Interview with Scholastic Editor Jennifer Rees
By Theresa Rizzo
Bio: Jennifer Rees, Editor, Scholastic Press, earned her BA at
Answer: Iím very tired of seeing picture books about peopleís pets or kids or grandkids (complete with photos!). This sounds like a terrible thing to say, but these types of submissions simply are not interesting material for a picture book. I want to publish stories that have universal appeal and can speak to lots of different audiences. Thatís not to say that the story canít be inspired by a writerís pets or kids or grandkids!
I also see a lot of knock-offs in every genre (the ďnewĒ Judy Moody! etc.) and I tend to think, you know, this has been done before and, yes, thereís a reason why itís successful but consumers will always buy the real Judy Moody and not a copycat version. When I see a manuscript that is trying so hard to be something that obviously itís not, it makes my heart sink because I think that writerís true passion has been compromised by what he or she thinks is going to sell or the ďhotĒ topic du jour. Iím only interested in a writerís unique voice and perspective and way of telling a story; I am personally drawn to what is genuine and dares to take a risk and, most importantly of all, comes from the heartóthese are the stories that not only are timeless but live with us forever!
Answer: I do accept unagented queries and prefer to receive those by regular post and not email.
Answer: A synopsis only need be a few paragraphs (or even one solid paragraph). I donít have a lot of time to read these materials. All a writer needs to do is spark my interest. If my interest is sparked, I will hopefully request and read the whole storyóand thatís when I will find out what the story is about!
Answer:† If I meet a writer at a conference, it is nice to put a face and person to a story and I do tend to feel obligated to get back to that person in a timely fashion. However, because of my workload, thatís not always possible. I always write personal rejection notes to writers whom Iíve met.†
Answer:† My dream author is someone who is easy to promote (friendly, professional, well read, well spoken, kind, approachable). Authors are responsible to children and to literacy and thatís a very big job in my mind. I have a rule: I only work with good people and I only work with writers who have childrenís best interests at heart. Iíve come across some authors who simply donít ďgetĒ this. And I think, you know, you are writing for children. Thatís a weighty, big job. Thatís maybe one of the most important jobs on the planet.
Itís not necessary for a writer to know the ins and outs of publishingóthat will come with publication and a willingness to be cooperative and learn what the industry has in store for them and their book if they are published. Honestly, I donít care so much about particular credentials, but an author should be at the very top of his or her game. I once had a writer tell me that she doesnít read kids books, and I thought, What the heck are you talking about? It floored me and made me feel that if I published heróno matter how good her writing wasóIíd be publishing a fraud! Needless to say, I havenít published her work!
Answer:† Please donít call us! (unless, you† know, weíve asked you to). I am so busy and when a writer calls to check up on something, I canít help it, but I start devising ways to get off the phone as fast as possible which doesnít serve anyone.
††††††††††† And those letters asking for a status on your submission? Please, please donít send those! It creates nothing but work for me. When you submit your manuscript, given that Iíve given you permission to do so, include a self-addressed-stamped postcard with the name of your story on it and Iíll drop it in the mail so you know that your submission has been received. Calling and/or a follow-up letter isnít going to get you a response any quicker; itís just going to frustrate me and Iím a really nice person, I really am, so please be nice in turn and donít send me those follow up letters! I think writers often feel they are being proactive, but the hard truth is, ya just gotta wait for an answer! And itís hard to wait I know. I do understand that!† Please do your homework. I get things all the time that arenít for me or for Scholastic and it wastes everyoneís time, not to mention postage!
Answer:† There are lots of things I love (even adore) about my job but probably the most gratifying, exciting moment is when I hold a finished book in my hands for the very first time. All of the years of work (yes, years!) seem to melt away and there I am holding a beautiful, meaningful, incredibly special book that took so many people and creative energies to create. I imagine a child reading it one day and, I have to admit, I get a little bit giddy. The smell of a book, the feel of it, the gorgeous design -- it takes me back to being a young reader. The excitement I feel as an adult easily equals the excitement I felt as a child when I would check out a book at the library and run home to read it. I'm so happy to part of that process.
Answer: Um, it's totally embarrassing, but I'm a celebrity flunky Ė I really don't even know who they are! I literally run into them all the time in
Soho(where I work) and I always have a friend poking me in the ribs, "Did you see who that was?! How on earth could you miss that?!" If pressed, I'd pick someone like Sarah Jessica Parker, who I think is so
refreshingly down to earth and smart, or Jon Stewart, or Steve Buscemi, or my totally nerd crush Charlie Rose (my husband thinks I'm nuts!) who is the smartest interviewer ever.
14. What's your favorite genre/type of:
†††††††† 1. Book: Contemporary adult fiction.
†††††††† 2. Food: Everything! The only two things I refuse to eat are stuffed green peppers and liver (ick!).
†††††††††††††††††† i. Sweets- Everything and anything chocolate!
ii. Other Food- I'm a vegetarian at heart but put that burger or steak
in front of me and watch it disappear!
†††††††† 3. Music:† Indie, folk, and blues & jazz
†††††††† 4. Sports:† Football!
†††††††† 5. Color:† A draw between blue, yellow and pink
†††††††† 6. Movie: Foreign and Indie (not to say I don't enjoy the cheesy blockbuster every once in a while!)
15. What are you addicted to?
Answer: Books, hands down.
16. What have you always wanted to do?
Answer:† Take a year, throw the kids into a van and travel across the
and do lots of backpacking and camping and see it all! †Every mountain, forest, small town, and nook and cranny of it! I have actual dreams about it. I'm sure after a month in a van with two small children I'd give up my hard travelin' pretty fast, but one can dream (or make a pit stop at Grandma's house) . US