Allison Devlin , Director of Publicity
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
When I graduated Vassar, I was determined to go to N.Y.C. and make a name for myself in the New York theater. I took a myriad of acting classes, dance classes, voice lessons—attended A.C.T. in San Francisco for a while and ended up with a huge résumé of extra work. I was a Pine Valley teenager on All My Children for four years and worked on several movies with my dog Dudley (I found out you got paid more for working with your dog).
Through a friend of my mother's, I found out about a food writer who needed some help on a book. The writer was Jenifer Lang, the book was Tastings, the editor was Pam Thomas, the publisher Crown. I loved the experience and worked with Jenifer for several years. Then, in the fall of 1990, Pam called and said that a British publisher was opening offices in New York, and was looking for a publicity and advertising manager. At this point, Meryl Streep was in no danger of my career path on the stage, so I took the plunge, landed the job at DK and the rest, as they say, is history.
, Production Supervisor
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
If you look at the walls of my office, you'll find a Nolli plan of Florence, a picture of a Bernini sculpture from the Villa Borghese and various packing materials (bubble wraps and two-ply cardboard honeycombs). This is all residue from my brief architecture career.
People always ask me, "How did you go from architecture to children's book production?" I admit, it takes some explaining. I went to architecture school at Cornell, did an honors thesis and got my professional degree. It was the summer after my fourth year that I realized I didn't enjoy it anymore. The hours were long, the pay was meager and jobs in general were not steady in the building industry at that time. Plus the work wasn't like school at all—all that mattered, it seemed, was how fast you could draw on the computer. Even the fastest draftsmen worked late nearly every night, spent little time with their families and had to wait years before seeing the fruits of their labor.
I had always loved publications in high school, I loved designing and managing the whole process, talking to typesetters and printers, and getting the finished product in the mail and watching people enjoy what I made. During my thesis year, the career counselor for my college suggested I talk to her friend, a production manager at Cornell University Press. I loved everything about it, but they had no jobs or internships available, so I went home to Arizona and volunteered to work for free in the production department of Arizona University Press. Afterward, convinced this was what I wanted to do, I took my savings and moved to New York.
About 70 applications and résumés, and a few creative interviews later, I landed a job at the Penguin Group in the operations department. After a year I transferred to production, and another year later I moved to Simon & Schuster.
I'm often amazed how much my architecture background helps me in my day-to-day work. Because of my former career and training, I've become extremely resilient to high pressure and frequent deadlines. I also get to do, on a smaller scale, the same sort of thing: with buildings the architect selects materials for the project, provides a schedule for when the project is to be completed, cost estimates, and has to provide explanations when things are late and go awry. I do all those things every day. But more than anything else, I still have that smug smile on my face when I see other people hold, inspect and enjoy something I had a hand in making.
, Senior Editor
Dial Books for Young Readers
I had sold Chevrolets, worked in the garment district and on the trading floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and was now a residential real estate agent. My specialty was helping relocating executives overcome their distaste, paranoia or myths about New York long enough to rent an apartment. I worked in a nutty firm which suited me well and I made a good living, but I knew I didn't have any deeply rooted attachment to this line of work.
A couple of years earlier, I had started to try to get an editorial job in adult books. Armed with a somewhat fictional résumé, I had sometimes gotten as far as a third interview but had never received any offers. I really wanted to quit trying, and told my mother as much one day. From then on, she was relentless with one particular suggestion: that I should write to Jacqueline Onassis, then at Doubleday, and ask her for some advice. Not for a job, just some advice. After all, my mother reasoned, she's a New Yorker, you're a New Yorker, and you're both women who are interested in publishing. It was like we were practically twins. So that she would stop bringing this up, I wrote the letter. I have a copy of it stuck in a box and once in a great while I'll pull it out and cringe with embarrassment. I had used baseball metaphors (?) and said "like yourself, I am trying to enter into publishing at a time in my life when it may be considered atypical to do so." We had so much in common, Ms. Onassis and I.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm coming in the door just as my answering machine is picking up. "We are calling from Ms. Onassis's office in response to a letter you had sent us." I run and grab for the phone, halfway suspecting it's some friend of mine pulling a pretty good joke. But it was a nice young man who was Ms. Onassis's assistant, and he told me that "normally we do not respond to such inquiries but something in your letter touched a chord in Ms. Onassis and she has asked me to respond on her behalf."
