Alumni in the Spotlight: February 2014

 

Harlequin is a premiere women’s book publishing company based in Toronto, Canada. “Harlequin seeks to reach women all over the world, producing 110 titles a year in 34 various languages.  Harlequin promotes its global presence through principal offices in Toronto, New York, London, Tokyo, Milan, Sydney, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Budapest, Granges-Paccot, Warsaw, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai and Istanbul. Harlequin is unique in the publishing industry, combining highly recognizable imprints—Harlequin, Harlequin MIRA, Harlequin LUNA, Harlequin HQN, Harlequin TEEN, Harlequin Nonfi ction, Kimani Press, Love Inspired, Worldwide Mystery, Gold Eagle and Carina Press; a global reach, a highly successful reader service, innovative website (Harlequin.com) and forward-looking technology (eBooks, downloadable audio, mobile phone applications) that not only allows the company to move further and further into the forefront of women’s fiction but continues to position Harlequin for growth. Ultimately, however, it is the fact that Harlequin creates entertaining and enriching experiences for women to enjoy, to share and return to that drives the company’s success and enables Harlequin to push the boundaries, launching new stories, reaching new readers, offering new formats.”

We currently have two alumni and one current student working at Harlequin.  In the interviews below they share their stories on how they ended up in their current positions, tell us a bit about what they do and where they see the industry going.  Enjoy!

 

 

Lauren Smulski

Lauren Smulski is the editorial assistant for Single Title at Harlequin. She graduated from Pace’s M.S. in Publishing program in December 2010 and received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Ithaca College in May 2009. During her time at Pace, Lauren interned at Dorchester Publishing and then spent several years snowed in up north, freelancing for Skyhorse Publishing and designing newsletters and websites for Stewart Howe Integrated Membership Services before relocating to NYC in April 2013.

 

Prof. Denning: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since graduating from the M.S. in Publishing graduate program?

 

Lauren: My publishing career was a bit slow to start after I finished my master’s, in large part because I had moved away from NYC. I spent some time doing mostly odd jobs (waitressing, personal training, working at a winery) before landing a position that was related to the publishing field. I spent a year at Stewart Howe, editing and designing newsletters and websites for fraternity and sorority alumni groups, before I was finally offered a position at Harlequin and relocated to NYC last year.

 

Prof. Denning: What is your job at Harlequin?  How did you get this position?

 

Lauren: I currently work as the editorial assistant for Single Title Editorial, reporting to both the vice president of our division and a senior editor for our HQN imprint. I was fortunate in that a close friend and former colleague from my internship at Dorchester Publishing was working at Harlequin at the time, and was able to pass on my resume to the right people. I wasn’t offered the first position I interviewed for here (with Harlequin Special Edition), but HR contacted me a few months later about interviewing for my current position. It all worked out in the end, because I think that Single Title is a much better fit for me!

 

Prof. Denning: What is an average day like for you at Harlequin?

 

Lauren: What I love about publishing is that we don’t have an “average” day in this industry. There’s always a new project in the works and something different to prepare for. Since I report to two different supervisors, my responsibilities are many and diverse. I spend some time performing administrative tasks, such as calendar management, expense reporting, NYT bestseller tracking, and preparing contract proposals. On the editorial side, I read submissions, prepare back cover copy, provide feedback on art, and I’m starting to do some simultaneous line-edits with both of my supervisors.

 

Prof. Denning:  What are some of the current trends, issues, opportunities in Romance publishing?

 

Lauren: Of course, a major issue across all of publishing – not just romance! – is the not-so-new leap to digital that many of our readers have made over the past few years, and are still making. One of the really interesting trends that we’re experiencing in the romance genre in particular is the amazing success that many self-pubbed phenoms are seeing in the digital space, especially when it comes to New Adult and erotica. Many romance publishers are trying to lure in these self-published authors with traditional print deals in order to capitalize on their digital success, but we often find that these authors and their agents are looking to keep electronic rights. Across the industry, it’s been a challenge to reap the rewards of those popular new names in digital while the publishers are restricted to offering that material to a print audience alone.

 

Prof. Denning:  You are in a unique position in that there are three MS in Publishing students working at Harlequin.  What is that like to have your graduate educational experience in common? Do you get to interact often?

