Susan Roxborough is executive editor at Seattle-based Sasquatch Books, which, along with its children’s imprint, Little Bigfoot, is one of the country’s leading independent presses. Sasquatch publishes a range of genres and titles, from the beloved Larry Gets Lost children’s picture book series to gardening books to vibrant cookbooks featuring local famed foodie haunts such as Theo Chocolate.
Roxborough has been in book publishing for 25 years and has worked at both large and small trade book publishing companies in the U.S. and Canada. She has been both a publicist and an editor and has shepherded literary fiction, children’s and nonfiction books from initial idea to finished product. Roxborough moved to Seattle from New York in 2006. She is the mother of an 11-year-old daughter.
What do you do at Sasquatch?
We’re a regional publisher, and we publish mostly nonfiction, as well as children’s books. The books are completely different than anything I did before. I always wanted to work on cookbooks — I love to cook and bake — and it’s been great to blend a personal passion with my professional life.
What is one of your favorite books you’ve worked on?
Will Puberty Last My Whole Life? REAL Answers to REAL Questions from Preteens About Body Changes, Sex and Other Growing-Up Stuff [by Julie Metzger]: In 25 years of book publishing, I have loved working on this book more than any other. I contacted Julie and I said, ‘I think you’re amazing.’ She is so passionate about what she does; the subject had my heart. It was a great experience putting this book together, to produce content that has real value for the audience it’s intended to reach. That means a lot to me.
I also adore the Larry Gets Lost series. I love John Skewes, he’s so talented.
What does your daughter think about the fact that her mom helps bring books to life?
My daughter is an avid reader. Sometimes Gary [Luke], our publisher, gets in something for children and asks my daughter if she’ll read it. And she does and then writes something up. I love that — the way my daughter gets involved in my work. Sometimes we’re testing recipes for a cookbook together. Sometimes she has ideas for what she thinks should go on a cover for the Trophy Cupcakes book or a Molly Moon book.
Here comes that one question: How’s your work/life balance?
I feel like probably a lot of mothers feel, that I am probably never doing either — work or parenting — as well as I should. So there’s guilt. The balance for me is tricky. I am a single mother, and my daughter’s father lives in New York. I’m from Canada, and I don’t have family out here. Sasquatch has been so supportive of my responsibilities, and they bend for me so that I can be there for my daughter. I feel very fortunate, and that makes me, in turn, want to be the best I can be professionally.
What does a typical day of mom/career balancing involve?
I tend to work nontraditional hours. What that means is I don’t have 'work time' and 'family time' ... I might leave work to do something for my daughter, soccer practice, dinner, helping her with homework. When she goes to bed, I reengage with work. I often work weekends to make up for the time I take for my daughter. So I find that hard, but I’m grateful for it. And grateful to my company for letting me do that.
How do you find new book ideas? Do they come to you? Do you hunt them down?
Seventy-five percent of ideas are non-agented. And largely Sasquatch generates its own ideas. We do have a slush pile ― manuscripts and proposals (that’s how Larry came to us).
But mostly we are looking for ideas constantly, in the newspapers we read, in the blogs we read, events we attend, people we talk to. I recently asked a lady at Swansons Nursery what books you need to know how to grow roses in the Northwest, and that resulted in an idea. Another book, Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast, was born out of the fact that as a mother I was confused about which seafood was healthy to put on the table. I looked around and nothing was available and I thought 'Yes, we need a book on this.'
Some books take a long time, and it is a very long chase — sometimes years ― where I am pursuing an idea. Theo Chocolate [released in 2015], that took me a few years, meeting, not being quite ready, meeting again. Sometimes it’s a long and fruitless chase, and that’s frustrating, and that happens to all of us.
Trendspotting is a really big part of my job, especially where cookbooks are concerned. There’s a crystal-ball-gazing element to publishing.
What advice do you have for parents who struggle with how to pursue their passion or build their career while also being present for their kids?
The thing I realize now is that it goes by fast, the business of parenting. My mother has said to me that our job as parents is to give our children roots and wings. My job is important to me because I need my job — I am lucky I enjoy it, but even if I didn’t I still have a responsibility to provide for my daughter.
That said, I do enjoy my work, and I am glad that I have work that feeds me. I love being part of the creative process of bringing a book to life; that means something to me personally. I’m tired sometimes, but if I won the lottery, would I quit my job? I don’t think I would. It’s part of my identity. And I am setting an example for my daughter. She sees me striving to achieve things, to strike a balance. As she’s growing up she’s seeing me find my way, and I am hoping that’s a lesson.