Meet the Editor—Sarah Howden

Meet the Editor—Sarah Howden

Get to know one of Orca’s fiction editors, Sarah Howden, including what she’s looking for in new manuscript submissions!

Hi! My name is Sarah Howden, and I edit everything from board books and picture books to Echoes (early chapter books) and middle-grade novels at Orca. The variety keeps me on my toes!

My first inkling that I might try to wend my way into this industry was when I was in my teens and I rediscovered my favorite kids’ books, like Alligator Pie, and authors like Richard Scarry. Coming to them with fresh eyes, I realized how special and innovative they were. Then when I got to work in a children’s bookstore for a summer, that sealed the deal.

I got my footing in children’s publishing at HarperCollins about fifteen years ago as an editorial assistant, then moved on to Owlkids as the managing editor, where I worked with both books and magazines. Eventually I went freelance for a few years, doing editing of all sorts, and, finally, I joined Orca in April 2022!

I’ve also always loved writing, too, and have written some kids’ books of my own, such as Cone Cat, the follow-up Cone Dog and The Tunnel. I think being a writer helps me be a better editor.

What are you working on right now that you are loving?

I am so lucky to be able to work on so many incredible books! Today I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a poignant and gorgeous picture book about losing someone close to you, which offers a real sense of hope at the end. I’m also reviewing the cover for a bone-chilling batch of scary stories (eek!) and editing a middle-grade book told from the point of view of a girl trying to stay out of foster care, which is pretty heartbreaking. Can’t wait for people to read ALL of them!

What are you looking for in new manuscripts?

Oh boy, this is a tough one. I’m always interested in books that involve SEL (social-emotional learning), since I think they bring such comfort to kid readers. I really appreciate stories told in a strong voice, with a quirky or unusual take on the world. It also helps if the author has thought through issues such as what age group they’re writing for and what they’re hoping to get across with their story so that it feels focused and written to the right level for its content.

Another key thing is homing in on that child’s perspective—so whether it be a picture book or a middle-grade novel, I hope the writer can find that authentic viewpoint that captures how a child sees the world without focusing too much on lessons or morals.

Books that tackle difficult emotions always intrigue me, as do books representing lesser-seen points of view from authors of diverse backgrounds. And I shouldn’t forget—I also really love writing with a sense of humour, especially if it’s tied to a good narrative arc and a bit o’ heart.

What’s your favorite book or your favorite kind of book to work on?

I can’t possibly pinpoint my favorite book! My head will explode! But a few that come to mind are the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr.

What format should new submissions be submitted in?

A Word document or a PDF, double-spaced, is ideal. Also, I really appreciate it when the formatting is as correct as possible—indenting dialogue, using paragraphs, that sort of thing; it makes it easier to read and focus on what matters (the story).