Monday, October 19, 2009

Encounter: Arthur A. Levine of Scholastic

The Year Editors Forbade Bathroom Manuscript Pitches, and a Run-In with Arthur Levine of the Scholastic Imprint, Arthur A. Levine Books:

Editors at the SCBWI 2005 Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles warned against pitching a manuscript to them in the bathroom.  Yes, really.  I did just type that.  The bathroom.

"Don't pass your manuscript to me under the stall," one editor said, "because you know what it will be used for!"

It's no surprise authors take advantage of any face time they can get.  If you've never attended a Los Angeles conference, you must!  The conferences are highly energized, inspiring, and great for networking.  The 2005 conference had a marked air about it that screamed "This Is My Chance!"

The editors were there.  Real ones.  Not cloaked behind a labyrinth of receptionists and email servers.  And everyone was dying to touch the fine hairs at the tip of one particular sacred cloak.  The cloak of Arthur A. Levine.

It was Harry Potter season, and here was a real live Scholastic editor.  The MAN who EDITED Harry Potter for the U.S.!  Maybe he will see me!  Maybe he will love my book!  Maybe he will put right the wrongs of writing without pay!  Maybe he will reach down and say, "Well done, good and faithful second-year college student who is dying to work in publishing."  (That would be me.)  "Come walk by my side!"

Despite the warnings against being rude, I hovered.  I couldn't follow him into the bathroom, of course, so I watched from a distance and looked for my chance to sneak in.

Levine was cornered in an unofficial "line" of attendees waiting to speak with him.  The "line" happened to look a lot like a swarm.  A swarm in which all participants note whose right of way it is at a bajillion-way intersection and itch to be next.  Unfortunately for me, Levine was on a precious break between sessions and looked ready to slip away.  Behind him loomed a cold metal elevator.

Finally, it was my turn to speak to him next.  Really, it was.  That's when another attendee slipped in front of me and launched into the most desperate pitch I've ever heard.  Again, I'm not hatin'.  But establishing a rapport with an editor and THEN sending him your writing is better than pitching your book straight off.  An editor cannot know the quality of the writing until he reads it.

Ding!  The cold elevator doors slid open and locked into position with a subtle shudder.  Levine stepped inside.  He could disappear!  My chance to ask a Real Life New York Editor about his job was dangerously close to disappearing!

So, I did something very obnoxious.  I followed Levine and his lamprey author into the elevator.

Floor 2.  (Chatter, chatter from the lamprey author.)
Floor 3.
Floor 4.  (Talk talk talk.)
Floor 5.


(Finally, a short pause.)

Floor 6.

Levine exited the elevator and turned around to face the two of us.  His body language prevented us from following him to his room, which was a smart move.

He looked at me.

"Do you like your job?" I said, very softly.

His face changed.

"I love my job," he said.  "I love making books."

He stepped away.  The doors closed behind him.

It was a very quiet ride down.


  1. Bethany - Thanks for sharing your story of meeting with Arthur Levine. You make a really good point that editors do not want to be "stalked." They want to eat, go shopping, use the bathroom and catch a taxi like anyone else without being accosted by authors, each of which is holding "this great manuscript!"

    Your story is a good reminder of how important it is to behave as a professional.