My Path to PRH: Ruta Rimas on Challenging the Literary Canon
Everyone has unique career stories to tell. In our My Path to Penguin Random House series, PRH colleagues share how they entered the world of book publishing, what led them to our company, insights into their jobs, and their future professional aspirations.
This week, we’re featuring Ruta Rimas, Executive Editor, Razorbill, Penguin Young Readers as she tells us her story in her own words.
How would you describe the course of your path to book publishing and PRH, including practical, professional, and educational?
My path to publishing—and to PRH—was a combination of luck, pluck, and star-alignment. Currently, I’m an executive editor for the Razorbill imprint of Penguin Young Readers, primarily focused on acquiring and editing young adult and middle grade novels (with help from my toddler daughter), with the occasional picture book and graphic novel, as well. Though I now live in the Hudson Valley, I moved to NYC in 2000 for college and lived there until 2017 (which at that point, was almost half my life!). When I graduated with a BA in Media Analysis (a super niche strand of journalism), I decided to do absolutely nothing with that degree and instead, joined the NYC Teaching Fellows program and became a high school math teacher. I taught for three years – algebra, geometry, and pre-calc – while pursuing my Masters.
I loved most things about teaching and most things about teaching adolescents. I’m still in touch with my old students, all of whom left an indelible mark on my soul, including some you may know (I’m so proud of Tyriek White, whose debut novel WE ARE A HAUNTING is out this April from Astra House).
If you know anyone in education, you know it’s a grind. I simply couldn’t sustain the 12-14 hour days at the small public school I taught at, where I was teacher/adviser/mentor/coach/club leader and more. In 2007, I made the hard decision to leave my school and pursue a new career that combined my love of reading, writing, and working for young people. I met an assistant editor from HarperCollins through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (a few more degrees, and I’d have met Kevin Bacon) who was leaving her role to write full time and she hand delivered my resume to her boss. He interviewed me. I took an edit test. And was hired as an editorial assistant. My first day at HarperCollins was also the first day of school. That’s where the stars aligned!
From there, my professional trajectory is standard. I spent four years at HarperCollins (Balzer & Bray) then moved to Simon & Schuster (McElderry), and in 2109, came over to Penguin Young Readers (Razorbill).
One tip you would give to someone who aspires to become an editor?
Read everything—from fiction to non-fiction, graphic novels and picture books, YA to speculative . Yeah, you can read Camus, Bradbury, and Huxley, but prioritize Ng, Woodson, Coates, Tahir, and challenge the canon. Have broad interests (like hiking or jumping into leaf piles or throwing rocks) and interesting life experiences.
What have been some of the highlights of your PRH job and work life so far? Has anything surprised you?
This past year has been a highlight for me, professionally. A book that I loved, poured my beating heart into editing, cried for the characters, and one that still squeezes the breath from my lungs when I read it, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
The author, Sabaa Tahir, is hugging her sons in this picture right after her name was read as the winner. I’m the one covering my mouth, shrieking. I let out a guttural scream, the type of uncontrollable growl that can only emerge with the combination of joy, relief, love, amazement, and pride. This book was a once-in-a-lifetime project to edit. I’d like to say that I’m surprised that others saw in it what I did, but I’m not; Sabaa Tahir’s book is magnificent and tender and ferocious, and a testament to her talent. She deserves all the accolades that have been awarded.
What’s it like to head up the Emerging Voices & Visions program for PYR?
Emerging Voices and Visions programs are free annual events hosted online by Penguin Young Readers’ editors and art directors, designed by industry professionals for unpublished and early career writers and artists from historically marginalized communities, including Black, Indigenous, people of color, AA and NHPI, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent creators, and creators with disabilities. Our goal with this programming is to foster a more equitable, inclusive, and accessible publishing landscape by helping to demystify the publishing process.
I’ve run the program these past two years as online webinars. Coordinating these events – which may seem effortless during the actual program – takes a lot of preparation. Our annual program is only two hours long, but before it begins, I take months to: determine the scope/topic of the program; plan the agenda; recruit the VOLUNTEER PANELISTS (who without my wonderful colleagues, I’d never be able to pull ANY of this off); develop a social media promotional timeline (also, very thankful to the PYR Marketing design team who created our logo and style guide); set up the ZOOM, the ticketing, ensuring all tech concerns are handled….
But at the end of the program, I always feel so connected to the writing community and to my colleagues. And, of course, the hope is that, by providing access and information to industry professionals, we are taking concrete steps to making the landscape of our industry more equitable.
Top three Hudson Valley towns?
Sometimes I can’t believe how close this epically beautiful part of our country is to the city. It’s hard to narrow down top towns; each one has its own distinct culture and personality.
If you go for a rugged hike in the Catskill mountain range (and you have a car!), I suggest popping into Kingston. Be sure to check out the fabulous independent bookstore-bar, Rough Draft, while you are there.
For anyone who loves rock-climbing and funky college towns, New Paltz is terrific for a long weekend. It also has a handful of bookstores, including Inquiring Minds. I’m a big fan of the bar restaurant, Huckleberry, which is slightly off the main drag.
Finally, shout out to where I live—artsy, mountain-town Beacon! I’m sure many of you have already travelled up here for a quick visit to DIA; it’s only an hour and a half ride up the Metro North Hudson line. Feel free to drop me an email if you come up, I’m happy to offer hike ideas, additional must-sees, etc. We have a few awesome breweries (the best sours you’ve ever had? Try Hudson Valley Brewery. A smooth and citrus-y IPA? Industrial Arts is for you!), a small-business filled mile-long main street (my favorite stores are on the East End of town, and owned by my dear friends. Hyperbole and Solstad House!), FIVE coffee shops (my favorite is BIG MOUTH COFFEE ROASTERS, smack dab in the middle of Main Street), and a family-friendly barcade called Happy Valley.