Feiwel and Friends
When Foyinsi Adegbonmire was in college, her career goal was to be a bestselling writer before she graduated. But as graduation approached and she had yet to finish her novel, she had to rethink her plans. Instead, she applied to internships and got her first position at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
In mid-2019, Adegbonmire joined the team at Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, as an editorial assistant. Her talents were immediately recognized and she was brought in to shadow editors on projects.
About a year later, a project came in that Adegbonmire connected to on a personal level—Faridah Abike-Iyimide’s Ace of Spades, which was pitched as Gossip Girl meets Get Out. The author is Nigerian, as is Adegbonmire. Growing up, Adegbonmire didn’t read a lot of Nigerian YA, so seeing a Nigerian writer and helping to publish that work for other Nigerian teens was showing that “we’re out there,” she says. Feiwel and Friends won the book at auction, and Adegbonmire took the lead in working with Abike-Iyimide.
“There are Black authors in our market who have never experienced working with a Black editor, and here was a young new author and a young new editor, who hadn’t yet worked as a lead editor on a project, let alone one that heated up so quickly,” says Liz Szabla, associate publisher at Feiwel and Friends. “The chemistry made sense.” And the chemistry worked. Ace of Spades has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 12 weeks.
When looking to her list in the future, Adegbonmire hopes to share more stories for people like her—those who came of age in college, rather than high school. Also, many stories about marginalized communities can be heavy or dark. “I want to bring more stories that make readers feel happy and calm. Stories that show that the world isn’t so bad after all,” Adegbonmire says. “I want to publish stories that are lighthearted.”
Digital and Art Director
After graduating from the Ryerson Publishing program, Jessica Albert initially wanted to be an editor. Instead, her first internship at Random House Canada was in the digital department (she thinks she may have gotten the role because she was the only candidate who had a website), and that started her down the digital publishing road.
After Random House, Albert worked at HarperCollins, where she focused on e-book originals and digital-first/digital-only products. In 2016 she was named digital production manager at ECW Press, where she managed e-books and metadata for e-books.
Over the years at ECW, Albert has taken on more and more challenges and developed her skills in new technology and formats. When the publisher began producing its own audiobooks, she took on that task. When it was looking for someone to handle art direction, she threw her hat in the ring.
Today, as ECW’s digital and art director, Albert oversees art direction, while also overseeing all of the metadata for the company and improving the accessibility of its books. Accessibility, in particular, is an important project for her. “Making content as available as possible is incredibly rewarding,” she says.
Albert also uses her talents at eBound Canada, a nonprofit that helps Canadian independent publishers work in the digital marketplace. “Canada as a whole, as an industry, is very insular, but we have such a community in independent publishing,” she says. “We learn and build and grow together.”
Verve Talent and Literary Agency
At a time when publishers may feel the story alone is not enough, Noah Ballard wants to continue taking chances on projects that simply tell a good story. Ballard joined the team at Verve Talent and Literary Agency in January 2020. At Verve, the book is just the beginning—the kernel that may spark other content deals, such as a podcast, TV writing, or in other areas.
“My role is not to go out and take a client’s book, sell it, and turn them into a star,” Ballard says. “Someone brings me something they are excited about, and my role is to figure out the opportunities available and the process to get their work out there.”
Many content creators already have had success in reaching people and are connecting with audiences on an incredible level. They are also thinking of their work in a narrative format. Enter Ballard, who can look at that narrative and figure out how to put the creator into the story and turn that into a book.
And the reverse is true: 80% of the clients he brought over from Curtis Brown were also signed by Verve in other areas, such as film and TV writing, podcasts, and unscripted. Ballard’s goal is to “allow writers to be writers 100% of the time.”
One project he is proud of is Hadley Vlahos RN, also known as Nurse Hadley, who, during the height of the pandemic, would record the final wisdom of her hospice care patients and share it on TikTok. Her TikToks became incredibly popular, and her following grew to one million fans. Her book, The In-Between—a collection of stories of joy, wisdom, and redemption that Hadley’s patients have found in the final moments of their lives, which the author hopes will help readers navigate their fear and uncertainty around end-of-life care—was just sold to Ballantine in September.
Emily Burns knew she wanted to work in publishing early on in life. She got her first job in publishing at 15 at the Western New York Public Library and went to school in New York City, at Columbia University, so she could intern at a publisher as soon as she could. This fall marks her fourth anniversary at Grove Atlantic.
At a time when publishing is continuing to consolidate, Burns is glad to be at an independent publisher that can still have impact and reach readers while also being flexible. Last year’s Booker Award–winning Shuggie Bain by debut novelist Douglas Stuart is an example of the type of impact Grove can have and which Burns is excited to be a part of. (She will work with Grove v-p, deputy publisher Peter Blackstock on editing Stuart’s new novel, Young Mungo.
Burns’s first solo acquisition was The Guest Lecture by Martin Riker, cofounder and publisher of Dorothy, a Publishing Project. Burns notes, “It was rewarding to work with a writer who is serious about his craft, and to work as an editor with an editor.”
In the last year, Burns also played a key role on Grove’s DEI committee, formed to address racial and economic inequity in the industry. The committee was tasked with retooling the Grove internship program, and developed a paid yearlong fellowship position that would provide traditionally underrepresented groups an introduction to several career paths in the publishing world. The position will sit in Grove’s Roxane Gay Books imprint.
Savoy Bookshop and Café, Westerly, R.I.
For booksellers, the last year was pretty chaotic, but for Mariana Calderon, it was even crazier. In May, Calderon uprooted her life in Denver, where she worked at Second Star to the Right bookstore, to manage Savoy Bookshop and Café in Westerly, R.I., jumping at the chance to go to a more general interest bookstore. She started her career in bookselling as a barista but was soon lured over to the book side of the business. In 2018, Calderon was awarded a scholarship from the ABA to attend Winter Institute. There, she saw the career opportunities in bookselling and forged connections to booksellers around the country.
“Being a queer Latinx bookseller gives Mariana a unique position in the bookselling industry, and she is not afraid to speak up or get involved,” says Oblong Books manager Nicole Brinkley. “She’s connected with booksellers across the country and regularly talks to them about issues affecting them, advocating for change and inclusivity both in back channels and in public social forums.”
“I always try to be vocal about my identity so people can point to me and see someone they can identify with,” Calderon says. She has tried, particularly at conferences, to take other brown people under her wing and pay forward the support and network-building that others have given her.
Though the past year has been chaotic, Calderon says she feels very connected to the bookselling community. “The pandemic showed how open we are with sharing information,” she explains. “This year showcased how much we share.”
Senior Marketing Specialist
Audrey Clark sort of happened into her career in publishing. She was in her senior year of college and needed an internship to complete her second major, so she got a marketing and sales internship at Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. In 2017, Clark was brought on for a full-time position as a marketing assistant, and in 2019 was promoted to associate marketing manager.
