Subsidiary rights assistant
The moment Allen knew she wanted to be in publishing came when she was interning at Akashic Books. “It was a lot of mailing,” she recalls of the job. “But the experience ultimately convinced me that I wanted to pursue a career in this industry, especially after Ziggy Marley brought in jerk chicken for an author meeting.”
Although it took Allen years to land her first paying job in the business—she says she also took a “a detour via a master’s in Italian”—she has found a home at FSG. Now, she says, one of the highlights of her job is getting an author published in a territory and “bringing them to a whole new audience.” Another highlight is getting to read Italian books on submission, though she admits this isn’t “a typical perk for my position.”
Deeply passionate about translation—she considered becoming a translator and has translated a children’s book from Italian—Allen is looking forward to deepening her connection with international literature, perhaps even geographically. When asked where she’d like to be in five to 10 years, she offers this: “Hopefully pitching a diverse—in every sense of the word—list of books at an international rights fair, in whatever shape that takes. Or running an indie publisher from a farm upstate, or a Tuscan villa. Modest ambitions.”
Assistant director, media planning
Random House Group
For Annette Melvin, senior director of creative services at Random House, Battle is an inspiration, both on the job and off. Melvin says Battle is an “innovator” in her group who has “originated programs that have been adopted as the standard by the PRH corporate marketing strategy and consumer engagement department.” She has also been instrumental in other efforts, helping books like How to Be an Antiracist and Five Days become bestsellers. It is, as Melvin put it, “her ability to find, target, and produce sales from the self-defined nonreaders that makes her a secret weapon at Random House.”
In the industry since 2008, Battle, who graduated with a BA in human sexuality, didn’t always see her future in books. But, as a member of a self-described “artistic family that loves to read,” an internship in Penguin’s cover art department seemed ideal. Since then, she says, she’s “never looked back.” And, though she admits her work can “sound a little dry to most people,” she says she has a passion for analytics. “I love puzzles, and figuring out what someone wants from a very subjective experience is such a challenge.”
Battle also loves her current employer. When asked about she imagines for her future, she says she sees herself at Random House, perhaps in a new role. “Books are part of everyone’s lives in a way that no other entertainment media can boast. I would love to develop a position or program that exclusively centers on thought leadership and collaboration across disciplines.”
A graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course, Berger got her start in the business as an intern at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. That post led to an editorial assistant job at Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint. Now, with 10 years under her belt in the business, Berger, who contemplated becoming a lawyer (before “rediscovering” her “love of YA and MG” at Columbia), couldn’t be happier with her career choice.
A childhood fan of books like Anne of Green Gables—she says she, “like many little girls, saw myself distinctly in Anne with an E”—Berger is drawn to strong plots and “epic storytelling.” She has worked on a wide array of titles since joining Sourcebooks, including bestsellers like Claire Legrand’s Empirium trilogy and the picture book Unicorn Day.
Hoping she will be seen as someone who “took risks—who worked to publish books that might not have been considered mainstream and provided interesting, important, and compelling stories,” Berger is heartened to see the industry pivoting to allow a more diverse collection of storytellers to share their tales. “We have a responsibility, as an industry that helps shape young minds, to provide the widest possible range of books to help build empathetic and well-rounded young adults,” she says. “And I’ve loved to see the progress we’ve made here.”
Director of publicity, children’s
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
A connection made, through Columbia University’s alumnae networking program, with Soho Press’s associate publisher Juliet Grames helped Bi get her first job in publishing. Declaring that, “sometimes it really does just take one person to kickstart your career,” Bi is now directing the publicity operation at Bloomsbury Children’s, after stints at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; and Holiday House. Like many in the industry, Bi is a lifelong reader who, she explains, was particularly drawn to books as the child of immigrants.
Arriving in the U.S. from China as a toddler in the 1980s, Bi found books to be a comfort, an escape, and an invaluable source of information. Eventually, she says, they also became a way for her to “understand and reconcile my own identity as a Chinese immigrant turned Asian American.” Now, as a woman of color in an overwhelmingly white industry, she is still wrestling with her place in the landscape. When asked what the toughest part of her job is, she says it’s always “the capitalist, white patriarchy and the ways it manifests in every aspect of the business.”
For Bi, publishing, “at least the way I do it, is a form of activism” involving “thinking about who—within the equally capitalistic publicity-tangential industries of media and bookselling—gets to tell stories, who gets paid to tell stories, and who those stories benefit.” She has worked on campaigns for authors like Ursula K. LeGuin, Yuyi Morales, and Renée Watson and is as passionate about the books she works on as she is about seeing this industry change. To that end, Bi does pro bono communications for the Sirens conference, which she describes as “dedicated to the women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature.” With Sirens, and in her 9-to-5 job, she is aiming for the same goal: “I will always bend towards activism, and I make choices each day—some large, some miniscule—to try and make this industry fairer and more equitable.”
Foreign rights manager, associate agent
Sterling Lord Literistic
When asked if she ever considered a career outside of books, Bukowski quips, “I’m sure my engineering parents wished I found differential equations more interesting.” She didn’t, and now, with six years in the business, Bukowski appreciates how far she’s come in a relatively short timeframe. “I’ve gotten where I am because people trusted me and believed in me. And, of course, a good deal of this business is luck.” Still, some of her success is down to trusting herself. “I have always trusted my taste,” she says, “and I fought early for talent that was dismissed by skeptics as too difficult to succeed.”