 

Lauren: We absolutely do! Harlequin has something that we call the “buddy system,” in which new EAs are paired with a more senior member of the editorial staff for the first few months of employment. That person is responsible for mentoring you and providing support as you transition into the Harlequin “family.” T.S. was chosen as my “buddy” in large part because we were both Pace alums – and because we share a great love for the YA genre! Caroline started here about a month after I did, and I think that we really bonded initially over our shared Pace experience. I only graduated from the program three years ago, so she still has a number of the same professors and courses that I had, and it’s been really fun to reminisce with her.

 

Prof. Denning: What is your favorite part about working in Publishing? Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years?

 

Lauren: The free books! I’m kidding, but only a little. I do love having unlimited access to all the great new books that Harlequin is putting out on the market right now. On a more practical level, the thing I appreciate most about working in this industry is that everyone I work with is here because they love what they do. We all have the same goal: publishing fantastic new books with the hope that people everywhere will read and appreciate them as much as we do. I hope to spend the rest of my career doing just that. While I work primarily in women’s fiction and romance right now, my ultimate goal is to transition into YA publishing. So in 5, 10, 15 years? I hope that I’ll be actively acquiring the next J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Rae Carson, or Kristin Cashore. I want to be editing the most fantastic YA books that I can find that will make reading an adventure for children, teens, and adults alike.

 

Prof. Denning:  What do you think the biggest challenges are facing the publishing industry today?  What/where are the opportunities?

Lauren: I talked about this a little earlier in the interview – one of the biggest challenges AND opportunities in our industry today is the ever-growing digital sphere and the rising success of self-publishing. As it becomes increasingly more competitive to find space on the shrinking bookstore shelves, many of us are realizing that the future of publishing may lie exclusively in the world of online bookstores and e-readers. I wrote my thesis on the evolution of the e-book industry and the electronic library, and many of the assertions I made three years ago are just as true now as they were then. Digital publishing provides an amazing array of opportunities, particularly in the realm of children’s publishing (interactive books, anyone?), and it also comes at a lower price point. But it’s hard to let go of a beloved product that’s held so steadfast for centuries – the print book. However, three years ago, when I wrote my thesis, I was a staunch traditionalist who wanted to cling to my battered, dog-eared paperbacks and lovely (if unwieldly) hardcovers for as long as possible. Then I got an iPad for Christmas in 2012. I’ve never looked back, and now I find myself becoming a bit irritated every time I’m “forced” to read a book in print.

 

Prof. Denning: Do you feel that your experience as a student at Pace helped prepare you for your job?

 

Lauren: In many ways, I believe it did. If nothing else, my experience at Pace helped me find my first internship, and the connections I made there got me through the door at Harlequin. I also gained a great deal of valuable insight into the basics of the industry, which helped me to hit the ground running in that regard when I started here at Harlequin. My training in desktop publishing, courtesy of Pace, also helped me land my former position at Stewart Howe, and my design experience is definitely a stand-out skill set on my resume.

 

Prof Denning: What did you write your thesis paper on? Do you have any advice for students who are about to write theirs?


Lauren:
I spoke previously about my thesis topic (e-books and the electronic library), but the best advice I can give, regardless of the subject matter, is to start early! I confess that I am the biggest procrastinator who ever lived, but my thesis was one of the few written projects that I began researching and writing far in advance of its due date, and I think my final paper really benefited from the extra time and effort I was able to dedicate to it. So start early, and plan ahead – and don’t be afraid to look outside the box for either your subject or your resources. I was living in Ithaca while I was writing my thesis, and I was amazed to discover that one of Cornell University’s many library was a veritable treasure trove of knowledge on the evolution of the electronic library. Who would have ever guessed? I spent hours in that library, researching and writing. Although a large incentive to do so was the fact that that particular reading room, the Andrew Dickson White Library, has been nicknamed the “Hogwarts Library” over the years, as it bears an uncanny resemblance to the literary haven that every fantasy reader and aspiring witch or wizard dreams about.

 

Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to current MS in Publishing students who are looking for their first jobs or who are interested in a career in romance publishing?

 

Lauren: Internships and networking are key. Your classroom lessons will be valuable, but only if you can actually find a job! Get to know your classmates, figure out what they’re doing and who they know. Take advantage of Pace’s reputation among internship recruiters across the industry. People know the Pace name, and they know that the students who come out of the M.S. in Publishing program are top-notch. But publishing is a very small circle that can be nearly impossible to break into, and it’s all about who you know. So nurture the connections you make at Pace, and at your internships. Keep in touch with people. They will help you get jobs when you’re faced with jostling for entry-level positions that thousands of other applicants just like you are applying for via the abyss that is the electronic job application system.

