Samantha Swank is an assistant editor at Scholastic, where she works on fiction and non-fiction for ages zero-eight. She is a faculty member for the Working Writer’s Retreat, set for Sept. 15-17 at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino. She talks to Kite Tales about her work, children’s publishing, and her love for Benjamin Franklin.
EV: What made you decide to sign on as faculty for the Working Writer’s Retreat? What can participants expect from you?
SS: I thought the Working Writer’s Retreat sounded like a great opportunity for me, both professionally and personally. It’s great to get out there and meet other industry folks and talent, and there are worse places to do that than in California! My goal is to offer the participants some helpful feedback about their manuscripts and give them an idea of what I’m hoping to acquire going forward. And they can definitely expect an impassioned karaoke performance on Saturday night.
EV: For members who won’t be able to make it to the retreat, can you share three pieces of advice for crafting winning manuscripts?
SS: Know your audience, know the market, and be open to change. Especially with children’s books, it’s so important to be writing for the age level you’re trying to target. That means using the correct vocabulary, making sure the manuscript isn’t too long, and writing about a topic that’s going to be appealing to kids on some level.
Likewise, knowing the competition that’s out there will help you avoid writing a story that’s been done before (possibly more than once) and can be a great source for new ideas or fresh takes and topics to write about. And as I’m sure most of us know, revising is the biggest part of the editing process. Changing something you’ve worked so hard on is tough, but as editors, we just want to help our writers produce amazing books. Sometimes part of a manuscript just doesn’t work (for any number of reasons). Being open to feedback and constructive criticism from editors, agents, writing groups, etc. can only help strengthen the manuscript.
EV: Of the books you have worked on, what are some of your favorites and what made them stand out?
SS: I love working on the Moby Shinobi leveled reader series. Moby is such a great character, and the books are full of rhymes and Moby’s wacky antics as he tries to use his ninja skills at different jobs. And the art is just so colorful and fun! But I’ve had such a great experience working on all my titles. I love when a book can make me laugh or teach me something new (or both). And I know I’m working on something special when I want to share a line, a piece of art, or a photo with the people around me.
EV: What’s the deal with Ben Franklin?
SS: It all started in eighth grade, and honestly, I’m not sure why I latched onto BFrank (as he’s affectionately known to me and probably only me). But I was immediately infatuated with the American Revolution, and with Benjamin Franklin in particular. He’s just so interesting! You learn all the basics—the kite, the Declaration of Independence, Poor Richard’s Almanac—but then when you dive into all of his other inventions and his time in Europe and his promiscuity… He’s just a fascinating dude and he had a long and active public life. I got a Benjamin Franklin tattoo last year, so I think it’s safe to say my love affair with Benjamin Franklin isn’t going anywhere.
EV: Besides Ben, what’s on your wish list of topics or types of books to acquire?
SS: I was a history major, so American history is a passion of mine (particularly the Revolutionary era and the Founding Fathers, as discussed). But I’d love for kids to learn about less well-known, but equally fascinating, parts of history. And I’m dying to work on more historical projects about cool and important ladies in history. It can be tough to make nonfiction fun for the young age levels that I work on (zero-eight years old), so any manuscript that can present a nonfiction topic and make it really appealing to a little kid is something that I’d love to read.
Where can people follow or connect with you?
My twitter is @samsvirtuallife, and it’s definitely the place to be if you want to know what I’m binge-watching or see pictures of my cat.
You can also hear from her in person at the LA SCBWI’s Working Writer’s Retreat. Registration opens July 16th at 6am and the retreat takes place September 15th-17th and there is a waiting list if you don’t grab one of the 40 available spots at first. If you are not an SCBWI member but would like to learn more: www.scbwi.org/about/membership-benefits.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.
Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she is writing — and rewriting — a picture book and a middle grade novel. Find her on Twitter: @noterlinda
Photos provided by Samantha Swank and Scholastic.