“Although our marketing has been historically focused on direct mail, Audrey made it a priority to not only embrace digital marketing, but come up with new and effective digital strategies,” says Jessie Tepper, associate acquisitions editor at Rowman & Littlefield. “She did her own research on different presentation platforms, created new marketing initiatives that led to increased book proposals, and even volunteered to do her own video editing and work directly with virtual conference platforms. The strategies that she came up with were wildly effective.”
Clark is proud of the small accomplishments and changes that have led to a more significant impact on the companies for which she has worked. “I’m pleased that in a time when there are paper shortages and increasing print costs, I was able to come in consistently at or below budget when I was working on catalogs at Rowman & Littlefield,” she says. “I take pride in treating all editors I work with as subject matter experts, so I work to develop a strong rapport between us. But mostly, I take pride in the fact that I taught myself basic video editing on the fly when all conferences went virtual and we needed a new way to engage attendees without throwing a ton of PDFs at them.”
In August, Clark moved to Fortress Press, an imprint of 1517 Media, to focus more on digital marketing. In her new role, Clark will put her digital marketing prowess to the test as she revamps the email marketing program and institutes best practices, scales up social media initiatives, and grows mailing lists.
Though Clark happened into publishing, she now sees it as a lifelong career. In the future, she hopes to move into more senior roles where she can advocate for more diversity and equity in publishing and be a key decision-maker. For right now, though, Clark said she does what she can to support diversity and equity in publishing by referring talented POC candidates for various roles in publishing and participating in the 2022 People of Color in Publishing Mentorship Program.
Event and Social Media Manager
Print: A Bookstore, Portland, Maine
Rachael Conrad has always been a self-confessed “book nerd,” so while she was getting an MFA in creative writing in college she became the school liaison at Wellesley Books, where she organized book fairs and other events. After graduation, it seemed only natural that she would fine a job as a bookseller. When a role for an event coordinator opened up at Print: A Bookstore, she jumped at the chance to expand her skill set, and she loves it—the author-wrangling, interacting with customers, and seeing how excited readers get. The pandemic made events a little more difficult, but Conrad notes that the store’s virtual events have still been successful. Luckily, Portland, Maine, has a lot of outdoor venue options Conrad can utilize as in-person events return.
Conrad is also on the advisory council of the New England Independent Bookseller’s Association, where she enjoys working with other bookstores to see what they can do to make the industry better. “I want to help new booksellers out as much as I can,” Conrad says.
Social media has been a key tool she’s used to do that—from expanding Print’s existing social media following to pioneering new ways of using social media. Earlier this year, Print launched a TikTok account, and Conrad has been learning the ways to utilize that to build and connect with Print’s customer base while also fostering connections in the bookselling community around the country.
“Rachael has taken the reigns on Print’s social media and digital presence, expanding its newsletters and community outreach while connecting directly with readers in a way that is both friendly and funny,” says Nicole Brinkley, manager of Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y.
For Melanie Cordova, one of the greatest joys of her job is seeing a child go into a bookstore and pick up one of her books. As an editor, Cordova focuses on expanding the Spanish-language publishing program at Candlewick by acquiring everything from board books to YA. Her goal, she says, is to “acquire for the child me who didn’t see books about my life” and to publish books for children so they feel like they are being seen.
Two projects that Cordova is particularly proud of are a picture book entitled Mi Casa Is My Home by Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Zara Gonzalez Hoang, in which a girl shares her multigenerational, multilingual home; and Gustavo the Shy Ghost, the debut picture book from Mexican artist Flavia Z. Drago, which has sold well in both English and Spanish.
“Melanie’s commitment to diversity showcases itself in myriad ways,” says Jamie Tan, publicist at Candlewick Press. “Even with an extremely full plate, Melanie is participating in the Highlights Foundation Publishing Professionals track of Amplify Black Stories. As an editor, she uses her position to lift up underrepresented voices to bring more experiences to the table, aiming to change publishing for the better one book at a time.”
In the Highlights program, Cordova has learned how to publish and support more writers, while in the Representation Matters program, Cordova mentors those looking to go into publishing. “It’s hard when you don’t know anyone to help you get your foot in the door,” Cordova says. And she is happy to help open a door in any way that she can.
The King’s English, Salt Lake City
Reading became everything for Calvin Crosby from the moment he learned how. Growing up relatively poor, part Cherokee, and gay made Crosby feel like he was an outsider everywhere but in the bookstores of Salt Lake City. So earlier this year, when Betsy Burton, then owner of The King’s English in Salt Lake City, reached out to Crosby for advice on selling her store, Crosby, who was executive director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance, purchased Burton’s majority share and returned to Utah after 25 years away.
“I found safety and inclusion from the booksellers and in the bookstores themselves,” says Crosby. “When Betsy called for advice on how to sell her store shares, I had truly packed away the notion of being a store owner, but the idea of just anyone coming in to take over The King’s English spurred my desire to be a bookstore owner wide awake and into action.”
Crosby has a lengthy résumé in bookselling and publishing in Northern California, having worked at Books, Inc.; Book Passage; and McSweeney’s.
At The King’s English, which Crosby co-owns with Anne Holman, the two are passionate about “getting books into the hands of the underserved populations and the communities here in the state that are book deserts, including the reservations surrounding us.” They are also partnering with as many local makers, artists, and food vendors in pop-up spaces as possible. “I believe that given my experience building community and the commitment that The King’s English has had historically for their community, that we can only continue to expand our reach and continue to add vibrancy as we build on the localism movement,” Crosby says.
Trisha de Guzman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Though Trisha de Guzman was on track to become a pediatric occupational therapist, she applied for an editorial internship at Macmillan in her last year of college on a whim and was hooked. “I loved the industry so much that I completely changed my career plan and charged in headfirst to every publishing internship I could get,” de Guzman says.
She joined the editorial team at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers in 2018. Her projects include We All Fall Down by Rose Szabo, which is the first of a queer, epic dark fantasy YA duology. “It has everything I love in a story: complex, flawed characters navigating their places in the world; lush worldbuilding; analogies to real-world issues; and of course, queer characters everywhere.” De Guzman is also proud of Adrianna Cuevas’s Cuba in My Pocket, a contemporary middle grade book inspired by her father’s experience emigrating to the U.S. from Cuba, all by himself, in the midst of political turmoil in his country.
De Guzman has been a part of Macmillan’s Education Outreach Committee for the last three and a half years. The chairs, Kenya Walker and Erin Siu, worked with the committee to create a network of contacts with CUNY schools and other educational institutions with large BIPOC student populations, which created opportunities for Macmillan employees to share their time and expertise with aspiring publishing professionals. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet with an intern from their program on a consistent, regular basis, and provide professional guidance and support as needed,” de Guzman says. “It has been wonderful to be able to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career to someone who also came from a place far removed from the publishing world.” De Guzman plays a similar role as a mentor with Representation Matters, which is dedicated to expanding diversity in writing, except that she works with a co-mentor and a mentee who is not part of Macmillan. “I’d love to keep honing my mentoring skills as I rise in seniority,” de Guzman says.
