SCBWI Los Angeles Writers Day faculty member Matt Ringler is a Senior Editor at Scholastic where he edits chapter books, middle grade, and YA fiction.
He got his start at Scholastic in 2001 as a summer intern during his freshman year of college and, minus a short stint as a freelancer, has been there ever since. He compares the internship to winning the lottery, landing him the opportunities to work with Scholastic Editorial Director and author David Levithan and to witness the height of Harry Potter domination.
His books include the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and Sharon Robinson’s middle grade novel, The Hero Two Doors Down. His YA list includes Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.
Matt talks to Kite Tales about his work and Writers Day in Los Angeles, taking place March 3.
Erlina Vasconcellos: Your books are so diverse and range from long-running series to debuts. How do you choose the books you edit?
Matt Ringler: A lot of that is a combination of luck and paying careful attention to the books I’m acquiring. With a long-running series, there’s always books to work on. That allows me to be really choosy with [the non-series books]. I always want to do something different from what I’ve just done. When I took over on Goosebumps, I sort of became the middle grade horror person. I like it, but I don’t always want to work on middle grade horror. The same thing happened when I acquired my first YA project—everything agents were sending me suddenly mirrored this one book I bought. But I like to read all age ranges; I read all genres.
EV: What are the elements of a strong series? And how should writers present that series to you? Do you want to see a whole plan?
MR: There are so many kinds of series and each one is different. You have something like Harry Potter, which was envisioned as seven books, and it was all outlined and she had it written in her head. And then you have a series like Goosebumps that keeps going on. We have 300 plus Goosebumps books and they’re all standalone. It’s impossible to plan a series like that. Other series like Wings of Fire work in arcs. It’s impossible to say you should have the full idea ahead of time, because you never know where it’s going to go. If it’s successful, then you figure out how to continue it. When people pitch me a series I’m looking to someone who looks like they’re going to be adaptable. If kids are looking for more books, we’ll figure that out.
As far as elements, it comes down to characters you want to spend more time with. Plot and character go hand in hand, but if you’re not interested in the character and what they’re doing next, it’s hard to build a series around them—unless you’re doing a standalone series. Then it needs a strong idea behind it.
EV: Goosebumps recently celebrated its 25th year. When did you start editing the series, and what’s it like to work on something so popular and long-running?
MR: I think I took over in 2009 or 2010. It’s incredible. It was such a big thing long before I came anywhere near it. I just hope to be a small piece of this huge thing. R.L. Stine is obviously the major force behind it all. He’s managed to stay in contact with those kids, the 7 to 13 year olds. It’s amazing to be a part of it. I’ve learned a lot, seeing someone like that work up close. He’s got a great sense of humor and he’s truly giving. He’s been a great role model to learn the ropes of publishing from.
EV: You’ll be a keynote speaker at Writer’s Day and leading a breakout session for the “blue track,” which is for writers who have completed or are revising a manuscript. How do you begin and work through the revision process with your writers?
MR: That’s my favorite part of the whole process. A lot of writers, especially first-time writers, or people on their second go around, seem to be the most fearful of that process. When you sell a book, after it’s been read by beta readers and agents, [it] sells in a semi-polished way. I want to be involved figuring out the voice and ideas.
The way we start the revision process is I read the manuscript, once as just a read, and a second for actually editing. I take a bunch of notes. I personally prefer to talk on the phone to brainstorm, joke around back and forth. That’s why it’s my favorite part; You never know what’s going to come out of that collaboration. There’s magic in there.
I tend to write up the general idea of our conversation and the editorial letter will come after the conversation. Then I leave it up to them to get there.
EV: What should participants expect from your breakout session?
MR: It will be a 50-minute character development workshop. Before you leave you’ll come up with a new character in the silliest way possible, in a way that you never thought you’d be doing a character before. It starts with people skeptical and in the end people say they had such a breakthrough.
EV: Any advice for writers who will be participating in Writers Day pitch sessions?
MR: The best way to do it is to take it all in. People can get a bit defensive. None of this is personal. When you’re pitching, you want to put the strongest up first. That’s why they call it the hook. Sometimes when people start to pitch things, they go into too much detail and go on and on about the less important aspects of it. You want to put your most exciting bits up front.
EV: You’ve done a bit of writing about reality television. How did that come about?
MR: I started writing about it because I never stopped watching it…I think it’s important to see how plot works and the functions of plot, and the natural structure of plot and narrative. If you look close enough, it’s everywhere. Obviously, it’s in movies, but even in something people view as being not artistic, like reality TV. They are masterful at creating plot arcs for these characters. There are redemption stories, heroes’ journeys, romance. They are taking 2,600 hours of footage and editing it down to eight 60-minute shows. It’s just watching a different way of seeing people use plot and narrative to tell a story.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @doesntmattr
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Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she writes pictures books and middle grade. Find her on Twitter: @noterlinda
Photos courtesy of Matt Ringler and Scholastic.
Interview edited slightly for clarity and length.