How one Latina found her way into children’s book publishing

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By Shelley Diaz
CBC Diversity

I decided I wanted to work in children’s publishing in sixth grade. I had devoured all of the Anne of Green Gables books by this time, and I was convinced that I could be the Dominican Lucy Maud Montgomery.

I kept writing through middle school and high school, and pondered over different career paths (should I be a literary agent, an editor?), and even momentarily thought about being a cultural anthropologist instead.

The fact remained: I was fascinated by stories — all people’s stories.

I declared my English Lit/Latino Studies double-major freshman year at Columbia University, and was lucky enough to snag an editorial internship with Dell Publishing (a crossword puzzle publisher) through my Hispanic Scholarship Fund mentor.

That summer internship cemented my desire to work in publishing, while at the same time reinforced the fact that it had to be with work that I cared about (crossword puzzles, were just not that interesting), and at a place that gave me the opportunity to advocate for diverse literature.

Shelley Diaz

Shelley Diaz

I met Gabrielle (Polt) Balkan at a career fair at Barnard, and she worked as a Manager for Scholastic Book Clubs. I struck gold! I had eagerly awaited Scholastic book club orders every month in elementary school, and it supplied my fix for the latest BSC or Goosebumps title.

From intern to temp to Book Club assistant, my time there hooked me to children’s literature, and I gained a good sense of all of the different publishing houses, both new titles and their backlists. And here were people that loved books as much as I did. Who got excited about the next Lemony Snicket, and could also wax poetic about the underlying themes in Harry Potter books.

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When Troll Carnival Book Club became no more, I was able to find a new position as a Penguin Young Readers editorial assistant within a few months (pre-recession, of course). There, I built relationships with other editors, designers, and subrights assistants, school & library marketing managers, trying to soak in as much as I could about publishing.

I tried to attend every Young to Publishing event, and connect with agents. I also did the usual editorial assistant stuff (managing slush pile, writing reader reports, and title information sheets), and I tried to learn as much as I could from the editors that mentored me (Nancy Mercado, Liz Waniewski, Jessica Garrison, and Alisha Niehaus).

I’m most proud of Gloria Whelan’s The Disappeared and Caridad Ferrer’s When the Stars Go Blue, which are projects that I helped develop, and are YA novels that feature strong Latina main characters.

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I left Penguin to pursue my Library Science degree at Queens College, but never lost touch with the publishing world, keeping part-time positions at a book scouting agency and a coloring book publisher, always looking for ways to promote diversity in children’s literature.

I was fortunate to find a position at School Library Journal that married all of my interests and it has become a place where I’ve grown as a writer and an advocate for literacy for all children, regardless of background or origin.

(Featured Photo: Familysponge.com)

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