Seoling Dee always loved reading and always knew she wanted to be involved with books in one way or another, whether that was working at a bookstore, volunteering at a library, or being an author or teacher. Though her initial idea, like with most people who enter publishing, was to go into editorial, she chose a different route and tried her hand at working at a literary agency, interning at Jane Rotrosen Agency, the Bent Agency, and New Leaf Literary.
It wasn’t until she was more familiar with the industry as a whole that Dee realized she “loved the idea about getting the word out to people about books they should read,” she says. Already the type of person who pressed books she loved into the hands of friends, urging them to read them, she realized marketing was perhaps where she should build her career.
As a skilled title marketer, Dee excelled, and in 2019 she developed the idea for the Read in Full Color campaign, a focused marketing campaign for pictures books featuring diverse authors/illustrators and inclusive stories. “I grew up with very little Asian representation in children’s books and clung to stories that had generalized story lines and symbolism,” Dee says. “I didn’t have the incredible books there are today that are in continuous demand.”
Read in Full Color began as a small social media campaign that focused on three picture books that resonated with Dee, and the campaign has grown every season since, as has the number of partnerships—Crayola, Little Free Library, and Target are all supporters of the campaign. Read in Full Color was developed both to let readers know that HarperCollins was listening to what type of books they wanted to read and to support the writers and illustrators—to cheer them on, as Dee explains, and “make sure they feel that their stories are remembered and make a difference.”
In the near future, Dee hopes to help other marginalized people who are early in their publishing careers through mentorship. “Networking is one of the hardest things to do, but can be one of the most rewarding things for many,” Dee says, “and I hope that I can make it a little easier by being involved in publishing groups like Asians in Publishing.”
Della Farrell began her publishing career at School Library Journal as a book room assistant. Assigning nonfiction reviews at SLJ was an amazing opportunity, she says. Though she learned a lot from working with librarians, she wanted to try her hand at traditional publishing and was hired to be the editorial assistant to Holiday House editor-in-chief Mary Cash, who quickly came to appreciate Farrell’s strengths.
“A leader in championing marginalized voices, Della has passionately and inventively sought out talented creators from diverse backgrounds, including authors and illustrators from immigrant families as well as from the LGBTQ and First Nations communities,” Cash says.
Highlights from Farrell’s list include Constellations by Kate Glasheen, a YA semiautobiographical graphic novel about growing up queer in a working-class small town; Stories of the Islands by Clar Angkasa, a middle grade graphic novel that incorporates mythology from the creator’s native Indonesia; and Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang, a debut picture book about a Chinese American family shopping, cooking, and celebrating together.
Farrell does not wait for authors to come to her, either. “I love to find authors and artists where they are, whether it’s on social media or reading handmade zines or virtually checking out art shows around the country,” she says.
Farrell is also helping to develop a line of nonfiction books focused on environmental issues that will launch in spring 2023 called Books for a Better Earth. “Our goal with Books for a Better Earth is to inspire readers to become active, knowledgeable participants in caring for the planet,” she says.
Independent Publishers Group
Elisabeth Gilbert started her publishing career in 2001 when her brother, who was head of customer service at IPG, let Gilbert know that the warehouse staff was looking for help in the shipping department. She had experience in logistics, so she thought it might be a good fit. Gilbert was at IPG for 11 years before she moved away, taking a position in logistics at a third-party distribution warehouse. When Gilbert returned to IPG in 2016, she was able to utilize some of the knowledge from her previous work to make IPG more efficient.
As shipping supervisor, Gilbert put systems in place and developed procedures to make IPG’s shipping department more efficient, reducing shipping and delivery times to customers. Furthermore, as shift supervisor, Gilbert implemented a second shift in the warehouse, which enabled the company to extend shipping hours and meet growing customer demands. All of these systems Gilbert created would prove particularly important in 2020 and 2021.
“I can’t say it’s been an easy year,” Gilbert says. “But I can say I am proud of myself and my coworkers who have been here working beside me this past year.” Sara Point, IPG’s warehouse manager, agrees. “During the year 2020, Elisabeth was not set back by Covid-19,” Point says. “She worked throughout Covid, ensuring that her frontline workers safety was held in high regard and the company’s objectives were met. As Elisabeth endured constant staff turnover, she has never wavered in her tireless feat to come in every day, set the bar, and give her all, even when stretched thin.”
Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
Wendi Gu grew up craving more multiculturalism. Though her mother was teaching rhetoric and multicultural theory, Gu wasn’t seeing that in her daily life in the northern suburbs of Chicago. When Gu visited New York City, it felt so alive, and she knew she wanted to live there. According to Gu, when she graduated from college, she had “no skills other than reading and writing,” so she applied to all of the publishing jobs she could find and got a role as an agent’s assistant at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, where she worked under Brenda Bowen.
It wasn’t until she began working with Bowen that Gu realized she wanted to work in children’s publishing. As a self-proclaimed “really slow reader,” working with picture books particularly appealed to her. And Gu made it her goal to make sure “every word I interact with is beautiful and infused with important cultural representation.”
Gu’s first project was Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki, about the Chinese American immigrant responsible for bringing Disney’s Bambi to life. Gu was taken with Leung’s lyricism and how Wong broke through the racist environment at Disney. The book was well received and won the American Library Association’s 2021 Asian/Pacific American Award for Best Picture Book.
Gu also works with Ashley Lukashevsky, illustrator for, most recently, Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, and with Rukhsanna Guidroz, author of Samira Surfs, the story of a 12-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, as she finds peace and empowerment in an all-girl surfing community. In highlighting some of her books, Gu notes that she often represents books about subjects that she’s frightened of—for example, though she can’t swim, she’s worked on a number of books about the ocean and water. Undaunted by her fears, Gu says she wants to continue to make sure the writers she represents do well, “so they continue creating the art they are creating.”
Elizabeth Blue Guess
Sales Director, Author Brands
Hachette Book Group
Elizabeth Blue Guess—who primarily goes by Blue—has a unique job. In her role as sales director, author brands, she is the liaison between publishers and the sales teams at Grand Central Publishing and Little, Brown. In that role she is charged with generating with ideas and executing promotional campaigns at retail and other sales channels for a select group of bestselling authors published by the Hachette Book Group. Originally she worked solely with James Patterson, but then HBG noted that other key authors could benefit from this strategy. Now, in addition to Patterson, Guess works with David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, Elin Hilderbrand, and Nicholas Sparks.
Prior to joining the industry, Guess graduated from DePauw with a creative writing major and became a teacher. When she made the switch to publishing, she thought she might want to be an editor, but after getting a job in sales, Guess soon realized that the role suited her well, and that she didn’t need to work in editorial to be surrounded by book people. And Guess has thrived in her current position, even during the pandemic.
This last year has been difficult, and Guess predicts that the industry may see longer-lasting change—specifically in retail. But, as she notes, necessity is the mother of invention, and Guess has still been able to find ways to connect her list of authors with their readers in the marketplace, even if it does require a little trial and error.
“Blue is the smartest analyst I have ever worked with,” says Bruce Nichols, senior v-p and publisher of Little Brown. “She understands the market for commercial fiction, and how to position and sell our titles, better than almost anyone. We rely on Blue’s insights every single day. I believe I can speak for our authors and their agents: Blue is the best!”
