Senior Editor, HarperCollins
Tell us little about your career to date and how you ended up in your role as Senior Editor for HarperCollins Children’s Books.
I was introduced to the publishing world as soon as I graduated SUNY New Paltz with a double major in English and Black Studies. I didn’t know editing books was an actual career before then. What I did I know was that I wanted to pursue a book related (or adjacent) career. After a rigorous search to put my degree to good use, I landed an internship at The New Press. After that, I interned at Simon & Schuster’s Simon Spotlight imprint. Then I found my home at HarperCollins Children’s Books working as an assistant for their flagship early reader imprint.
What have been some of the most important lessons you've learned along the way?
Three things: everyone’s journey is different; be persistent and authentic; and do judge a book by its cover (books only, not people!).
The first two lessons go hand-in-hand. I’ve met many people in my career and I I’ve learned a lot, and probably taught a lot to others, just by showing up and being myself, but also by being flexible and open. That’s what I love about publishing, and specifically editing, the most. The authors, illustrators, designers, marketing and publicity teams, readers, reviewers—everyone really—come together, something like a mosaic, to produce one book.
Oh, and to the last point: publishers spend hours reviewing book covers. I’m talking, HOURS. There is so much that goes into a book’s final cover and its fascinating. Don’t let old clichés fool you.
As a Senior Editor, you are particularly passionate about diversifying children's titles. Tell us more about how you've managed to achieve this goal, highlighting titles you're particularly proud of.
I love seeing kids point at pages in a book and say “they look like me,” or “me too!” That visibility and validation is super important to affirm a child’s identity, as well as increase children’s empathy for others. That’s really all it is about! More kids need to see themselves.
I am particularly proud of Ashley Franklin and Ebony Glenn’s Not Quite Snow White (HarperCollins, 2019) and Better Together, Cinderella (HarperCollins, 2021). There are few mainstream fairytales featuring Black girls—especially in the world of books. Tameika is a special princess in that she’s a regular everyday girl who navigates a contemporary world, making her super relatable.
My Hair (HarperCollins, 2020) is another favorite of mine. Danielle Murrell Cox is passionate about Black representation for children and this upbeat board book is a celebration of everything Black hair. It rhymes and features kids of many different skin tones.
Lastly, I must shout out the nonfiction picture books I love. Ready to Fly by Lea Lyon, A. LaFaye, and Jessica Gibson (HarperCollins, 2020), and When the Schools Shut Down by Yolanda Gladden, Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, and Keisha Morris (HarperCollins, 2022) both shed light on unsung African American heroes.
How has the availability of diverse and inclusive content in children's books changed since your own childhood?
The availability of diverse and inclusive content in children’s books has increased immensely but not enough. Remember: we are publishing against a long history of erasure and minimal visibility. So, to say we’ve increased the number of books about the LGBTQI+ community by such and such percent means very little when the original percentage was little to nothing. You know what I mean? What’s 1% (making this up!) to 4% but a sad statistic when we look at the number of front list titles that stick and backlist well.
I can gift my niece books that are FUBU (for us, by us), as well as books by and about other marginalized groups. There are many to choose from. I can vouch for this because I am in the industry and in the know. But for the general population, many educators and parents are still subject to the classic canon which either left marginalized groups out…or “unintentionally” just got it wrong.
I’m glad there are people in the industry working to make diverse books, books. Normalizing them. Publishing them widely yet intelligently. That’s the level of visibility I’d be most excited to see. We have a long way to go.
How would you articulate the kind of books you are looking to acquire for your list?
I love to edit picture books: funny picture books, inspiring picture books, poignant, charming, silly, sweet, powerful, character driven, any picture book. I know this answer scares most who submit to me because it’s such a broad category, but it’s the truth. I think it’s easier sometimes for me to say what I don’t like, but even then, there’s always a special outlier.
In terms of board books, chapter books, middle grade novels, and graphic novels, I don’t tend to acquire these formats, but when I do, they are fun! Funny, silly, high stakes, etc.
No teen for me…yet!
What's the most creative response to a brief you've ever seen from an artist?
I have to give this one to Christy Mandin, the author-illustrator of Lucky (HarperCollins, 2022). I saw a quick sketch of the main character on her social media and when I asked her about it, Christy completely leaned into it and created an entire underwater world for this charming and hilarious pearl. It was magnificent to witness.
Who are some of the most dynamic creative forces in the industry?
Especially during the years of 2020 and 2021, the most creative and hardworking miracle workers of the industry had to be those who work in production and the bookstores/sellers. Production made sure there were printed books to fill the shelves of stores that faced insurmountable challenge. And once those books were placed, it was the booksellers and the stores that showed books love. Real love! Those folks are the real MVPs. Not just recently, but every year a new book is published.
What portfolio advice would you offer new illustrators looking to appeal to HarperCollins?
We love to see scenes and a variety of facial expression, body language, and movement for your characters. These two things are key. Also, a personal favorite of mine is when an artist works well with lighting and/or vibrant colors depending on their style.
Select a recent project and walk us through the journey of its creation.
Shar Tuiasoa’s Punky Aloha (HarperCollins, 2022), much like Lucky, originated from an already-existing piece in Shar’s online portfolio. Shar had a story that she wanted to tell—one the reminded her of a kid version of herself and other kids in Hawaii—and wrapped it into the bubbly character that is Punky. We started with an illustrated character line up and a detailed plot synopsis. Then, Shar went ahead and wrote the text, we edited it a bit, and she sent colorized sketches a few months later. It was as if she had experience in illustrating picture books (this is Shar’s debut), because she went to final art soon after. The book taught me a lot (like how folks use the word ‘aloha’ and how they do not) and gives me warm memories of days at my own grandmother’s home. Good books do that do you…they are mirrors and bridges.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the publishing industry today?
Bandwidth. We are publishing more books, they are becoming more expensive to produce, and the competition is fierce. So, yeah, bandwidth is our biggest challenge.