The advice concerned the Radcliffe summer publishing program, a practical impossibility for me—but who cares? This was an awesomely gracious and generous gesture sent out to a total stranger. And it reignited my determination to somehow learn the secret handshake and get that first job. Which I did, only about six weeks later after seeing an ad in the Times for an entry-level position in children's books at a company a friend of mine worked for. I figured if I could just get in somewhere, I could eventually move laterally into "real books." Which I did by staying in children's books, the most amazing, revelatory job I never knew existed.
, Editor, Books for Young Readers
Little, Brown & Company
As a child, I hoped to become an artist or a writer, but coming from a very practical family, I grew to like science and math, and I eventually majored in biology. However, after three summer jobs in biology labs, I still hadn't found a specific field that inspired passion in me the way it did my classmates. After graduation, I took a year off and explored random things, one of which was a volleyball clinic. I was carpooling to the clinic with a neighbor, and on the last day of the clinic, I asked her what kind of work she did. She said she was an editor at Bulfinch Press.
We chatted about publishing, and it sounded fascinating, so I asked her how someone could get into it. She suggested applying for an internship. I was thrilled to be hired as an intern in the children's editorial department of Little, Brown; several months after that, I was hired fulltime, and have now been with LB for seven years.
My science background occasionally pops up as I work; I have a strong interest in nonfiction and slightly geeky stories, and I can be very anal while I'm editing. And I'm positive I'm the only children's editor who has the MIT cheer posted outside her door:
E to the u, du dx E to the x, dx Cosine, secant, tangent, sine 3-point-1-4-1-5-9 Integral, radical, mu dv Slipstick, slide rule, MIT!
, Associate Publisher, Children's Books
When I graduated from college, all I wanted to do was travel. So I decided I should find a job in the travel industry. I had a friend whose father was an airline pilot and he got me an interview with his company. In getting ready for the interview, I realized that I really had very little experience interviewing—it seemed I had backed into almost every job I had ever had.
So I went to the want ads and searched for ads for jobs that someone would believe I actually wanted. There was one for an editorial assistant. Hmm, I thought, just the job for someone with an English major and an art history minor. So I went on the interview. The HR person sent me down to see Margaret Frith at G.P. Putnam's Sons, who was looking for an assistant. The interview was great. It seems the way to have an enjoyable and relaxed interview is to interview for a job that you think you don't want.
When I got home that night, Margaret called and offered me the job. Panic set in. I called my mother—who herself had worked for an airline when she left college. My mother is not really much for advising. Her response: "Honey, I can't tell you what to do. All I can say is that if you take a job in publishing and decide you don't like it, I don't think anyone in the airline business would hold that against you. The question is whether the reverse is true."
Of course, I ended up taking the editorial assistant job. And of course I do get to travel a bit. Although looking back over just the past few months, I don't think Reno, Chicago and Orlando were quite what I had in mind at the time!
Mary Ellen Owens
, Production Associate
Random House Children's Books
I had just graduated from college with a BFA in design graphics and needed a job. A friend from college started working at Barron's Educational Series on Long Island and said there was an opening in the production department as an administrative assistant. I applied and got the job. A month or so later, my friend left Barron's and I took over her job—working with marketing on their catalogues. I didn't know anything about production. Mr. Barron sat with me and taught me about printing, publishing and production. Still being the assistant to the department, I covered for the production assistants when they were out of the office. As some of the assistants left the company, I took over their unfinished titles. I was at Barron's for five years and did a little bit of everything there: initials, reprints, ordering paper, cover gangs, cassette and CD duplication, even arranged for trucks to deliver finished product to the warehouse. I don't think anyone really grows up wanting to be in production, it just kind of sucks you in.
, Associate Editor
I interned at Penguin the January of my senior year in college. I was placed as an editorial intern in a children's division, Philomel Books. I wasn't familiar with it. The first few days were full of the typical faxing, filing, answering phones, and then my supervisor got a serious case of strep throat. She was out of the office for two weeks of my short internship, and as Philomel is very small, I was thrown headfirst into the world of agents, artwork, flap copy, marketing materials—you name it, I did it. I was petrified. One day, I couldn't stop the tears when an agent screamed at me. I stayed in a bathroom stall until I could compose myself.
Needless to say, I left New York with a sense of the world of publishing, but not a great desire to enter it! Instead, after graduation, I became a live-in nanny in Pennsylvania. After I'd been there for six months, Philomel called, asking me if I'd consider coming to the city to be the department's assistant. I jumped at the chance. Almost five years later, I'm still here, loving it—and I very rarely cry in the bathroom.