With clients that include Stephanie Jimenez, Katherine Seligman, and Bryan Washington, Bukowski focuses on literary fiction and upmarket women’s fiction. Happy to see the industry publishing more “writers of color, writers from the LGBTQ community, writers with lived experiences not traditionally given space,” she recognizes more still needs to change. “There’s a focus on particular stories from these writers,” she says, “namely a focus on trauma, and I look forward to the day there’s a true diversity of stories.”
When asked about the impact she’d like to have on the industry long-term, Bukowski says she hopes to deliver stories that affect others, the way she’s been affected by the books she loves. “I’d like my books to have made a difference in the world, or at the very least to have been read and loved. Books have shaped every aspect of my life, and knowing I worked on some that had that same impact for someone else would be really nice.”
One Signal Publishers
Ciani, who’s been in publishing for a little over a decade, has long been drawn to writing. Growing up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., he says, he had a number of friends who “got into trouble.” For him, “books were a lifeline.” After stints at the New Yorker and as a literary agent, he leapt at the chance to join One Signal when he heard Julia Cheiffetz was launching the new nonfiction imprint at Simon & Schuster. “Her track record was impeccable, and I saw an exciting opportunity to help establish a new brand in the industry.”
So far, Ciani has been instrumental in forging that brand. Some of his notable acquisitions include Jill Filipovic’s OK Boomer, Let’s Talk and the forthcoming history of the American labor movement, Fight Like Hell, by labor journalist Kim Kelly. Acquiring in categories like history, memoir, business, technology, and sports, Ciani says that ultimately he’s drawn to stories that have two essentials: “emotion and relevance.” But, he admits, they can be hard to find. And one of the most difficult aspects of his job is saying no repeatedly, especially “as a person of color who sees the need for this industry to provide a more open and inviting face to authors who do not fit the status quo.”
Ciani’s main goal is opening the door for writers that the industry has historically shut out. “I came to this business with a personal mission to advocate for the authors, stories, and experiences that have gone unrecognized for too long,” he says. “To me that is smart business, morals, and ethics.”
Melanie Conklin and Christina Soontornvat
Authors and cofounders
Everywhere Book Fest
In spring 2020, as publishing industry events were canceled in rapid succession due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ellen Oh voiced the need for a virtual book festival that would give authors and illustrators a way to connect with readers while they could not gather together in person to celebrate books. Christina Soontornvat joined Oh in the cause and recruited Melanie Conklin to help make the event a reality. Hoping to create something online that could capture some of the energy of an in-person event, the three women partnered on what became Everywhere Book Fest, a two-day virtual event that took place May 1 and 2. The festival provided free children’s programming that was accessible to “everyone, everywhere.”
While the initial goal, Conklin says, was to give booksellers, readers, and publishers a place to interact during Covid-19 lockdowns, the result was something “far greater.” Everywhere Book Fest, unlike other events, was developed from the ground-up with diversity and inclusion in mind. “Because many of our volunteers and members of our planning committees were authors of marginalized backgrounds, we leaned on our own experiences, both good and bad, to create a more equitable event,” Soontornvat explains. “We chose to center on diverse authors and celebrate their talents, rather than just have a handful of ‘diversity’ panels. We knew firsthand that BIPOC and LGBTQ authors are disproportionately targets of online harassment, so we focused on author safety as a top priority.”
More than 43,000 unique visitors attended Everywhere Book Fest, which featured anti-harassment policies and ASL interpretation for all of its live programming. (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has since followed suit and added ASL interpretation to all of its online programming.) “I see no reason that all digital book events should not offer the same level of inclusion and accessibility that Everywhere Book Fest provided,” Conklin says.
Business intelligence analyst
Penguin Random House
Publishers are not known for their data analysis. But the industry is trying to change, and people like Cox are proof. As an English and world literatures major, he wanted to work in publishing. But unable to break into the business out of college, he went for a master’s in finance. And, ironically, it was his love of numbers, not books, that eventually opened doors for him in the industry.
Cox joined PRH in 2017 as a sales reporting assistant and now builds internal reporting and analytics tools. His goal? Teaching his colleagues to be less afraid of the zeroes and ones he’s giving them. “A spreadsheet of endless numbers can be terrifying—and I completely understand this—but, whenever I’m staring at a large data set, it feels akin to a novel,” he says. “I can weave those strings of figures into a narrative, a story that explains what it all means, and I can provide others with this narrative with which they can make clear business decisions.”
Customer order coordinator
Harvard Book Store
Davidson (who uses the pronouns ze and zir) went for zir interview at Harvard Book Store on the day before ze graduated college. And landing the job was, in many ways, the fruition of a dream. “I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember,” Davidson says, adding that, while ze toyed with the idea of becoming an editor or a children’s librarian, the bookseller role seemed ideal. “I wanted to have a job where I could get the books I love into people’s hands.”
After four years at Harvard, Davidson takes pride in making the store stand out. Davidson is also getting noticed as an industry voice; ze is currently co-chair of the New England Children’s Bookseller Advisory Council, whose Windows & Mirrors Committee, ze explains, creates an annual list of children’s titles “featuring a diverse range of representation.”
