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Room to Grow: Insights into Publishing Career Advancement – Mandy Chahal

Sponsored by the CBC Mid-Level Career Committee, this new series takes a look at the myriad paths to advancement within children’s book publishing. This week we hear from Mandy Chahal, Marketing Manager of Poisoned Pen Press at Sourcebooks.

How did you enter into publishing as a career?

A publishing career never seemed real to me. I grew up deep in the heart of Texas, and in college, I was focused on going into the foreign service or being a lawyer, but…I clung to books. Reading them, putting them into peoples’ hands, now that was a life.  I managed a Half Price Books store throughout my college years and many more beyond—10 years altogether.

A move to California in 2009 changed all that. I started my publishing career as an Executive Assistant to the Associate Publisher at HarperOne in San Francisco. My spitfire boss was challenging and supportive in the most formative way. Since she mastered a career in publicity and marketing, I was given a serious window into that pathway: I wrote pitches, galley letters, planned events, designed catalogs, liaised with sales reps, packed mailings, designed press kits, took on social media calendars (for Facebook and Twitter only back then, lol!) under her oversight.

Please share any information about your career path, including changing departments, moving locations, moving from another career connected to publishing, etc.

By 2013, I was Marketing Manager for HarperOne, but a family emergency brought us back to Texas. It would be another eight years before I would work directly in publishing again. We’ll call that gap the in-between years. I used my marketing training to develop brand guides, a social media voice, and designed an architectural presence for a family business. We all saw Succession, so we know how business with family goes. Just in time for the pandemic, of course!

I did maybe the most healing and insightful work of my career with The Find Center. I teamed up with publishing colleagues to research and curate content and write copy for a site dedicated to helping people find quality content regarding psychology and spirituality on the path to connection, understanding, and joy.

I joined Sourcebooks in 2021—I was wholeheartedly back into publishing through a remote opening. Today, I’m the Marketing Manager for Poisoned Pen Press where I manage marketing and publicity campaigns for mystery, thriller, and horror authors. It’s all murder and mayhem and metaphors all the time—and friends, I am in heaven!

What advice do you have for people in their mid-level careers looking to advance?

Be a mentor to people entering a career in publishing. The fastest way to become unstuck in your thinking is to talk about and think over art, its meaning, work-life challenges, and priorities with younger people. I’m constantly reexamining how my thinking, experience, and expertise can guide a person on their own career path. Mentoring does a few things: builds trust with colleagues, grows talent from within, and yields creative work. To advance through a career, you have to build teams that trust you and ones that you trust in turn. To my mind, investing in one another’s careers is the ticket.

What’s the most important thing you learned from a mentor or leader?

Ask questions.

Be thoughtful. — We can say what a thing is, or we can appeal to a person’s heart and head.

Shoot your shot — Be fearless. Once you’ve come to a point of view, a pitch angle, an idea, or a new course of action, do it all the way. If it doesn’t work, go back, ask questions, be thoughtful, and work out another shot. In publicity, keep going until it works.

More about the CBC Mid-Level Career Committee.

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