Scholastic has been bringing the best of children’s publishing to Australian children for over 45 years and is recognised as a market leader in children’s publishing. The fledgling HJ Ashton Company, founded in New Zealand in 1962, was established in Australia in 1968, and in 1970 joined the Scholastic Inc international group, which has its head office in New York, USA.
Scholastic Australia is part of Scholastic Inc, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of books, magazines, educational and multimedia materials for children, with offices in the USA, Canada, Argentina, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Mexico, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom . Scholastic Inc has become a major player in new media with film, TV, online services, cable TV and international licensing of creative properties.
Tell us a little about yourself and your history in the publishing industry.
As an avid reader as a child, I used to devour every word in a book, including the imprint page. I was fascinated by who published the book, who printed it, the whole process. I wanted to be a writer since age 6 after being inspired by both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Milly Molly Mandy. I gained a BA in Professional Writing, decades ago now, which was fantastic training in all sorts of writing – I majored in journalism, which seemed practical and taught me the beauty of economical writing, but I also learnt the art of writing different genres of novels, and film and tv scripts. I got a job as a a journalist in the Canberra Parliamentary Press Gallery, which was great, but it also sent me scurrying back to university to study literature which I was missing apparently, probably after being subjected to too much twisted political prose. While I was doing my MA, I got a part-time job working on children’s primary school texts. The publishing industry had hooked me. I worked in educational, academic and legal publishing full time for a longer than I should admit to, but kept on as a fiction freelancer during that time, and kept my oar in the world of children’s publishing.
How long have you been working with Scholastic?
I joined Scholastic five years ago, as Managing Editor, looking after various things – our international titles, our educational magazines, our digital publishing program, and I also began publishing a small but growing list of titles which were there slotted in under various Scholastic imprints. I now look after the Omnibus Books imprint, some picture books, but primarily fiction.
What can you tell us about your publishing house and what you publish?
Scholastic publishes a huge variety of titles, from licensed product (Star Wars, Marvel etc) to series fiction (humour, fantasy, historical) and quality original picture books. My own list focuses mainly on fiction, and includes the My Australian Story series, historical fiction (e.g., Australia’s Great War series, novels set in the Holocaust, stand-alone titles), and I am also endeavouring to build a list that feature protagonist that hold a mirror to modern, multicultural Australia. That said, a story has to be engaging and well told, not just meaningful!
What qualities do you look for when deciding to publish a picture book? Is there a checklist you use when considering manuscripts?
Is it a book a child will enjoy? I have seen countless submissions with a cover letter that tells me what a story will teach a child, and what a child needs to know, and the story itself is then a by-product of that, and it shows. Childhood reading isn’t about preaching, but for bonding, and discovering a love of books. Preaching at children (even when it rhymes!) is not the way to engender a lifetime joy of reading. Joy is the operative word, especially for very young readers or readers being read to.
Does it help when selecting an author for publication if they already have a presence in the children’s book industry?
Yes, in the sense that they are a known quantity to both the publisher and the market. However, the emergence of new voices is just as important.
I have written a children’s picture book manuscript – do I need to find an illustrator myself?
No, that is a decision for the publisher. Unless you are the author/illustrator presenting a submission, please don’t.
Does having an agent push you to the top of the slush pile?
Having an agent is a great way to get a foot in the door, and of course, you have to get your foot in the agent’s door in the first place, so your work does come with that recommendation.
How long from acceptance until the book hits the shelves?
Usually a year – our publishing schedules will be full for the coming 12 months.
Should a potential author be discouraged by the dreaded rejection letter?
A rejection letter might mean the work isn’t up to scratch, or it could mean that we aren’t the right publisher for you, or it could mean that it is a good work, but there is no room in the schedule, or we simply can’t make the numbers work. Keep trying and keep honing your craft.
And finally, what are publishers looking for in a submission?
Something that makes me want to read the second page. It can be as simple as that.