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
In college, even though she was a premed majoring in neuroscience, Alexandra Hightower was always happy to read a friend’s paper and give edits. It wasn’t until about halfway through college that Hightower began to question whether medicine was right for her. At that point, she began taking a class on the craft of writing.
When she graduated, Hightower didn’t know much about publishing beyond editorial, so she joined the NYU Publishing program, where she learned more about the industry and made connections. After internships in marketing and at a literary agency, she became an editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and in this capacity she’s looking to build an expansive list featuring writers from traditionally marginalized communities.
Early highlights from Hightower’s work at LBYR include We Are Not Broken by journalist and activist George Johnson, about the author’s experiences growing up with his brother, two cousins, and their larger-than-life grandmother, Nanny, and which serves as a love letter to the bonds within Black families. Hightower says she was proud to work on something that was so intimate. Another project Hightower is proud of is The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, with original photographs by the creators of the AfroArt series, a book that strives to empower children of color.
Hightower is also one of the founding members of Inkluded, a tuition-free publishing course taught by industry professionals to college graduates from typically underrepresented groups. The program helps people get their feet in the publishing door by having publishing professionals share key aspects of the business. It ends with a presentation from each student; Hightower notes that these presentations often teach her something.
HarperCollins Children’s Books
When Luana Horry graduated from SUNY New Paltz with degrees in English and Black studies, her grandmother asked her, “What in the world are you going to do with that?” That question lit a fire under Horry, motivating her to put her degrees and her love of social justice to use, which brought her to her first position in publishing: an internship at The New Press, working with editor Ben Woodward.
As Woodward’s intern, Horry read a lot of long, thoughtful manuscripts while, at the same time, she was also working on getting her master’s degree at CUNY’s Graduate Center. At that point, Horry thought adult books might not be the best fit, so Woodward encouraged her to look for other opportunities, including an internship at Simon Spotlight.
From that internship, Horry moved to HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she worked with Emily Brenner and two other editors. She then became assistant to editorial director Margaret Anastas. “I went from being someone’s assistant to being someone’s partner,” Horry says. Anastas and Horry edited alongside each other, and Anastas mentored Horry, even encouraging her to take chances on projects she believed in, such as Not Quite Snow White by the then-unknown Ashley Rene Franklin, which became a huge success.
When Anastas left HarperCollins in 2019, Horry continued to build her own list, which includes I Promise by Lebron James and Nina Mata, and Girl Dad by Sean William. Horry says the book she looks for are the stories kids want to read—featuring Black characters dealing with universal stories and experiences.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Julia Judge studied creative writing at the New School and worked nearly full-time in restaurants on the side throughout college, but didn’t have any idea what she wanted to do. Shortly after graduating in 2015, her adviser alerted her to an entry-level position at Catapult. Though she didn’t get the job, she got a sense of what publishers were looking for and, from that point on, was dead set on finding her way into the industry.
And she did. Judge worked at a number of excellent small presses, but it wasn’t until 2019, when she joined the team at Verso Books, that she was able to combine her politics and work. That was reflected in November 2020, when Verso Books announced that its staff had formed a union and were members of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, Local 32035. Judge, alongside editor Ben Mabie, was integral in helping to form the union, and they discussed their organizing effort in the Washington Post, Lit Hub, and Publishers Weekly.
Judge has also participated in several industry-wide actions, including the Book Workers Day of Solidarity in support of Amazon workers ahead of the union vote in Bessemer, Ala., last spring. “I think we can all feel this sea change underway,” Judge says, “and I hope to continue fighting for the transformations we need in publishing.”
In November, Judge will move into a senior publicist role at FSG. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work on FSG’s exquisite list—household names and debut authors alike,” Judge says. “At the same time, I’m looking forward to the support that comes with working in a large department at a well-established house that is also not afraid to take risks.”
When Jananie Kulandaivelu was a teenager, she loved to read and wanted to find other readers out there like her, so she watched a lot of BookTube. In 2017, while she was still in college, she launched her own BookTube channel (@thisstoryaintover) as a hobby, and that decision has changed her life in many ways. The channel currently has more than 66,000 subscribers, and Kulandaivelu is regularly featured on the Penguin Teen channel and has a series on the Epic Reads channel. In 2020, she won an internship at the newly formed WattPad Books and before too long was promoted to marketing and sales coordinator, where she took on title marketing and building the WattPad Books brand.
Kulandaivelu’s experience working with publishers as a BookTuber has helped her in her role at Wattpad Books Last year, Kulandaivelu started the Wattpad Books Instagram, which now has more than 86,000 followers. Kulandaivelu has also helped build Wattpad’s influencer program, with over 150 influencers whom she engages with regularly. Kulandaivelu is delighted by the new WattPad Books BookTok channel, which she says has been wildly successful right from the start—the first post has amassed 40,000 views.
Crystal McCoy, PR manager at WattPad Books, says Kulandaivelu’s background has been a terrific asset for WattPad Books. “You can’t put a price on how valuable these promotions are, with BookTok being the new BookTube, and we got our foot in the door early thanks to Jananie’s efforts,” she notes.
Elizabeth Lazowski has always known that she wanted to work in publishing. Like many people looking to enter the industry, she started out as a writer, but maybe a little younger than most. At 14, she wrote a young adult novel and googled how to get it published. Though she soon discovered the grind of writing multiple books wasn’t for her, she did discover publishing and went off to college with that in mind.
At Hampshire College, Lazowski created her own concentration, which helped her solidify her career goals and discern how she would be able to make money in publishing before she even began. Lazowski notes that back then she knew, most importantly, that she wanted to make an impact on the canon of children’s literature. She recalls asking herself, “What would I be bringing to the table, and where are my blind spots? How could I play a part in decolorizing the children’s bookshelf?”
Lazowski was inspired by the ideas of Rudine Sims Bishop to create windows, mirrors, and sliding doors. “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience,” Sims Bishop wrote. That mission has informed both Lazowski’s role as an editor and how she approaches her place in the industry.
When she got an internship at her dream company, Chronicle Books, she was able to put that idea into action both as an editor and via an opportunity to lead the Chronicle DEI book club, which she says she is “intensely passionate about.”
Lazowski is excited about her first solo acquisition, Together We Ride by Valerie Boling, a picture book about two siblings learning to bike with the help of their parents, which is set to come out in April 2022. “When I read the manuscript, I knew I had to have it. It is just pure joy in a picture book,” she says. When Lazowski thinks of the future and her role, she wants “every single child to walk into any bookstore and find themselves.”
To May-Zhee Lim’s parents’ disappointment, she never developed an interest in business. In Malaysia, where she grew up, culture always came second to making a living and having a good life. But that slight concern didn’t stop Lim from taking a career path in the arts.
Before coming to Riverhead’s publicity department, Lim was at PEN America, working in the executive office. It was there that she heard about a job at Riverhead publicity. Though Lim had a slight hesitation about going into that part of the business, when she learned the crucial role publicity played in getting books into the marketplace, she decided to make the move.
