Monday Interview: AnnMarie Anderson, Senior Editor at Scholastic Paperbacks

Hi, everyone!

Weeks ago I gave an account of a SCBWI conference I attended in February, and I mentioned meeting a fantastic editor from Scholastic, who made my day by championing and requesting books with culturally diverse characters during her presentation! 😀

AnnMarie Anderson is Senior Editor at Scholastic Paperbacks, the publishing imprint that provides generations of readers with treats such as Goosebumps, Captain Underpants and Dear Dumb Diary, just to quote a few. Among other titles, AnnMarie edits the series Geronimo Stilton, Nate Banks and Poison Apple. I’m thrilled and honored to interview her today, with Ari, from Reading in Color!

AnnMarie, thank you for joining us on Multiculturalism Rocks! I was impressed when, during your presentation at the Asilomar Conference (2010), you specifically mentioned multicultural series in your wish list; however I often hear from agents or publishers that “multicultural books are hard to sell.” Do you share that point of view?

AMA: Not exactly. I do think that sometimes it can be hard to sell multicultural books if kids look at them and think they are too didactic, or if it seems as though the book’s main purpose or theme is that it’s a multicultural story. But if there’s a book out there that’s just a really great read, with vibrant, believable characters and an exciting plot, and the characters happen to be people of color, then I don’t think that book will be a tough sell.

What elements are you looking for in multicultural paperback series?

AMA: Generally, I’m looking for the same elements that I look for in any paperback series. It’s important that the characters are well-developed and believable; I love characters that really leap off the page. Since paperback series are very commercial in nature, I’m also looking for plot-driven, action-packed stories that really draw kids in and keep them turning the pages.

Are there any pitfalls you would warn writers against when writing characters with culturally diverse background?

AMA: To me, the most important thing to keep in mind when writing any fictional character is to be sure the character feels real and believable. When I’m editing manuscripts, I’ll sometimes mark a line of dialogue and write a comment in the margin: Really? I’m not sure this character would have said that. I don’t believe it. The vocabulary and expressions your character uses have to seem realistic. If they don’t, readers will see through it. The second a reader feels like a character isn’t authentic, he or she will lose interest in the story and will lose his or her trust in the author as a storyteller.

Note: the following questions are from Ari, a well-known teen blogger and book reviewer. She advocates for culturally diverse books on her blog, Reading in Color (http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/)

Ari: Are there actual statistics kept by publishing companies that show how well books about people of color (POC) sell? Are there also stats about the more popular covers; the ones with POC on them? Or the ones without POC?

AMA: I’m honestly not sure. There are so many different factors that contribute to a book’s success—there’s the story, the cover, the price, the marketing and publicity, and any self-promoting the author might do. Trends in the marketplace can also have a big effect on sales.

Ari: Why do you think there is a lack of literature representing POC? Are writers not stepping forward? (I want to get to the bottom of this question). Are editors not selling the books to publishing companies?

AMA: As an editor, I would like to see more submissions from writers with diverse backgrounds. And I would love to see all writers including more people of color as characters in their books. Ultimately, I believe what all editors (and readers) are looking for is a really good story. If a book is too good to put down, it won’t be hard to sell it to anyone, whether that person is a publisher, a bookseller, a teacher, a parent, or a child.

AnnMarie, thank you once again for your time and for sharing your experience. I look forward to Scholastic Paperbacks upcoming titles!

Notes on AnnMarie Wish List and Scholastic submission guidelines:
AnnMarie is looking for boy-friendly content materials that will be appealing to the reluctant reader (Captain Underpants is a great example), for stories with animal characters (good examples are Warriors and Bunnicula the vampire bunny), for stories that will make her laugh out loud. It is safe to suspect that if the well-written characters happen to have culturally diverse backgrounds, you will definitely get noticed. 🙂
I posted a link below regarding the submission guidelines, however it mostly relates to materials that will be helpful in the classroom. Do not miss it, especially if you are an educator.
Scholastic editors regularly attend writers and illustrators conferences, and meeting one seems the most realistic opportunity to send a manuscript if you are unagented, since editors from big publishing houses generally welcome unagented submissions from conference attendees for a short period of time after the conference. I also encourage consulting the current Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market guide, which is available in the closest bookstore and in your local library. It is really helpful and details how to best contact Scholastic in regards to the genre of your manuscript. I cannot reproduce the Guide’s content on the blog.

Some of Scholastic helpful links:
o Scholastic Website
o Scholastic Website in Spanish
o Submission Guidelines (Teaching Ideas)
o Scholastic International
o Act Green

o Follow Scholastic on Twitter
o Join Scholastic on Facebook. Note: Scholastic launched Kids In Distressed Situations (K.I.D.S.). The company donates one book to a kid in need for every person who likes/joins Scholastic on Facebook. Please, spread the word.

Some of the books mentioned in this post:

Thanks again to AnnMarie Anderson for her time, thank you Ari for your collaboration, and thank you all for reading! Have a great week,

Nathalie
PS: Secretly doing an inventory of paperback series with culturally diverse characters; AnnMarie’s wish list got me curious. I hope that this interview inspired you. 😀

Edited at 3:43 to update the wish list.

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About Nathalie Mvondo

Nathalie Mvondo lives in Northern California and studies anthropology and nutrition. She is a writer and a blogger.
This entry was posted in All Interviews, Publishers Interview and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Monday Interview: AnnMarie Anderson, Senior Editor at Scholastic Paperbacks

  1. Thanks for letting me be a part of this Nathalie!

    I’m still really curious about the stats question 🙂 But from what I’ve gathered, not enough writers of color are submitting their stories. Maybe they give up too soon or don’t know where to look. We need more programs in schools encourging kids of color to follow their dreams, even if they don’t see many writers of color around them.

