Associate Marketing Director
After majoring in communications in college, Milena Brown got a job doing PR in the music industry. But she soon realized that wasn’t the best fit, so she quit her job and reached out to a temp agency, which placed her at Disney/Hyperion. At that moment, Brown says, she knew, “This is it; this is me.”
Brown’s full-time publishing career began in publicity—at Plume for six years and Atria for two—but when she took the role of associate director of marketing, her career took off. “Milena works well with internal and external colleagues to execute on campaign milestones, and she is analytical,” says Karlyn Hixson, marketing director at Atria Books. “Assessing outcomes and data are among her greatest strengths, and she offers suggestions for pivoting to improve campaign performance.”
A project that Brown is particularly proud of is Sister Souljah’s Life After Death, the long-awaited sequel to Souljah’s wildly popular The Coldest Winter Ever, which was published 22 years ago. Brown knew that traditional book marketing wasn’t going to help the new title reach the right audience, but her goal was for it to become a #1 New York Times bestseller. So she started by individually contacting and gathering bookstagrammers who were fans of The Coldest Winter Ever and recruiting them as the “Sister Souljah street team” to help spread the word about the new book.
This momentum, plus a title and cover reveal video, helped get Black Twitter engaged and kicked the campaign into full swing. Celebrities including Cardi B and Lance Gross shared posts about Life After Death on their social media channels, and it hit the list.
What happened next for Brown was a bonus. Even though The Coldest Winter Ever had sold millions of copies, it was never a New York Times bestseller, but with a boost from Brown’s campaign for Life After Death, The Coldest Winter Ever finally hit the list.
Brown is expanding her reach and bringing her great ideas to the Bronx Book Festival, where she recently became one of the adult cochairs.
Editor and Strategic Partnerships Coordinator
In summer 2012, the New Press created an outreach coordinator position designed to galvanize the growing interest in The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. One of the New Press’s all-time bestsellers, the book had recently come out in paperback, and the publisher was looking to provide advice to organizations and individuals seeking to end mass incarceration. At the same time, zakia henderson-brown was finishing her MFA in creative writing and literary translation at Queens College, CUNY, and was looking for a part-time job. She previously worked as a community organizer and advocate on a range of issues, and the New Press role seemed like a perfect match. “I was delighted to have the opportunity to combine my obsession with the literary and my passion for social justice,” she recalls.
The outreach coordinator position was meant to last about a year, but after six months, henderson-brown was asked to stay on longer. Her collaboration with organizers, advocates, students, teachers, and readers across the country was just starting to take hold, and the New Press wanted a dedicated, full-time staff member to continue the work. Though henderson-brown had been making other plans, publisher Ellen Adler told her that the New Press was hiring for an editorial position, acquiring titles related to racial justice, and she thought henderson-brown would be a good fit.
“Zakia’s editorial work is complemented by her strategic partnerships efforts,” Adler says. “The overarching goal is to be sure that New Press books and authors reach the audiences in the communities that are most affected by the topics they cover.”
Henderson-brown began splitting her time between her role as editor and outreach coordinator. In 2015, her outreach work was expanded to include more of the New Press list, and her role was changed from outreach coordinator to strategic partnerships coordinator.
“It wasn’t always obvious that I would end up pursuing a career in publishing, but I’m so glad that I did,” henderson-brown says. “To be doing work that I feel so well suited for, and specifically at a mission-based press, has been uniquely fulfilling, and I feel fortunate that the stars aligned the way they did.”
Random House Children’s Books
Kristopher Kam thought he would go into a law-related field with his major in political science, but the classes in his Asian American studies minor turned out to be the most formative for him. So, when he met the events director from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop at a community fair at his college, he applied for an author events internship there and was hooked.
After a series of internships and volunteer positions at Interference Archive, the Museum of Chinese in America, Soho Press, Gallery Books, and Tor, Kam was hired as a part-time publicity assistant at St. Martin’s Press.
Since joining Random House, Kam has worked with great change makers and storytellers, such as Mahogany L. Browne, Judd Winick, and R.J. Palacio, and during the past year, he has created unique virtual programming for each writer. “For Mahogany, I worked with Well-Read Black Girl to create an all-day virtual summit,” Kam says. “For Judd, it was a two-month virtual school visit tour. And for R.J., I did a virtual event with 24 indies. I’m always pushing how we can change up the virtual format to keep things interesting for both our authors and consumers.”
Kam is also the point person for all RHCB festival programming strategy, and he’s worked with the steering committee of DEI at RHCB to create a DEI Focus Weeks initiative, for which he built out two weeks of DEI content that began and ended with author keynotes and featured workshops in between. “I built out a two-week workshop for talking about race—a Race Explicit Workshop,” he says. “They were meant to be an introductory course in introducing the concepts of race and equity to the growing DEI conversation. I thought it was important for our Focus Weeks to be more about getting folks to a shared starting point.”