At Riverhead, Lim has worked on some incredible publicity campaigns, including Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This and Hermione Hoby’s Virtue, but she may be most celebrated for the creative events she has pioneered.
Three months after Lim started at Riverhead, she came up with an idea that she brought to Riverhead’s “Small Teams, Big Projects” in-house idea incubator, which they green-lighted. Lim created the “Riverhead Pop-up Reading Room” series, where Riverhead Books would find a location, a theme, and a nonprofit partner and build a pop-up space where readers could gather together around books. The pop-up series, which took place at the Langston Hughes House, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Brooklyn Navy Yard, was a huge success.
Though the pandemic put a hold on the Riverhead Pop-up Reading Room effort, Lim pivoted to create another way to engage writers and readers: the Riverhead Variety Show, hosted by Traci Thomas and starring Kristen Arnett, Katie Kitamura, Chang-rae Lee, Brandon Taylor, and Joanne Tompkins, who each spoke about their books and invited readers into their homes.
“May-Zhee Lim thinks wildly outside the box and is not constrained by traditional ways of doing business,” says Ashley Garland, publicity director at Riverhead. “She is bold in her outreach, ambitious in her visions of what we can do to build community, and then actually has the follow-through to execute all of this with total excellence, thoroughness, grace, and enormous creativity.”
Associate Publisher and Editorial Director
Dial Books for Young Readers
When Nancy Mercado was in college, she wanted to be a Newbery Award judge, but when she realized that wasn’t an actual profession, she went for the next best thing—a career in publishing. After graduating in 1997, Mercado went to work at the Union Square Barnes & Noble before landing her first job in publishing at Scholastic Book Clubs. In 2002, she joined the editorial team at Dial Books for Young Readers, where she would stay for nearly six years and to where she would return in 2018 after roles at Roaring Brook Press (executive editor) and Scholastic Press (editorial director). Since returning to Dial, Mercado has overseen the editorial team while also editing her own list.
“I’m extremely proud of When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez,” Mercado says. “I think people will be reading this book for years to come.”
Mercado has been a major force in the DEI efforts at Penguin Young Readers and in the industry. When Nora Comstock, the founder of Latinx in Publishing and organizer of the Las Comadres Writers Conference and book club, mentioned the idea of hosting a gathering of Latinx people working in publishing, Mercado hosted the first meeting. Since then, Latinx in Publishing has become an official nonprofit.
“I truly believe that Nancy is a key part of why our industry is working so hard to be more inclusive today,” says Lauri Hornik, president and publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers, “and that her work is making major contributions to bringing children and teens the books that they need to see themselves confidently and to see others empathetically.”
Senior Acquisitions Editor
An internship in the acquisitions department at the University Press of Florida was all it took to get Thom O’Hearn to change his career trajectory from advertising to book publishing. Today, he is the senior acquisitions editor at the Quarto Group, where he acquires for a wide variety of very competitive categories: cooking; mind, body, and spirit; general lifestyle; gardening; DIY; and crafts.
“No matter what category we’re publishing into at Quarto, from cookbooks to crafts to gardening, we’re often publishing for enthusiast communities,” O’Hearn says. “So I think even though I work in different categories, there is cohesiveness in the approach we take. Personally, I love the market research and variety of my list!”
O’Hearn also acquires books for Quarto’s brand partners, like Black + Decker and Audubon, and works with Quarto’s many license partners. Erik Gilg, group publisher at the Quarto Group, notes how much O’Hearn works with other departments.
“At a previous company, editors did everything from managing mailing lists to social media pages,” O’Hearn says. “I’m glad at Quarto to have a strong marketing department that takes the lead, but I still think the relationship you build with an author as an acquisitions editor is something that should continue to grow through the next stages of the process. In practice, that might mean anything from coaching the author on the side to brainstorming with the marketing manager to better tailor something that works for most books to fit a specific author.”
Some of O’Hearn’s titles are particularly timely, as people everywhere reexamine work-life balance and explore new hobbies. “Two books that stand out to me along these lines,” O’Hearn says, “are Derek Wolf’s Food x Fire, which was made for grillers that wanted to go beyond gas and master live-fire cooking, and Amazing Glaze by Gabriel Kline, which connected with this large ceramics audience who wanted to get deeper into glazing but found many of the existing books too technical and intimidating.”
When Christina Orlando worked in the fashion industry, they thought, “All I want to do is read books and drink tea.” That is what sparked the idea for Muse Monthly, a subscription service Orlando launched featuring books and tea. And Orlando was not alone in wanting to read books and drink tea, as evidenced by the Kickstarter campaign for Muse Monthly, which raised four times its stated goal.
For three years, with Muse Monthly, Orlando worked with publishers and small, local tea companies to create unique boxes each month. At the same time, they were also working as communications manager at the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, but what Orlando really wanted was a full-time position.
In April 2019, Orlando took the job of books editor at Tordotcom. In their current role, Orlando is in an interesting space—they are a nonfiction editor for a website, Tor.com, but sit in the editorial track at Macmillan. They edit content for the site—lists, essays, reviews—and they get to track all science fiction and fantasy books, TV series, and films that are coming out, while also liaising with colleagues to arrange cover reveals and contests for Tor books. Orlando also get to create inclusive and personal editorial series like “This Book Queered Me,” where authors and others discuss the book that opened doors and made them feel like they belonged.
Orlando’s path has always been supporting marginalized voices, and they are proud to be able to use the Tordotcom platform to help authors find their readers.
“Christina has inspired stirring and personal essays from writers who could not find their reason to write amid the horror of the past year. They have kept the aim of Tor Books’ Diversity & Inclusion committee persistent and true,” says Chris Lough, director at Tordotcom. “They remain undaunted in using the wide reach of the Tor.com magazine to feature writers and voices that must be known alongside the sci-fi/fantasy/horror luminaries of our day.”
Thomas and Mercer
In college, Megha Parekh studied international relations and thought she might want to be in the CIA, but when it came time to graduate, she realized she didn’t want to work for the government. Instead, she turned to social work, but she had always been a big reader. One day, when she was reading a book, she came to a realization: “Wait, people made this?!”
When Parekh discovered that she could turn a love of reading into a career, she moved to New York City and applied to internships. After interning at a literary agency and publisher, she landed at Grand Central Publishing and moved to Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint in 2017, where Parekh acquires fast-paced, character-driven thrillers. Her list includes bestselling authors such as Lucinda Berry, Matthew FitzSimmons, Lee Goldberg, Brianna Labuskes, Ian K. Smith, and A.R. Torre.
Parekh supports the drive to bring more diversity to publishing and hopes that, at some point, people will simply say “this is a great book” and not “this is a great book by a writer of color.”
“A South Asian American from an immigrant family, Megha is passionate about bringing newer and broader perspectives to the mystery and thriller genre,” says Gracie Doyle, editorial director at Thomas and Mercer.
