John Mason, the esteemed director of library and educational marketing at Scholastic, will officially hang up his tote bag on July 3. We caught up with Mason as he was preparing for the transition.
Congratulations on a great career. Was there anything in particular that made the time feel right for your retirement?
I’ve worked in children’s book publishing for 43 years, 28 of which have been at Scholastic. When I started at Scholastic in 1986, our trade publishing was in its very early stages. I’ve been privileged to participate in its tremendous growth, from The Magic School Bus, The Baby-sitters Club, Goosebumps, to Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. One of the things I’m most proud of is the relationship I was able to build with the children’s booksellers. When I served on the board of ABC, I booked the Field Museum in Chicago for their dinner at the 1995 ABA Convention and had all the waitresses dress as Ms. Frizzle. Much as I love everyone I work with and everything I do in my job, there comes a time when it feels right to cut back from working full time. Although knowing me, I’ll still keep pretty busy—but my time will be more my own.
What’s the best piece of career advice a mentor or someone else has given you?
The great marketing director Doris Bass once advised me to think of my job as a set of goals, not a series of tasks. That stuck with me. I’m a detail person and that’s a strength, but one also has to keep thinking toward one’s long-term goals and develop the strategies to achieve them. Learn new things—keep challenging yourself.
You’ve seen many, but what are some of the biggest changes in the library and educational marketing world that you’ve seen over the years?
I think the biggest change is technology. We once worked in a world with no Internet, no email, no cell phones. When we got a starred review, our method of spreading the news was to go screaming down the corridor. The next step was literally to cut and paste the clipping and file it. The press conference announcing the Newbery and Caldecott awards was a smaller affair—no Jumbotron, and no Twitter—you had to stake out a pay phone in the hotel lobby to relay the news to your office. Now, viral marketing on social networking sites has become an essential part of the mix. Meanwhile libraries serve a vital role as technology hubs for their community. But at the end of the day, there’s still nothing that replaces a good story well told, no matter what the format.
What will you miss most about no longer being in the library world?
I hope to stay involved in various ways, and keep up the wonderful friendships I’ve formed over the years. You’ll see me around from time to time. What I won’t miss is commuting five days a week.
Are there any anecdotes about authors or illustrators that really stand out in your memory?
I once picked up Magic School Bus illustrator Bruce Degen from his home in Brooklyn to drive to the New Jersey Library Association. On our way across Staten Island we passed some small hills, and he explained with great enthusiasm how they were terminal moraines left over from the ice age. I was like a kid in Ms. Frizzle’s class! Also, going bowling with Freak the Mighty author Rodman Philbrick was a highlight. Another time, a group of us took Rosemary Wells to Balthazar Restaurant to discuss the marketing plans for her book Read to Your Bunny, and the waiter announced that the special that day was braised rabbit.
Do you have any specific plans yet for retirement?
There is a long list of projects that I’ve always said I’ll get to “when I retire.” Reading, music, travel, and visits to grandchildren are on the list. And I’ll have more time to volunteer at my local Unitarian Church. But I will still be involved in the United States Board on Books for Young People. In fact, I am on the planning committee of the International Board on Books for Young People regional conference, which will be in New York in October 2015.