WNDB Interns Share Their Experience: Yana Makuwa

Yana MakuwaIt is an undisputed fact that internships are valuable sources of experience and exposure in whatever industry a person could hope to enter. I found my summer at Macmillan to be no different—I rubbed elbows with successful professionals who had years of experience under their belts, I sat in on crucial meetings, and I got a feel for the day-to-day work done in an active publishing office. But what most people don’t get a chance to see, and what I found was the most valuable addition that We Need Diverse Books provided, is the construction of the moral backbone of the industry. The WNDB program provided access to the work that goes into making sure the daily grind of publishing is part of a grander scheme to make the book world a better place.

The internship program encouraged us to attend and participate in the Children’s Book Council Diversity panels and dialogues, and I am so glad I took them up on the offer. It was inspiring to see people from all different aspects of the industry, with different backgrounds and from various publishers, come together to contemplate and problem-solve issues that are important to them. The attendance at these events showed me that pursuing a job in publishing will allow me to effect change for social issues that I value.

The We Need Diverse Books internship showed me what was possible for my future and made me feel like I was participating in real time as well. The fact that the CBC’s diversity planning committee asked the internship participants to come to their meeting and discuss how the program affected us proved that the organization valued the diverse perspectives of people of color. It helped me believe that I really did have a place in that world, and that it was important that I pursue it.

WNDB Interns Share Their Experience: Kandace Coston

Kandace CostonWhen I received the email from We Need Diverse Books offering me one of their five summer internship grants, I was so excited I almost forgot to send a thankful response. To be honest, “excited” is a profound understatement. Just the day before, I was offered the internship position at Lee & Low Books, a dream come true in itself. So when I read the email of acceptance from WNDB while on my way to work, my first reaction felt less like excitement and more like disbelief overcome by immense gratitude. I stopped walking and reread the email two more times to be sure I wasn’t mistaken, and as the good news sank in it manifested into a victory dance. I dropped my tote bag on the sidewalk, and got-down-with-my-bad-self right there on the street corner.

Three weeks later I began my summer internship at the country’s largest independent publisher of diverse children’s books. As enthusiastic as I was, the thought of being in an office executing administrative tasks was very unnerving. Thankfully, the transition was effortless due to the welcoming and approachable nature of the Lee & Low staff. I could also breathe easier knowing I had the support of WNDB, a community whose agenda aligns with Lee & Low Books’ efforts. I was working in and supported by institutions that shared a mission I believed in. The camaraderie between them also helped facilitate my learning of the children’s book industry. WNDB encouraged me to be receptive, and Lee & Low Books was eager to teach—a winning combination!

As an aspiring writer/illustrator suddenly immersed in the world of publishing, I had a lot of questions regarding my personal writing and goals. Thankfully WNDB’s assistance only began with a grant and complimentary tote bag full of award-winning titles. WNDB was an endless resource! They held luncheons, dinners, panels, and provided well-established industry professionals as personal mentors. A few of the other grant recipients are also aspiring writers and illustrators, so our luncheon and dinner together were especially insightful. During these occasions we shared our experiences working at different publishing houses and got to pick the brains of the WNDB membership which included industry leaders, published authors, and the President of WNDB herself! Each outing WNDB provided was an invaluable opportunity to learn from my peers and professionals.

As the summer came to a close, I could proudly reflect on my internship experience. All five of us WNDB grant recipients were fortunate to have had this summer opportunity, but I felt especially privileged to have had it with WNDB through Lee & Low Books. Armed with a solid understanding of the industry and the support of the WNDB community I knew I’d be an asset to any publishing house. Recognizing this as well, Lee & Low Books made my dreams come true a second time by offering me a full time position as their Editorial Assistant. Instantly overcome by that familiar feeling of disbelieving gratitude I excused myself from the office. The quiet, empty corridor comforted me as I waited for the good news to sink in. Once it did I celebrated the best way I know how…a victory dance.

WNDB Interns Share Their Experience: Julie Jarema

Julie JaremaThis past summer, I was thrilled to intern at Simon and Schuster. I worked with the vibrant and friendly Children’s Publicity and Marketing teams. My daily tasks included writing press releases, researching bloggers, and sending out the nonstop mailings. Every day brought new projects and more familiarity with the process that it takes to get a book out into the world.

The WNDB grant greatly assisted me this summer in countless ways, providing me the funds to live in the city (I’m from Florida) and other invaluable resources. Thanks to the grant, I was able to devote my full attention and energy to my internship to learn all I could in such a short span of time.

One of the greatest resources WNDB gave to me was the incredible community of welcoming and generous book lovers in and around the publishing industry. Everyone’s advice and encouragement enriched my experience and expanded my knowledge of different aspects of and career opportunities in children’s literature. The opportunities to attend the CBC panels gave me insight into challenges that publishing still faces and eased some of my concerns about the perception of diverse books being categorized solely as “diverse.” Being a part of the WNDB community also helped me to realize how necessary it is to have wide representation at all levels and in every department, from the authors to the editors to the design team, in creating books for all sorts of young readers.

WNDB has provided me with an incredible foundation to build from. Meeting the other WNDB interns and hearing about their experiences at the various publishing houses was another highlight. It was also wonderful to meet my mentor Gbemi Rhuday-Perkovich, and authors, librarians, and other members affiliated with the organization. After talking to and learning from so many people in publishing this summer in addition to the support of WNDB, I feel better equipped to continue pursuing a career in the field. I loved working with children’s books, and I hope to continue to find a job that allows me to return to books, unafraid to veer off the path in order to seek out unique and unheard stories for the readers who have been waiting.

