Use Those Business Cards
Contributed to CBC Diversity by Audrey Maynard, editor at Tilbury House Publishers
I was a non-traditional hire when I began my editing career in 2001. My job qualifications included 12 years working with children and families in urban and rural classrooms. This meant I had a deep understanding of the transformative power of picture books. It also meant I understood the huge need for more diverse books for America’s children. But the third thing I learned from my teaching career was that most people have a story to tell, and some of those stories are pretty amazing. This knowledge has proved very valuable in my work as an acquiring editor. From day one on my job, I decided to cultivate an inclusive attitude towards submissions. My goal has been to find not only the right story, but the right story-teller. Happily, this approach is one that has worked well for our company over the years. As an editor, you never know who will author the next best-selling children’s book. More to the point, that “next book” you are hoping for may not even arrive as a written submission!
In 2004, I opened a small, square package containing a CD. I remember having distinct feelings of excitement and doubt as I shoved the disc in my ancient cd player. The sender was a Passamaquoddy Tribal member named Allen Sockabasin. The CD featured a collection of his stories and songs recorded in both Passamaquoddy and English. Because there weren’t lyrics in the package, I played the music over and over. Ultimately I “got” the submission, and transcribed one special story. After several meetings with Allen, and his family, a contract was signed. That story then found a new life as one of our best selling picture books known as Thanks to the Animals. Thinking creatively about submissions was part of the backstory that brought this book to life.
Given the pressing needs we have to see more diverse books published, it’s important to be proactive. I’m not in favor of “sitting back and waiting” for award-winning submissions to come over the transom. I’ve developed another approach that I believe has merit because it is simple and inclusive. As I go about my daily life, I have taken to suggesting to people I meet that they might explore the picture book world. To emphasize that I am serious, I give out my business card. Over the years, I have handed out my contact information to waitresses, dog walkers, janitors, taxi drivers, teachers, librarians, and medical professionals. It always gives me great joy to suggest to these “non-writers” that they might have a story to tell that would interest a young child. In addition to generating manuscripts, I hope that my business card distribution may build aspirations. Too many people are intimidated by the world of publishing. As a white, female editor, I embody the demographic (and limitations) of the profession. Given that fact, I believe I need to go the extra mile to empower diverse story tellers.
All editors have considerable power. My goal has been to use mine as creatively and equitably as possible. Change is already coming to the world of children’s literature. Modifications in manufacturing options and distribution systems, social media and demographics make this inevitable. But in the end it is always worth remembering that it is the children who read our books who will thank us for taking the time to address the present inequities, and make the necessary changes.
Audrey Maynard has edited children’s books at Tilbury House Publishers for 14 years. She travels frequently and always carries her business card!