 

Prof. Denning:  Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Lauren: Good luck, and never hesitate to reach out with your questions! I hate coffee, but I’m always up for a meeting over hot chocolate or tea.

 

 

Caroline Acebo

Caroline Acebo is a transplant from the great nation of Texas, where she received B.A.s in both English and History from The University of Texas at Austin. After working for a digital romance publisher for three years, she enrolled in the M.S. in Publishing program at Pace and will graduate in May 2014. She currently works as an editorial assistant at Harlequin and is writing her thesis on New Adult fiction. Caroline was also recently interviewed by the WNBA NYC Chapter. You can read that interview here: WNBA Caroline Acebo Interview.

 

Prof. Denning: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  Can you tell us where you are in the MS program?

Caroline: I haven’t graduated yet, but I’m almost there! But even though I haven’t completed the master’s program yet, I can say that it does help during the interviewing/hiring process. I think we’re more informed than a lot of our competition, so the investment has been worth it.

Prof. Denning: What is your job at Harlequin?  How did you get this position?

Caroline: I am the editorial assistant for Harlequin Nonfiction and Harlequin Kimani, which is a multiracial romance line. I actually interviewed for Lauren’s job! It was the first New York “real job” interview I had ever done, and to be honest, I can’t remember if I spoke proper English because I was so nervous. I must have said something right, though, because I was invited back to interview for my current position a couple of months later. It’s so interesting looking back on how it worked out.

Prof. Denning: What is an average day like for you at Harlequin?

Caroline: I have to wear a lot of hats at work, particularly because I’m the only person in the office who does both fiction and nonfiction. Of course there are my daily administrative duties: filling out art fact sheets, lots of calendar management, database management, requesting front and back matter from authors, assigning projects to freelancers, and processing slush (which actually takes so much longer than I ever thought possible). I also write back cover copy (which is one of my favorite things to do), run comp title searches (which I also love), and handling the seasonal catalogs. There are also countless meetings, it seems like. Production, art, PR, one-on-ones with my bosses…meetings eat up a huge chunk of my day.

Prof. Denning:  What are some of the current trends, issues, opportunities in Romance publishing?

Caroline:  The digital shift has also lead to the pressure to provide free content for promotional and/or world building purposes. Readers love prequels and between-novel novellas and having the ability to crowd source the ending to a book. There is an added level of engagement readers seek when interacting with an e-book as opposed to a print book, and I think the industry as a whole is still figuring out the most cost-effective way to provide this content, since nothing—at least for the publisher—is really free.

Prof. Denning:  You are in a unique position in that there are three MS in Publishing students working at Harlequin.  What is that like to have your graduate educational experience in common? Do you get to interact often?

Caroline: We most definitely bonded over being Pace alums, and it’s wonderful being able to share my experiences as a current student with people who have already completed the program. While we don’t get to sit in meetings together, we all try to say hi at least once a day, and we also try to chat for a few minutes when we’re on lunch. Having a built-in network was wonderful professionally, but I’m beyond grateful that our relationship has moved past that and has deepened into friendship. Knowing I have a support system at work and that there are people looking out for me, just like I look out for them, makes me feel very lucky.

Prof. Denning: What is your favorite part about working in Publishing? Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years?

Caroline: I agree with Lauren; the free books!  And the passion publishing professionals have for their work. Also, I love going to art meetings with my nonfiction team and hearing the art department say, “Those pancakes aren’t fluffy enough.”  In terms of the future of my career, I want my own imprint.

Prof. Denning:  What do you think the biggest challenges are facing the publishing industry today?

Caroline: I think there has been a shift in how people interact with books, and publishers are still struggling to understand it. Some readers, like Lauren, are staunch e-book readers. I’m more of a hybrid reader: I’ll buy the hard cover books from authors I love, but everyone else I buy in e-book. Some people are still die-hard print book readers. It’s challenging figuring out the print run for books nowadays, and I think that challenge will grow even more when our generation has children. What will they be reading on? An interactive tablet? What will the book turn into in the future?

Prof. Denning: Do you feel that your experience as a student at Pace helped prepare you for your job?

Caroline: I firmly believe having the M.S. in Publishing program on my resume got me interviews. I think it shows passion and dedication, which can only work in your favor against the other hundreds of people you compete against when interviewing. I also find myself asking the kinds of questions people in more senior positions are asking, and I also think I am more familiar with industry slang, trends, and general knowledge than more traditional entry-level employees. It makes an impression on your team when you know what a galley versus a BLAD is on your first day, which is something I learned in the program.

 

Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to current MS in Publishing students who are looking for their first jobs or who are interested in a career in romance publishing?