Davidson, who can see a future in management, can also see bigger things on the horizon. One day, ze says, ze would like to own a store of zir own.
Senior marketing director
Deans’s boss, Ecco’s v-p and associate publisher Miriam Parker, describes her as a “genius of social media” and a deeply “creative thinker.” That creativity was on display in work Deans has done on books like Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here, for which she created cheeky promotional swag in the form of a fire-shaped stress reliever (the novel follows a woman caring for two kids who can spontaneously burst into flames). The book, Parker says, “felt like a hit before it was one.”
Deans, who is also a playwright, has leaned on her theater background in the office. “Theater informs just about everything I do,” she says. “So much of marketing is storytelling, and I try to approach our campaigns from that perspective—how can I capture an audience’s attention and convince them to spend time with this book?” She’s brought that flair for storytelling to promotions for a number of notable titles—in addition to Wilson’s, there’s Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey.
But Deans is as focused on seeing the industry change as she is on getting attention for her authors’ books. “Book publishing is complicit in participating in and perpetuating our country’s history of white supremacy,” she says. “I want to actively work to improve the way that we promote our BIPOC authors and the way we relate to our BIPOC readers. I want to be not just inclusive but determinedly welcoming, and I want us to extend this thinking and this action to other marginalized groups and communities. This is more than marketing, and more than a thought experiment, and more than a few public statements and some hours in anti-bias training. This is and must be a choice we actively make every single day.”
Katherine Del Monte
The things that drew Del Monte to publishing are literacy and community development—and filling a cultural void. While working in literacy programs in the Latinx community in Los Angeles, she kept running up against the same problem: she couldn’t find books to fulfill the needs of the people she was working with. To fix that, she decided to create those books.
Lectura Books launched in 2001 and was, Del Monte says, intended to fill the void she found in the market by publishing bilingual and bicultural books. She trained in journalism but says she grew up in a suburban L.A. home that didn’t feature a lot of books and is not your classic publisher. “In truth I consider myself to be an accidental publisher,” she notes. “Today, after lots of mistakes and the painstaking editorial process of publishing in two languages, I have fallen in love with publishing because I see what a difference it can make in the lives of the parents and kids who need the books and the inspiration of authentic stories.”
Del Monte’s work has earned her a Bright Spot in Education Excellence award from the Obama administration in 2016 and a Superstar in Education award from the state of Delaware in 2019. These honors are appreciated, but she is most thankful when she meets the people whose lives she’s touching. “It’s thrilling to see parents and teachers at trade shows who say, ‘I love that book,’ and it’s either something I wrote or coauthored or it was conceived and published with them in mind. That’s true joy for me. It’s simple and beautiful.”
Knopf Books for Young Readers
A founding member of Random House Children’s Books’ diversity and inclusiveness committee, DiNovis has had a major hand in helping her division become more inclusive through both hires and acquisitions. One of Knopf BFYR’s leading graphic novel editors, she is also known for bringing in a number of notable LGBQT titles, including Katie Heaney’s Girl Crushed (about two girls in love) and the middle grade queer fiction anthology This Is Our Rainbow. She is someone who, as colleague Melanie Nolan put it, has an innate ability to “recognize what a book can be, and how to nurture it” and is providing “a model for how to do the work to make diversity-related change for the better in publishing.”
Having gotten her start in the business as a remote intern for agent Marcy Posner at Folio Literary while studying abroad her junior year at UNC at Chapel Hill, DiNovis is proud to say her former boss is still in her professional orbit. Now, DiNovis accepts submissions from Posner as an editor.
Aside from some of her notable acquisitions, DiNovis is most proud of her work on the D&I committee. For the past year, she notes, her team has been working on a “diversity data project” for the Random House Children’s Books and Penguin Young Readers lists; the data proves, she says, “that diverse books sell. It shows that we have huge audiences who are hungry for more.”
Now DiNovis sees another opportunity to accomplish more diverse hiring, thanks to the remote work situation across the industry. “I’m eager to see when and how we’ll create infrastructure for onboarding remote employees, and I’d love to be a part of making sure they receive the same mentorship and support that they would as in-office employees,” she says. “This would be a tremendous step for inclusive hiring that our industry very much needs—the potential is thrilling to me, and I can’t wait to see what we will do to execute this and bring it to fruition.”
Cardinal Rule Press
Realistic fiction picture books that make a difference, while reflecting modern-day diversity,” is how Rob Broder at Ripple Grove Press (a former Star Watch honoree) describes the books Dismondy publishes through her Cardinal Rule Press.
A longtime children’s book author and former teacher, Dismondy says she “saw a great need for realistic fiction books that had strong moral messages.” She then went about trying to fill the gap. For a mother of three, juggling work and life isn’t always easy. But it’s worth it. For starters, hearing from her readers gives her a boost; she says she loves learning “from families about the multiple ways our books are impacting their children to live their best life.” And Cardinal Rule has been getting more attention.
“Having our books recognized in the trade and having sales comparable to some of the larger publishing houses has been a major accomplishment,” Dismondy explains. “We’ve had people call our company small but mighty!”