WNDB Interns Share Their Experience: Feather Flores

Feather FloresGrowing up, I was the kind of reader most large publishing houses market to. I stayed away from historical fiction. A blurb that started with “The year is [insert year]” was a guarantee I wouldn’t even finish the sentence. I was repelled by books who promised me a plot involving mental illness, family troubles, diaspora, war, or issues of race, gender, and identity in general. As you can imagine, I was very well-read in the fantasy genre.
Sitting in meetings at HarperCollins Children’s Book Group this summer meant I got to hear a lot of comments about what would or wouldn’t sell. This book, for example, is too much of an “issue book,” so its cover and marketing campaign should play up the romance aspect to make it more accessible. And that book might have a great main character, but it just isn’t high-concept enough to stand out from other books about, say, foster children. Because nobody wants to read about foster children. Unless this book is absolutely, undeniably incredible, it just isn’t going to sell well.
The worst part is that I knew my colleagues, some of the best in the business, were often right. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself getting frustrated with young readers who are as dismissive as I used to be. “This book is about a girl with autism, but it’s an amazing fantasy novel too!” I wanted to say to them. “And you may not want to give this book a chance because it’s set in Ecuador, but you’re going to end up loving it so much! And you may think you can’t relate to the main character of this book at all, because she’s black and she lives in New York City, but trust me, it’s so good that you’re going to be in tears by the end.
“Won’t you just look past your own discomfort and give it a chance?”
I am a woman of color who grew up denying important aspects of my identity without fully realizing it. Unconsciously, I felt the allure of whiteness. I felt it in my preference for the Samantha and Molly American Girls, in my willful ignorance of Addy and Kaya. I felt it in my avoidance of Khaled Hosseini and other authors whose names didn’t look like names to me. I felt it in how uncomfortable I was reading Sandra Cisneros and Pam Muñoz Ryan in class for the first time, in the sudden recognition that their experiences spoke to mine in some ways. But I wasn’t half Latina. In my mind, I was white. And that was okay, because race, and difference more broadly, didn’t matter to me. I knew that all people deserved the same respect, so it was perfectly okay for them to stay relegated to their spaces while I chose instead to read the things I wanted to read—the stories, I now understand, that didn’t challenge my concept of myself or the world around me.
We need diverse books because children like me deserve to grow up without denying parts of themselves, especially unconsciously or without knowing any better, that are different from what our society continues to perpetuate as being “normal.” We need diverse books because visibility matters, because celebrating deviation from the arbitrary norm is the first step toward eliminating the negative connotation of the words “difference” and “diversity.” And honestly, we need diverse books because the term “issue book” is a term that really shouldn’t exist.
To all of the young readers like me, please believe me when I say: I understand. I don’t think less of you for wanting the privileges that come with being “normal.” In fact, I think you’re incredibly brave. I think you’re brave enough to take this first, most important step: look past your own discomfort, and give diverse books a chance.

WNDB Interns Share Their Experience: Esther Cajahuaringa

I remember feeling like a fish out of water on my first day of my internship with Hachette Book Group.

Esther Cajahuaringa I found myself in a room with other interns who had previous editorial and marketing experiences or had interned with literary agencies. Everyone had been dreaming of working for a publishing house for a long time. I was incredibly excited to be the editorial intern for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, but I was also equally terrified for a number of reasons:

  1. This was my first internship ever
  2. I had no extensive editorial experience
  3. I was trying something that had never been a “dream” for me

After reading that, you might be wondering how I came to work at LBYR, why I was chosen. Even though this is my first internship, I had spent two terms as an AmeriCorps member with City Year (an educational non-profit) and 826LA. I’d worked at a writing and tutor center where I acquired the editing, multi-tasking, project managing, team building, and organizational skills I needed to flourish in my internship. I just hadn’t recognized that my skills were transferrable to editorial yet.

What I was absolutely sure of was my love for books, and the fervent belief that books hold tremendous power in the lives of people. I grew up in libraries and lived in the worlds of Frog and Toad, Arthur, Sammy Keys, The Boxcar Children, Harry Potter, and so many more. As I got older, books would join me for breakfast (my mom wasn’t too pleased about that), books would bounce around in my backpack waiting to be opened during the long car rides home, and pages would even become smeared in spaghetti sauce during dinner. Ultimately they would not be put down until I finished a story. Of course, I had other interests, but getting lost in a book, in a world either real or imagined, has always been an undeniable joy for me.

I just never thought this joy of reading could be translated professionally into the position and place I find myself today. I am a daughter of two Peruvian parents who emigrated here with the firm belief of giving their family an opportunity to dream big. And much to their surprise, dreaming big for me meant leaving Los Angeles to pursue my Masters in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. It’s been in the middle of my educational pursuit that I have come across a new possibility as an editor, the seed of a new dream.

Throughout my time as an LBYR editorial intern, I have become immersed in the publishing world, working and learning alongside passionate book readers. I sought opportunities to ask questions, sit in jacket and edit meetings, read through manuscripts (the true joy), and even have the chance to draft jacket copy for a book coming out next year. I realized I wasn’t a fish on dry land but one in uncharted waters. All I had to was jump in and give myself the space to take in my new surroundings. The WNDB internship grant gave me the opportunity to fully invest in everything book-related throughout my ten weeks and I am truly grateful.