If you’re a tween or teen and use your phone a lot, that’s totally normal. But if you ever find yourself distressed by what you see — maybe it’s meanness, or bullying, or just feeling low because other people’s social media posts make their lives look better than yours — read on for some tips on how to take back control.
My first book, FRIEND ME from Scholastic Press, is a thriller for middle grade readers about a girl who’s bullied online and off — but her phone is also the only way she can talk to her best friend. I wanted to explore this problem that a lot of people have, who are being bullied by phone: it’s not realistic to dump your phone, because it connects you to the rest of your life. So how do you balance the good stuff with the bad, when it comes to social media and phone use?
Here are five tips I’d like to share with you. If you’d like to find where you can get a copy of FRIEND ME, you can go here, or if you have a Scholastic Book Fair at your school, you can order a copy there. Or, ask your library and they can help find you a copy to borrow.
Emily Seife is a Senior Editor with Scholastic Press New York and was the person who brought the middle grade thriller FRIEND ME to acquisitions. Find out what drew her to the manuscript, why children’s books are her passion, and why writers are most likely to win an editor’s heart if they follow their own.
Q1: Thank you for joining me on the blog! Is it okay to kick off by asking a bit about how you became a children’s book editor and when you first knew that’s where your heart lay?
Thanks for having me here, Sheila!
I started my career applying for jobs in both adult and children’s publishing, but I knew almost immediately that children’s books is where my heart lay. The books that I read when I was little are the ones that have stuck with me the most. I still can’t believe that I have the opportunity to help make the books that shape, inspire, and create a new generation of readers. I’m thankful every day, especially now, that I get to work with books that are so hopeful.
Q2: Scholastic is the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and celebrates one hundred years in 2020. Any thoughts about how the editorial team is looking to bring the list into its second century and what you’d like to achieve?
It has long been a goal of Scholastic to publish entertaining books that offer both windows and mirrors to young readers. (Take a look at our Power of Story catalog to find some incredible new reads!) These days, we are working harder than ever to make sure that our list is one that reflects the diversity of our country. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m proud to be publishing brilliant authors like Francisco X. Stork, India Hill Brown, Gail D. Villanueva, and Christina Diaz Gonzalez. I hope to continue to acquire and support own voices stories from creators of diverse backgrounds.
Q3: Thinking back to when FRIEND ME first came into your hands: what about the story made you want to acquire it? Is it true what we hear about an editor having a gut feel from the first page that an acquisition was meant to be?
Yes! With so many submissions coming in, a book absolutely needs to grab an editor’s attention right away, whether with spectacular writing or a great hook.
Kudos to you and your agent, because I was immediately intrigued when I read the pitch for FRIEND ME. A social media thriller for middle grade readers? A story that deals with online bullying? Tell me more!! And then I picked up the manuscript, and your writing completely grabbed me. In fact, I read it in one morning. At my desk at work. I rarely if ever do that; most of my submissions are read during my commute—when I had such a thing!—or at home in the evenings. But once I started this book, I was hooked. The characters were real, flawed, and loveable, and the pacing was absolutely phenomenal. Friend Me is a sensitive picture of a girl’s experience getting bullied, but also a nonstop thriller with unpredictable twists and turns.
There are a lot of submissions that I read that I like, that are well-written, or that I even think are worth publishing, but that just aren’t for me. An editor really needs to connect with a project in addition to believing that it can find its place in the market.
“I love character-driven stories, books with a big hook and a big heart, mysteries that genuinely stump me, and anything that can make me laugh. I hope to see all these things, especially from BIPOC or marginalized creators.” – Emily Seife, Senior Editor, Scholastic Press
Q4: During FRIEND ME edits I hugely valued the way you pushed me to keep working until I’d conveyed the main character Roisin’s predicament in the strongest way. Without your guidance, there’s no way the story would be what it became. How do you go about striking the balance with writers during edits: helping them see where improvements are needed without denting their confidence?
Thank you, Sheila! I only sign up books that I absolutely love, and I try to make sure that love always shines through, no matter how rigorous the editorial process.
When I acquire a book, I have to be willing to bring it to our acquisitions meeting, read it at least four times over the course of edits and copyedits and proofreads, and advocate for it in-house. It’s also entering into a new relationship with the author—always scary and exciting, and a big investment of time and energy! I wouldn’t take on all that work if I didn’t fully believe in a project. I hope that the authors I work with know this and enter into our work together excited for a real partnership.
Of course, everyone still needs encouragement along the way, and I always try to call out the moments that make me laugh or bite my nails! Praise is a strong editorial tool, too. Pointing out what is working can help an author see how to fix the trickier bits.
Q5: A lot of our readers are children’s authors. Can you give them any insights into Scholastic submissions: how many manuscripts you and your colleagues consider each year, how many you choose, and finally, what’s on your own manuscript wishlist at the moment?
I’ve never actually counted how many submissions I get a year, but I only bring a small percentage to the acquisitions table. I love character-driven stories, books with a big hook and a big heart, mysteries that genuinely stump me, and anything that can make me laugh. I hope to see all these things, especially from BIPOC or marginalized creators.
Q6: Any final thoughts on common pitfalls that children’s writers should avoid in their manuscripts, or key things we can do that would most improve our craft?
Read, read, and read! Read recently published books so that you’re familiar with what’s coming out in today’s market. That said, write the story of your heart, rather than feeling like you have to chase a trend.
Sheila’s local independent bookshop near Edinburgh in Scotland is the marvellous Portobello Bookshop, which has signed copies of FRIEND ME while supplies last at bit.ly/SMAbuyindie Or, find FRIEND ME at your own local bookshop here bit.ly/SMAorder
I was not going to bypass a story pitched as THE MARTIAN for teens, and SATELLITE fills its brief fabulously: you won’t be disappointed if you come looking for realistic space-exploration science. But this book delivered lots, lots more…so much that I’m planning to read it again.
SATELLITE follows 15-year-old Leo Freeman, one of the first babies to be born and raised on a space station, after his astronaut mom was discovered to be pregnant once in orbit. Leo’s got two older friend-“siblings” from a different mom, who got together with another fellow astronaut when they were on a long-term research program in orbit, part of preparation for human colonisation-journeys to other worlds. Continue reading “Review: Nick Lake’s realistic YA science fiction SATELLITE”
I’m an American living in Scotland, writing books for children – about alien worlds and parallel worlds and hidden worlds so tiny we overlook them. My stories have something in common: the characters come to find they were wrong about people they thought they understood, and everyone ends up a little wiser, and more respectful of each other. Continue reading “How Scotland could save civilization”