Industry Interview with the creator of of story time teen, James Tilton

For our 2024 blog series, we’re highlighting industry professionals to find out more about their time in the book world. Follow along for insight on what catches a reviewer’s interest, things to avoid when pitching a media outlet, what librarians are searching for and more. 

Today, we’re chatting with James Tilton, the creator of Story Time Teen and a Creative Writing teacher at his local public high school, where he’s helped hundreds of students publish poems, vignettes, and short stories for distribution at a nearby independent bookstore. He’s hoping one day he can see his own words in print as well.

1. As someone who hears about A LOT of books, what makes one stand out to you?

I’m always a sucker for new titles from authors I already love. Nic Stone and Becky Albertalli come to mind especially. I’ll read anything they write, and I suspect their teams are well aware of that at this point!

2. What’s the worst thing an author (or publicist!) can do in telling you about book they’d like you to consider for coverage?

I know that some people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I’m a sucker for a good cover. If you’ve got a great cover, include it at the bottom of your email. I love seeing stunning covers! It’s how I first fell in love with Nicola Yoon‘s A Sun Is Also A Star.

3. What makes your job easier?

We at StoryTimeTeen have a long-running series where young adult authors write letters to their teen selves. It’s incredible! We get the most honest, heart-breaking/warming letters from the most incredible authors, and it’s truly a pleasure to publish them. BUT sometimes those same amazing authors and publicists assume that we already have their bio, headshots, and book covers or can find that information easily online. The problem is that those things change sometimes, and it can be a little tricky to know if we got the right bio or the finalized cover or the most recent bio. Authors and publicists who remember to send that information to us, whether via email or as a Google Drive link, are my favorite! That simple step saves us tons of time and can help us make sure we’re getting everything right before the post goes live.

4. What’s the most memorable (or maybe funniest) pitch that’s ever come your way?

I’m a sucker for wordplay. One of my favorite pitches recently came from Books Forward actually. You pitched Tracy Badua‘s newest book as “When A Music Festie With Your Bestie Gets Testy.” That headline grabbed me. I guess you could say I thought it was the… bestie. Too much? I’ll stop.

5. Did you always know you wanted to be involved in the book world?

I got involved in book blogging when I first started writing young adult novels myself. My agent thought it would be a good way for me to find a bookish community, and I’m so glad I listened to her. I’m a high school teacher as well, and I’ve found so many books that I can recommend to my students. We’ve even got a book club now and take regular field trips to local book festivals, including YALLWest, where I was lucky enough to be honored with a Purple Ink Award. None of that would have happened if it wasn’t for book blogging.

6. What is your most recommended book and why?

That’s such a hard question, and it’s why I created an algorithm to do it for me. It takes a reader’s bookish preferences and gives them a personalized recommendation in less than a minute. I call it the Book Rec Generator, and it’s one of the things that really sets StoryTimeTeen apart! You can try it here.

7. What is a book that surprised you recently?

I just finished TJ Klune‘s In The Lives Of Puppets this morning, and it was incredible. It’s this Pinocchio retelling set in the future that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny and still have so much heart. His writing always makes me fall in love with being human, and this book is no exception.

8. What is your favorite part about working in the book community?

The free books, for sure. I think it’s my students’ favorite part too. My classroom library is loaded at this point, and they love it!