Caroline: You have to have experience before you can apply for an entry-level job. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but there really isn’t such a thing as an entry-level position in the traditional sense anymore, unfortunately. Also, don’t just apply to a job because it’s editorial or publicity or managing ed. Figure out what kinds of books you like to read and apply to imprints that suit you and your reading tastes. Oh—and don’t be afraid to reach out to editors and ask for informational interviews.

 

 

T.S. Ferguson

T.S. Ferguson graduated with his M.S. in Publishing from Pace in December 2004, after receiving his B.A. in English from Sacred Heart University. He spent several years as an Editorial Assistant and then Assistant Editor with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, where he worked with bestselling and award-winning authors such as Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr, and Julie Anne Peters, in addition to acquiring and editing critically-acclaimed books such as Hate List by Jennifer Brown and I Am J by Cris Beam. After a short stint working on eBooks for Random House and freelance editing, T.S. joined Harlequin TEEN as an Associate Editor in 2012, where he continues to acquire and edit books for the young adult market while playing a strong role in imprint growth and strategy.

 

Prof. Denning: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since graduating from the M.S. in Publishing graduate program?

 

TS: I was lucky enough to get a job as a Marketing Assistant right before I graduated from Pace. That was a wonderful foot in the door, but I had my heart set on being an editor, so I spent my first year and a half networking with every editor I could get close to. I eventually applied for an Editorial Assistant position with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and walked out of that interview knowing I wanted to work in children’s books. I worked at LBYR for almost 4 years and was promoted to Assistant Editor during that time, and while assisting a more senior editor, I also began meeting agents and acquiring books for my own list. Unfortunately, my boss’s needs changed as she herself was promoted into a director position and I was laid off from my dream job. Determined to stay in children’s editorial, I took temporary work in Random House’s eBook department and took on freelance editorial work, which allowed me to wait until the perfect position opened up for me. That position happened to be the one I’m in now at Harlequin.

Prof. Denning: What is your job at Harlequin?  How did you get this position?

 

TS:  I’m an Associate Editor with Harlequin TEEN, which is still a small and fairly new imprint (we’re coming into our 5th year in 2014). I found this job while scouring publishing job boards daily (my top three: bookjobs.com, Publishers Marketplace job board, and Mediabistro’s job board). It was a perfect fit—they were looking for someone who could work independently and take on a few projects that were already signed up while also continuing to acquire new authors for the program. My experience at Little, Brown and my editorial skills were strong factors that, according to my boss, made me the strongest candidate, but it also didn’t hurt that she was reading and loving one of the books I’d acquired during my time at LBYR.

 

Prof. Denning: What is an average day like for you at Harlequin?

 

TS: Most days are not filled with reading, which was one thing that shocked me when I first got into editorial. The editor is the point person for their books, so they’re in constant contact with marketing, publicity, sales, art/design, production, etc. to make sure the book has a smooth journey to publication. That includes planning the cover design and general packaging with the art and marketing teams, discussing marketing and publicity plans with the respective departments, etc. Additionally, I’m a constant resource for my authors—if they want to call and discuss the book they’re working on, or ask questions about a revision, or even if they want to run some ideas by me for a blog post or a promotion they’re planning. A very wise person once described the editor as the center of a wheel, with every spoke connecting to that hub. It’s a great metaphor for the editor’s role on a daily basis.

Very very rarely do I find time to read or edit during the day. Editors often take submission reading and editing home with them after work and on weekends, so my day often extends into the evening, with me cozying up on my couch with my eReader or a manuscript.

 

Prof. Denning:  What are some of the current trends, issues, opportunities in Romance publishing?

 

TS: I’m in a unique position at Harlequin, as my imprint, Harlequin TEEN, is not exclusively publishing romance. We’re acquiring across all genres for the Young Adult market, which is lucky for me because, as much of a romantic as I am in real life, I tend not to be as romantic as a reader. This also allows me to stretch my wings a bit in terms of what I acquire, which is one of the reasons I fell in love with the children’s book market in the first place. While adult publishing is very genre specific, I have everything from urban fantasy to historical fiction to horror on my list.

 

However, right now in the YA market we’re seeing a big drop in paranormal fiction and seeing a resurgence of contemporary fiction, including teen romance. With the huge success of authors like John Green and Rainbow Rowell and the Fault in Our Stars movie getting huge buzz, it looks like contemporary fiction is going to once again be the big thing in teen lit.

