Editor Interview: Wendy McClure on Albert Whitman

Wendy McClure on Wendy McClure: “I was born and raised in the Chicago area.

“In 1997, I found myself working as an editorial assistant at Albert Whitman after getting my M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“My dad used to joke that I wouldn’t be able to use my poetry skills in any kind of office job, and I’m happy to have proven him wrong!

“I live in Chicago with my fiancé, Chris. (I know it’s a little unusual to be at one publisher for so long, but A.W. Co. has evolved so much over the years that my current job is very different from the one I had here even just five years ago.)”

What kind of young reader were you? What are the books that helped make you the book person you are today?

When it came to picture books, I loved the comfort and reassurance of ordinary details—any kind of illustrated book that provided vast visual inventories of things, such as the Richard Scarry “Big Books.”

Starting in about third grade, I adored the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (193202006)(given recent projects, this is no surprise) and not too long afterward moved on to Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-1869) and even Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).

I liked ambitious reading as a kid, and The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (E.P. Dutton, 1978) really blew my mind with its multiple characters and adult points of view.

In junior high, I loved what I now call “70’s grubby jeans novels,” those gritty YA books by Paul Zindel, S.E. Hinton, and others.

What inspired you to focus on editing books for young readers?

I was drawn to children’s books throughout my young adulthood. The best part of my summer job at a day care center was rediscovering picture books.

In grad school, I kept studying fairy tales, and then my first publishing job at a textbook company had me searching libraries for literature selections for a K-8 reading series. By the time I started at Albert Whitman, it seemed like a natural progression.

Do you accept unagented work?

Yes, though these days I’m more likely to send editorial letters for fiction projects rather than picture books.

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submissions process? What are pitfalls to avoid?

Be patient. I don’t have the time I used to have for corresponding with writers, but I do remember names and after several submissions I often recognize when someone has been diligently submitting and working on her craft. In other words, I am paying attention.

Don’t get too hung up on short-term goals, like writing a dazzling query letter. Think of agents and editors as career partners, not gatekeepers—it’s a big difference in attitude.

There’s been a lot of discussion of late about the current state and future of the picture book. What do you think?

I doubt picture books will vanish from the landscape anytime soon. Tablets and other e-book developments will give rise to a lot of fun, innovative stuff, of course, but I think hardcover picture books will also continue to evolve as a result.

In both cases, I think people will want more from picture books—more enhanced features in e-books and more richly detailed physical books. So while picture books are becoming a narrower market, I hope that new developments will make it an even more interesting one.

Albert Whitman is based in Park Ridge, Illinois, outside of Chicago. Does that offer you a different point of view than, say, a NYC-based editor? If so, how?

I think the company’s small size and independent status influences my perspective at least as much as the location. For a small company, the stakes are higher in the sense that every book we publish has to stand out in some way. I don’t go after trends, and I look for writers who are interested in building a career.

As a reader, what have been your favorite new children’s books of 2010-2011 and why?

I’m a big fan of Countdown by Deborah Wiles (Scholastic, 2010) for its wonderful design and approach.

My favorite YA last year was Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian (Push, 2010), which is such a smart novel for girls.

And I really loved Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam CJ Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins (Holt, 2010), because it’s such an innovative take on the subject of mothers and daughters, historically fascinating as well as deeply moving.

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning editor self, what would you tell her?

You can’t please everyone!

You’re also a writer! Please tell us about your own writing?

I write nonfiction for adults mostly, though I’ve published a picture book called The Princess and the Peanut Allergy, illustrated by Tammie Lyon (Whitman, 2009).

I write the pop culture column for BUST, which is an alternative women’s magazine.

My newest book is called The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie (Riverhead, April 2011) and it’s exactly what it sounds like—an account of my love affair with the Little House books, including my visits to all the Laura Ingalls Wilder home sites.

Writing it and now promoting it has really brought my writer and children’s book editor worlds together.

What do you do outside the world of publishing?

I write and watch movies with my fiancé, Chris.

Cynsational Notes

Wendy (in red) is pictured with Albert Whitman marketing director Michelle F. Bayuk.

See also Marketing Director Interview: Michelle F. Bayuk on Albert Whitman from Cynsations.

3 thoughts on “Editor Interview: Wendy McClure on Albert Whitman

  1. Thank you both for this interview. I'm so looking forward to reading The Wilder Life, and its vicarious thrills: I've got to love a woman who dares to churn butter! And, Wendy, thanks for the kind words for Borrowed Names.

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