When asked for advice about what authors should look for in agents, editors, and publishers, award-winning and Charming As A Verb (Balzer + Bray, October 13, 2020) author Ben Philippe, encourages finding industry professionals whose emails they are unafraid to receive. “I have friends who are also writers, they have that fear of their own editors and publishers,” he tells So Booking Cool. “They’re like ‘Oh, I made too many typos, they’re gonna think less of me.’ ‘The book didn’t sell as well as expected, they’re disappointed in me.’ And they really have that fear. I very much understand that fear because I think maybe I had it with my first couple of agents.”
The said fear he experienced about four or five years ago was counterproductive, which is why, when he has a say so, he works with people whose contact do not fill him with dread. Fortunately, the dynamic he has with publisher and editor Alessandra Balzer (Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins), is the opposite of anxiety-inducing. “Alessandra can email me–whether or not it has an attachment, whether or not it’s just a blurb she’s forwarding me or it’s a manuscript that has so many notes I have to go through, I’m never afraid of her emails. I’m never like ‘Oh, God, Oh, God, I can’t open this now,” he shares.
Anxiety (and emails) is a theme that plays out in Charming As A Verb. In the romcom, Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger, the protagonist, obsessively checks his inbox and admissions portal to see if he’s been accepted into his dream school, Columbia University. With his second book, Philippe knew he didn’t want Henri to be anything like Norris from the The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, which earned the William C. Morris YA Debut Award earlier this year. He also based the story off the 2019 college admissions scandal.
“To me, it was a little wild,” the professor says. “I mean, I get the entire thing, but the wildness of the privilege of parents, of millionaires, sort of having to game the system to get their kids into schools, whereas when I was that age there’s nothing I wanted more than to get into that school, and the kids I tend to meet when I’m doing panels or visiting schools, they’re often minorities and children of immigrants, and there’s nothing they want more than those colleges.”
The Columbia graduate continues, “The college admissions scandal was, like, giving primacy to the want of the parents, like ‘Ooh, those parents are forcing those schools on those kids who don’t give a crap.’ And that seems to be entirely true, but I wanted to tell a story of a kid that really wanted all those things, and that was living in that sort of yearning.”
Check out the interview to learn more about Philippe including the clever techniques he used to find his characters’ voice; whether he thinks Norris and Henri would get along; the actor he can see portraying Henri; his perspective on author communities and not “wanting to be at a table”‘; not wanting all his books to depict interracial relationships; his adult book; his respect for librarians; his experience winning the William C. Morris award; an event in his teaching career that prompted a tweet about writers of color and “white young male confidence,” and more! For more information, visit Philippe’s official website.