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Mentor Corner: Emilie Polster

VP, Executive Director of Marketing; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

What was your first job in publishing?

Marketing Assistant at Clarion Books! Clarion was an imprint of Houghton Mifflin at the time (no second “H” in HMH yet). I remember feeling like the interview for that job was slipping away from me (and I really wanted the job), so I worked in how Clarion house author Mary Downing Hahn came to my elementary school when I was a kid and that I’d read all her books. It worked! My second job was at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and now Clarion is an imprint of Harper, so the three publishers for which I’ve worked are now only two—Harper and Hachette.

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

My career has always been in children’s book marketing. My favorite thing to do is read books, and my second favorite thing to do is talk about books, so it’s a perfect fit.

I had a college internship in Managing Editorial at Simon & Schuster, and I remember the program lead telling the interns that you are either an adult publishing person or a kid’s publishing person, but you aren’t both. At the time, I thought that was ridiculous because I felt like I *could* be both—I enjoyed children’s books and enjoyed adult books. But the Children’s Book Week posters plastered around my college dorm room, the middle grade or YA novel always in my bag, the fact that I never considered children’s literature “less” than adult—if anything, it was more because it dealt with the really important things, not the trifling distractions that come with age—all meant that I was and could only ever be a children’s book person through and through.

I think the secret to advancing in a career (at least for me) is to say yes. Even as a naturally shy person (I am bookish, after all!), I always embrace opportunity, volunteer, speak up, try to solve problems without being asked, truly care about the work, and say YES. No matter the task, I can google it, I can ask questions, I can ask for help, I can work hard and figure it out. And all of that is fun!

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

Say YES.

What have been some highlights of your career so far?

  • That the first book that I worked on really earned its spot on the New York Times bestseller list (Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis)
  • *Every* book that I’m involved with that hits a bestseller list (really, it never gets old—always a thrill!)
  • Reviewing fabric swatches and selecting the best fur choice for the Bernard costume character from Where the Wild Things Are (I get paid for this?!)
  • Managing Neil Gaiman’s signing line at ALA when he won the Newbery for The Graveyard Book
  • Going to the chichi launch party for Candace Bushnell’s The Carrie Diaries and being asked by the photographer who I was wearing (thank goodness for my cousin’s Diane von Furstenberg internship that resulted in me owning one posh dress!)
  • Playing a small part in helping get Jennifer Lynn Barnes on the NYT list for the first time with her twentieth book—and then having a small part in getting her to #1
  • The next-level costumes kids make and wear to Chris Colfer’s events
  • The surprise that was Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer (though keeping it a secret even from my own team was a low!)
  • Going to the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art exhibit every year with my family and showing off my publisher’s picture books featured so beautifully
  • Working with some of my all-time favorite authors and illustrators but never letting on because they want a professional, not a fangirl
  • Winning the Early Career Committee Extreme Trivia Challenge TWICE
  • Take shelves

What all of us lifers eventually end up saying is that the joy and beauty of book publishing is the people. And the reason we all say it is because it’s true. My favorite part of the job is helping the amazing people on my team grow—into new responsibilities, new confidence, new roles, and sometimes even new publishers. I’m always beaming with pride for them.

Check out more from the Early Career Committee.

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