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How I Got to Greenwillow Books: Martha

I guess I could say it all began here:

Martha & her dad reading & having some coffee

"I don't know, Dad. I think this needs a stronger story arc."

But it took another 21 years for me to find my place at Greenwillow. I followed a pretty traditional path: English major, study abroad in England, writing center tutor, literary magazine editor. Along the way, I realized that being a children’s book editor was a job. And I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do. So I was left with the small matter of getting said job.

 After several freak-out sessions with my wonderfully calm advisor, I decided to go to the Denver Publishing Institute after I graduated. And that’s where I met Virginia. Who just happened to mention that Greenwillow needed a new editorial assistant.

 I. Really. Wanted. That. Job.

 I polished up my resume, sent it in, and crossed my fingers, toes, legs, arms, eyes . . . and then I went in for my first interview. I talked with Virginia and Phyllis Larkin, who was Greenwillow’s deputy publisher. Phyllis had all of the current season’s books on display in her office, and I tried to act professional even though I just wanted to pull them off the shelves and start reading. Phyllis introduced me to all the Greenwillowites. (Except for Sylvie, who was on vacation in Brittany. Which sounded very glamorous to me.) I admired the posters covering the walls, and tried to sneak sly looks at the papers on everyone’s desks. One of my clearest memories of that interview was of Ava Weiss, the art director, sitting down and saying, “What can I tell you? I work with the art.” (Telling me everything would have been fine by me, but there wasn’t that kind of time.) Then Phyllis sent me off with a picture book dummy to write a reader’s report on and a picture book text to copyedit. (Thank God we’d had a week-long copyediting class at DPI!) I dropped my work off the next morning, went back to my parents’ house, and tried not too think about it too much.

The office at my dad's store, Ideal Market, where I spent many a summer.

A week or two later, I was working in my dad’s grocery store when my mom called to say someone from HarperCollins had called the house for me. I ran to Dad’s office and called right back. Could I come in for a second interview at 1 p.m. the next day?, they wanted to know. “Yes!” I said.

 Even though I was only halfway through my shift. In western Pennsylvania.

 Luckily, my dad is the best, and he let me play the boss’s daughter card, covering the rest of the shift for me, and finding people to fill in for the next three days. (And by “people,” I mean my brother and sister.) I sped home, threw some interview clothes into my car, and drove the six hours to my friends’ apartment in Brooklyn.

 I can’t tell you much about the interview. When Virginia asked me “Why should we hire you?” my brain came to a screeching halt. I have no idea what I said. But Phyllis sent me off with a copy of Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley, and I decided that was a good sign.

 The next day, I got The Call. And I ran around my friends’ apartment, jumping up and down and dancing very calmly and professionally said that yes, of course, I’d like to work for Greenwillow Books. My first day was about two weeks later, and I’ve been here ever since—almost nine (holy cow!) years. 

The first thing I did was start reading everything I’d wanted to get my hands on during those interviews: the picture book F&Gs for the upcoming season, the recently published books, and—maybe the best part—the many passes of galleys and manuscripts, which lived in my office.

 Oh, and organize my desk drawer, which my predecessor, Ethan, had left COMPLETELY FILLED WITH A HUGE JUMBLE OF RUBBER BANDS. Thanks, Ethan.

25 Comments

  1. Kristin Gray says:

    Martha, I love how you described The Call! What a great story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. daniel says:

    Great story! Dig the wallpaper in that photo!

  3. nova says:

    What a wonderful story, Martha! I love hearing about the moments when people get their dream jobs. Lucky you, and lucky Greenwillow to have you!

  4. Tim Smith says:

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: when babies read Popular Science, all of their wildest dreams will come true.

  5. Susan Adrian says:

    Fascinating!!

    I too was an English major and spent a year abroad in England (Sussex–how about you?). I too had a revelation–while working at a bookstore–that I could apply for a job as an assistant in the children’s book division at Harcourt (in San Diego). Absolute dream job.

    Except my path diverged there, because I didn’t get THAT job. Instead they gave me a job as a scientific copyeditor with Academic Press, and I diverted into scientific publishing. So today I’m still a scientific editor, way up in Montana! And writing kid’s books. :)

    I’m not unhappy with my path, but it’s yours I was originally picturing…

  6. cindy says:

    love this story! and my dad
    owned his own business too and
    i spent all my summers there
    growing up.

