Patrice is a twentysomething introvert gone wild. By day, she’s an editorial assistant, and by night, weekend, and early morning (if she’s had enough green tea) she’s a writer. You can learn more about Patrice, her writing, favorite books, and general musings at her blog patricecaldwell.com. You can also find her on Twitter @whimsicallyours, her secondary home.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into publishing.
I’m an Editorial Assistant in Scholastic’s Trade Fiction & Paperbacks department, which means I work on chapter books through Young Adult novel (with a focus on high concept commercial series publishing). But I actually started out in the industry as a book blogger gushing about things like my love for Twilight (I kid you not), and then on the Marketing and Publicity side of things where I was a Publicist at Spencer Hill Press, working with such amazing authors like Dahlia Adler. From there I dabbled in working on the agenting side, reading MG & YA manuscripts, and the nonprofit side, in communications and development/fundraising for a writing organization and even an all-girl’s boarding school (<3). In short, I’ve gained a lot of experiences over the past few years, which is great as I’m able to bring lots of different parts of myself to the work I now do.
The unifying thread is that I’ve always been a champion for diversity even before I formally called myself that and truly understood what that meant. I’d been interning in publishing for less than a year when the original We Need Diverse Books champion launched so I’ve been lucky in that the conversations I wanted to have are ones that were already happening everywhere. In other words, there was already a baseline vocabulary about why increasing diversity within the industry is so important. Within Scholastic, I of course hope to acquire and edit more diverse books as well as support and hire diverse staff members. Outside of Scholastic, I’m on the planning committee for Kweli Colors of Children’s Conference, and last year I founded POC in Publishing— a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of all facets in the book publishing industry. (POC in Publishing hasn’t officially launched yet, but we have done programming with Latinx in Publishing and have formed various subcommittees—drop me a line if you want to learn more and/or collaborate :)).
Like you, I was on the trade side of publishing and know that it’s not an easy business for anyone, but especially for people of color. What do you think are the best ways we can get diversity onto the publishing side of the desk? (I can think of one: PAY ASSISTANTS MORE.)
Ha. “No easy business” is the realest statement. I have a few thoughts:
- Hire & support more POC.
- This also means pay them so they’re not only barely able to make ends, make sure they have a manageable workload, have mentorship programs in place (I adore Scholastic’s mentorship program and our organization for professionals within their first five years). In short hiring is only the first step. Hiring diverse people is useless if you don’t retain them.
- Listen to more POC.
- There’s a tendency, rightfully so many times, to listen to those who’ve been around the longest. But I do wish sometimes POC voices were uplifted, especially those within the industry as you never want anyone to leave because they feel like they were brought in to physically reflect diversity yet aren’t listened to
- Realize that racial diversity isn’t the end all
- A lot of times we focus so much on getting more POC that we forget about intersectionalities and/or other groups entirely. I’m pretty open about the fact that my family being middle class is THE reason I was able to move to NYC to work at Scholastic. We need to do a better job in this industry of supporting those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds whether that means paying people more or finding ways to offer remote internships. We also need to focus on disabled communities (e.g. are our buildings even accessible?) and making a workplace that feels safe and welcoming to those from various religious and LGBTQ communities.
- Be empathic.
- There’s a real need for white majority industries, like book publishing, to practice more empathy and be aware of how internal and external factors impact your diverse employees day to day.
- For example:
- Don’t ask the only POC assistant to sensitivity read your books.
- Just because you’ve realized racism exists, thanks to Trump’s election to the Presidency, doesn’t mean your POC colleagues feel similarly or that your pain = theirs.
Also, a tidbit of advice to anyone wanting to enter publishing:
You’ve got to be persistent if you want to make it in this industry. Persistent yet polite. Ever passionate about your work. 10x better than the generation before you.
This isn’t just for diverse candidates, it’s getting harder to get into publishing all-around so if you want to stand out, do informational interviews, ask people in the positions you want questions about how they got there and be prepared to work even harder than they did.
I remember once sending out emails to over 20 literary agents asking for a remote internship (because I attended college in MA and spent summers in TX because I couldn’t afford NYC summers). Luckily one agent took pity on me haha and the rest of them don’t remember this. Yes, publishing has a lot of strides to make and yes, we in the industry need to be better at outreach, but again if you want it bad enough, you must be willing to do what it takes to stand out.
I hear you on this. particularly the intersectional bits. I also had a middle class upbringing that allowed me to live and work in NYC, and it makes a huge difference when you know you have a support network to fall back on.
On to more cheerful subjects! You recently made your first acquisition, is there anything you can tell us about what you’re looking for in a book?
Yes! I recently acquired KIRANMALA AND THE KINGDOM OF SERPENTS! Obviously don’t send me that, LOL, but I’d love to see more books like KIRANMALA. I’m really into girl power and KIRANMALA is so that. It’s also such a great immigrant story, a story about a girl learning to love herself, her family, and find her inner & outer strength, and it’s inspired by West Bengal mythology (& I’m a HUGE mythology buff). I really hope KIRANMALA is the beginning of a great new trend.
I’d love to see a trans girl-led MG fantasy, a MG book with a disabled character who doesn’t fall into any of the tropes discussed on sites like Disability in Kidlit, more #ownvoices fantasy and sci-fi novels e.g. a Black fantasy, a Latinx fantasy, a Native American fantasy, an amazing Sci-Fi ala Artemis Fowl. I want the books of your heart, especially if you’re a #ownvoices writer. Most of all, make me laugh, make me cry, and feel free to kill off a few characters too, but maybe not so much killing if your book is middle grade or younger 😉
Right, so moving on from the serious to the silly: you’re on a pub crawl with your fictional friend crew. Who’s in it?
Jo March. I’ve got some questions for that girl: #1 Professor Bhaer, #2 a school for boys, #3 Professor Bhaer???
I totally identify with Jo March/Louisa May Alcott (she based Jo off herself), and being as obsessed as I am I know realize that Alcott was asked by fans to make the girls marry but wanted to be defiant so had Jo marry Professor Bhaer instead of Laurie, BUT the older I get, the more I realize how much of an Amy I truly am. I’m fiercely protectant of those I love, I’m very driven, and while I’d enjoy being liked it’s definitely not a priority right now, so yeah, I think my younger self (who hated Amy) would be appalled to find out I am one.
Which leads me to my next picks: Azula, Poison Ivy, Cersei Lannister, Annalise Keating, Adelina Amouteru…I kind of really want to have a would-be-a-Slytherin fictional woman hangout session. I was that girl who never forgave Harry for choosing Gryffindor and really wanted Harry to be a girl as a result I’ve always been attracted to villainous women. <3
I APPROVE OF YOUR FRIEND CREW. And I wholeheartedly second the “Professor Bhaer????” question, haha. (I too realized how much more Amy-like I am the older I got.) All right, in the event your pub crawl has turned into a PUB BRAWL, what fictional weapon are you wielding?
Hmm… maybe a sword, maybe nothing? I grew up practicing various martial arts, and still do casually, so I’ve actually always been more of a fan of characters like Katana/Tatsu, Black Widow, Veronica Mars, and Buffy who kicked ass with weapons, with their hands, with their words, and with whatever they had lying around. In my dreams, I’m a witty badass martial artist. In reality, I’m a sarcastic klutz who happens to be good at grappling (probably because I’m already on the floor thus can’t fall any further haha).
OMG YOU’RE THE COOLEST. (I was a fencer in high school, so I hear you on the sword thing. And the klutz thing.) Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, and everyone else please give Patrice a warm welcome!