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.

Tibdits on my life & Asilomar Conference

Hi everyone,

if you are familiar with this blog, you know that I don’t share much about my life here. The focus is what is happening in the world of multicultural children’s literature; however today the post will be a little bit more personal. 🙂

Posting will be light in the days to come, as it has been this week. I’m in college and I have my finals in the next ten days. So much happened between January 1st and now that I have to rearrange my schedule, so that it can once again be balanced. I thank my critique partners for their advice and patience (you guys are fabulous!), as well as Greg Pincus who gave me the most insightful and wonderful media critique session at a conference I attended a few weeks ago. He reminded me that as a writer, I need to make sure that in the midst of all my activities I still have time to write. I needed to hear that. Thanks, Greg! The man is really amazing and you will find his story inspiring, once I find the time to dedicate him a post; which will be some time after this school session is over. If you can’t wait that long, click on his name! 😀

The main change I’m thinking of implementing regards posting, which will now occur three times a week: Monday (interview), Wednesday and Friday. Some posts might still appear Tuesday and Thursday, but that will be the exception.

Back to the SCBWI Asilomar Conference, I do not have enough time to give an account that will do justice to how amazing the conference was. Yes, the speakers were inspiring beyond words, but there is also something equally uplifting about being around other children’s writers, and sharing our experience, and laughing, and critiquing each other’s work. Conferences with a “small” (think 100-150) number of participants also allow for a more personal connection with editors and agents. I have noticed the atmosphere to be a bit more relaxed, and the guest speakers to be surprisingly approachable. I had the pleasure to converse with Ken Wright of the literary agency Writers House and Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, as well as Scholastic Paperbacks editor AnnMarie Anderson and Tracy Gates from Viking Children’s Books. I met some of the people I interviewed such as Ann Martin Bowler and Marsha Arnold, Lea Lyon who is one of my favorite illustrators, and many others. If you are a writer and can ever attend a kid lit conference, whether it be a ALA, SCBWI, MLAG or other, please really consider doing so. Inquire about scholarships if your funds are low. There are ways to make it happen. I made it to Asilomar thanks to a scholarship, and I look forward to helping someone else attend it in the future.

From this point I’ll focus on the MC aspect of the conference, however for more accounts visit Sue Douglass Fliess’ as well as Linda Joy Singleton’s blog.

Though this wasn’t per se a “multicultural” kid lit conference, I was surprised to spend the weekend talking about multiculturalism almost all the time. Lots of people have much to say about it; the topic is definitely current and raises much passion in a positive way. Now, if this would translate in more book sales in the future, wow! I’m getting ahead of myself here, excited as I am about this year bestselling MC books. I’m watching several titles closely! 😀

The consensus from professionals in the publishing industry (agents and editors) seem to be: “put the numbers aside, the “MC books don’t sell” that we hear all over, and write what you are passionate about.” What I am adding here comes from personal conversations, so forgive me for not giving names at this stage. Those are arguments that we already know, but it doesn’t hurt to hear them again. Write your story, make it as good as you possibly can (strive for excellence), then fight for it. A professional was convinced that a good MC story will always sell no matter what. It is a nice thought, but it still takes a strong fight, with some authors forced to consider self-publishing when traditional publishers think there might not be a market for their stories.

A speaker particularly stood out in my opinion, in terms of multicultural kid lit, and that is Scholastic Paperbacks Senior Editor AnnMarie Anderson. She is the only one who specifically brought multiculturalism up during her presentation, stating that “we need more cultural diversity in children’s books!” Is she your she-ro yet? She totally rocks, and you know that I’m biased! 😀 Anyway, Ms. Anderson specializes in paperback series like Geronimo Stilton or Poison Apple, so please, do not query her with a picture book or a 100,000 words manuscript. She is looking for boy-friendly stories, as well as animal characters, think Warriors, Bunnicula–yep, a vampire bunny. How fun and original?! She also wants multicultural stories, wants to bring more minorities characters to the readers! Yay!

*Big sigh & smile* That was sooo refreshing to hear! Of course, a boy-friendly or animal story can also be multicultural, but it totally made my day that she clearly put cultural diversity among her principal interests.

Last but not least, allow me to introduce a fabulous literary agent: Marietta B. Zacker. What is so special about her? So many things, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with her background. Marietta has fifteen years of experience working in the publishing industry. She knows how publishers think, what they like, what they don’t, knows which doors are the hardest to push (yet she goes for it!). Marietta also owns a bookstore specialized in children’s books. As such, she is in a position that is not common for most agents, having an insight about booksellers and readers that is truly unique.

Edited 02/24/2019: Marietta and I amicably parted ways in 2012.

In any case, if you would like to know more about Marietta, please check the following links:
o Nancy Gallt Literary Agency
o From Hilary Wagner’s blog, one of her clients: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Agent Marietta Zacker!. Marietta took the time to answer various questions from readers for ten days.
o Her agency submission Guidelines
o Follow Marietta on Twitter

Marietta’s Interviews:
o @ Literary Rambles, interviewed by Casey McCormick
o @ Market My Words, an interview focused on marketing to indie bookstores, by MG/YA author Shelli Johannes

And this concludes today’s post! I hope that you had a fairly good week, and wish you a fantastic weekend. What will you read? 😀

Please, note that for the next ten days I will most likely not be able to respond to comments (though I might), and you might not hear from me by email as well, due to my exams. That said don’t punish me, and feel free to react to this post. Thank you for your patience.

Happy reading & cheers,

Nathalie

Edited 02.08.2011