Books, Journalism

Q&A with Puffin editor Claire Hennessy

I interviewed the super editor/writer/all-around book aficionado Claire Hennessy about her job at one of Ireland’s major publishing houses, what she looks for in YA submissions and her best advice for aspiring authors.

Claire Hennessy
Claire Hennessy

What’s your day-to-day like as an editor with Puffin Ireland?

I split my time between my editorial role and other work in the writing arena, but it’s safe to say that on any given day I’m doing something relating to children’s and YA books.

My Puffin Ireland work involves working out of Penguin Ireland but liaising with the newly-merged Penguin Random House children’s department in London, with a view to acquiring exciting books and other IP (intellectual property) for children and teens.

It’s a really exciting role because there’s a mix of reading submissions (the ‘slush pile’) and meeting with creative types in various roles (not just writers but also animators, game developers etc.) to find new projects.

What is it you look for in submissions?

‘Voice’ is crucial – that feel of a book that makes it a little bit special, that is uniquely the author’s take on the world. On top of that, connecting with the characters from an early point is really important.

An intriguing concept is wonderful but the execution also has to be top-notch. If a submission can make me laugh and cry, it bodes really well.

What is the hardest aspect of the editorial process for you?

I have to turn off my writer-brain when dealing with submissions, because I know no-one likes to hear the ‘no’ that unfortunately is the answer most of the time. It’s also tricky if a book seems like it could be great but just isn’t quite there yet or isn’t special enough.

What do you enjoy most about the editorial process?

I love writers who embrace feedback and really run with any suggestions or advice to come up with an amazing next draft.

Who are your favourite authors and what do you think are the best three books that have been published in the last year?

I have a ridiculous number of favourite authors, so for the purposes of this I’ll stick to living children’s and YA writers – Rainbow Rowell, Sara Zarr, Sarah Dessen, Cathy Cassidy, Jacqueline Wilson, David Levithan, John Green, Gayle Forman, Courtney Summers, Abby McDonald, Meg Rosoff, and lots more.

In the past year, the best three books – that’s a really tough one, but I’m going to go with Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places, and Courtney Summers’s All the Rage With a bonus shout-out to Robin Stevens’s Murder Most Unladylike series, the third of which will appear in a couple of months.

What’s the best advice you can offer a writer?

Embrace the editing process – it will help you get a first draft down and ensure that your finished version is something really special. As soon as you send something out on submission, start working on something new; it will keep you sane. Work hard, but be patient.

You can check out Claire’s website here as well as her resources for writers.

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