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Sarah Pieters Talks with Roger

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Sarah Pieters

Photo: Peter D. Sieruta

Longtime editor Edna Albertson, known for her Dear Clueless letters published in The Horn Book, retired from Cottage Press (now a division of ImPress) in 1997. She was succeeded by Sarah Pieters, whose, ahem, discriminating approach to manuscript acquisitions rivals that of her predecessor. I spoke with Sarah ahead of the publication of Dear Dumbass: The Rejection Emails of Sarah Pieters, a compilation of her own sent rejection letters.

Roger Sutton: The Horn Book has never starred a Cottage Press or ImPress book. Why do you think that is?

Sarah Pieters: Not to be rude or anything, but there’s a reason they call you the Little Old Lady from Boston. I like to think that our books are at the cutting edge of children’s literature, which Twitter and I both know is not something that could be said of you. Our titles like their skirts short and their necklines plunging. If you will.

RS: That time you threatened to sue us for the 5-in-the-Guide review didn’t exactly help either.

SA: Point taken.

RS: Your arrival at Cottage Press (and mine at The Horn Book!) coincided with the beginning of a phenomenon in children’s publishing — I’m thinking of a certain boy wizard. What would you say to his creator if you’d seen that first Potter manuscript come in?

SP: I’ll say what I did say when I turned that manuscript down: “Dear Ms. Rowling, this book is going to make you and some publisher pots and pots of money, but it’s simply too old-school for our forward-thinking imprints.” I knew those house-elves were trouble from the word go.

RS: From your rejection email for Last Stop on Market Street, it seems you were under the impression it was a book of bus schedules. Could you walk me through your manuscript evaluation process?

SP: Oh, please. It might as well have been a book of bus schedules. All they did was sit there. Am I the only one with the dangly bits to say it? Boring…

RS: And Mo Willems? Why wasn’t he ImPress material?

SP: Look, I deal with pigeons every goddamned day I walk to the office, and really don’t want to listen to them talk. Does anyone? Don’t let the pigeons crap on my head, is my motto.

RS: How could you say those things to Kate DiCamillo?

Sarah Pieters

Photo: Peter D. Sieruta

SP: I see she’s got you fooled. Not me, though. Never me.

RS: You’ve never really broken into the YA market though you had a shot at some very lucrative titles. Can you explain your “no trilogies” rule?

SP: Oh, God, cut out the wallowing and Twilight would have been a short story. And trilogies take years to come out. Do you really want sixteen-year-olds reading the same series they were reading at fourteen? Reading is about advancement, people. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’ll tell you one thing for free: I blame these so-called blockbuster fantasies for the wretched state of this country.

RS: Do you have a favorite ImPress title? (Don’t say your own.)

SP: Oh, that’s easy: It’s All Uphill from Here: Reality for Children, by our founder, Gertrude Cottage. It still does the best job I’ve ever seen of explaining the bleakness of life.

RS: Any regrets?

SP: Regrets? I’ve had a…actually, no. I did it my way, bitches.

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