Executive vice president, pre-K-12
Technically speaking, Britten Follett has been with her current company for a decade. But in actuality, she’s been on board much longer. She has, she jokes, “unofficially” been with the almost-150-year-old company that bears her family name “since birth.” After a stint in broadcast journalism (complete with an Emmy for an investigative news piece she produced with her husband), Britten joined the family business. She is now running, among other things, the company’s Follett School Solutions division.
It’s been a good fit: Mark Ray, the lead for the company’s Future Ready Librarians initiative, says that, under Follett’s watch, the division has “transformed book fairs and book clubs.” She was also key, Ray added, in the creation of MyDestiny, a tool for classrooms that uses AI that recently picked up an EdTech Award.
Sensitive to any appearances of nepotism, Follett says that, when she decided to join the family business, she kept it a secret from her father, who was then CEO. She got a job in marketing and hasn’t looked back since. It’s not an easy time, she says, but she’s staying focused—and positive. “Covid-19 is presenting the biggest challenge to our business in 150 years,” she explains. “And while the true outcome has yet to be seen, I’m proud to be leading the company through this never-before-seen challenge.”
Manager, publicity and marketing
When the pandemic hit, publishers had to pivot quickly. According to Jodi Rosoff, director of publicity and marketing at Forever, few employees pivoted as quickly and effectively as Hallick. She was essential in helping move promotion for The Happy Ever After Playlist, one of the Grand Central’s romance imprint’s first books to be published in this new normal, entirely online. (The book ended up selling 800 personalized copies at Minneapolis’s Magers & Quinn and at one point hit #11 on BookScan’s adult trade paperback list.) Overall, Rosoff says, Hallick has helped “lead the charge in romances getting coverage from national media where one rarely sees romance novels mentioned, such as Forbes, Business Insider, NBC, the New York Post, and Buzzfeed.”
Hallick got her first taste of publishing before she had a job at a publishing house. After launching a book blog as a recent college grad, she got entrée to book events and began helping authors promote their titles. The work helped her land her first job in publishing, in 2014, at Oxford University Press. And she’s been aggressively building literary communities ever since.
Since the pandemic hit, Hallick has been FaceTiming with members of Forever’s community of reviewers. “It was partly selfish,” she says. “I love meeting our readers and I was feeling a lack of connection from being at home all the time. But it was also because I wanted to distract them a little bit from the pandemic.”
This willingness to go above and beyond to connect with people through books is something Hallick’s colleagues appreciate in spades. “The entire Hachette team is grateful to work with her every day and experience her passion for books firsthand,” Rosoff says.
Founder and CEO
An author-publisher, Hernandez got into publishing somewhat accidentally. As a sophomore at Clark Atlanta University, she self-published a book about how to have, as she put it, “an authentic relationship with God.” The experience led to her starting her own for-profit publishing company and, shortly thereafter, publishing two more books.
The Atlanta Housing Authority asked Hernandez to teach students in a youth development program about publishing. “After working with the students and watching their imaginations spring forth, I realized their stories needed to be shared,” she says. Her nonprofit, Young Authors Publishing, was born out of that realization in 2018. YAP helps children in underserved communities write about their experiences.
A recent winner of the PubWest Jack Swanson Scholarship, Hernandez is eager to grow her nonprofit. She’s also eager to see the industry open more doors for people like her, and her students. “I would like to see fewer barriers to entry, and more pipelines and partnerships that train students from diverse backgrounds to enter the industry and thrive,” she says. She knows there is much work to be done on this front, and she’s begun the job.
Director of marketing
After joining Independent Publishers Group in 2010, Klouda has grown as the distributor has grown. She is, as IPG’s v-p of marketing and publicity, Annette Hobbs Magier, explains, “an inaugural leader” who’s been key in developing the IPG e-book team and who “quickly and efficiently paved the way to forming the IPG digital marketing department.”
Klouda hasn’t always been in books, though. Before joining IPG, she was working in marketing in the electrical engineering industry, but felt unfulfilled. Though, she says, it was the idea of working with books that drew her to publishing, it was her principles that drew her to IPG in particular. She aligns with the company’s goal of leveraging, as she puts it, “a collective of like-minded independent publishers” to gain notice for the important works they publish. “Books can change minds and save lives,” she explains, “and IPG represented an exceedingly rare chance to be a part of that.”
Magier adds that Klouda is “dedicated to promoting the unique voices of independent publishers, never losing sight of the end goal: bringing good books and diverse perspectives to as wide a readership as possible.”
Constantly looking to find new ways to support IPG’s publisher clients, Klouda is all about evolution. She’s also eager to see the industry evolve and is taking steps in her role to help that evolution along. “I feel fortunate that I have an opportunity as a hiring manager, and an obligation, that I might be able to help more people,” she says, “and especially people of color, find a welcoming place in the book industry the way that I have.”
Kupihea joined Quirk Books two years ago with a directive to build on the press’s reputation for high-concept commercial hits like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. She wasted no time, ushering Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies onto the New York Times bestseller list and pushing the press into new genre territory with its first romance, Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida. The January 2021 novel has drawn early raves.
Kupihea says she fled to book publishing after an internship at Vogue. (She recalls that one of the fashion assistants “took one look at my Target dress and Coach flats and stashed me in black town cars for two months.”) The move to books was a good one. She has steadily worked her way up the editorial ladder, developing a reputation for publishing smart commercial fiction and nonfiction. (Before joining Quirk she held editorial positions at Penguin and Simon & Schuster.)