Centering the questions in the breakout groups on storytelling was intended to help people talk about race comfortably. Focus Weeks had more than 140 registrants; Kam hopes to resume Focus Weeks later this year.
Kam is also proud of the investment and growth of Community Talk, a forum he moderates that focuses on conversations about building community goals related to DEI. “We’ve been seeing 30–40 regular attendees each week,” he says. “The conversation has also grown in that more and more senior leadership is present. It’s also brought together folks from different departments who wouldn’t normally interact. It’s definitely filled a void for us since the start of the pandemic, as it’s just been hard to connect virtually otherwise.”
When Tiffany Liao was at Swarthmore College, Michael Pietsch, then publisher of Little, Brown, came to speak to students about publishing. By the end of his talk, Liao couldn’t resist trying to press her résumé into his hands. Pietsch demurred and instead told her about the publishing internship program at Little, Brown.
Liao started her publishing career in publicity, but she soon realized that her favorite parts of the job were writing and editing, so she looked to transition into editorial. In 2013, she joined HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she worked with Abby Ranger and Tamar Mays, who mentored her and provided a perfect introduction to the world of children’s publishing.
Over the past several years, Liao has moved from HarperCollins Children’s Books to Razorbill to Henry Holt, working with notable writers along the way, including Tochi Onyebuchi and Tomi Adeyemi—and on I Am Perfectly Designed by Queer Eye culture expert Karamo Brown and his son, Jason.
“Tiff publishes with integrity and intention, with an emphasis on amplifying marginalized voices and diversifying the literary canon,” says Emily Bell, head of editorial at Zando. “While Tiff has won traditional acquisitions in heated multi-house auctions, she also tenaciously seeks out the stories that our industry fails to deliver.”
In May, Liao joined Zando, the new publishing venture launched by former Crown senior v-p and publisher Molly Stern. As executive editor, Liao is heading up the Young Readers initiative.
“I’m very proud to be starting from scratch. Molly’s vision is very compelling,” Liao says. “I am looking forward to building a robust Zando list that is both timely and timeless, has a lasting cultural impact, and meets readers where they are.”
Gretchen Treu and Wes Lukes
A Room of One’s Own, Madison, Wis.
In July 2018, when Nancy Geary and Sandi Torkildson, founding owners of the feminist bookstore A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wis., were looking for buyers to carry on the store’s mission, they needed look no further than longtime employees Gretchen Treu and Wes Lukes. Growing up “queer and weird” in small Midwestern towns, Treu and Lukes were both avid readers and library-goers, “reaching out for stories to connect us to people and ideas beyond what we had access to in our homes and schools,” Treu says. “Books were our safe haven as kids, so we’re happy to have a hand encouraging a future generation of readers.”
Over the past several years, Treu and Lukes “have been proud to reinvigorate the store’s mission and update it to promote anti-racist activism, prison and police abolition, and trans inclusivity, as well as other forms of progressive politics,” Treu explains.
To advance that mission, throughout the year, the store donates books it has collected to local organizations, such as LGBT Books to Prisoners Project, the Madison Reading Project, and Arts + Literature Lab’s Queer Youth Book Club. In 2019, Treu and Lukes coordinated the #BookstoresAgainstBorders campaign and donated $110,000 to RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services). The store continued similar social justice efforts in the midst of the pandemic.
And those efforts extend to the staff, as well. During the pandemic, the store was closed to the public and employees were told to work from home with full pay. “We figured we could afford to make this choice, not knowing how long we might be asking staff to stay home,” Treu says. “And we could lead our community by example—paying people to stay home rather than put themselves in danger of contracting Covid only made practical and moral sense to us. We committed to do what we could to help staff maintain their income needs so that they didn’t have to seek other jobs as we came up with work-from-home options. We tried to put safety first, follow science, and adjust as new information became available.”
Recently, A Room of One’s Own moved from downtown Madison to the Near East Side, after its landlord said he was selling the building. The owners of the new building are longtime patrons of the store and the lease term protects A Room of One’s Own from being pushed out of its location due to development for 40 years. “It was a lot of work to build out and move the space, but it has been absolutely worth it,” Treu says. “We love our forever home, and in the few weeks since we reopened here, we’ve heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers about how incredible the new space is.”
The new location is in a neighborhood with lots of children. Though in-person events are on hold for the moment, the store is developing more kid-focused events, including Drag Queen Story Time. “In the meantime,” Treu says, “we’ll keep on being a strong resource for families looking for diverse and inclusive kids’ books.”
Celebrate the 2021 Stars
November 16, 2021
6:30 p.m. EST