Gaby Morgan: A Profile

As the first in a new series of Editors’ Profiles, we asked Gaby Morgan to talk about being a children’s poetry editor:

Who are you and which publishing house do you work for?

I am Gaby Morgan and I am an Associate Publisher at Macmillan Children’s Books.

How long have you been editing poetry for children and how many children’s poetry books have you published?

 I have been editing poetry for 29 years and have published more than 350 books.

How did you get started?

I joined MCB as an Editorial Secretary working across the whole list and especially enjoyed working on the poetry and non-fiction. Soon after I joined, Susie Gibbs published the first two titles on a brand-new poetry list – they were highly illustrated, pocket money-priced books of poems written for kids rather than at them.  They were hugely popular and the list is still going strong 30 years later. Macmillan has been particularly good at supporting the list not only through the high points but also (and more importantly) during the quieter times too.

What do you enjoy and not enjoy about working on poetry for children?

I love working with poets who write for children. They are friendly, supportive (especially of each other), enthusiastic and they know their audience.

Many of our anthologies are themed and it is amazing to see the different ways poets approach a topic.

There is always a poem that can help you express your mood or understand a moment in time – a birthday poem, a football poem, a poem to cheer you up or help you to understand how someone else is feeling. A poem can open your eyes to the world.

We work with incredible illustrators and they bring so much to the books and often provide a way into a poem or add a bit of extra context. Sometimes they just make you laugh. Martin Chatterton illustrated every cover for the first six years of the list which gave it a strong series identity.

It is not really a dislike, but clearing permissions is time consuming and can be a challenge. There is a lot of tracking down permission holders, waiting to hear back and negotiating fees. It generates an awful lot of paperwork. We spend a lot more time on this than on any other part of the editorial process.

Do you usually edit the poems and how do you decide how to order them in a collection or anthology?

An anthologist will send me a first draft and I read it through to see if any poems are doing the same job in the collection or if there are any gaps. Some anthologists send their manuscript in order and in sections. Some send a lovely pile of poems and I will suggest an order. This usually involves spreading them all over the floor, making small groups and then knitting the whole thing together. Most anthologies are a bit of both and we often commission a few new pieces too. I will suggest edits to the poems themselves, this mostly happens to new poems but occasionally I will talk to a poet about something that has already been published. It may be that a poem has more impact by being a bit shorter or a line or word might feel out of place, so I will ask them to swap it. It is amazing the difference these small changes can make.

What do you think are the current trends in publishing poetry for children and how has change in the bigger publishing world affected them?

Poetry can respond very quickly to world events and trends. Over the last five years there has been a lot of emphasis on kindness and empathy, on looking after our planet and publishing poetry from under-represented groups.

Have you any poetry writing advice you’d like to share with us?

It doesn’t have to be rude to be funny!  

If you are starting out, read all kinds of poetry.

Social media has been brilliant for poets and poetry and there is a wonderful band of lovely poets on Twitter who are well worth a follow.

Which are your personal favourites amongst the books you’ve published?

I could not possibly choose. 

Which book was most important in your career as an editor?

So many have been important but The Secret Lives of Teachers by Brian Moses and Tongue Twisters and Tonsil Twizzlers by Paul Cookson were the start of an incredible poetry journey and I am so happy to still be working with Brian and Paul.  Read Me: A Poem for Every Day of the National Year of Reading was an absolute blockbuster and the beginning of a decade of Read Me and The Works titles which brought so much poetry and so many poets to a generation of children. Allie Esiri’s brilliant anthologies have opened poetry up to everyone and I am very happy indeed to have just published The Big Amazing Poetry Book which contains 52 weeks of poetry from 52 brilliant poets, and stunning illustrations by Chris Riddell, to celebrate the first 30 years of the list.