Two children’s book publicity veterans are the latest to set up shop on their own after being laid off from a major trade house. Sarah Shealy and Barbara Fisch, formerly joint publicity directors at Harcourt Children’s Books, are launching Blue Slip Media, which will specialize in publicity and marketing services for publishers and authors.
Shealy and Fisch had been job-sharing at Harcourt for 15 years, but when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt closed its San Diego satellite office last June, they began to consider going independent. “We both kind of toyed with the idea, but we weathered it out,” says Fisch. Their jobs were safe for the time being—they continued to work at HMH from home offices—but they were laid off in a subsequent round of cuts in December.
Initially, they imagined they might have to find another industry. “We don’t have the opportunities out here we would in New York,” says Shealy. But their thoughts returned to striking out on their own. “We realized we had our dream job, and we loved job sharing so much. It was hard to imagine doing my job without Barb. This is a great opportunity to keep doing what we love, and keep doing it together.”
The company’s name has its origins in an old Harcourt Brace Jovanovich system through which employees were given “blue slips” for exemplary work. Fisch and Shealy had taken to a phrase (even using it as the password on a computer they shared “for 100 years,” Shealy says), and over coffee they decided it was “perfect” for the new venture, which the duo will operate out of their home offices.
In addition to working with publishing houses or with established authors, Blue Slip is also exploring giving marketing evaluations to unpublished SCBWI-member writers. “At Harcourt, we so valued an author who brought with them good ideas, so to point them in that direction would be really helpful,” says Fisch.
Ultimately, Fisch and Shealy are banking on their ample industry experience—as well as the “two heads are better than one” factor—as Blue Slip gears up. “The great thing about working together for 15 years is that we made great contacts with authors and illustrators, with reviewers and media,” Shealy says, “and this is a great opportunity to keep doing that kind of work with people that we adore.”