Andrea Pinkney Profile
Vice President, Editor-at-Large of Trade Books, Andrea Davis Pinkney, met with the 2007 Fellows at a lunchtime Executive Roundtable, where she spoke about her career trajectory, editorial process, and life lessons.
Mrs. Pinkney has authored over twenty books for children, including Alvin Ailey, Dear Benjamin Banneker, and Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, which won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award in 2001. She began her career in magazines and went into book publishing after watching her husband, Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Brian Pinkney, work on children's books. Prior to her arrival at Scholastic in December 2005, Mrs. Pinkney worked at Simon & Schuster, Hyperion Books, and Houghton Mifflin. A graduate of Syracuse University, she holds a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two children.Below is a highlight of the conversation between the Fellows and Mrs. Pinkney.
Q: We've read that you started your career in magazines. At what magazines have you worked?
A: After graduating from Syracuse, I landed my first job at Mechanics Illustrated as an editorial assistant, although I had little interest in cars. But I took the advice of a mentor who told me, "Andrea, it's a job." While working there, I met my husband, Brian, who worked across the hall at a different magazine. I left Mechanics and went to work for Essence magazine because they were looking for someone with editorial and automotive experience for their annual car guide. I was the only candidate with said experience. So the moral of the story-- don't knock that first job! At Essence, I headed the "Contemporary Living" section, now known as "Lifestyles," which included everything from parenting to food to travel. The parenting articles included a children's book round-up every December. In the early eighties, there weren't many quality children's books coming in for African-Americans. I'd go home to Brian and complain about this gap that I saw in the materials. I started thinking about how to match up illustrators, authors and projects to create quality books for the underrepresented. Little did I know, but I was developing book editing skills that I'd use later in my career.
Q: How did you get into book publishing and finally arrive here at Scholastic?
A: One day, serendipitously, I had lunch with the head editor at Simon & Schuster children's division, who offered me a position as full editor at S&S. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Because this was new for me, I really didn't know what I couldn't do either. I had no rules for the game and was flying by the seat of my pants. First thing I did was got a list of all New York literary agents. Then I cold called all of them to introduce myself and ask if they had anything new they wanted to propose. Little by little I started building my list. I also called up magazine writers I knew and asked them if they wanted to write a picture book. After I left S&S, I went to Hyperion, where I headed up Jump at the Sun, an African-American imprint. This is where I found Sharon Flake's manuscript out of the slush pile. We worked hard and turned it into The Skin I'm In. And then, a couple of years ago, Lisa Holton, my previous boss at Houghton, offered me a job at Scholastic.
Q: Was it difficult to transition from journalism into publishing?
A: The hardest part for me was feeling like I had no experience, especially because I didn't come up the traditional ranks of publishing like most of my colleagues. At my first job, I felt like everyone was watching me to see what I'd do. People would ask, "So what are you going to do here exactly?" And secretly, I thought, "I have no idea!" I said to myself, "Okay, I've got to figure this thing out!"
Q: What are the main differences between the book publishing and magazine worlds?
A: Things move constantly in magazines. You have to fill pages quickly and make on-the-spot decisions. Magazines are like big think tanks, where you have to come up with new ideas all the time. My first thought when I started working in book publishing was, "Wow, it sure is quiet!" Book publishing is much slower. We forecast two years in advance, in contrast to the same-day articles and decisions we made in magazines.
Q: What is your editorial process?
A: I think of ideas and then match people together to bring the idea to life. It's like a marriage between the author and illustrator. My experiences from magazines help me now with coming up with ideas. I have the best of both worlds. I love to see the collaboration happen and invite writers in who wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise. I want to give them a platform to showcase their talents.
Q: How do you know when a book will be successful?
A: It's an intuitive process. I'll read a manuscript and something will spark in me that says, "There's something in that!"
Q: Do you still have time to write?
A: Yes, I wake up early and write. It's my creative time. I'm currently publishing a book with my husband. I'm also writing a book on Sojourner Truth.