Krista Vitola Interview

Krista Vitola

Senior Editor, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

How did your career in children's publishing begin and what have been some of the highlights?

While in college, I did a number of internships both in magazines and then in book publishing. I thought my dream job would be writing columns on love, fashion, and pop culture (think SJP in Sex and the City). But after interning for a magazine and not having very much enjoyed the experience, I worked for Carol Fitzgerald at The Book Report Network and fell in love with the publishing world.  I realized some of my best childhood experiences revolved around books. I had no idea there was such a complex, fascinating and creative process behind a book’s publication. Whole teams of people working together to spread the word about beautiful works of literature. And one person who gets to read endless stories and shepherd them out into the world. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many brilliant editors, writers, agents, and colleagues who have made my eleven years in publishing such a delightful experience. I was lucky enough to work on a wide range of projects and learn an array of editorial styles that have helped shape my editorial vision and execution today.  I started my career at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, and was able to work on commercial successes such as Lauren Kate, Ann Brashares, Carrie Ryan, Nicola Yoon, James Dashner, Tyra Banks, and Zayn. I edited a nonfiction project by famous chef, Andrew Zimmern and was a part of the repackaging of Sweet Valley High. (The mass market editions of those books are still sitting in a box in my parent’s attic.) It was a dream come true!

What kind of stories are you primarily interested in commissioning?

While I’ve always enjoyed a dark teen mystery or coming-of-age novel, I have a deep love of middle-grade and this is the space I’ve been living in for the past three years. (I moved over from Delacorte Press to Books for Young Readers at Simon and Schuster in November 2016.) There is something so very special about this time in life. We begin to ask more questions and gauge our autonomy yet still want (and need) the guidance of our parents; we start to see the world around us in a new light—a playground of opportunity and promise just waiting for us to take that leap of faith. We still believe in magic, albeit in a more practical way, and we start to feel the ties of childhood friendships fray and perhaps tether themselves to different individuals. I could go on and on. At times I find it interesting that I want to dwell in the world that was so unpleasant for me growing up, yet at the same time I know it was the books I read and the adventures I took each time I cracked open that worn library binding, that helped me to escape the everyday nonsense that is middle school.

Do you have any portfolio advice for illustrators looking to appeal to S&S Books for YR?

My area of expertise falls in the middle-grade to teen spectrum. 

Tell us about a story you immediately gravitated towards and how the chosen illustrator brought the whole tale to life.

As I mentioned, I focus on middle-grade and teen but within that scope, I love to commission interior art to accompany the prose whenever I can. I have a novel that came out this past spring titled Meena Meets her Match that follows an elementary school-aged girl who finds out she has epilepsy. It’s perfect for Junie B. and Ramona Quimby graduates and the author, designer, and I just knew we needed to visually share Meena’s journey throughout the novel. Meena’s energy and love of color and art sings across the stage with a series of spot art illustrations that capture some of the key scenes in the story. I also love a good map.

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What's the secret to creating a successful middle grade cover?

I think it really depends on the content—sometimes a dynamic scene works, other times it’s an iconic image from the story. Whether the novel is poignant or more adventure-driven, I do feel the color palette should be bright and dynamic. You want the image to pop off the shelf, not fade into the backdrop. 

Describe your last 'lightbulb' moment.

The absolute best part of my job is asking my authors questions that inspire them to think about their plot threads, characters, situations, and themes in a new light.  My goal as their editor is to provide them with the tools to reshape their novel to its highest potential. So I’m going to say that on a daily basis I communicate ideas that spark in my mind when I read drafts of manuscripts and look at title suggestions and sketches and then I provide the necessary conduit for the author to turn that lightbulb on to its highest wattage.

Select 3 recent titles from your list that you are most proud of to share with our audience.

This is hard! I’m so proud of all my authors and their stories. Alright, if I’m forced to choose, one of the first novels I acquired at S&S was a touching coming-of-age story about a girl who finds mean notes about her on her classroom floor titled If This Were a Story. It touches on so many real and raw experiences in a delicate and moving way. The next would be a historical novel in verse called Lifeboat 12. Atmospheric and gripping, readers will learn about a little known WW II story packed within a sea faring adventure. And finally, The Paris Project, which comes out in a few weeks. I’ve worked with Donna for a long time and her pitch-perfect middle-grade voice wins you over from the first page. Full of family and heart, this is a story I would have read over and over again as child. 

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Who have been some of your greatest mentors?

I’ve truly had some of the best bosses in the business. Their superb editorial skills, excellent methods of communication, and overall warm personalities have shaped the editor I am today. I’ll start with Beverly Horowitz, whose in-depth editorial phone calls could be works of art. Wendy Loggia, whose attention to detail helped me to realize there is no small act that goes unnoticed and that the smallest actions have the biggest payoff.  Krista Marino, whose editorial letters are genius and help to bring out the very best in her authors in addition to her kick-ass presence. And my current mentor, role model, and boss: Justin Chanda, who knows how to capture an audience—whether it be by phone, email or in person. I hope I can effectively communicate such publishing passion and knowhow one day.

How engaged are you personally in nurturing emerging artistic talent?

I’m happy to help a fellow writer navigate the publishing waters and attend conferences year- round to meet new talent. The world is always in need of more beautiful stories. For both illustrators and writers, it’s immensely helpful to attend portfolio workshops and presentations at conferences available in your area; this will also grant you the opportunity to meet agents and editors who acquire content similar to your style. The faculty will be there with fresh, proficient eyes and insight into the marketplace to help steer your talent in the right, most successful, direction.

What would your dream project look like?

Finding new voices and seeing stories change and grow, to when they finally reach their audience, has been an excellent adventure . . . and a dream thus far.  

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