    I like how Ms. Anderson makes sure that a character always remains authentic and true to self, I get annoyed when a character suddenly changes face without any warning signings.

    Like

  2. Doret says:

    I wish the only thing that mattered was quaility of the story and not the characters ethnic or religious background.

    Children’s author’s of color who write characters have more loops to jump through.

    Even if there aren’t alot of writers of color submitting to publishing houses (though I don’t believe that) I am hard pressed to believe there’s nothing of value in the few submissions that are received from Asian, Black, Latino, Indian, Native American, writers.

    I love Dear Dumb Diary books, they laugh out loud funny.

    I always love the Ruby and the Booker Boys series by Derrick Barnes. I hope it’s around for a long time.

    Like

    • Doret, I didn’t know about the Booker Boy series. Will see if my library has it. Thank you for bringing that up.

      I share your thoughts about the quality of the story. It makes me happy when a reader enjoy a book and identify with the characters regardless of their ethnicity or religion. To switch topic, though it is a bit related: Iron Man! I confess that I grew up reading Marvel, too. So Iron Man is Hispanic (well, he was also Black at some point). I love the fact that it is not the center of the story. The series is a worldwide success regardless.

      Like

  3. I agree with her that the story should not be didactic or unrealistic. If the writing is good, it will appeal to many readers.

    Like

  4. Karin says:

    I found this interview interesting. I’ve struggled getting my multicutural manuscript in the correct hands. I do think that there are many books on the market that do well, but a mix of characters or a new theme is where it’s lacking. And as a white person, I don’t think we are given the chance to prove that we can write multicutural material. Maybe we can’t…

    Like

    • Hi, Karin! 😀

      “…as a white person, I don’t think we are given the chance to prove that we can write multicutural material. Maybe we can’t…” Aaaw, I wouldn’t give up so fast. 🙂

      Several authors do it successfully; however it is true that the ones I have in mind (Alexander McCall Smith, Justine Larbalestier, Karen Healey or Ted and Betsy Lewin either lived or spend a significant amount of time abroad…

      Karin, if I may ask, is your MS a picture book, MG or YA?

      Like

      • Karin says:

        Hi Nathalie,

        Don’t worry…I have a saying: I might give up, but I’ll never quit!

        I do understand that I, well, will never understand enough to fully grasp what it’s like to be from another culture, but I like to at least try and understand.

        My manuscript is MG.

        Like

  5. Zetta says:

    Karin–check the CCBC stats for the past few years…there are often more books ABOUT African Americans than BY African Americans, so I’d have to say white writers DO get a chance to write about just about anyone…

    Ari–I’m with you on the desire for greater transparency. Many publishers don’t accept unagented submissions, and so it would help if more editors did outreach in order to connect with the many writers *I* know who simply can’t get published…

    Like

    • Zetta,

      the outreach initiative you mentioned got me extremely curious. I wish you would elaborate if you have time.

      The only outreach I’m aware of is about editors accepting unagented submissions at conferences, but again, not everyone can afford the cost of travel, lodging and tuition of such events…

      Then organizations like the SCBWI have local chapters, and I heard of several organizing a pitch-a-thon with editors, or other local events where sometimes a publisher will be invited. Local events, lasting a couple of hours, generally have a lower fees.

      Of course, and despite the resources mentioned above, it remains very challenging to get published; for the majority it takes time (decades for some) if it ever happens…

      Thanks for the insight, Zetta. 🙂

      Like

      • Lisa Yee says:

        I agree. An organization like the SCBWI is a wonderful resource. A couple of years ago, I even gave a keynote about ethnic diversity in children’s literature.

        Even if you don’t go to the national conference (which is AMAZING), you can participate in the discussion boards, attend free local “schmoozes” and other SCBWI events. But most importantly, it’s a network of writers who encourage one another.

        Nathalie, I enjoyed reading your interview with AnnMarie. I publish with Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books, and everyone there has been so supportive of my books, all of which feature POC.

        Like

      • elliottzetta says:

        I interviewed former kidlit editor, Laura Atkins, at my blog and she discussed her strategies for finding writers of color:

        http://zettaelliott.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/from-the-other-side-an-editor-speaks-out/

        Like

  6. Karin says:

    Thanks Zetta, yes, I am sure that is very true. As a writer you would think that it would be equal with who gets published, but maybe it really isn’t. I think, from news stories still showing up to this very day, that there is still racism out there.

    And to what Nathalie said, yes there are many great conferences out there, one for SCBWI is even coming up, but it is hard for many to find the money to attend these events. We have many local events, but the ones where you get to send your work in to publisher, usually only falls under the “pay” events. But being a memeber of SCBWI opens doors to many agents and editors.

    Like

  7. olugbemisola says:

    maybe agents and editors can attend (and maybe open themselves to some pitches/queries at) more of the smaller or more local literary events often highlighted in local and community newspapers that serve people of colour, festivals, and readings, etc. at colleges, universities, and other literary-related institutions…or online — participate in chats, and open themselves to queries from communities or readers of sites like this one, color online, etc.

    Like

  8. olugbemisola says:

    …asia in the heart, world on the mind, and other sites with a multicultural focus frequented by writers and illustrators.

    Like

    • Gbemi, it’s a fantastic idea… If time permits, I’m interested in tracking down what is already happening, with the hope that what you described gains in amplitude.

      Like

  9. I love Gbemi’s idea! We do need more editors to go smaller and/or more local literay revents especially in diverse communities.

    Don’t give up Karin 🙂

    I think scholastic is one of the best publishing houses in terms of diversity (still working on that research project).

    Like

  10. Zetta, I’m updating today’s post (interview round-up) and including your link. Thank you!

    Like

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