Mentor Corner: Kerry McManus
Senior Marketing Manager, Astra Books for Young Readers
What was your first job in publishing?
I joined the Random House Children’s Books Library Marketing Department in 1991 after working at an advertising agency in New York City right out of college. My primary responsibility at Random House was arranging author and illustrator events in schools and libraries. This was before the advent of email (I sound like such a dinosaur writing that!) so teachers and librarians had to call me to request authors, and then I had to call authors and illustrators to make the appearances happen. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time each day on the phone! I also had many other tasks like writing catalog copy, press releases, pitch letters, attending conferences, and working on promotional materials. It was a great first job in publishing!
What was your career path like getting to your current role?
I worked at Random House Children’s Books for 9 years. During that time, I held many different positions, both in marketing and publicity. I left shortly after the birth of my oldest daughter Kate. A lot of change was happening at Random House, including the sale of the company to Bertelsmann. And at the same time, I was struggling with the daily commute from CT to NYC with a 3-month-old at home. After that, I worked at Fairfield University as the Assistant Director of Special Events until I had my second daughter Maeve. And then, I stopped working to become a stay-at-home mom. I really loved being with my daughters for ten years – I had a third daughter (Claire) during that time – but I knew I would always go back to work.
When Claire was in nursery school, my friend and neighbor Mary-Alice Moore, who worked at Highlights for Children, told me about a marketing manager job at Highlights for their book division. It was a remote position (as they are located in the small town of Honesdale, PA), which was ideal for me. So, I joined Highlights in 2010 to manage their book marketing efforts.
I was with Highlights for 8 years until 2018, when Highlights sold their trade book division (Boyds Mills Press) to a small publisher based in New York City called Kane Press. Five BMP staffers went over to the new company, including me, and we re-branded as Boyds Mills & Kane. After about a year and a half, our parent company (Thinkingdom) decided to grow the business to include more imprints, and we re-branded again as Astra Books for Young Readers.
My job today is Senior Marketing Manager at Astra BFYR. I direct marketing efforts for four of our children’s imprints – Astra Young Readers, Calkins Creek, Kane Press, and Wordsong. It’s a big and challenging job – there is never a dull moment!
What advice would you give to those who are either just starting out or are in their first few years in publishing?
Take advantage of any kind of training and learning that’s offered to you. Make the time to attend seminars and webinars about industry issues, bookselling, and marketplace trends. Be open to learn, be eager and excited. Knowledge is power.
Take initiative. Do you have an idea that could streamline a process? Do you see your boss or other co-workers struggling with a project or task? Take the initiative – volunteer to assist, pitch in to help, don’t wait to be asked. Having this mindset will go a long way.
Be collaborative + make connections. While you’re probably often told to “look out for #1” (yourself), in my opinion, your career will go far if you make an effort to be collaborative with your colleagues. Also, making connections in the industry is key to advancement and success. Volunteer for committees. Go to meet-ups or publishing happy hours. Help an industry professional when asked.
Reflect often. This is a practice I wish I had adopted when I was younger. Take the time to assess what is working and what is not working – either with your job search or with your job. This will ultimately lead to knowledge and growth.
PS – My oldest daughter Kate is now working as a Library Marketing Assistant at Penguin Random House. History is repeating itself! And I’ve given her a lot of this advice as she’s starting out her career.
What have been some highlights of your career so far?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really incredible authors and illustrators over the years, including Philip Pullman, Peter Sis, Faith Ringgold, Jack Prelutsky, Nikki Grimes, Mary Pope Osborne, Gail Jarrow, and more. Authors and illustrators are fantastic people. I like to say that working with them is sometimes like being a mom. It’s your job to take care of them and their books. But sometimes, you also have to be firm.
The ability to travel for my job is a highlight! One of the huge benefits of working in children’s books marketing is that I’ve seen a large part of the US by attending various conferences throughout the years. I’ve also been to Puerto Rico for two work conferences, which was fabulous. I think I’ve been to 26 states in the US, courtesy of my job!
Another highlight of my career is that I feel that I’m always learning and growing. While book marketing has remained the same in many ways throughout the years, it’s also changed a lot. When I started out, there was no social media, no TikTok, no influencer marketing. I always think – what’s next?
A last highlight of my career is the work I’ve done mentoring younger staff and college students interested in publishing. This is important, and I enjoy it quite a bit. It’s good to give back and help others, especially those just starting out.