Please tell us about the
most recent diverse book you published.
I’m still at the very early stages of building my list, but I was fortunate enough to edit two books with diverse characters recently:
The Fantastic Body is a nonfiction, illustrated guide to the human body for kids. Because the book would be so heavily illustrated, we wanted the children depicted to be multifaceted and diverse. The book is nonfiction and prescriptive, so the text doesn’t actually address race in a direct way. It’s important to address serious issues of race, culture, and identity in diverse books, but it’s also important to show that children are children, no matter their background, and that there are more things that unite them than divide them. I firmly believe in publishing books featuring diverse characters without making race the main issue, so I’m proud of that book.
I was also the developmental editor for a middle grade series of novels called Shred Girls. The first book, Lindsay’s Joyride, is about young girls who befriend each other through their shared love of BMX. What I loved about the book was how multifaceted every main character was. Lindsay likes comic books, but she also, it turned out, loves riding bikes. And she likes many other things: her new friends. Her Mexican grandmother’s cooking. The cute boy who rides at the same park. Kombucha. Mariana Pajón, Colombian cyclist and two-time Olympic gold medalist and BMX World Champion. No one thing defined her, nor any other character. While Lindsay is Latina and proud, her heritage informs the novel but isn’t its sole focus.
What is one factor holding you back from publishing more diverse books OR what’s the biggest challenge for publishing companies who want to feature more diverse titles?
One challenge for publishing companies is that they simply don’t have as much access to diverse perspectives. Because the industry has largely been homogenous, it isn’t always easy to be exposed to different views or frames of reference. The business has made leaps and bounds when it comes to creating a more diverse workforce, but the fact remains that publishing professionals don’t always reflect the audiences they serve. Having fewer people of color in the industry is a factor in the number of diverse books that exist, as people naturally gravitate toward stories that reflect their own experiences. They acquire books that speak to their lives. And say an editor wanted to acquire a book about a person of color—editing cross-culturally brings a host of factors to consider: Can they represent the author’s vision authentically and sensitively? Will they be able to edit the book authoritatively, and understand the nuances of the characters’ voices, perspectives, lives? Opening the doors to publishing professionals of color as well as authors and illustrators is valuable. It adds textures to the books we produce, and helps all of us be more thoughtful, sensitive, and authentic.
Tell us about your editing process. When you edit cross-culturally, how do you ensure that the book gets a culture with which you might not be as familiar “right”?
I ask a lot of questions. I’d rather ask than assume that I understand something that I don’t know much about. I want to ensure that I understand the story that the author is trying to tell. And know whether the details within the book are coming from their own experiences or from research. If they’re writing from within their own background, then I want to be sure that they are speaking from their own truths, and have trusted readers who can bring their own perspectives to the table. And while authors often have their own readers giving them feedback, I try to consult additional readers with insight on the subject matter to ensure that there is at least a second set of eyes to help us.
If you could receive a manuscript about one culture or subculture that you don’t normally see, what would it be?
It’s difficult for me to distill what I’m looking for. Because I’m at the very early stages of building my list, there are innumerable stories that I want to publish. What I’m looking for across all age ranges and formats are funny, empathic, and empowering stories by and about underrepresented populations.
I admit that as an immigrant from the Philippines, I am eager to find a manuscript that incorporates Filipino culture in an engaging way. Whether that is a contemporary YA about a Filipino American child struggling to reconcile their cultural identity, or a chilling retelling of a Filipino legend, I would dearly love to feature its beauty and complexity. And I’m a huge fan of anything spooky!
I am also eager to find more thoughtful and nuanced depictions of the ways that children and young adults experience mental illness, as well as differently abled children of all stripes. I volunteered at a school for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as a student, and it was an unforgettable experience that I think back on often. It definitely helped me become more patient and emphatic. It’s important to me that the books I publish help children foster empathy, and I always want to expose young readers to the richness and diversity of the human experience.
Trisha de Guzman is an Associate Editor at Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan. She is actively building her list, and is open to a wide range of material ranging from picture books to young adult novels. Before joining FSG, she worked in editorial and subsidiary rights at Rodale Books, where she edited The Fantastic Body by Dr. Howard Bennett, Lindsay’s Joyride (Shred Girls #1) by Molly Hurford, and Runner’s World-branded books. Born in Manila, Philippines, she moved to New York City when she was seven and has lived there ever since.