Mentor Corner: Ally Russell
Consumer and Educational Outreach Manager, Candlewick Press
What was your first job in publishing?
My first paid publishing job was at Macmillan Learning. I was a marketing assistant and I supported the sales and marketing department by completing tasks for the company’s handbooks, literature, and communication titles. I’m very good at picking up a box of books and knowing how much it weighs thanks to my time as a marketing assistant. I made some of my first friends in Boston while working at Macmillan Learning, which back in 2011 was called Bedford/St. Martins.
What was your career path like getting to your current role?
I wish a path had been laid out before me, but that absolutely wasn’t the case. My first publishing job didn’t offer an opportunity for advancement, so I had to hopscotch my way into the career that I currently have. I hopped from textbook publishing to magazine publishing at Harvard Business Review. As a marketing coordinator at HBR, I was able to gain experience working with audio production, and I learned the ins and outs of marketing and advertising for a major magazine. While at HBR, I also stumbled across the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mentor, and that individual encouraged me to further pursue my passion for kid lit. After almost two years at HBR, I made the jump to children’s trade publishing at Candlewick Press. If you have the opportunity to move between different types of publishing jobs or take on roles that are publishing/book adjacent, go for it. In my current role at Candlewick, I’m constantly relying on skills, knowledge, and contacts gained from previous publishing jobs.
What advice would you give to those who are either just starting out or are in their first few years in publishing?
My advice would be to seek out programs like CBC, POC in Publishing, and We Need Diverse Books to help you build a network of supportive people. Ask for informational interviews to help you determine if you’re pursuing the publishing track that is best for you. Attend networking events. Look for mentorship and guidance from people who will have your best interest and career growth at heart. (Mentorship is something I wish I’d found in my early days of publishing.) Remember earlier when I said that I made some of my first (and best) friends while working as a marketing assistant? I’m still friends with many of those people, and I’m grateful to have them in my life, because only other publishing professionals will understand the idiosyncrasies associated with a career in this industry. And when you’re in a position to help others find their footing in the industry, do it with humility. Answer Q&As, offer advice, and listen to the next generation of young publishing professionals.
Lastly, how do you infuse your own interests and passions into your work? Is it possible to put your own touch on the work you do?
Books and children’s literature are two of my passions, so I would say that both are pretty infused into my job at Candlewick. Many of the collaborations I’ve coordinated have been with organizations that I’m excited to work with or ones whose missions I strongly support, so working with Candlewick to manage these outreach initiatives has allowed me to put my own touch on the work that I do. Also, because my position is a dual-role that allows me to work on consumer outreach initiatives and social media, I’ve had the pleasure of adding my touch (and voice) to the Candlewick podcast. It’s a project that I’m immensely proud of, and it has given me the opportunity to fuse my interests in audio production, book publishing, and kid lit.