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Mentor Corner: Seale Ballenger

Vice President of Publicity, Scholastic

What was your first job in publishing?

As a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing program in 1988, my first job was working in the Random House imprint adult trade publicity department. It was a brand new position they had recently created and was (and still is) called the ‘no name’ job. I got paid a whopping $13,000 a year to answer phones, clip articles out of newspapers and magazines, and type up press releases and schedules. I jumped at the opportunity and was thrilled to be a part of the team working under Carol Schneider.

What was your career path like getting to your current role?

I’ve been in publicity for books (with a brief stopover working in magazines) for 34 years, as of this August. I worked for many years on the adult side of the business, but had a friend who was always urging me to move to children’s books. Finally, almost 10 years ago, an opportunity came up that made me take that leap into publishing for kids and it was the best decision I ever made. I always say that “if you want to make the world a better place, start with a child.” Children’s books give kids the tools to learn, grow, and be empowered to change the world. The authors and illustrators of children’s books are walking the talk and it’s a thrill for me to be a part of that.

What advice would you give to those who are either just starting out or are in their first few years in publishing?

Take your time getting to know what area of publishing works best for you. Often a job might be available in one area, but your interest is in another area. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of getting your foot in the door somewhere, so that once you become an asset to the company they will want to help you transition to the area that best suits your interests, gifts, and talents.

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?

Two things come to mind… The first was when I won a Marketing 50 Award from Advertising Age for a book publicity campaign that was completely driven by the author’s heart and my affinity for the material. And the second was helping to launch the Rick Riordan Presents imprint created to shine a spotlight on diverse cultures and writers from within those communities. For it to be both a critical and financial success is enormously gratifying and I have the utmost respect for Rick and his amazing contribution to children’s literature. 

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