Alumni Profiles

Jill Santopolo, CC '02

Job Title: 
Executive Editor, Philomel Books
Grad Year: 
Columbia College

Please briefly describe your current position in more detail, including your responsibilities and job tasks:

I'm currently an Executive Editor at Philomel Books, which is a publishing imprint of the Penguin Young Readers division.  My responsibilities include acquiring and editing 12-15 books a year targeted at readers between the ages of 3 and 18.  I work daily with writers and artists, helping them to hone their craft so that they can create the most successful books possible.  I also negotiate contracts with agents and consult with our marketing, publicity, and design departments on all aspects of each book's production and launch into the marketplace.

Please briefly describe your career path, including the reasons behind job changes, since graduating from Columbia University:

My path to becoming an executive children's book editor was rather straightforward.  I began interning in children's book publishing while I was an undergrad at Columbia.  By the time I graduated, I'd interned for Philomel Books (where I currently work), Dutton Children's Books, and Holiday House, a small, independent children's book publishing company.  I interviewed for publishing assistant positions at the Columbia Career Center during my last year of college and was hired by HarperCollins Publishers to be an editorial assistant in their children's division two weeks after graduation.  I spent seven years at HarperCollins, working my way up to a senior editor position.  While I was working there, I obtained an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and secured a two-book publishing contract from Scholastic for my own children's fiction.  In the summer of 2009, I received a phone call from the editor I first interned with as a college sophomore--he'd been promoted to Publisher and had an opening for an executive editor.  I interviewed and was hired and have been editing for Philomel Books ever since.  I still work on my own writing and teach a writing class once a year for McDaniel College, a small school based out of Maryland that offers online courses for their graduate students. I also travel the country speaking at writing conferences and visiting elementary schools to talk to children about my books.

How did your experiences at Columbia University (e.g., academic studies, extra-curricular activities, student groups) prepare you for your career?:

The most amazing thing, I think, about a Columbia College education is the Core Curriculum.  The Core gave me a strong base from which to build my knowledge. The essays I wrote as an English major, dissecting novels, certainly helped me to figure out what made a good novel, and by comparison, what didn't.  And the multitudes of papers I had to write throughout my college career honed my writing skills.  Additionally, my work as a copy-editor on the Columbia Daily Spectator made me think about grammar, sentence structure, and the clearest way to get information across to readers.  I think the experience that most prepared me for my career, though, was the internships I was able to get because of Columbia's location and connections.  I don't think I'd be where I am today if I hadn't chosen to attend Columbia University.

What job resources (internships, summer opportunities, work experiences, or individuals) have influenced your career choice(s)?:

The internships I had while I was a Columbia College student most definitely influenced my career choices.  By being able to test out different types of publishing houses--as well as ezine publishing--I found a field that seemed to be a perfect fit for me. 

What advice would you give to a Columbia student or graduate interested in your field?:

I would tell anyone interested in children's publishing to do three things: 1) read as many children's books as possible 2) get at least one internship in a children's publishing house or a literary agency that represents children's authors and 3) bone up on your knowledge of art and children's book artists.  It wouldn't hurt to work for a Columbia publication or get a part time job in a book store either.  It's all about passion--passion for books, for children, for art, and for the written word.  If you've got that, you'll find a place for yourself in the kidlit world.