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When Greenwillow Went to the Dogs


Jessie Haas and her beloved Australian Shepherd, Arrow.

These days I’m thinking a lot about positive reinforcement as I write a book about clicker training (my third touching on the topic, after Shaper and Horse Crazy!). I realized that Susan Hirschman used some clicker training principles in the way she handled authors, and she certainly had us all sitting up on our hind legs and balancing sugar lumps on our noses!

First, she was fast! Super-fast. You had to turbo-worry in order to stress about your manuscript. Writers don’t get instant gratification, but Susan was the next best thing. Second, she was amazingly positive. When she accepted something, she made you feel like a genius. She would ask, “How did you know that?” And you didn’t have an answer, but boy, were you a clever pup! Susan activated what is called the SEEK complex of emotions in an author. This is used by neurologists to describe a combination of curiosity and happy expectation, the “Christmas morning” feeling. You always felt that something good was likely to happen, at any moment. And lots of days it did.

When Susan retired, Rebecca Davis was my editor. When I got my first manuscript back for an edit I was shocked at the number of Post-its on it. In fact, I recoiled, and couldn’t look at it for several days. (Susan used to talk to me on the phone about a problem, and scribble a mere “Fix!” on the ms.) When I actually dared look at Rebecca’s manuscript, though, a good 50–60 percent of the Post-its said “Good!” or “I love this!” Making me very motivated to fix the other places where Rebecca wrote long and thoughtful questions.

There are so many ways to be a good editor, and Greenwillow has had lots of them. I think of Phyllis Larkin’s patient, long-suffering sighs as she negotiated about commas, and Robin Roy’s excellent questions, and Virginia pushing me almost to the point of madness to come up with the title for Unbroken. Thank you, all!

Jessie Haas is the author of numerous picture books, chapter books, and novels for young readers, including Appaloosa Zebra and Chase. She was born loving horses, and got her first horse, Scamper, when she was six years old. She lives in Vermont.


  1. Ah yes, Jesse, I remember the Susan “speediness” too! Sometimes she would sit in her rocking chair surrounded by her trinkets, read my manuscript, nodding her head vigourously (if she didn’t nod, it wasn’t accepted…) and then walk next door and ask Phyllis to draw up a contract! A dream come true, unheard of, now. Or then, I think.

  2. Camilla says:

    All of a sudden I want nothing more than to read a book about clicker training! Well, a FICTION book about clicker training, anyway.

  3. Jeannie Walsh says:

    As good editors have trained Jessie, so Jessie has trained the authors in her SCBWI critique group, rewarding us with thoughtful comments and the deep respect that reminds us we’re professionals. Click!

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