Industry  Q&A with Literary Agent Beth Phelan

When and where did you start working in publishing, and what was your entry-level position and title?

My very first start was as an intern at Levine Greenberg (Rostan) Literary Agency back in Fall 2010, but my first full-time position was as an Agency Assistant at Scott Waxman Literary (now called Waxman Leavell Literary Agency). I started there in March 2011.

How did you find your first job in publishing?

After I graduated from college, I was living in Brooklyn working as a bookkeeper for an army navy store and finishing up my part-time job at the student center. A friend of mine who worked in a totally separate industry (maybe tech or insurance or something like that, I don’t actually remember!) happened to share a floor in the same building as the Levine Greenberg Agency. He happened to hear about their internships during an elevator ride and encouraged me to apply. After a few months in, I started applying to full-time jobs (using,,, etc), including one with Waxman Agency. One of the LGLA agents was friendly with an agent at Waxman and put in a good word. I started right away!

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Industry Q&A with agent Brooks Sherman

Tell us about the most recent diverse book you represented.
My most recent sale, which has not yet been publicly announced, is a young adult novel that fearlessly confronts the national and cultural issues concerning the “Black Lives Matter” movement. I can report that this project sold in a highly aggressive auction, which would indicate that publishers are very interested in this kind of narrative. I’m looking forward to sharing more news about this fantastic book in early 2016!

How do you go about finding diverse authors and illustrators?

I have found social media, particularly Twitter, to be very useful as a platform for letting writers know the kinds of themes and stories I’m looking to represent. Several of my now-clients first approached me because they saw me talking about issues and concepts I was hoping to find in my submissions. Also, the sales of past books with diversity elements have helped position me as an agent with a strong interest in this area.


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The need for diversity has always been my primary purpose. It’s a conversation that’s been front-and-center for the 30 years I’ve worked in publishing, both as an editor and author. So there’s not a first time that I can pinpoint. As an African American writer, parent, and publisher, I live and breathe the importance of diverse perspectives.

Andrea Davis Pinkney in her interview with the Texas Library Journal on the “most critical topic of diversity”

Multicultural Children's Book Day Spotlight: Meg Medina

Meg Medina is the author of The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and the picture book Tía Isa Wants a Car, illustrated by Claudio Muñoz, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. Her most recent young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, is the winner of the 2014 Pura Belpré Author Award. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond, Virginia.

As an author, how do you know when you have discovered an idea for your next book?

It’s a book when I start to dream about it at night. I go to bed working out a scene or thinking about a character.

Read the full interview here.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day and the CBC have collaborated to create the ‘Shining the Light on Inclusive Authors & Illustrators’ series, which features interviews with 20+ amazing authors and illustrators leading up to Multicultural Children’s Book Day on January 27th. Find more interviews on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.

January 27 Designated Multicultural Children's Book Day

We’re so excited to read and share all of the wonderful interviews in January!

A Conversation with Tanya McKinnon

Contributed to CBC Diversity by Wendy Lamb


I wanted to interview Tanya McKinnon for this blog for a number of reasons– she’s such an inspiring and generous member of the publishing community; she’s an agent, and the co-author of the acclaimed  middle grade novel Zora and Me; she’s both eloquent and realistic on the topic of diversity; and and I wanted to hear more about her course at CCNY where she teaches Writing for Children within the publishing program.

Wendy Lamb: Tanya, you’re an agent, an author, a college instructor, and you have a masters in cultural anthropology. There so much we could talk about. Let’s start with agenting–what kind of books are you looking to represent?

Tanya McKinnon: As an African-American agent with a diverse client list in both children’s and adult books, I am always on the lookout for books that push the envelope of human understanding. Books that honor our multicultural world, regardless of who writes them, are my passion.

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NPR's Interview with Coe Booth

Listen and read this interesting interview with caseworker turned writer Coe Booth on her new book Kinda Like Brothers. For a taste, check out one of the interview highlights below.

On a scene where young boys at the community center receive advice on what to do when stopped by the police

That scene begins with Jarrett walking up and seeing a counselor at the center getting stopped and frisked for no reason. And it really disturbs him; he’s just really angry. That afternoon a guy comes over to the center … and he just tells them, “I’m going to keep it real with you guys, you black and Latino boys are going to get stopped a lot. And it doesn’t matter what you do, or what you didn’t do. It’s just because of who you are. And in the meantime, I need to teach you what to do when the cops stop you — not if, when.”

I think any parent or anybody who is dealing with young black boys — as is what’s happening at the community center in this book — I think every single community center has had this conversation with their boys. And it’s just so sad that we have to do this, but we do, and I hope that changes. I don’t know if what’s going on in Ferguson will change that, but I do hope it at least continues that conversation, because it’s just exhausting that this is still going on in 2014.

Industry Q&A with publisher Christy Ottaviano

Please tell us about the most recent diverse book you published.

imageI recently published Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott.  This novel is about Sam, a teen who’s in a depressed state due to the breakdown of his family.  He’s pretty much getting by in life by being a slacker, always remaining under the radar so he can fade into the background.  But then he’s paired in English class with the much feared Luis, a Latino who is said to be in a hardcore gang.  Together the two team up in a poetry slam contest and emerge, after much introspection and hard work, as very capable, talented students.  It’s a book about breaking boundaries and stereotypes, as well as friendship, tragedy, and the power of words.

What is one factor holding you back from publishing more diverse books?

Nothing is holding me back from publishing diverse books – it’s very much something that I feel passionate about doing.  I don’t feel I see enough submissions about diverse characters just living in the world and experiencing life through strong storytelling.  In other words, submissions where the story is the story and the characters just happen to be Latino or African American rather than their diversity driving the storyline.  I tend to see more agenda-oriented books on the topic and these can be harder to position and market, and are often less appealing to young readers. 

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I do think that things have gotten better. Of course, as has been widely reported, if you look at the numbers of main characters of color in children’s books, the stats have stayed stagnant. But I do think that the quality of books featuring characters of color has improved (fewer stereotypical depictions, more variety), and also, if you look at the total number of diverse characters in books, I believe the numbers would be vastly improved. When I was a kid, I could probably count the number of Asian characters in the books I read on one hand. Now I see them everywhere.

–Alvina Ling, founding member of the CBC Diversity Committee, in an interview with Goodreads on how she found her way into publishing, why diversity in publishing is complicated (but improving), and her newest multicultural project. Check out the whole interview here.

A new website focused on diversity in literature, story and chai is a “creative space for readers and writers of culturally diverse literature, with a primary focus on Muslim writers and narratives.”
Story and chai interviewed CBC Diversity’s Zareen... High-res

A new website focused on diversity in literature, story and chai is a “creative space for readers and writers of culturally diverse literature, with a primary focus on Muslim writers and narratives.”

Story and chai interviewed CBC Diversity’s Zareen Jaffery recently and we’re so proud to share it with you. Check out her wonderful introduction below and read the whole first part of the interview on the website.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my thoughts on diversity in children’s literature—a subject I care about deeply. My answers below reflect my personal opinion based on my role as an editor in children’s publishing. I acknowledge the industry has a long way to go to correct the current imbalance, and that my views on this are shaped by what I contend with as an editor who has only worked inside large commercial publishing houses. There are many things I may be wrong or misguided about, particularly when it comes to specific difficulties writers from diverse backgrounds may have in breaking into traditional publishing, and I hope that blog readers will enlighten me as to their own experiences via the comments on this blog. I am here to listen and I would love to learn more so I can be more helpful!

–Zareen Jaffery, Q&A: Zareen Jaffery, Simon & Schuster, Part I