Jennifer Newens Interview

Jennifer Newens

Publishing Director, West Margin Press

Tell us about the meaning behind the name 'West Margin Press'.

We rebranded in 2019 and were very deliberate about the new name. “Margin” has an obvious literary reference, but it also evokes things that are not in the mainstream. This connotation evokes our mission of publishing underrepresented voices. We chose “West” to set ourselves apart from another idea of mainstream—that most well-known publishers are based on the east coast. Thus, “West” also signals that we do things differently in our company. It also refers to our physical location in Northern California.

How would you describe the kind of children's books you publish at West Margin Press?

Our children’s books have strong story arcs and high-quality artwork. We add an educational element whenever we can, in the form of back matter, sidebars, and book guides. We seek out underrepresented groups as much as possible—BIPOC, LGBTQia+, neuro-divergent, and more—both in the characters, collaborators, and freelancers. But above all, our children’s books are always fun.

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Which 3 new titles from your current children's list would you select to shine the spotlight on?

The Zee Files is a fantastic series of books for tween readers. Written by bestselling author Tina Wells, the series revolves around a bi-racial girl named Zee who heads to London for boarding school.

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Where Thuong Keeps Love by Thu Buu tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl who learns about love from her friends and family.

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My Way West, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Goss, features stories from real kids who traveled the Oregon Trail on their way out west in the 1800s, accompanied by stunning papercut art.

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What should an illustrator looking to appeal to West Margin Press include (and avoid) in their portfolio?

Include a wide variety of samples so that our art director can get a sense of your skillset. If you work in different styles, be sure to include a range of examples.

When was the last time an illustrator really impressed you with their approach to a project?

This happens all the time! It’s so fun to see the ideas that illustrators bring to the table. The little unexpected details are the best.

In response to the challenges of the past couple of years, which uplifting books from your list would you recommend for children looking for hope and positivity?

Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires by Emma Bland Smith. This is the true story about a goat-herding dog who miraculously survived a giant brushfire and was discovered alive, still protecting the herd.

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Why Worry, by bestselling author Eric Kimmel. Here, a cricket and a grasshopper work together to ease anxiety and find hope.

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Lucy’s Blooms by Dawn Prochovnic. It’s a story of a young girl who learns about self-esteem, resilience, and love from her grandmother.

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Who have been the most influential figures in your career and what key advice have they imparted?

My current boss – he is more like a coach than a boss and he gives everyone on his team the credit they deserve. I can’t think of any explicit advice, but he has taught me to believe in myself and trust my decisions – I always know that he has my back.

How do you stay abreast of changing trends within the children's book industry?

Like most children’s book publishers, I read industry magazines and browse bookstores to see what is garnering reviews and generating sales. But I mostly rely on the moms on my team to tell me what their kids like. For me, it’s more about what our young readers enjoy rather than keeping up with the competition.

Tell us about some of the touching and rewarding feedback you've received from readers.

Recently, a young reader wrote a handwritten letter to author Tina Wells care of us. They told Tina that they read The Zee Files with their dad and that they can’t wait to read the next book in the series. It’s so wonderful to hear directly from kids that they are enjoying the books we publish. Another time, at a trade show, a youngster picked up a book from our display and refused to put it down. Her mother explained that she rarely sees books that portray characters with brown skin, like hers. It made me proud that children are able to see themselves in the books we publish.

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