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Interview with Christy Ottaviano, editor of Book Scavenger

To mark the occasion of Book Scavenger‘s publication, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer’s phenomenal editor, Christy Ottaviano, publisher of Christy Ottaviano Books at Macmillan Children’s. It’s always fascinating to hear what the editor of a book loves about it!

Calista: Do you remember what it was about this book that made you go, “I want it” when you read it on submission?

Christy: When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was The Westing Game.  I was also a big fan of From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E Frankweiler.  Both of these books came to mind while I was reading the submission of Book Scavenger.  I was immediately intrigued by the book gaming element — I love mysteries and especially books that have puzzles to solve and secrets to uncover — but what really drew me in was the voice of Emily.  She is such a rich character — a bookworm and a loner; someone who could really use a friend. Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is such a gifted writer.  In Book Scavenger she creates an exciting mystery yet the characters never take a back seat to the layered plot — everything works in tandem and in good rhythm.

Calista: What comp titles* did you reference when you were acquiring this book? Why?

Christy: The comp titles referenced were a few books I’ve published by Elise Broach — Shakespeare’s Secret and Masterpiece given that they are both mysteries and feature quiet, thoughtful characters who are curious about the world around them, whether it’s learning about Shakespeare or Albrecht Durer!  I also referenced The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart) as well as Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) for similar reasons.

Calista: What are some ways the book changed during the editing process?

Jenn did an amazing job revising the novel.  She approached every aspect of the editorial process with such insight, thoughtfulness and focus. We worked on a variety of elements — making the mystery more compelling, incorporating more challenging puzzles and ciphers into the clues, building to a more satisfying climax and conclusion, and, most especially, fleshing out all of the characters (getting rid of a few even) so that each was clearly defined in relation to his/her role in the book. On a personal note,  I really fell in love with Emily and James and think their friendship is such an honest example of a girl/boy tween friendship in middle school.

Calista: Who is the ideal reader for this book?

Christy: The ideal readers for Book Scavenger are kids who like all of the books I’ve referenced in this Q&A as well as fans of the Chasing Vermeer series (Blue Balliat), The Gollywhopper Games (Jody Feldman), and Rhyme Schemer (KA Holt).  It’s for kids who love to read stories about quirky characters who have unusual talents; fans of sleuthing stories and mysteries; and lovers of puzzles in all forms.  Without a doubt, this is one of the freshest, and most engaging books I have ever worked on.  A treat on so many levels!

* Comp title = “comparison title”. Frequently an editor will be asked to provide comp titles for a book when presenting it to the acquisitions team at the publishing house, to give the sales and marketing and publishing teams a sense of where the book will “live” in the marketplace.


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