I’m Ellen Larson, and I’m the editor of the Poisoned Pencil. Which means I’m the one who reviews the submissions, reads those that meet our criteria, and recommend to Jessica those that I think we should acquire. Once we’ve acquired a book, I then work with the author via a substantive edit till everyone is happy with the result.
I’ve been reading submissions for almost eight months, now, and these early, relatively quiet days in the life of the Pencil have been truly a joy. First off, I have to say that working with Jessica is chocolate. There is nothing better than working with real people who say what they mean and still believe in personal vision. Though for the record, we haven’t actually met. Such are the realities of the modern world that Poisoned Pen Press and its baby niece, the Pencil, can be in Scottsdale AZ, and I can be on the East Coast, and we can work together without the slightest hitch.
This initial, low-profile stage of the Pencil is slowly drawing to an end. The unveiling of our website marks our emergence into the publishing fray. We’re looking at four books for the first year, one each quarter, starting in the first quarter of 2014. We issued our first contracts starting in February, and are lining up our books for 2014 as I write. The sheer joy of chosing books that resonate with our goal of publishing unusual, edgy books that are grounded in reality can’t really be expressed.
As time has passed, I’ve noticed that the submissions have become more in tune with the specifics of what we’re looking for. I’m thinking this is a result of writers becoming more aware of some of the things we’re looking for in our YA mysteries. I’m sure the first rush of submissions were more or less what YA mysteries writers had on hand.
So what are we looking for? First off, the book really has to be a mystery. I’ve reviewed a lot of books that are filled with tension and tragedy, but are just not mysteries. A mystery, for me, has to include a crime or a problem or the threat of a crime, and it has to include the solving or resolving of that crime/problem by the protagonist. A traditional whodunit or puzzle mystery is going to get a gook look from me. But so are books that have a mystery structure (clues, suspects, deduction) without the actual investigation (more on this when I start talking about our first titles!). Second, we’re looking for books that adults would also enjoy reading, which is another way of saying that the characters, however teen, have to be realistic.
Third, we’re looking for diversity, because that is the world teens live in. I’d love to see a book about Hispanic teens entangled with our immigration maze. I’d love to see a protagonist who is one of the vast array of under-represented teens: LGBT, Muslim, African American. But does that mean we don’t want an atmospherical historical YA mystery? Not at all! The point is to throw the doors open, not to close them.
The door is open to you, too This is the place where you can ask questions, or give your opinions, about the Pencil and about YA mysteries in general. Whether you read them or write them, feel free to chime in. Follow the Pencil on Twitter to be notified when new blog posts go up. Welcome!