Parekh highlighted a project she is really excited about, which comes out in November: Her Name Is Night by Yasmin Angoe. The novel centers on an elite, female assassin whom Parekh describes as “the Black female Jason Bourne readers need.” The book is already getting a lot of attention. Angoe won the 2020 Sisters in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland Award for emerging writers of color while she was still writing it, and it is already being adapted and developed into a series by Endeavor Content and Ink Factory.
In addition to her work as an editor, Parekh works with Amazon Books’ racial equality initiative to promote childhood literacy by getting books to children at an early age.
In Kelsey Provow’s small town of Social Circle, Ga., storytelling is a large part of the community and played a significant role in her upbringing. Because storytelling was a part of her very being, she says, Provow knew when she grew up that she wanted to work with stories, particularly children’s books.
While getting her bachelor’s degree in English (she would go on to get a master’s degree in professional writing from Kennesaw State University), Provow started working as a marketing intern with Peachtree. And in her career, she’s taken on work and roles from rights to editorial to sales.
“While I have always loved working with writers on the development of their manuscripts, I was eager to explore each department to see how they all connected and influenced each other, especially how they affect the success of a book,” Provow says. “Moving from one role to another has been surprisingly easy, as they each taught me skills that have benefited the work I do in the next position.”
Earlier in the year, Provow joined Peachtree’s Progressive Action Committee, which is working to develop a more inclusive work environment for Peachtree and its sister publishing companies, Holiday House and Pixel + Ink (all part of Trustbridge Global Media), through better hiring, training, and internship practices.
In July 2018, Provow published the capstone to her master’s degree, entitled Reflecting on and Shattering My White Lens: A Critical Autoethnography on My Experience as a White Editor Working with Authors of Color. Provow intends to expand this project into an edited collection of essays.
National Accounts Sales Associate
Penguin Young Readers
Six months after Talisa Ramos graduated from Barnard, she wondered what she really wanted to be doing for work. Though she wasn’t an English major (she majored in American Studies), the idea of book publishing occurred to her, so she googled “Penguin Random House” and went to the job listings. There was a sales assistant position open and she applied.
Today, Ramos is helping expand the Spanish-language offerings published by PRH’s Penguin Young Readers division. Given the growing demand for Spanish-language books, her objective is to publish enough titles to meet the needs of PRH’s various sales channels.
For Ramos, this is not only a professional pursuit but a personal one. As a second-generation Nuyorican, she believes that having Spanish-language books for any child who wants access—not just Latinx or Spanish-speaking children—is incredibly important.
Right now, there is a wide array of classic children’s books that have been translated into Spanish, including Corduroy and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and there are select contemporary titles, including all of Jacqueline Woodson’s books, which are published simultaneously in English and Spanish, but there is still work to be done, according to Ramos.
With one in four Americans identifying as Latinx, and Spanish being the second-most-spoken language in the U.S., Ramos’s goal is to make sure the book offerings in Spanish are expansive. But she is also very thoughtful that Spanish-language books are not just for, or about, the Latinx community. A big goal for her is “bulking the pipeline” and making sure more varieties of books are being published in Spanish and are available for teachers, librarians, and the general public. Outside of PRH, Ramos volunteers with Girls Write Now, Read Ahead, and We Need Diverse Books.
Director of Hub City Press,
While Meg Reid was getting her nonfiction MFA at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she also participated in UNC Wilmington’s Publishing Lab, an applied learning experience in the publishing process. During her time at the Publishing Lab, they started an imprint, Lookout Books, and Reid abandoned the craft side of her MFA and threw herself into publishing. That decision brought her to the Hub City Writers Project, a Spartanburg, S.C., literary community that includes a press and bookstore, and she was named assistant director of the organization in 2013. “Coming to Hub City Writers Project felt like coming home,” she says. “It felt like a community I wanted to continue building.” Reid is excited about building thriving literary spaces outside of New York City.
In 2017, Reid was named director of Hub City Press, and she has started a variety of programs to support the community and writers. In 2018, the Hub City Writers Project created the C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize, which is open to emerging writers living in 13 Southern states and includes $5,000 and the publication of a debut book of short fiction. Reid notes all three of the authors who have won the prize wrote about hyper-rural spaces. “To have people who don’t live in these spaces connect to these stories has been amazing to watch,” she adds.
Another new program is the Southern Studies Fellowship. This collaboration with the Chapman Culture Center, funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation, will bring one early-career artist and one early career-writer to Hub City for a nine-month fellowship of research, creativity, teaching, and travel, culminating in a collaborative project informed by the region.
At the heart of the Hub City Writers Project and Reid’s mission is to raise the literary profile of the Spartanburg area. “Across the board, Meg’s work is characterized by excellence and a vision for the brightest possible future of independent publishing. In my capacity as an agent, I’ve submitted manuscripts to Meg and eagerly await the day when I get to work with Hub City on one of my author’s books—an experience that I think of with the same anticipation that I reserve for working with long-established prestige small presses like Tin House and Graywolf,” says Maggie Cooper, agent at Aevitas.
Orbit and Redhook Books
Angeline Rodriguez has always had a deep love of books, particularly science fiction and fantasy, but it didn’t occur to her that publishing or editing was a job for her until she was nearing graduation. After having internships in nonprofits and radio, her adviser pointed her toward the Hachette Book Group internship program, where, in summer 2016, she worked as a production intern. Once there, it was not long before Rodriguez says she was “grabbing every Orbit title I could off the free shelves. Years later, it feels full circle to now be the one putting the books on the [figurative] shelf.”
This year, Rodriguez published two debut novels that she thinks demonstrate the breadth of what speculative fiction can do and what’s exciting about working in and between genres—The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien and The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel. Both novels, Rodriguez notes, “refract science fiction tropes in unexpected ways to show us something true and grounded about our own world, and make the line between the real and surreal a little more porous.”
She has also been working on a project that is particularly close to her heart, The Sun and The Void by Gabriela Romero Lacruz, which is set to come out in 2022. The novel is an epic fantasy that transports readers into a lush world inspired by the history and mythology of 1800s South America. Rodriguez believes it’s the first of its kind in the adult space. “Gabriela and I are both Venezuelan American, and this book just encapsulates so much of what I wish I could have read in the genre growing up and hope to bring more of to the publishing landscape today—rich non-Western mythologies, real grappling with colonialism, worldbuilding that doesn’t presuppose whiteness in its origins. Keep your eyes peeled.”
In the future, Rodriguez hopes to “keep making fiction a weirder, browner, more daring place, and maybe punch a few more holes in the walls between genres while I’m at it.”
Senior Manager, Customer Experience
For as long as she can remember, Monika Rola has been fascinated by the written word, how we use it to communicate, and its power to effect real change in the world. That idea and the drive to promote human rights and environmental initiatives and organizations is what first started her on a path in the communications industry. Rola started her career as a journalist before becoming a marketing communications consultant working for some of Canada’s best-known public relations agencies. For almost a decade, Rola provided brand building and crisis communications strategic guidance to brands including Cadbury, Dentyne, LG Electronics, Microsoft Canada, and Olay.
