Bethany Vinhateiro twirls her pen around her fingers and sits facing me, focused. Her rose-colored pumps peek out from under the table. We sit at a small table in the atrium of 125 High Street in Boston, Mass., otherwise known as the headquarters for the publishing house Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, founded in 1832. The building is beautiful from both inside and out, with marble floors and columns and an intricate window design as you enter the atrium. Ms. Vinhateiro, in her early 30s and heavily pregnant, dresses somewhat formally; her black and white patterned cardigan goes nicely with her black dress and rose-colored pumps. Her black hair is down, just brushing her shoulders. A gold chain necklace finishes off the look.
As a children’s book editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Franchise team, Bethany Vinhateiro brings people together and keeps well loved tradition alive by publishing famous works in new formats.
She grew up in Rhode Island, in North Providence. “It has some lovely parks. You should visit when you have a chance. Easily accessible by train,” she says, with the quick air of convincing a tourist.
Ms. Vinhateiro’s mother has always been a steadying influence in her life, encouraging her in anything she wanted to do, including publishing as a career path. Her mother is a nurse, while Ms. Vinhateiro and her sister are more into the arts. “She’s an inspiring lady. Very selflessly always giving to me and now to my children. I hope I can be like her when I grow up,” she says.
Ms. Vinhateiro attended Emerson College for her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. “I loved it,” she says of her time there. “It was the only school I wanted to go to and it totally delivered. I really loved being in Boston…In a lot of ways it sort of opened up my worldview, which I think college does for a lot of people wherever you go. Just being in a incredibly creative community of people who are always striving and always aspiring to greater things.”
Before and during her time at Simmons College for her MA in Children’s Literature, she worked as a bookseller at Curious George Books and Toys in Harvard Square. It closed briefly, but then reopened under new ownership in 2009. Her time there, she says, was invaluable. “I definitely consider it my first job in publishing. I learned so much. I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in getting into publishing: go and work in a bookstore. You learn about all the different publishers, you learn what they do best, you learn about all of the authors and the illustrators and their track of what they’ve done in the past and what’s new…If you’re a young person coming into publishing, don’t have kids of your own or nieces or nephews, you might have never experienced reading a book with a child before. But if you work in a retail environment, you see it. You see how they interact with books and it’s really important.” Of her time at Simmons, Ms. Vinhateiro explains, “It was just an opportunity to read so broadly, and think about books so deeply…I knew that it would be an opportunity to network, and that would be invaluable. It’s a really small industry and competitive to get a job. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a children’s book editor?”
Ms. Vinhateiro says one of her favorite novels from a young age has always been “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. Of course, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is Lois Lowry’s publisher. In regards to that, Ms. Vinhateiro says, “It’s very cool to work for the house that published it and publishes her.” With a laugh, she adds, ”I have a lot of those experiences. I loved this book as a child and now I get to see it on the shelves at work everyday. It’s neat that those threads from childhood kind of carry through.”
On starting as an administrative assistant at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she says, “I got to meet a lot of people, and I knew who to ask the questions I had, where I could get answers, which is very important, cause you’re gonna have a million questions.” Ms. Vinhateiro quickly progressed to being an editorial assistant. “It was just, you know, helping my boss with everything that she had to do on her books. It was incredibly educational: how to write flap copy…When you think you’re just reading manuscripts all day, looking for the next great Newbery winning novel. Then you become an EA, and you learn what it takes to actually make that novel exist.” Now, Ms. Vinhateiro works as an editor on the Franchise team, “being stewards”-as she terms it-of existing brands and famous franchises that HMH has published, including Curious George, Little Blue Truck, and Martha Speaks, to name a few. This may include anniversary editions for well-loved works, or changing the format of a book for it to be more successful.
A colleague, Alessandra Presiozi, says, “I met Bethany through our jobs here at HMH. She’s my “work twin”….I feel very lucky to work alongside Bethany because she is so smart and knowledgeable about the children’s book world. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned a book or an author or illustrator she wasn’t familiar with. She’s a great person to bounce ideas off of, ask for advice, or scope out wherever the free snacks may be.”
Curiosity, people skills, and creativity are traits that would benefit editors, Ms. Vinhateiro says. She adds, “The type of editing that I do is much more developmental and working with authors to think about their characters and think about their stories and think about new ways to expand the worlds that they’ve created or new ways to use the work that they’ve already done in new and exciting formats.” Ms. Vinhateiro mostly focuses on books for younger children, including board, novelty, and picture books. Novelty books are books that aren’t just ink and paper; they include textures, flaps, tabs, fold-out pages, pop-ups, and other bells and whistles.
Recent trends include social media, especially for novels for older readers. Ms. Vinhateiro tells me, “I’m working on a middle grade friendship story that relies heavily on Snapchat to both tell it and the plot itself…we’re trying so hard to make the friendship strand, the friendship part of the story, feel really natural and wonderful and true. And then you kind of hope the technology just sort of ages okay.” There are always perennial trends, such as cars, trucks, and bedtime, for example. Picture books as media tie-ins with the “Curious George” television show, for instance, are also constants.
Colleague Mary Magrisso shares, “A few of my favorite memories include working with Bethany on the first novel she acquired, late-night launch planning, and Curious George Day activities at the BPL [Boston Public Library]. Bethany has been one of my closest friends at the company since the beginning…As a person, Bethany is thoughtful, genuine, kind, easy going, and easy to talk to. As a co-worker, she is all of those things and talented, hardworking, dedicated, and passionate about what she does. The books she works on show that.”
Ms. Vinhateiro usually works on 8 to 12 books a season; there are two seasons a year: spring and fall. As a publishing house, two catalogs are presented a year with all the books that will be published in the next six months. “Every day’s kinda different,” she says, taking a sip of the Mason jar of water she brought with her. “There are a lot of meetings. Especially the team I’m on, the Franchise team, we’re super collaborative, which is really exciting…it’s also a lot of creative time and talking to authors, illustrators, and, you know, working on projects and looking at layouts, editing manuscripts. The nuts and bolts of actually getting a book designed.”
Even when not working, Ms. Vinhateiro still fills her life with books. She spends her time at home reading picture books and playing outside with her almost-two-year-old son. With her own free time, she tells me she still loves to read. “It’s a thing I’ve loved my whole life.” Ms. Vinhateiro explains that she’s in a book club, and spends time with her friends, discussing the books they’re reading. “Some of my favorite ways to spend my spare time, when I have it,” she says with a laugh.
Bethany Vinhateiro leans across her notebook toward me, passion evident in her voice as she tells me what she ultimately wants out of her career, “I want to edit books for children. I want to find the next great picture books and great novels and great whatever, even if they’re silly little novelty books, but that work so well and have so much thought behind them, so much artistry.”