Brett Cohen, president and publisher of Quirk, says Kupihea has already “put her own indelible mark on the Quirk brand while continuing to deliver on our relentless pursuit of unique and innovative projects.” This, as it happens, is her passion.
Kupihea says she has expanded peoples’ ideas about genre fiction. “I just want to help people see that genre fiction can have socially transformative power without sacrificing the fun factor. It’s not a new idea, but I’m totally committed to it.”
Though Majumdar has been making a name for herself as an editor of literary fiction over the past few years, she is, more recently, basking in a different kind of glow. Her first novel, the hotly anticipated A Burning (Knopf), was published in June to rave reviews. (PW called it “a memorable, impactful work.”)
At Catapult, where she has been working since 2015, Majumdar has been building a reputation for publishing, as her boss, editor-in-chief Jonathan Lee, put it, “groundbreaking works.” He cites examples like Noe Alvarez’s Spirit Run and Dina Nayeri’s L.A. Times Book Prize finalist The Ungrateful Refugee. Lee adds that one thing which separates Majumdar is her “shrewd eye for acquisitions that other publishers have ignored.”
Publishing was not always in Majumdar’s career sights: she studied social anthropology in grad school and long considered working in human rights. Then, something clicked. “I realized that what I loved about anthropology was listening to other people’s complex, nuanced, surprising stories, and being in a place where I could champion books felt right,” she says.
Majumdar says she’s interested in books that “feel like they have real-world stakes and take on some aspect of social justice while also offering a literary narrative,” and she is cultivating a list featuring many writers of color. As she puts it, “I want to publish books where writers of color are free to pursue stories in all their complexity.”
Majumdar hopes more editors will start looking at stories by writers who have been largely overlooked by the business in the past. “I think there is more and more room for complex and ambitious books by Black writers, Indigenous writers, and writers of color,” she says.
The Quarto Group
Moushabeck says she was always destined to work in books, having been “born into a publishing family.” Her aunt and uncle are both independent booksellers, and her family business is Interlink Publishing, which her parents launched the year she was born. And, while she’s now on the publishing side of the business, she spent over a decade as a bookseller before that.
A volunteer for the Middle East Children’s Alliance and the creator of the Quarto STEAM club (an online community that supports children’s learning), Moushabeck is dedicated to helping others, on and off the job. Along with bookseller Lexi Walters Wright (a fellow Star Watch honoree), she launched the Valley Book Rally, a fund-raising initiative to distribute books to kids in need in Western Massachusetts.
And, while the present looks challenging, Moushabeck has been heartened by the way some in publishing have reacted during the Covid-19 crisis. She’s been inspired by booksellers, authors, librarians, and others “who have rallied, not just for financial gains, but to help their communities, especially vulnerable communities facing hardships.” This is what gives her hope: “The innovation and creativity that these last few months have produced makes me confident that we shall weather the storm and come out of this tough period stronger and better than before.”
Working in the book business has always been Ortiz’s dream and, six years into her career—she began as a design intern at Chronicle—the hardest part of her job is, well, walking away from it. “When you love what you do so much, it’s hard to put the pencil down at the end of the day,” she explains.
With an illustration business on the side of her full-time gig at Chronicle, Ortiz doesn’t have much downtime. But she enjoys keeping busy. She’s contributed illustrations to a number of newspapers. “I still do a little dance every time the New York Times or the Washington Post shows up in my inbox,” she says.
With her sights set on one day running her own creative studio, Ortiz says her ultimate goal is, in some ways, already realized. “I am surrounded by so many hardworking, talented, and very funny people. I just want to make art and books with them for the rest of my life!”
Chantelle Aimée Osman
Crime fiction was always Osman’s passion—even though she didn’t begin to work on it professionally for some time. After a stint in Hollywood as a head of development—a job she described as “extremely educational, but creatively unrewarding”—and forays into education, she wound up making her way as a freelance editor.
A job as editor-in-chief at RT Book Reviews followed, before Osman joined the indie house Polis Books, as editor of Agora Books, a crime imprint devoted to diverse authors that Polis launched in 2019.
Osman says when she came on board, her goal was to “bring new, unique, different voices to the table in a way that valued and elevated the authors.” She’s also been bringing critically lauded voices to the fore. The first book she published at Agora, John Vercher’s Three-Fifths, was nominated for, among other awards, an Edgar and a Lefty.
Noting that the thing she’s most drawn to in a book is originality—”I want something I haven’t read before”—Osman is excited by seeing this same desire grow in the industry. “I’m excited by the clamor of readers demanding authentic experiences,” she says. “Of authors demanding change. And of publishers who listen.”
In publishing for nearly a decade, Perez-Hernandez got her start as an intern at Kensington and has been working her way up the editorial ladder since. She’s a graduate of CUNY’s Publishing Certificate Program, which she says helped her get a foot in the door in the industry. “Working in book publishing didn’t seem like something I could be a part of until I saw a flyer for CUNY’s Publishing Certificate Program.” She became the program’s first Women’s Media Group Fellowship recipient.
Despite Perez-Hernandez’s short time in editorial, she’s already been making waves with her list. Her first acquisition, the Happy Endings series by Zoey Castile (which launched in 2018), has received raves from publications such as PW and the New York Times Book Review.
