Phoebe Yeh: How I Got into Publishing

VP & Publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers, Random House Children’s Books

Senior Year.  Second Semester.  It started with a Children’s Literature class I took with Jane Yolen.  I admit, I hadn’t read any children’s books…since middle school, seventh grade, back in my day.  And I had definitely never heard of Natalie Babbitt and Steven Kellogg, part of the course reading.  I read TUCK EVERLASTING and was profoundly moved – and horrified that I had missed out on Natalie Babbitt because I was “too old” when she started writing children’s books.  (Then I binge read everything else by Natalie Babbitt.)  Same with Steven Kellogg, only I was able to read all of Steven’s picture books in one day.

Fast forward.  I’ve graduated from college.  I’m in Taiwan, teaching English as a second language and loathing it.  Teaching is not my avocation.  For solace, I reread and reread the three books I brought with me: RAMONA THE PEST, PIPPI LONGSTOCKING (remember, second semester course reading) and THE JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH (Remember, I’m all of twenty one, full of recent college graduate angst.)

Upon my return to the States, I have a new career plan.  I’m from New York City.  That’s where most all the publishers are: I should get a job in publishing, children’s publishing.  My Chinese immigrant parents are aghast.  Odd enough to choose publishing as a career choice; why am I making it even harder by choosing a niche like children’s books?  I won’t be swayed.  Even though I know nothing about the business (Remember, this is the mid 80s.) out of my newly discovered passion for children’s books, I’m determined to work in children’s publishing only.  And since I’m an English major, a job in the editorial department makes the most sense. It doesn’t really occur to me that there are a myriad of jobs in the publishing sector and I don’t have to limit myself to one department.  (Today, I tell students and interns: Don’t do it this way!)

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How I Got into Publishing: Luana Horry, Editorial Assistant at HarperCollins Children’s Books

“Child, what are you going to do with that degree?”

I was full of pride on the day I graduated college—until Grandma Lynell asked me that simple question. You would think that someone with a nearly perfect GPA and two graduate school acceptance letters would know exactly how to respond. My goal was to become a professor of African-American literature and black feminist thought. But I hung my head low because I felt that I had not only tricked myself into thinking I was completely sure of my life’s goal, but that I had also duped those women and men who sacrificed so much for me to be able to walk across the stage that day.

I laughed it off and went about celebrating, but Granny’s question hit me—hard.


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How I Got into Publishing: Jennifer Ung, Associate Editor, Simon Pulse

Like many children of Asian immigrants, I grew up believing there are only two paths you can take in life: pursue medicine, or pursue law. It never occurred to me as a kid that I could follow anything other than the path my parents so carefully laid out for me: college close to home, stable job, Asian husband, a litter of babies. “Dream jobs” are for white people, I was always told, not for you.

Despite knowing that, I had a deep, deep love for reading. At any given point in my childhood, I’d be buried in a story, accompanied by the likes of Pooh, of Harry Potter, of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. My parents would encourage my love of books because they knew it would help me in my studies. But little did they know that this early reinforcement would lead to my wanting to make a career out of it, to rebel against the blueprint they’d made for my life since before I was born.


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How I Got into Publishing: Shifa Kapadwala

Contributed by  Shifa Kapadwala,  Publicity Assistant at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

I’m from a South Asian immigrant family. For my traditional parents, a woman’s ultimate end goal should be getting married and taking care of a family. It’s no surprise that I don’t share this exclusive view, and I credit reading with helping me understand a culture I didn’t experience at home. I learned about things like the kinds of foods that were eaten for dinner or lunch; the different types of relationships between children and their parents; and social interactions and phrases more commonly used in mainstream Western culture. Though it was extremely hard to find Indian characters to relate to in the books I read throughout my academic career, it was literature that would help me understand the world around me.

It became more evident to me that I wanted to work with books—but the question was how. When I finally connected the fact that the little logos on the spine of my books stood for publishing houses and that there were actual people who worked to bring books out into the world, I decided I wanted to pursue publishing. Deciding was one thing, but pursuing was an arduous path.


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How I Got into Publishing

By Cassandra Pelham, Senior Editor at Scholastic

I was a sophomore English major at Spelman College, spending the afternoon in the Office of Career Planning and Development. I had started to get anxious about not knowing what I’d do after graduation, and needed to find an internship for that summer. People often asked me why I was working toward an English degree if not to pursue teaching or law, and I’d say that I just really loved to read and think about books. I had been that way my entire life.

I had almost browsed the entire catalog of internships when I noticed a large envelope that was underneath a stack of papers and other envelopes. It caught my eye because a familiar logo was printed above the return address: the red bar of Scholastic. I was immediately intrigued because I had, like many kids, grown up reading and loving Scholastic books. I opened the envelope.


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Booki Vivat: How I Got into Publishing

Associate Publicist at HarperCollins Children’s Books

Let’s get this out of the way first.

Yes, I work in publishing.
Yes, my name really IS Booki.

Sometimes I joke that I got hired because of my name. Who knows, that might be kind of true.


To be honest, I didn’t plan on working in publishing. Actually, I didn’t plan on studying writing or literature, or anything book-related at all. At one point, I was heading towards biochemistry and pharmacy school. To be fair, at another time, I was thinking pretty seriously about becoming an elephant trainer.

Things change.

One constant, though, is that I have always been a book person. When I was forced, (as we all eventually are) to really consider the future, I thought about what I liked and what I wanted to spend my time doing. It always came back to books.

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Preeti Chhibber: How I Got into Publishing

Senior Editorial Manager for the Teens & BookBeat Scholastic Reading Clubs

I didn’t realize publishing was an actual career until I was a few years into college. Growing up, my mom had been clear that I was the one who would be a doctor (with my brother the lawyer and my sister the accountant*). It should be noted that I’m not good at math or science.

Unfortunately for my mother, when I was fourteen, she gave me a copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It’s a heavily romanticized version of Michelangelo’s life. Beyond that, it’s about loving your work, and being passionate about what you do. He sacrificed everything to able to create and carve. Agony became a book that I read once a year. (I think we can agree that what comes next is pretty much my mom’s fault.)


Two things happened after my freshman year of college. I’d floundered through one year of pre-med and hadn’t done well (remember? Not good at math or science). Not long after grades were released, I had a conversation with my older brother. He had just met someone who worked at Tor and immediately thought of his nerdy sister who read all the time. He suggested I talk with her. I thought of Agony. I thought about books. I knew that in my life, reading was the thing that excited me most. This was the lead-in to the Big Change: I became an English major.

It’s not carving marble, but telling your Indian parents that you’re not going to be the doctor they spent 19 years expecting to have? Terrifying.

They took solace in the fact that maybe I could still be a lawyer. Ha! It’s a difficult thing, breaking up with your parent’s idea of the future for something new and different.

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