Jennifer Hershey’s career came full circle last week when she was promoted to associate publisher of Ballantine Bantam Dell—a role that she’s taking on in addition to her current responsibilities as senior v-p and editor-in-chief. Hershey started off as an assistant editor at Bantam Dell in 1989, and she remembered her first job as a crash course in editing and publishing. “I did whatever the house needed me to do,” she said. Lou Aronica, her boss, was, at the time, the head of the Bantam science fiction imprint, so her initial focus was SF, a genre she grew up reading with her flashlight under the covers of her bed at night. But soon Aronica was promoted to mass market publisher, and, in turn, Hershey’s editorial responsibilities expanded. “It was a great way to learn, because it was a microcosm of the larger publishing universe. I felt like I picked up a lot watching him as the mass market publisher, as opposed to just editing. And at the time—this is probably not as true anymore—sci-fi and fantasy was somewhat of a ghetto, so we did a lot of or own publicity and marketing. In that way, I think from my very first job, I was thinking more like a publisher than just an editor.”
In 1999, Hershey left Bantam Dell for Avon Books, which, soon after her arrival, was acquired by HarperCollins and merged with William Morrow. There, she purchased Neil Gaiman’s first general fiction work, Stardust, and edited authors such as John Maxim and Leah Hager Cohen. In 2005, after a stint as editorial director at Putnam, Hershey moved back to Random House Publishing Group as editorial director of the Random House imprint, where she edited bestsellers such as Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic. Hershey was appointed editor-in-chief of Ballantine Bantam Dell in 2011, where she has acquired and edited many of the imprint’s most successful novelists, including Jodi Picoult, Emily Giffin, and Debbie Macomber.
Although her predilection as an editor has always been for fiction—from her beginnings in SF to recent work with literary bestsellers—Hershey has edited a wide range of titles, including B.B. King’s autobiography, a golfing family memoir, an updated edition of Dr. Atkins’s diet revolution, and even an astrology book. “I feel like I’ve edited everything,” she said.
Hershey remembers coming to books at an early age by “indiscriminately” devouring her mother’s Literary Guild titles. She grew up in Lancaster, Penn., but when she was in first grade, the family moved to Brussels. During those five years abroad, Hershey’s reading interests continued to expand “because I didn’t have a TV set with English shows.” It wasn’t until after college and a brief job at a ranch in Wyoming that she decided to attend the Radcliffe publishing course and dedicate herself to books professionally.
In returning to Random House with Ballantine Bantam Dell, Hershey has also reunited with some of the authors and franchises that she helped bring to market. When she departed in 1999, she left behind what is likely her most well-known acquisition: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, the first installment of a megabestselling series that has been adapted to a hugely popular HBO show. Hershey said it’s thrilling to be back where she started, working with Martin and others again.
Current title: Senior v-p, editor-in-chief, associate publisher, Ballantine Bantam Dell
Almost became: Flower girl at a guest ranch
Higher education: B.A. in English from University of Virginia
Favorite authors: Jack London, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville