, as of the posting of this interview, I’ve been here for two years and two days.

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

My career path was pretty direct. I always loved reading and once I hit college I knew I wanted to find a job that let me work with words. I worked on my college newspaper, interned for a webzine, and then, in my sophomore year of college I interned at Philomel Books and fell in love with children’s book publishing. I kept interning through college (for Dutton and then for Holiday House), and then two weeks after I graduated I started working as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins Children’s Books for the Laura Geringer Books imprint. I stayed at Harper for seven years—and while I was there I got an MFA in Writing for Children at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and wrote two books. What I think is especially wonderful about editing children’s books is that you have the opportunity to work on a book that might open a child up to the world of reading and make him or her a reader for life.

What sorts of books do you edit?

I edit a broad spectrum of books—everything from funny picture books for little guys to sexy novels for teenagers. I’d say a majority of the books I edit, though, fall right [smack dab] in the middle. I edit a bunch of books for that elementary-school-age reader, from 7 to 12—both standalone titles and series.

Who are some of the authors you work with?

Gosh, I hate doing this because inevitably I’ll forget someone, but here’s my best shot: I’ve edited books that either just came out or will come out very soon by Peter Abrahams, T.A. Barron, Felicia Bond, Andrea Cremer, Olivier Dunrea, Lisa Graff, Mary Lindsey, C. Alexander London, John Madormo, Jane Manning, Erin E. Moulton, Jennifer Plecas, Shawn K. Stout, and Jane Yolen. (I’m also working with a few more authors whose books are a bit further out in the future than the ones by the authors I just named.)

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

I’m particularly excited about all of my books! But let’s see—this is a middle grade blog, so I’ll focus on those. The two middle grade books that are coming out the soonest are We Dine With Cannibals: An Accidental Adventure by C. Alexander London and Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen. Both are wonderful. Cannibals is a hilarious adventure with non-stop action, bickering siblings, a fun narrative voice, and a nearly killer game of dodgeball. Snow in Summer is a re-imagining of the Snow White story, but set in the mountains of West Virginia. It’s lush and magical and has a fascinating scene that takes place in a snake handling church.

What moment in your career thus far are you most proud of?

I don’t have a particular moment, but I’m proud every time a book I’ve worked on gets a good review or is nominated for an award or hits a bestseller list. I’m also proud when I see a kid on the subway or in a library or a park reading a book I worked on. That might be when I’m proudest. Especially if the kid looks like s/he’s enjoying the story.

If you had to have another job, what would it be?

I do have another job! Two of them actually. I write (middle grade!) novels and I teach writing (to people who want to write for middle graders—and young adults). If I couldn’t edit anymore, I’d probably write and teach more. Though I might enjoy doing something totally different—like being a stunt woman for action movies or an ice cream flavor inventor or a professional traveler.

What do you enjoy about working on middle-grade books in particular?

I love the middle grade audience and the themes that seem important to them—balancing family and friends, figuring out the world and where they fit in, getting a taste of being a grown-up for the first time (not always in a good way). Maybe a piece of me still grapples with those questions? I don’t know. But middle grade novels were some of the ones that had the most impact on me the as a kid, and are the novels I still reread now. (Especially Jacob Have I Loved, Harriet the Spy and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I know is an adult book, but which I first read when I was ten and which I think deals with the same themes that many middle grade novels do.)

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

I think for me there are two main things that can push a middle grade novel into superb territory: An authentic voice, and a universal truth at the heart of the story (like the ones I talked about in the last question) that is totally relevant and relatable to the middle grade audience.

If you could have edited any book in the world, what book would it be?

This is a hard question because any of the books I love might not have turned out exactly the way they did if their original editors hadn’t edited them. I think the best way I can answer this question is to say that I wish I could have been Ursula Nordstrom’s editorial assistant and could have watched her edit things like Harriet the Spy and Where the Wild Things Are and Charlotte’s Web.

Lastly (and most important), what is the most annoying song to ever get stuck in your head?

In reading this question, a song that I haven’t thought of in years just popped into my head. It’s the one that goes: “This is the song that doesn’t end. Yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that doesn’t end. Yes it goes on and on my friend….etc.” I used to sing with friends in summer camp and then would keep singing it in my head long after we stopped singing it out loud. That was pretty annoying.

...And now that is totally stuck in my head! :) Thanks so much for visiting us, Jill!!



Jill is giving away two galleys to one lucky blog reader! The galleys are We Are Not Eaten by Yaks and We Dine with Cannibals, the first two books in C. Alexander London’s Accidental Adventures series. To be entered in the giveaway, simply drop me an email at graff [dot] lisa [at] yahoo [dot] com with the subject line "ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURES." The winner will be chosen at random on September 1st.

The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Lucy, who will be receiving these two awesome galleys!


  1. What a fantastic interview--and giveaway! Thanks so much, Lisa and Jill!

  2. Great interview--except for the part about "This is the song that doesn't end"! My daughter used to sing that on purpose to give me an earworm, and now I won't be able to shake it all day!
    But seriously, great interview.

  3. Thanks for this, really enjoyed reading it! And a great giveaway too! :D

  4. I'm so glad I found this. I love this age group. Good interview and Jill looks the quintessential middle-grader.


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