Drawn to the series, in part, because it featured Latinx women characters, Perez-Hernandez says that seeing readers react to the books has been the most rewarding aspect of the publication process. “It brought tears to my eyes seeing young Latinx women who were getting an opportunity to see representation in adult fiction, some of them for the first time, with Zoey’s beautiful words.”
Looking to the future, Perez-Hernandez says she wants to publish more writers like Castile and “help other marginalized people working in publishing who are just starting out, as well as those interested in entering the publishing world.”
Director, account marketing
Penguin Random House
With two decades in the industry, Phan has been an invaluable member of her PRH team. She was, her colleagues say, “pivotal” in the company’s shift to digital events during the pandemic, helping to launch PRH’s first virtual tour, for Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel. She’s also long been a committed champion of authors and booksellers from marginalized communities, expanding the reach of BIPOC and LGBTQ authors and working with Black-owned bookstores.
Initially unsure about a career path, Phan says she got the idea to go into publishing after taking a part-time job at a library. At the time, she recalls, a friend set her straight, pointing out the obvious: “You are happiest around books. You have been since you were five.” She landed a role in the library marketing team at Penguin. “I haven’t looked back,” she says.
Now, Phan is delighted to see the industry moving in a direction she’s long wished. She says she’s excited to see the “books that are being published” and “the discussions around hiring practices.” She adds, “It’s almost like being Rip Van Winkle and waking up and seeing it all happen. It’s exciting to be in the middle of it and watch the industry change and adapt as the world is changing.”
Deep Vellum Books
A relative newcomer to bookselling, having worked at Dallas’s Deep Vellum Books for just over three years, Rodriguez wound up in this career, she says, “purely by accident.” After 15 years in corporate fashion retail, she was feeling “jaded and fatigued with consumerism” and was a few months out from starting law school. A chance meeting with Deep Vellum founder Will Evans at a book fair in 2016 led to a what was supposed to be a summer job. She wound up loving the job so much that she changed her “entire life plan.”
“I grew up being the first in my family to have a college degree and with that comes a lot of responsibility, pressure, and familial expectations,” Rodriguez says. Her family’s desire for her to become a lawyer, though, got derailed.
Rodriguez’s change in direction has been a boon to the bookstore. She’s been instrumental in expanding its reach and visibility in the local community by hosting more nonbook events. “There are few spaces within book communities that are willing to make room for the conversations that go beyond literary discourse, and when you give people a welcoming, nonjudgmental space to organize and build community, they will show up and support you,” she says.
As one of the few BIPOC booksellers in the country, Rodriguez has found herself involved in much more than just the day-to-day operations of Deep Vellum. She is, as Evans notes, a “leading voice in building a more inclusive, equitable future for independent bookselling.” It’s a role that she didn’t choose. And the microagressions she faces can be draining.
“How many booksellers have been told that they ‘speak well’ or asked whether they actually went to college?” Rodriguez asks. Even being a Star Watch honoree comes with elements of unease. “Is this award given to me because I deserve it? Or because it perpetuates some form of literary affirmative action that makes an industry that is majority white feel like they’ve done their part in supporting ‘diversity and inclusion’?”
But Rodriguez soldiers on because she wants to open doors for others. “I do this because I want to show other BIPOC that this is a career path they can have,” she says. Furthermore, she knows the industry needs people like her, even if it’s just starting to realize this. “The reality is that our voices are needed in order to create an equitable future, and if publishing houses want to profit off of our stories, then we deserve to be part of the conversation.”
What stands out to agent Beth Phelan about Romero is “her smart passion for books, her confidence in her taste, and her ambition.” (Romero acquired the forthcoming Last Gamer Standing, Katie Zhao’s middle grade novel about a Chinese girl competing in a virtual reality battle.) More than that, Phelan says she senses Romero is a kindred spirit, someone who, as a fellow woman of color in an overwhelmingly white industry, was working to change the business. Romero “has advertised to agents her serious intentions to build and maintain a list of diverse authors.” She is also a member of Latinx in Publishing and People of Color in Publishing.
Romero, who’s been at Scholastic for three years, says that, outside of working with amazing authors, she’s proudest of mentoring young people looking to break into the business. Participating in the Representation Matters and People of Color in Publishing mentorship programs is something she cherishes. “My mentees have been phenomenal, and some have even found jobs within publishing after our mentorship sessions have concluded,” she says.
Romero, who hopes to be a v-p or a publisher one day, is set on seeing the industry change a lot in the process. She’s looking for the industry to “back up their words and pay Black authors what they’re worth, what they’re owed, this goes for Indigenous and authors of color, as well.” She also wants to see more people of color in executive positions. In the long run, she says, her hope is to “leave publishing a way better place than how I entered. I’m in this for the long haul. So I hope to accomplish all of that and more.”
Senior managing editor and acquisitions editor
Penguin Random House Canada
Ross started his career in books in retail, specifically as a bookseller in Toronto. While working at the store, he recounts, he took a night course in publishing and, through a connection made in the class, landed an internship at the prestigious Canadian publisher House of Anansi. A few years in scholarly publishing followed before he landed at Penguin.
