Editor Interview: Anansesem

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: A feast for child readers

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: Of the publications for children: Kahani Magazine, Skipping Stones Multicultural Children's Magazine, and Stone Soup magazine. Of publishers: I really appreciate the smaller children's publishers who publish culturally diverse books: Lee and Low Books is a fave; Tamarind Books, Tulika Books, Tara Books, Barefoot Books, and Kids Can Press are doing good work.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: Some children's authors who speak to me are: Ezra Jack Keats, An Na, Rosa Guy, Laurence Yep, Jacqueline Woodson, Katherine Paterson, Gloria Whelan, Deborah Ellis, Naomi Shihab Nye, Uri Shulevitz, Maurice Sendak, C.S. Lewis, L. M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Enid Blyton (because I read her extensively as a child), Hans Christian Andersen, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Shannon Hale's books are a guilty pleasure. In the adult literature sphere, I have to admire Jamaica Kincaid, Sandra Cisneros, Dionne Brand, Isabel Allende, Derek Walcott, Gish Jen, Toni Cade Bambara, Naipaul, Junot Diaz, Naomi Shihab Nye (again), Kazuo Ishiguro, Earl Lovelace, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Richard Wright, Khaled Hosseini, Dostoevsky, Chekov, Fitzgerald, Hugo. I'm also fond of Rumi, Rilke, Gibran, and the haiku masters: Basho, Buson, and Issa. I may have forgotten some; there are just so many writers that have helped me in ways I cannot describe.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: We're the only English-language Caribbean-interest children's publication out there. I think that makes us pretty unique.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: Before you email us with questions about submitting work, read the submission guidelines as well as our FAQs page. Those pages have all the information potential contributors need.
Young writers who want to submit their work to Anansesem should get an adult to help them put together their submission. Younger contributors should also be prepared to revise their submissions if necessary (we provide guidance) and should understand that there is a possibility that we may not publish what they've sent. Being a writer calls for persistence and discipline, and this is something that even young writers have to learn. The support of parents and teachers is very important when it comes to helping young writers develop and thrive. We urge all parents of children and teens who show an aptitude for writing and literature, or even just a strong interest, to take their child's gifts seriously and help their child take writing seriously. You never know which young writer could turn out to be the future winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature.
Aside from that, take some time to read past issues, which you can access freely on our site. Reading past issues give people an idea of what we usually go for. We've published some great stuff, but we love it when we get material that's even better than what we've published in the past. Also, just because we're a Caribbean-interest ezine doesn't mean that we won't consider work from other countries. We publish "International Guests" in every issue. Again, it's all in the submission guidelines section of our site.
Most of all, we want to publish writing and illustrations for children from adults who are really serious about and dedicated to writing for children. So do your research; there is more to children's poetry than stringing together some cutesy rhymes, just as there is more to writing children's stories than making the protagonist a child. When we open a submission, it doesn't take long for us to know when someone understands the genre. If your bio shows us that you've been working on establishing yourself in the children's publishing market, that helps a lot, but we also publish first-timers who have done a good job.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: Regarding submissions by adults, the ideal submission is one in which the person has followed the submission guidelines and the submission demonstrates a mature understanding of what it takes to write or create illustrations for children. With submission from kids, we look for a stories with a beginning, middle, and end, which is to say, a clear plot. When reading poems or looking at art by children, we want to see that the child is describing or drawing upon something from their own life and 'world', rather than mimicking something from a book they read or something they saw on television. The ideal submission also has good grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Well, sometimes people send submissions to the wrong editor. We have different editors for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, and children's work, and the email addresses of the different editors can be found in the submission guidelines section on our website. Some people forget to send their bios, but bios can actually make a submission stronger. We also want bios with the original submission because emailing contributors to ask for bios slows down production of an issue.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: Previous publication credits matter to us because we really want to help advance the careers of individuals who are dedicated to producing work for children. A good track record of publication (either having authored/illustrated children's books or having been published in children's magazines), as well as experience in other child-centered creative fields (e.g. children's television, designing children's toys etc.), is the best way of showing us that. Note however that we will publish anyone who sends us a great submission, regardless of publication experience. We also want to know where you're from, particularly if and how you're affiliated with the Caribbean, whether by birth, residence, work, visiting etc.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: Well we try to read every piece to the end, but sometimes it becomes clear after a certain point that this is not something we will publish and so there is no point in reading it through. For example, we received a story recently that was so poorly translated from another language that it was difficult to get through the first paragraph. So in instances like that, no, we won't read the entire thing.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: Submissions are first evaluated based on readability. Can we read and understand this easily, and would children 'get' it? That's the first level. Then we look at things like whether the piece is a good fit for us and whether it's too similar to anything we've published recently. Once the genre editors have read all the submissions they've received, they send me their opinions and sometimes, questions that arose for them while considering the piece. Based on the editors' evaluations, I either approve a submission right away or shortlist it.
With a shortlisted submission, I'll have a discussion with the genre editor in which we consider the submission from different angles. If there is something that puzzled us, we'll email the author or artist for clarification. If a submission is publishable but needs some work, we will send the author or artist helpful notes (tips) and request a revision. The author or artist can choose to revise or not. Revised pieces go through a second round of evaluations and thus far, have always been accepted.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: Editing Anansesem is not my full-time job but I do give it a fair amount of my time. I update the ezine's Facebook and Twitter pages on a daily basis to a) keep our fans and readers plugged into our community and b) keep our site visible in search engine rankings. Before I update I have to spend some time looking for information interesting and relevant enough to make a good up-to-date update. I also spend some time several days a week reaching out to contacts on blogs and social media sites, or sending out emails. The online networking is important because, to a large extent, that's how we've been able to get the word about Anansesem out and connect with like-minded people. Otherwise, I may spend time writing guest posts for blogs or answering interview questions (like I'm doing now). We accept submissions all year round, but our reading period is the two months before an issue comes out. When reading period rolls around, I set aside a day in the week to read submissions. I try to read all submissions in the different genres before my editors send me their evaluations that way I'll be all caught up when they do.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: Personally, we've made technology work for us. We used a low-cost blog-publishing service to set up our site, and electronic submissions and social media are a big part of how we run the ezine. I'm thankful for the technologies we use because they've allowed us to build a community, and to get a project off the ground that we wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise. Because of the Internet, we've been able to give Caribbean children's literature exposure in a way that we wouldn't have been able to in times past. And electronic submissions are great for the environment. There are still many children's magazines that are print-only and they seem to be surviving. The Big Six publishers have also clung to print and they're surviving as well. I'm not sure that it's necessary to digitize everything. The digital divide is still pretty wide; not everybody has access to a computer. In fact, eventually going print is something we've had in mind from the beginning. There are lots of wonderful, humane, inspiring things that people are doing with technology though. I wouldn't discount it.