, V-P and Publisher, Books for Young Readers
Little, Brown & Company
In 1980, I was working as a freelance researcher and photographer's assistant in London. My research assignments were primarily for members of Parliament and authors. My photographic assignments consisted solely of taking headshots of authors for book jackets.
These two lines of work merged when I was asked to do the photographic research for an art history book. When I completed this, I was offered the opportunity to research and co-author a book of my own—a scholarly work on the topographical prints of the city of Bath. Not exactly a bestseller!
This project took two years, at the end of which I was dead broke and living on baked beans. Since I did not foresee large royalty checks coming my way and needed to broaden my diet, the publisher of my book introduced me to a friend, Sebastian Walker, who was just starting his own children's book company—Walker Books Ltd. Sebastian needed a part-time bookkeeper, and I needed to save some money in preparation for writing a book on Dublin. I knew nothing of bookkeeping, but decided to fake it (a daunting task, since the Walker Books checking account had not been reconciled in six months).
After about a month, I was offered a full-time position. I was given a weekend to make a decision: author or publisher? I chose the latter and have never had a moment's regret.
, Editorial Assistant
Bantam, Delacorte, Dell
I was a psychology major in college and envisioned myself ultimately working as a therapist or clinician of some kind. I liked analyzing people and their lives, and trying to organize all of the information into a narrative or "diagnosis" that would be useful in a clinical setting. Unfortunately—or fortunately—they generally don't let college students intern as therapists, so one summer I took an internship at Random House, in the children's publishing group. Sure, I liked books, and I liked the prospect of a summer in New York, but I never thought of publishing as a career for me.
I think it must be an industry secret, but once on the inside I quickly saw what editors really are—psychologists with better hair and clothes. I spent the summer doing exactly what I wanted to do—sitting around talking about people's lives, relationships and personalities, and how we could shape them. Editors and psychologists are always asking questions: Should Ashley really be this desensitized to her mother's passive-aggressiveness? What is Jen trying to prove by kissing that loser? Wouldn't Chris's life be more interesting if he tried to tame the dingo rather than whine the whole time about wanting a new puppy he'll never get?
The field of psychology is really just a collection of stories, or theories, that describe the human condition. Working in publishing, I get to consider innumerable stories that do the same thing—and I think we have a lot more fun at it.
, Editorial Director, Storybooks
I went to a very tough high school. It had the highest teen pregnancy rate and the lowest graduation rate in the county. Crack deals often occurred in the hallways between classes. Stabbings and shootings were not uncommon, and there was even an obituary section in our school yearbook. In my junior year, I had one free period that I needed to fill. Study hall was not an option—students had been robbed, beaten up or worse in there. Not pretty. So when my guidance counselor suggested I take a new class called Introduction to Publishing, I jumped at the opportunity. It saved my life—and put me on my future career path!
, Senior Publicist, Books for Young Readers
Little, Brown & Company
After college I began work as an in-house temp for Viacom. What this meant was that I was shuttled around from department to department on the whim of my supervisor. The jobs were never fun or glamorous, and they never utilized my handy English literature degree.
The last job I held before leaving Viacom was at their telephone maintenance support help desk. For six months I filled in for their coordinator. I helped people learn to set their volume, reset their voicemail, install headsets. I was a regular font of information about telephones. It was sad, really.
All the while, I would look through Viacom's job postings and apply to positions that caught my eye. One day Simon & Schuster posted a position for a publicity assistant in their children's marketing department. I enlisted the help of my boss, created what I hoped to be a very nice "press kit" on myself, and crossed my fingers.
My first interview with Tracy van Straaten went well enough that I garnered a second interview with Suzanne Murphy. Before we started, Suzanne warned me that the computer technician might stop by to fix her computer, and she was afraid if she told him to come back later, he would never come back. I was fairly comfortable dealing with technicians through my current job, so this wasn't much of an issue. Naturally, midway through the interview, in walks the computer technician. He sets his bag down, plops under her desk, fidgets with the wires, types on her keyboard, bangs things around a few times, and the whole time, Suzanne, Tracy and I are sitting there attempting to conduct an interview.
After they hired me, I learned Tracy was impressed with my grace under pressure concerning the intrusion of the Computer Guy. I probably should have written the Computer Guy a thank-you note, but I never did get his name. But I would like to thank him for starting my career.