Ross, a history major, says a creative writing class changed his career course. “Something snapped into place,” he says, and “from that point forward I always had a book on the go.” Now, with a hand in acquisitions and the business side, the hardest part of his job is having to sometimes switch gears quickly and “carve out time for sustained editing and thinking within the frenetic world of shifting deadlines.”
When asked about career highlights, Ross lists his first acquisition, Vivek Shraya’s 2019 Lambda Literary Award–finalist I’m Afraid of Men, along with Samra Habib’s Lambda-winning We Have Always Been Here. Habib’s book, which Ross describes as a “queer Muslim memoir,” was something he commissioned. “To have been involved from the very start and to watch it grow into a book that went on to be published abroad, to win a Lambda, and then Canada Reads was a dream.”
As Ross looks ahead, he’s invigorated by the changes he’s seeing and “the openness to seeking out and amplifying more underrepresented voices and stories—particularly at the larger houses, as there are independent presses that have been doing this for years.” Still, though, he believes more has to change.
“There’s still a long way to go, and publishing is still a predominantly white industry,”Ross says. “I’d like to see houses make good on their commitments to change the makeup of who they employ and promote and publish, and continue to reimagine the ways we gauge the potential of a book and measure its value.”
For his part, Ross would like to be known as “someone who helped open the door wider for queer writers at a critical time, who helped uplift some truly phenomenal writers, and who in some small way enriched our literary landscape.”
Black Spot Books; Chief content officer
Ryan lives in Juneau, Alaska, some distance from New York City, the home of the publishing industry, but this hasn’t stopped her from making waves in the business. She introduced herself to the industry in 2017, when she launched Black Spot Books. The small press, which was acquired in 2019 and became an imprint at Vesuvian Media Group, is focused on publishing speculative fiction by new, underrepresented voices. With the acquisition, Ryan also became the chief content officer at Rosewind Books, a books-to-film division of Vesuvian. In that role, she says, she is on the hunt for romances that can be adapted to the screen and are, as she puts it, “culturally diverse and relatable.”
Before launching Black Spot, Ryan was an author and worked in academic research. “The publication of my first textbook in 2016, and then my second in 2018, led me to the publishing industry as a career,” she explains.
And, while getting attention for small press titles can be challenging, Ryan takes pride in the fact that Black Spot has never veered from its mission. “One of my priorities when becoming a publisher was to acquire projects from debut and underrepresented authors. Today, 60% of current Black Spot Books authors signed as debut authors, and 80% are women and other minorities historically underrepresented in speculative fiction. Going forward, over 50% of Black Spot Books’ forthcoming titles are #OwnVoices properties.”
Ryan is also committed to seeing the industry become more diverse. As a recently elected board member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, she joined the organization’s committee focused on its diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.
A “driving editorial force” is how Filip Sablik, president of publishing and marketing at Boom! Studios, describes Schaefer. She joined the company in 2018 and, Sablik says, has been breathing new life into its bestselling series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel by bringing on diverse storytellers, who have brought “new perspectives to these franchises.”
A veteran of the comics publishing industry—she started as an assistant editor at DC Comics in 2004—Schaefer has been involved in a number of landmark projects ranging from the Women of Marvel initiative at Marvel Entertainment to, as Sablik notes, overseeing “the historic first gay superhero wedding in the pages of Astonishing X-Men #51.” As a lifelong lover of comics, she has been able to make a career out of her passion. And it’s shown.
Schaefer has, as Sablik explains, an “unrelenting focus on developing new voices and creating inclusivity, both in comics and the workplace.”
Director of business development and corporate communications
Greenleaf Book Group
Greenleaf CEO Tanya Hall says Smith has been instrumental in getting more eyeballs on her house’s books. She cites everything from high-quality Instagram content to the fact that, under Smith’s watch, social media impressions are “consistently up at least 10% month over month for a year straight.”
Smith, who has been with Greenleaf for two years, got into publishing after souring on her job as a digital marketing strategist for a company in the real estate sector. “I simply didn’t feel passion for the work,” she recalls. While searching for jobs in Austin, Tex.—she got her master’s in business at the University of Texas at San Antonio—she stumbled on an opening at Greenleaf. She was intrigued. She appreciated the mission of the company, which she says is about fostering “respect, integrity, stewardship, and empowerment,” and was also drawn to its author-first model. (Greenleaf allows authors to keep more creative control—and a bigger share of their royalties—than most larger corporate trade houses.)
Having Smith on the team has been ideal for Greenleaf, too, Hall says. “Her progressive marketing ideas have made a measurable impact on our growth, which makes her a superstar in our book.”
Candlewick president and publisher Karen Lotz says Tan is known around the office “for her superheroic abilities, which include appearing instantly where she is needed to leap into action.”
Tan began her publishing career in bookselling and has worked on such bestsellers as The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea and the Princess in Black series. Now in what she calls her “dream job” at Candlewick, she says the hardest part is also the most rewarding: “In publicity, you need to be able to pivot and troubleshoot at a moment’s notice. During the onset of Covid, canceling events was pure agony, but figuring out the new digital event landscape was a challenge that forced me to look at my job from a new angle and reevaluate what really works.”