In 2016, Rola saw an opportunity to join the team at Harlequin. “Women’s equality and rights are extremely important to me,” Rola says, “and I was so proud to have an opportunity to join the stream of the publishing industry that is led by women authors and speaks to women about the stories and ideas that women hold important.”
Rola sees the most important aspect of her job as fighting digital barriers between readers and great books, which can include everything from making access to books simpler with fewer clicks to building a promotional plan for books written by authors from historically excluded groups easier to discover.
A recent project Rola highlighted as one she’s proud of is the launch of the Harlequin Books and Cooks web series, which pairs Harlequin authors with a chef and follows them as they discuss books and author-life while cooking or baking together. “The idea came to me as I thought about the joy of getting together with friends and family in the kitchen,” Rola says, “and how often for book lovers those conversations will turn to favorite books and authors.”
Rola intends to continue contributing to Harlequin’s mission to champion historically excluded love stories and authors and pursuing new opportunities to connect readers to “stories that help us to rest, to envision a happier and more just world, to keep our spirits up.”
Senior Production Editor
When Melissa Schirmer moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in professional writing, she was open to any and all career possibilities. That openness led her to intern at a literary agency, work at a bookstore, and even do some freelance editing. In 2016, Schirmer took the job of senior production editor at Scholastic. In her role in production, she works on some really exciting projects, such as various Harry Potter projects and Brian Selznick’s Kaleidoscope. One of the more exciting parts of the job, she says, is being able to work on new books in new formats.
Unfortunately, these last two years have not been all fun books and creative projects. Schirmer, like most people in her position, has to deal with serious global supply chain issues, but she has worked hard to find solutions to these problems. “Melissa made a smooth switch to fully virtual routing, easing the way for us editors,” says Olivia Valcare, associate editor at Scholastic. “And as our schedules have fluctuated with the printer delays and capacity issues, Melissa never misses a beat in finding solutions for moving forward.”
David Levithan, Scholastic publisher and editorial director, offers much of the same praise. “I feel often the innovation and effort that gets the rewards in publishing is that which is public-facing,” he says. “But equally impressive are the efforts of the innovators who save the day in countless ways without authors or readers ever knowing about it. Melissa is one such force.”
Beyond work, Schirmer helps out with Inkluded, is on Scholastic’s trade mentorship committee, and started a DEIB book club in her department.
Elena Silverberg was fortunate to grow up in a family that prioritized reading for pleasure, and it instilled a love of narrative storytelling in her from a young age. In college, Silverberg double-majored in psychology and English at Cornell University because, she says, “I wanted to know more about the works I was reading and the people behind them.”
After college internships at the Jean V. Naggar Literay Agency and the Overlook Press, Silverberg joined publishing full-time as an editorial assistant at Skyhorse Publishing in 2019. A few months later the position changed, and Silverberg soon found herself assisting on fiction titles, supporting the sales team, and facilitating a move to in-house rights representation for a backlist of 11,000 titles. “This versatile role both challenged my ability to multitask and gave me a view into the interconnected workings of a publishing house as a whole,” Silverberg says.
With her unique experience, Silverberg was promoted to rights manager, which allows her to delve into new areas—contracts, tax forms, and invoicing. “Elena has consistently brought curiosity and tenacity to her work,” says Carol Dudgeon, HR internal consultant for Skyhorse. “Her ability to process and master tasks from excel spreadsheets for the sales team to the intricacies of rights management and the nuances of editorial projects affirm our thinking of her as our Renaissance Woman.”
Before the start of the pandemic, Silverberg also worked part-time as a private tutor with Smarten Up in New York City, where she trained students in executive function skills, provided assistance for specific subjects, and created time management systems. “It was rewarding to prepare younger students for the future with the ultimate goal of making them successful independent learners,” Silverberg says, “and to find another outlet for my editing skills.”
One of the great talents upon which Tricia Skinner has built her career is her ability to take an idea, whether it is hers or someone else’s, and help bring it to life. Before she became a literary agent at Fuse Literary, Skinner was a journalist writing about small, minority-owned businesses in Detroit. She then took a new role liaising between video game studios and the Guildhall at SMU, Southern Methodist University’s premier graduate video game education program, where she helped place graduates at video game companies. She has also become a writer, and is the author of the Angel Assassins series.
As a writer, Skinner was always interested in the business side of publishing, and after SMU had layoffs in 2016, Skinner found a perfect opportunity to start a new career as a literary agent. Mentored by her own agent at Fuse Literary, Laurie McLean, Skinner learned more about the business while also learning “the human side of being an agent,” which she notes is often missing. As she made the transition to literary agent, Skinner says she brought her past experience as a journalist, mentor, and writer to the role, making her “well loved” and a “rising star,” as her colleagues have noted.
In her six years as an agent, Skinner has made approximately 23 deals for over 60 books, though she doesn’t really keep count. Instead, she’s more focused on looking forward. “I find books that I think are incredible and give them an opportunity to find readers,” Skinner explains. And in a marketplace that is always evolving, Skinner is unafraid to bring on new ideas and new authors. That philosophy applies to her personal life as well. While her own writing is on hold for the moment, she is learning Korean.
Business Development Associate of Books
Books are gateways into someone else’s stories and minds,” says Tylor Starr. Books have always been his number one medium. Even when he was growing up, Starr’s family might not have always had cable or internet, but Starr was able to visit the local library to escape through books. Because of his love for stories, Starr always knew he wanted to do something in publishing, but he didn’t have a clear idea of what he could do.
Instead, Starr found himself working at a nonprofit for six years as well as starting an animal rights charity based on the Harry Potter fandom called the Protego Foundation. He has also launched several successful initiatives for animal rights. (He was cohost of the popular Chickpeeps podcast with animal rights activist and Harry Potter actor Evanna Lynch.)
When Starr thought about publishing, he wondered: “What is growing? What is niche? What is something I can help grow?” Those questions led Starr to marketing and event management in manga. Over the last 10 years, manga in the U.S. has seen an explosion in popularity due to the rising interest in anime. As a nonbinary person, Starr had a passion for bringing more LGBTQ content from Japan. He focused on yaoi, a genre of manga that focuses on gay male relationships. Starr and his business partner founded a monthly subscription box called Yaoi Crate, for which they would partner with a different English manga publisher each month to bring exclusive items and manga to subscribers around the world. “Because of our work with Yaoi Crate, we were able to get books into the hands of readers and fans in ways that would not have been possible without us,” Starr says, “and we have heard directly from the authors and writers in Japan how thankful they are that we created an opportunity for their work to be seen all over the world in English.”
In March, Starr moved to Humble Bundle, a site that creates and sells bundles of games or e-books, with a portion of the proceeds going to the charity of the creator’s choosing. Though he works with book publishers there, she keeps an eye on the broader picture, asking himself, “What is the gamer audience going to be interested in?” and “How do we grow the Humble Bundle audience?”
Using his experience creating Yaoi Crate, Starr curated the first-ever yaoi bundle for Humble Bundle, which, given the audience for yaoi being 90% women and girls and the audience for Humble Bundle being mostly men, was a risk. “Despite being with the company for a brief time, Tylor did a very brave thing by curating a promotion of yaoi titles—very controversial with our demographic,” says Kelley Allen, senior director at Humble Bundle. “Due to his marketing savvy, the promotion performed well and brought in thousands of new customers to our business.”
