Editor’s Notebook | Jeanne Elders DeWaard, Eerdmans

Jeanne Elders DeWaard began her career in the adult division at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. in the early 1990s, then left to complete a Ph.D. in American literature. She taught college literature for a number of years and pursued research interests in 19th-century domestic novels and theories of race, gender, and national identity. She joined Eerdmans Books for Young Readers as managing editor in 2010.  She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and three children and enjoys running, bicycling, and of course, reading.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Please tell us about yourself, how you became an editor, and how you came to Eerdmans.
Jeanne Elders DeWaard (JED): As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, so being an editor is perfect for me because it has allowed me to keep it there. I worked for Eerdmans’ adult division right out of college, first as a copywriter, then publicist, then copyeditor. I left to pursue a Ph.D. in American literature, and after I completed that I taught college literature and writing for a number of years. I had kept up with my friends at Eerdmans, and when they needed a managing editor for their children’s division, I thought it sounded like a fantastic job. Reading to my own children had brought me a new appreciation for the rich world of children’s literature, and I love combining the creative aspects of picture book art and design with the analytical aspects of editing the range of material we deal with.

TWM: What is the mission of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers?
JED: Our mission is to engage young minds with high-quality books that inform and delight, inspire and entertain.

TWM: How many books do you publish each year and in which genre?
JED: We currently publish 12 to 18 books a year, from board books and picture books for young children to middle grade and young adult books. We publish both fiction and nonfiction, including biographies, historical fiction, and novels.

TWM: Some of our readers may not know that Eerdmans has published books with Jewish content. Can you talk about that?
JED: The EBYR imprint grew out of an adult division that publishes scholarly works in theology, biblical studies, and religious history, so we have an interest in all major religious traditions, as well as a sensitivity to the interconnections between Judaism and Christianity. While we don’t publish books that would be categorized as inspirational, several of our books recognize the role religion plays in daily life for many people as well as the role it plays in one’s identity. We’ve published historical fiction exploring life in ancient Israel, the Jewish experience during the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust, and young people’s experiences with current issues such as Arab-Israeli relations. So sometimes the Jewish content in our fiction involves cultural identity and sometimes it’s more focused on questions of faith. Many of our picture books span both Jewish and Christian interests, such as illustrated paraphrases of Psalms and stories of biblical events and characters, such as the Exodus, Moses, Joseph, and Queen Esther.

TWM: What does Eerdmans offer writers of Jewish content?
JED: I think one important thing we offer is a unique kind of eclectism in our list. Because of our imprint’s roots in scholarly religious publishing, we offer a familiarity with religious history and experience, yet we also publish many nonreligious titles. With a range of fiction and nonfiction for all ages, we reach a wide variety of readers. Our eclectic list gives us a presence in many different markets—schools and libraries and trade markets, both secular and religious. And because our list is relatively small each season, each book gets considerable attention.

TWM: What do you look for in a manuscript?
JED: I love reading a manuscript that deals with ordinary life but approaches it in a fresh way and makes me see or appreciate something about everyday existence from an angle I may have not considered before. I think that, at least in middle grade and young adult fiction, that this most often is achieved through an original, authentic voice and richly developed main character. I’m much more drawn toward stories about the ordinary experiences in most people’s lives related by characters who think and feel deeply about them than I am by plot-driven stories filled with action. I do also like to see manuscripts that deal with current social issues or events of historical significance. I’ve had books for older children in mind as I’m saying this, but it’s true for picture books as well in that I look for books with a certain weight—ones that would stand up over time because they illuminate something about the human condition, even if it’s in a humorous or quirky way.

TWM: Why does Eerdmans want only exclusive submissions?
JED: We had instituted the “exclusive only” policy to try to keep on top of the high volume of submissions with our small staff. However, we are currently revising our manuscript guidelines and in February 2011 we will begin accepting non-exclusive submissions. We do ask that authors indicate in their cover letter whether the proposal is a simultaneous submission.

TWM: How should a writer submit a manuscript to Eerdmans?
JED: Please submit picture book manuscripts in their entirety with a cover letter; submit proposals for middle grade and young adult books by query letter with synopsis and three sample chapters. We do not accept submissions by email or fax. Please do not include a self-addressed, stamped envelope; we do not return submitted material. If you would like confirmation that we received your manuscript, you may include a self-addressed, stamped postcard; we will return this to you to indicate that we received your material.

If we are interested in your submission, we will contact you within four months of receiving your proposal. Please do not call or e-mail to inquire about the status of your manuscript. We regret that due to the volume of material we receive, we cannot comment on manuscripts we are unable to accept.

Send manuscript submissions to:
Acquisitions Editor
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
2140 Oak Industrial Dr. NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505

Illustrators may submit samples of their artwork. Please do not send original art; submit photocopies or printed media and include a listing of books you have illustrated along with your contact information. Please do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope; we will contact you if we are interested.

Send illustration samples to:
Gayle Brown, Art Director
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
2140 Oak Industrial Dr. NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505

TWM: If you could be any character in children’s literature, who would you be and why?
JED: I’d love to have Anne of Green Gables’ irrepressible enthusiasm. Sometimes I feel like my critical eye takes over a bit too much and I’d like to approach life with her sense of wide-eyed wonder at the beauty of the world.

TWM: What were your favorite books growing up?
JED: Caddie Woodlawn and Little House on the Prairie and its sequels. I wanted to be fearless and adventurous like Caddie, and I wanted to live in a sod hut like the Ingalls family did in On the Banks of Plum Creek (the sod hut is no longer a goal of mine, I can assure you!).

About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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6 Responses to Editor’s Notebook | Jeanne Elders DeWaard, Eerdmans

  1. evelyn says:

    Thank you for this helpful interview. I have a submission question for Jeanne. If an author submitted a pb under the 6-month exclusive guidelines, would you still want her to give Eerdmans the full 6 months exclusive after the guidelines change in February?

    BTW, I was delighted with Eerdmans’ recent pb, THE SEVEN SEAS, by Ellen Jackson. A fun book!

    • Jeanne says:

      That’s a good question…. thank you for checking on that. I think we have to ask you to honor the 6-month exclusivity period because we are still responding to every manuscript that is submitted before Feb. 1.

      Thanks for the compliment on SEVEN SEAS!

  2. anitanolan says:

    Thanks for posting this, Barb. I wasn’t aware of Jeanne.

  3. Pingback: New Editor Alert! Jeanne Elders DeWaard, Eerdmans « Anita Nolan's blog

  4. Martha Fehl says:

    Dear Jeanne,
    I loved those books that you spoke of in your interview. As a teacher, I always tried to squeeze in some of those historical classics.
    The kids seemed to enjoy them also.


    Martha R. Fehl

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