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ECC Mentor Corner Roundup 2023

Featured Mentors: Brooke Shearouse, Kerry McManus, Zakiya Jamal, Mary Claire Cruz, and Emilie Polster

Mentor: Brooke Shearouse
Position: Associate Director of Publicity
House: Scholastic

What was your first job in publishing?

My first job in publishing was as the trade publicity intern for Scholastic back in the summer of 2013, between my junior and senior years of college. Prior to my internship, I had no clue that book publishing and specifically publicity was a possible option for me—I had envisioned myself going into corporate communications as that’s the career path on which my public relations program in college had focused. I’m so grateful that my internship showed me a viable and clear career path!

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

I kept in touch with my Scholastic colleagues from my internship, and it just so happened that as I was graduating, a publicity assistant position was opening in the department. I landed the trade publicity assistant role and eventually worked my way to publicist. Scholastic provided me with a great foundation for my career, as I learned the ins and outs of the publishing industry as well as publicity. I then set off to Abrams Children’s Books as a senior publicist and publicity manager, where I was able to be nimble in a smaller (but incredibly mighty!) publicity department. Then, I had the opportunity to return to Scholastic as the associate director of publicity—a full-circle moment! As I approach ten years since my internship at Scholastic first began, it’s wild to look back at my career and see the opportunities that Scholastic brings me.

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

Reach out to those around you! Whether that’s joining in-house mentorship programs, joining industry organizations like the Publishers Publicity Association’s planning committee, or cold reaching out to people on LinkedIn for a call, I highly encourage people starting out to listen and learn from others and see where you can thrive in publishing. In my experience, people are always happy to share more about their roles, day-to-day activities, and passions in and outside of the industry. This can really help shape how you want to grow your career and also help you understand more about how publishing functions. You might know everything there is to know about your role, but if you don’t know how other departments function or how the business runs, you could be holding yourself back. Plus, you can make some new friends along the way!

What have been some highlights of your career so far?

I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing authors and illustrators over the years as well as some truly fantastic colleagues. The milestones like booking a big morning talk show piece or coordinating a large-scale, ticketed tour are memorable, but I also love the seemingly small things that I’ve been lucky to experience. Things like going to San Diego Comic-Con and booktalking a graphic novel I’m obsessed with, or having dinner with an author after a long event when we’re both basically delirious, or bonding with coworkers in the office about which bands are overrated—these are all the things that bring me joy when I think back on my career.

Mentor: Kerry McManus
Position: Marketing Manager
House: 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 nine years. During that time, I held many different positions in both 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 eight 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 ABFYR. 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, and 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 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 book 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 has 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. 

Mentor: Zakiya Jamal
Position: Marketing Manager
House: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster

What was your first job in publishing?

My first job in publishing was as an Editorial Assistant to Thomas Dunne at St. Martin’s Press. I worked for him for a year or so and then moved over to the sub rights department, where I sold domestic rights under Sally Richardson. I was lucky to work for two powerhouses so early in my career.

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

The path was winding! After working on adult books at St. Martin’s for seven years, I was itching to try something new when a friend told me about a sales and marketing job at the award-winning magazine Lingua Franca. While at Lingua, I went to conferences with educators, and everyone was talking about open and distant learning and libraries without walls. Exciting stuff! So when the magazine folded, I decided to get my Master’s in Library Science at Rutgers. I connected with a guest speaker from the New York Public Library and interned there while in school. I wrote to another guest speaker who was the director of collection development for Baker& Taylor, and I ended up working there for two years after I graduated. This got me back in touch with trade publishing, and it’s where I first started working with children’s books. This is also where HarperCollins Children’s found me and hired me for the role I’m still in today.

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

First, read everything you can get your hands on. Read books in all categories, not just the ones that you’ll be directly touching. Read popular and commercial as well as literary books – all genres, all age categories, including books for adults. Talk to people outside of publishing about books, too, to get a sense of what’s resonating with those not in the business. Second, choose your boss wisely. It’s critical to have a good rapport with the person you report to (and, when you become a manager, to have the same good relationship with the people who report to you). You are going to be working really hard, and you want to be able to focus on your projects and mastering new things and not on interpersonal issues and office politics. The ideal boss is one who will connect you with people at all levels and in other departments, teach you, support you, and give you opportunities to shine. 

What have been some highlights of your career so far?

There are so many: listening to Walter Dean Myers tell stories on the porch of the Haley Farm the night before he delivered his Arbuthnot lecture; regular phone calls with Kevin Henkes to talk shop; hosting a dinner with librarians for Sara Pennypacker on the eve of the publication of Pax; getting the call from the committee that Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book; watching our “Shake Up Your Shelves” campaign take flight and help teachers and librarians diversify their book collections; working with Dina, Rebecca, Emily, Molly, Laura, Robin, Katie, and all of the smart and savvy people who have been on our team and have gone on to do great things.

Mentor: Mary Claire Cruz (they/them)
Position: Art Director
House: Penguin Random House

What was your first job in publishing?

I was a Designer in the 1/c group at Scholastic. I worked on UK pickups, chapter books, middle grade, and YA for Scholastic Press, Arthur A Levine, and David Fickling Books imprints.

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

A little chaotic, honestly! I spent three years at Scholastic as a Designer, and then, to get a different experience in publishing, I moved over as a Designer to Disney Hyperion. Looking back, I don’t recommend lateral moves. At Disney, I got experience with picture books and worked on my first graphic novel project. After about a year and a half, I moved on to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as a Senior Designer, where I worked on various formats for Kidlit, helped build the workflow for their new graphic novel imprint, and got my first experience with managing two reports and an in-house freelancer. After HMH, I finally joined the Penguin team as an Associate Art Director, overseeing PYR licensing and designing for Penguin Workshop books. Now, I’m an Art Director with the added responsibility of overseeing Penguin Workshop’s novels and graphic novels! Looking back, each job expanded my experiences with working on different kinds of projects and introduced new ways in how I work with others. It was always stressful to figure out my next step, but it helped to have a network of friends and bosses across the industry to help advise and support me.

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

Get to know the people you are working with and know those relationships can help build you toward your future. Every job and opportunity I got was a result of people I’ve worked with recommending me, supporting me, and providing helpful advice. While I like to think the work I do shows what I am capable of, it’s the people around me who helped me get my foot in the door.

What are some recent projects that you’re proud of?

I think I am most proud of my picture books and graphic novels done at Workshop such as My Fade is Fresh, Finding My Dance, and Danger and Other Unknown Risks. I really love art directing and getting to work with illustrators. Even more exciting things are in development now.

What are your current favorite reads?

I loved This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno (I can’t stop thinking about that one!) and the graphic novel Thieves by Lucie Bryon. Right now, I’m reading Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia as an audiobook and I’m really enjoying it!

Mentor: Emilie Polster
Position: VP, Executive Director of Marketing
House: 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, ask questions, ask for help, 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 of 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!)

Check out more from the Early Career Committee

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