Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Exclusive with Alexandra Arnold



Alexandra Arnold is an editor at Katherine Tegen Books, acquiring middle grade and YA. She works with authors like Corey Ann Haydu, Kali Wallace, Brittany Cavallaro, Terra Elan McVoy, and Michelle Andreani and Mindi Scott. She is always on the lookout for diverse, authentic voices, characters that could step off the page, and atmospheric settings that make her feel transported. She would especially love to find a YA with a unique structure or narrative device (think The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak or The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan); a feminist fairytale or fable retelling in MG or YA; and both contemporary and historical fiction featuring diverse and underrepresented perspectives. Particular interests and soft spots include baseball, dogs, dark family magic, wry humor, and strong female friendship. You can find her on Twitter (@alexyarnold), and she keeps her wish list updated on Tumblr.


What was your path to editing?

Well, it all started when I fell in love with reading, of course! I was a voracious reader from age five, and my mom writes children's books, too—she's a former SCBWI RA, in fact! I interned at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for a summer during college, and knew then that I'd pursue a job in editorial after I graduated. I spent a year as an editorial assistant on the adult side of the industry, but happily returned to kidlit when I got the job at Katherine Tegen Books. And I've been here ever since! 


What are essential components in a manuscript that make you fight to acquire it?

I have to love the voice, first and foremost. Just as importantly, the heart of story has to feel authentic to me—if I can't buy into the central conflict and the character motivations, it's hard for me to imagine spending years with the book, from the editorial process to publication. When I find that essential combination of voice + heart, I know I have to pursue it. 


Once you do fall in love with a manuscript, what's the road to acquisition?

I bring it to my publisher to read, and if she's on board, it goes to Harper's division-wide acquisitions meeting. That meeting is attended by the editor-in-chief, publisher, sales, marketing, and finance. Everyone reads before the meeting, and I present my editorial vision for the book and a background on the author. Then others weigh in on the story, voice, and the expected viability of the book in today's market. If there's consensus that the book has promise and enough commercial appeal, I can make an offer. It can be a long process—but getting everyone on board early like this is really helpful for the success of the book! 


When you acquire a manuscript, what is your editorial process?

The needs of each book and each author are unique, but generally I send big picture edits first—structure, character motivations, plot—and then have a phone call with the author to make sure we're on the same page and to brainstorm solutions together. Subsequent edits tend to narrow in focus from there until we're ready to transmit the book to copyediting, but it's often not a linear process. New plot or thematic issues can arise as others are resolved. But no matter what, it's important to me that the editorial relationship feels collaborative; after all, we both want to end up with the best possible book that feels true to the author's vision. 




On the Shelves…Malaprop’s Bookstore



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In the wake of canceled author appearances in protest against North Carolina's swiftly passed bill barring transgender people from bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates, Malaprop's Bookstore in Ashville, North Carolina, has continued to thrive as a beacon of the community. Owner Linda-Marie Barrett shares what's on the shelves.


What sets Malaprops apart from other bookstores? 

Malaprop's offers a unique combination of outstanding customer service and  book selection. We bring in titles you won't find in many other stores, because we'll take risks in support of important literature. We carry many debut authors, books on controversial themes, and works in translation. We also have an amazing, nationally-recognized author event program. We've worked hard to cultivate an audience for YA and MG author events, hosting panels featuring veteran and debut authors to appeal to a wider group of readers. We love bringing authors to schools, too. If children can't get to our bookstore, we'll make sure we can bring authors and their works to them.


What has been a successful author visit and why do you believe it was more successful than others?

Favorite author events with children's authors usually feature a power point presentation and cupcakes! In our experience, children and adults engage more deeply and happily with an author when the author provides visuals in a power point presentation or slide show. And you can't beat a finale of cupcakes! Constance Lombardo, author of Mr. Puffball: Stuntcat Across America, held one of our favorite children's events. Her husband performed music, her daughter read, and Constance led the audience through a slide show detailing her development as an artist and the genesis of Mr. Puffball. Ingles created a pull-apart cupcake cake that featured her book cover. We sold a lot of books and had fun, too. 

 What in your opinion makes a bestselling book?
A bestseller sells itself through word of mouth among readers, and through bookseller handselling. The narrative, the characters, the book's message,and even the language, will resonate among a wide, diverse readership, including adult readers. I remember reading an arc of The Hunger Games. I read it straight through during a plane flight from NYC to AVL, finishing the last page as my plane landed. I knew it would be a huge book because it contained all of those important elements of a bestseller.  If a book thrills me that much, it will certainly thrill other booksellers, and we play an important role in getting behind titles and connecting them with their readers.

How is Malaprops involved in the community?

Malaprop's hosts author events, book clubs, and community events on issues we know our customers want to hear more about and discuss. We provide books for sale at literary festivals and events sponsored by other organizations that might include a visiting author. We set up school visits with local and touring authors. We are very involved with our local merchants, Chamber of Commerce, and community-centered organizations. We also give charitable donations, gift certificates, and community service to most any organization that reaches out for assistance.

Personal Book recommendation?

We just received into our store Wendell Berry's Roots to the Earthillustrated with the wood etchings of celebrated artist and wood engraver, Wesley Bates.  This stunning work includes poems and a short story by Wendell Berry, one of my favorite  writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In this beautiful book Berry expresses what it is to be a farmer. The book is quiet, yet brims with emotion. Roots to the Earth will evoke conversation between parents and children about a part of our world that is rarely seen, and yet so important because farmers produce the nourishment that sustains us.