Tan’s colleagues say her positivity and commitment to improving the industry are infectious. “Jamie’s exuberance is accompanied by her moral grounding and sense of responsibility both to colleagues at Candlewick and to the industry as a whole,” Lotz says. “She has urged both publishing colleagues—via her recent term on the CBC Diversity Committee—and Candlewick itself toward greater accountability and more equitable hiring and publishing practices to increase diversity in publishing.”
Tan senses that a shift is coming to the business. “I want publishing to be more adventurous,” she says, when asked how she would like the industry to change. For her, change can’t come soon enough.
“The publishing industry needs to listen to younger, digitally adept colleagues when they tell you about the platforms they are experimenting with,” Tan says. “We are learning how to react to criticism, and it is tremendously awkward and uncomfortable, but within these difficult conversations there is movement. We are stretching and becoming more flexible and open as a result.”
Mary Van Akin
Associate director of publicity
Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Van Akin thought she’d go into teaching—her mom was a teacher, and as an undergraduate she was focused on becoming an educator. However, after spending time in the classroom, she realized the job wasn’t the right fit. Then, after an internship at a lifestyle magazine, she discovered publicity. The experience working in PR was an eye opener, and she realized this was her “true calling.” Looking for a way to wed her passion for educating children with her love of publicity, she found children’s publishing, and started out as an administrative assistant at the Children’s Book Council. Her goal, she says, was to “have a positive impact on early childhood education, but through the lens of helping to connect readers with books that would, in an ideal world, have a huge impact on their lives.”
Van Akin’s having an impact on her colleagues, too. Johanna Allen, publisher of Torrey House Press, says Van Akin’s passion for children’s books is contagious. Moreover, she is helping authors find their readers. As Allen put it, Van Akin has been consistently “developing creative, effective, and sensitive campaigns, and championing diverse voices and stories.”
The notable books Van Akin has worked on include Dashka Slater’s The 57 Bus, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and George Matthew Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. For her, every publicity campaign is a puzzle that she loves to solve. She says she always asks herself the same question: how does she get a book into the hands of those who will love it, as well as those “who need to better understand the experiences within the pages”? Luckily, she adds, there are “infinite possibilities, and exploring those is endlessly fascinating to me.”
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Wetzel spent a decade editing comics, articles, and puzzles before a retirement created an opportunity for him in trade publishing. He joined the trade group from Andrews McMeel Syndication in 2018, after receiving an invitation from the group’s president and publisher, Kirsty Melville.
An author as well—he noted that his output, so far, has been “limited to some pretty small non-ISBN endeavors”—Wetzel says he’s tried to emulate the editors he’s worked with in his role at AMP. This includes everything from “establishing trust” with authors to “gently steering them away from material that doesn’t match their usual quality level.” Specializing in comics, Wetzel, who grew up on strips like The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, seems to be doing something right. He’s already published some notable titles in the category: in 2019 Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy: A Comic Collection was released to strong reviews; next month comics legend Gary Trudeau’s Dbury@50 (which is a box set commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Doonesbury strip) hits stands.
To Wetzel, the future looks bright. Speaking about where he’s like to be in five years, he says, “Ideally I’ll still be working with talented authors and helping them make great books. Or maybe I’ll open my own vanity press titled This Is Not a Vanity Press.”
Pilsen Community Books
It was Adrienne Rich’s poem “Poetry II: Chicago” that inspired Medley to move to the Windy City. Once there, she fell in love with Chicago’s small press community. “Not only do small, independent presses publish some of the most exciting books out there,” she says, “but the folks who work at places like Coffee House Press, Two Dollar Radio, Two Lines, and Feminist Press are also very passionate and kind.”
After a stint in publicity at Coffee House Press, Medley finds herself wearing two hats. She works at the boutique publicity firm Nectar Literary (founded earlier in 2019) and is a co-owner of the Chicago-based cooperative bookstore Pilsen Community Books. The roles, she says, allow her to “get to the best of both the publishing and bookselling worlds.” They also speak to her passions: Nectar caters to books published by indies presses and nonprofits, and Pilsen “is a dream project for me.” Calling it an “overtly political and fiercely independent bookstore,” she says its status as a worker cooperative allows its owners and workers “to earnestly attempt to live our politics.”
What does Medley wants for the future? As she puts it: “I hope to be working alongside even more comrades and friends.”
Lexi Walters Wright
High Five Books
After working in magazine publishing for two decades, Wright realized her dream of becoming a bookseller last fall. She opened High Five Books, a children’s store in Florence, Mass., that focuses on graphic novels as well as LGBTQ- and BIPOC-inclusive picture and chapter books, just six months before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The timing was not ideal, but it hasn’t stopped her from making her store a community hub.
Together with Hannah Moushabeck, marketing manager at Quarto (another Star Watch honoree), Wright launched a fund-raising effort called the Valley Book Rally that raised more than $10,000 to donate books to families in need. And, as it happens, she opened her store to spend more time with her family and her community. “I was living in a small town, but not reaping the benefits of knowing my local, well, anyone,” she explains.
Even with her store in an unexpected state due to the pandemic, Wright is still getting books in readers’ hands. “We’ve yet to open to the public but are operating a vibrant curbside and delivery service,” she says.
Wright feels she has plenty to be thankful for. “My greatest privilege has been developing relationships with young readers and their caretakers,” she says. “That they rely on my recommendations to help them feel seen or understood via a book is the utmost reward.”