Deborah Sun de la Cruz
Penguin Random House Canada
Though Deborah Sun de la Cruz’s career started in production editing and proofreading, she always wanted to edit fiction. Since she’s joined the team at Penguin Random House Canada, she has made a solid impact. “Deborah has been instrumental to our publishing program, responsible for contributing bold and inventive BIPOC voices that reimagine the way stories are told, poetic feminist voices, and smart, well-written love stories,” says Nicole Winstanley, publisher at Penguin Random House Canada,.
Sun de la Cruz’s acquisitions include River Mumma by Giller-nominated author Zalika Reid-Benta, which draws on Jamaican folklore but centers on a millennial Black woman who is navigating a quarter-life crisis on the streets of Toronto. The acquisition was featured in an article by CBC Books. Another book she is proud of is Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immorality by Canada Reads–shortlisted author Lindsay Wong, which Sun de la Cruz notes was “unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” Sun de la Cruz says she had wanted to work with Wong and is excited to publish this collection where “women haunt and they are haunted.”
Beyond her editing work, Sun de la Cruz is interested in giving back. Having been mentored in her own career, Sun de la Cruz does a lot of mentoring herself. She participated in Canada’s inaugural mentorship program for BIPOC of Publishing in Canada, and contributed to FOLD’s Pitch Perfect event from 2018–2021.
Senior Editor, Culturally Responsive Education
Westchester Education Services
To be culturally responsive is to be human centered,” Samantha Tucker says. “To consider the perspectives and world experience of everyone, in all their difference—to not privilege one understanding of the world.” This is at the heart of the work Tucker does at Westchester Education Services, where she and her team ensure that their clients’ educational materials are inclusive and free of bias and that students see themselves represented in the work.
Before joining Westchester Education Services, Tucker held a number of teaching jobs after struggling to find work with an arts degree at the height of the Great Recession. She first moved to South Korea to teach English for two years, and after returning to the U.S., Tucker earned her MA in nonfiction writing at Colorado State and an MFA in creative nonfiction at Ohio State. While in school, and for five years after that, Tucker taught rhetoric and composition at a community college in Columbus and found herself becoming more involved with community organizing and activist work.
In October 2020, Tucker joined the team at Westchester to help tackle bias in educational materials. “Our culturally responsive team includes reviewers and content creators who are BIPOC, from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, of the LGBTQ community, with varying levels of education, religious backgrounds, and an understanding of issues of ableism, nationalism, climate change, social and emotional learning, marginalization, and more,” Tucker says. “Our team uses their intersectional lenses and the culturally responsive training we’ve developed so Westchester can offer the perspectives necessary to change and better educational content.”
In the future, Tucker hopes for “classrooms of students who are encouraged to be curious and critical, an educational system prioritizing inquiry over indoctrination, a publishing industry as diverse as the educational communities we serve, and a functioning democracy.”
Desiree Wilson joined the Bent Agency in 2020, right after graduating from Portland State University with a master’s degree in book publishing. Before working in publishing, Wilson worked with troubled youths, was in the Army, and did a long stint as an emergency medical dispatcher.
“Something I’ve always done in my life is try to go where I can do the most good or make the most change, for whatever cause I’ve felt is important or fits my skills at the time,” Wilson says. “It’s served me pretty well, and I like to think that I leave an imprint when I do.”
No matter what they were doing, books and writing have always been a central part of their life. Wilson ended up in the publishing program following the same instincts that have served them well in the past. And the universe seemed to be providing Wilson a clear path to help underrepresented talent find an audience both in comics and then in trade publishing.
As an agent, Wilson looks for “stories that speak to me and feel special, whether because they elevate and uplift voices or are stories that were missing from my bookshelves as a kid or because they speak to something our society needs to hold onto or rediscover.” Wilson’s first sale as a literary agent was in October 2020: The Con Artists by Luke Healy, a graphic novel in which a man becomes the reluctant accomplice to a childhood friend turned con man after volunteering to help him recover from a bus accident.
Wilson also teaches Intro to Book Publishing at Portland State, a 10-week crash course on publishing, covering the industry’s history to the contemporary state of things. “Though being a full-time academic doesn’t appeal to me, mentorship and education is extremely important to me, because it was critical to my own success,” Wilson says. “I’ve been so lucky to get so much knowledge and opportunity, and paying that forward is free.”
Helen Wu has always been passionate about writing and drawing, even when she was a child growing up in China, but she never thought she would make a career out of it.
Wu received a master’s in economics from the University of Georgia and began working in marketing, where she learned how to use Photoshop and began putting her portfolio of illustrations online. In 2012, she was contacted by E.L. Ogos to illustrate the author’s children’s book, In the Only. Gradually, Wu illustrated more self-published picture books and became immersed in learning all aspects of book production.
When her son was born, Wu began to write her own books. After writing, illustrating, and publishing 10 picture books of her own, she knew she needed help to expand. “My dream was to write a book that would reach a wider audience and be carried by libraries and brick and mortar bookstores,” she says.
In August 2019, Wu attended the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and met C.J. Zhang, the publisher of Yeehoo Press, which publishes socially responsible children’s books in the U.S. and China. Luyang Xue, the acquisition editor, told Wu that Yeehoo was looking for someone to take charge of the U.S. division of its publishing house and needed someone who could speak Mandarin and English and had experience in children’s book publishing and connections with authors in the U.S. In her time with Yeehoo, Wu has strived to make sure other marginalized writers’ voices are heard. Her goal is to find the common ground between different countries and cultures and provide books with universal interest and appeal for readers worldwide.
Harper and Ecco
When Jenny Xu started as an editorial assistant at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2015, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to work in publishing. She thought perhaps she might be an editor for two years and then go back to her work in copywriting. But around the two-year mark, the conversations around diversity and the rise of poetry gave Xu reasons to want to stay.
Over the last six years, Xu has built a rich list that includes two-time U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey’s New & Selected Poems; Palestinian American poet Hala Alyan’s collection The Twenty-Ninth Year; journalist David Yi’s Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too); and the forthcoming Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, and Philip Wang, which Xu describes as “a book I would have wanted to read and a history most Americans aren’t aware of.”
Earlier this year, Xu moved from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to HarperCollins, where she will be acquiring for both HarperCollins and Ecco as well as overseeing Ecco’s poetry list. “Poetry has been ahead of the conversation around representation,” Xu says. “I am proud to be a part of that.”
In addition to her work as an editor, Xu and others worked to build and launch the HMH Diversity Committee in order to further the conversation around making publishing more inclusive. Xu notes that diversity is concentrated in the junior levels and that they were able to come together as a large group and point upward and say, “This is important.”
“Simply put: Jenny is the type of publishing professional who makes me believe in the future of this industry,” says Kate Napolitano, executive editor at HC’s Dey Street Books imprint.
Celebrate the 2021 Stars
November 16, 2021
6:30 p.m. EST