 

I also have been begging literary agents to send me teen horror for the past few years, as I see that genre about to have another surge. Luckily I’ve found an amazing book that I’m so excited to be working on and it will be coming out in October of next year, hopefully just in time to ride that wave.

 

Prof. Denning:  You are in a unique position in that there are three MS in Publishing students working at Harlequin.  What is that like to have your graduate educational experience in common? Do you get to interact often?

 

TS: I definitely think having the Pace publishing program in common has brought Lauren, Caroline, and I together. I don’t know about Lauren and Caroline, but it gave me an immediate sense about them, like, “OK, I have a good idea about where you come from now. We have something in common, even though we’ve just met.” And that realization grew into a great friendship. It was also interesting for me to hear about their experiences at Pace, as it’s been almost 10 years now since I’ve graduated, and to hear about how the program has grown and evolved since I’ve been there, but also what is still the same.

 

Prof. Denning: What is your favorite part about working in Publishing? Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years?

 

TS: The people have always been my favorite part of the publishing industry. Book people are the best people and it really is a wonderful community to belong to. Speaking with agents, authors, other editors, or even design and production folks, we all have one great thing in common—we love books enough to have dedicated our lives to creating them and getting them into the hands of readers.

Who knows what the next 15 years will bring for the industry as a whole, but I would love to see myself in a position, whether it be editorial or something different, where I still get to work with authors. I also hope to, eventually, become published myself, so I can be working on both sides of the publishing process.

 

Prof. Denning:  What do you think the biggest challenges are facing the publishing industry today?  What/where are the opportunities?

TS: I try not to think about the challenges facing the industry and look forward toward the opportunities. There are so many things to be scared about in this industry: the move to digital reading, the decline in people who buy and read books, the economy keeping people from being able to afford books—but I tell myself that books have been around for centuries, and they will be around for centuries to come, either physically or digitally. And if there are books, there will have to be someone to edit the books, and market them, and design them, and produce them.

 

I do think the publishers are going to have to continue to wrap their heads around the digital side of the market, however, as it continues to grow and evolve. I remain, as always, a strong defender of the physical book. But I’m not afraid of the rise of digital like some folks are. It’s just one more opportunity to get books into readers’ hands.

 

Prof. Denning: Do you feel that your experience as a student at Pace helped prepare you for your job?

 

TS: I do think Pace gave me a leg up as an assistant. I was able to transition into my assistant role much more quickly because I had a strong foundation of knowledge about how the industry worked.

It also gave me the chance to make friends with a wonderful group of classmates who scattered into the industry and became the beginnings of my publishing network, which has been incredibly beneficial to my career.

 

Prof Denning:  You wrote an excellent thesis paper (one of my favorites).  Could you tell us a bit about it?  Do you have any advice for students who are about to write theirs?


TS:
I wrote my thesis on the original publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and discussing the editorial, marketing, and production work that went into that book. My one piece of advice for students about to write their own thesis is the same advice you gave to me, Professor Denning, when I was about to write mine. Pick a topic you are passionate about. It is a lot of work to research and write this paper and a topic that moves you will be a lot easier and more fun to work on.

 

Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to current MS in Publishing students who are looking for their first jobs or who are interested in a career in romance publishing?

 

TS: My background is in children’s books, but I think my advice would stay the same across markets. Find ways to show your passion for the books you’ll be working on. When I got my first job in children’s books, it was my graduate thesis that showed them I had a deeper interest in books for young readers. Knowing the market is a big part of that—you should be able to speak with clarity about the kind of books you want to work on, know the big bestsellers and award winners, and most importantly, have read some of the books the company has done. It also doesn’t hurt to have extracurriculars or hobbies that emphasize your passion. For children’s books, working for literacy organizations or volunteering with children (or even moderating a Harry Potter fan fiction website) can make a difference.

 

Prof. Denning:  Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

TS: Don’t be afraid of networking. It is one of the most important tools in this industry. Knowing someone is the best way to get your foot in the door for a job, especially in editorial where the competition can be steep. Many people I know hate networking because they think it feels fake. They say it feels like you are just talking to someone to use them for a connection. Don’t think of it like that—think of it like making a new friend who has similar interests and career goals as you. They might be able to help your career, or they might just end up becoming a close friend. Plus, the more people you know in the industry, the more free books you can swap back and forth. And part of that is not being afraid to reach out for information interviews. I recently interviewed a woman who really impressed me and, while there are no positions available at Harlequin TEEN at the moment, I immediately reached out through my own network and referred her for two positions at other companies. You never know what doors could open just by reaching out.