  7. I just love a happy ending. Sniff!

  8. @jmartinlibrary says:

    Your love of your job really shines through, Martha.

    I guess that’s what happens when you find something so satisfying and fulfilling. When you find that sweet spot, it’s pretty amazing.

    BTW…IDEAL market? Are you talking about the IDEAL chain? We had one of those in my tiny town for years. Loved that place. The IDEAL and SAFEWAY were right across the street from one another and they always competed by trying to outdo one another. Made for awesome customer service all the way around.

    But I digress…

    Keep bringing those wonderful books into the world. I need them on my library shelves. 😉

  9. Note the small hand reaching oh so slyly for the coffee cup while Dad is distracted by combustion engines.

  10. Chris says:

    Awww. Sweet stuff, Martha. They made a great decision.

  11. Martha Mihalick says:

    Ideal Market is no chain! Started by my grandpa back in 1933, and only two locations in town. (I haven’t yet convinced my dad he needs a blog or website, or I’d link.)

    And, yes, Dad should be keeping a better eye on that coffee. This photo predicts so much about the future!

  12. Maggie says:

    May I just say, to play devil’s advocate, that I can NEVER find enough rubber bands in the office? I would kill for a whole drawer full of them!

    Love the story, Martha!

  13. Jody Feldman says:

    I would love to have been in on the interview, watching you try to hold back your enthusiasm. My guess is you failed miserably. So glad you did.

  14. Leah Cypess says:

    Oh, cool. So you know EXACTLY know exactly how I reacted when I got The Call from you! (except possibly for the speaking calmly and professionally part.)

    This was really cool – I know so much about how various authors broke into the industry, but until now knew next to nothing about how editors got in.

  15. Angie says:

    Clearly it was meant to be. And they are damn lucky to have you. :)

  16. @jmartinlibrary says:

    Martha. No chain? That’s cool.

    My folks in Oklahoma own a furniture store that’s been there for fifty years. My gramps opened it as a junk store trading post and now it’s the lifeblood of our family. It’s outlasted the big chains who have been in and out through the years.

    And yeah, they don’t have a web site either.

  17. […] can find it over here. curiouser & […]

  18. Love the story Martha! Thanks for sharing!!

  19. Alexandria says:

    Love the story Martha! Thanks for sharing!!

  20. Rebecca says:

    Yep, you have the best job in the world. You get paid to read books AND figure out ways to make them BETTER! Loved reading about how you got there.

  21. Phyllis says:

    Martha, Virginia and I made so much the right decision all those years ago (!!!). I’m glad we did, I’m glad you agreed, I’m glad you’re still there.

  22. Brian Kell says:

    Hi Martha,

    I’m new to this blog, found it through the Write-On-Con, which has been awesome.

    It’s so nice to see someone’s dreams actually come true. To be surrounded by books (books I write and read) would be a fantasy come true for me.

    I notice an Ice Cream Novelties Freezer in that photo. How many times did you hit that during your shift? 😉

    I’ll be at the Cleveland Conference next month. Looking forward to meeting you.

    Brian

  23. JoSVolpe says:

    Martha! I had no idea about your journey. How cool.

    And seriously, I totally know what you mean about the family business thing. To this DAY my dad will call me in to manage the theater if everyone calls out and he can’t do it. Can’t say no to family!

  24. Karen Collum says:

    Hi Martha

    I’ve been subscribing to the Greenwillow blog for a while now and was delighted when I saw you at WriteOnCon. Your mythbusters panel was absolutely fantastic.

    I was just wondering if you’d be interested at all in being a special guest for a weekly online picture book chat group I co-convene, #pblitchat? We were originally Twitter-based but have expanded to our own chat room to include those PB authors and/or illustrators not on Twitter. We have a core group of people who are passionate about picture books and would welcome the opportunity to hear from an industry professional like yourself. You can see the transcripts of previous chats at http://picturebooksonly.wordpress.com

    Thanks so much

    Karen

  25. […] in June, I mentioned in my How I Got to Greenwillow post that I took it as a good sign when Phyllis gave me a copy of Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter […]

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