How did you get into your line of work?
I got a full-time job at my college library in circulation, but then I learned a friend who was working at a small press in Chicago was leaving to go to graduate school. I applied for her position and got the job, which meant I left the library after two weeks. A little less than a year later, I knew that the small press wasn’t my future, so I was considering what was coming next. I was always inclined towards stories and literature, so I figured I’d end up in book publishing, be a high school English teacher, or maybe be a librarian. At that point, I decided to keep going with publishing since it didn’t require graduate education. I did a bunch of informational interviews, including one with Ann CAMPBELL ’92, who I knew at Ellis and who was working as an editorial assistant in New York City.. I found an open editorial assistant position at Warner Aspect, the science fiction and fantasy division of Warner Books, and got the job. On my first day, my new boss pointed to a giant pile of manuscripts and said, “when you aren’t doing my admin, read those.” I was hooked. Over time I found that I was good at it.
How do you think your Ellis education shaped your career choice?
I wouldn’t say that Ellis had anything to do with my career choice, only because it was something I feel like I fell into. But Ellis definitely prepared me for my future. It prepared me for hard work and gave me skills that I might not have used well at Ellis, but which came in handy when I decided to actually apply myself. For example, significant credit goes to Mr. Charles Altman and our tenth grade speech class. Perhaps without me even meaning to, I absorbed a huge load of really valuable advice from him on public speaking. It worked then—I won the serious speech contest for my year—and it works now. I have to do a lot of presentations; I’ve given hour-long seminars to huge audiences and impromptu pitches to a small table of listeners. I learned not to say “ahh” or “umm,” and I learned to make eye contact. At Ellis, I learned to speak with conviction and confidence and to think about my audience and what they will respond to. These are incredibly useful life skills.
Do you have a mentor? How has that relationship benefited you professionally? Can you tell me about him or her?
My older sister, Carrie LEVINE Schiff ’83, has been one of my most important mentors all my life. She’s mentored me on life issues, obviously, but she’s also been a very important professional mentor for me and I have long referred to her as “My Guru of Good Professional Behavior.” When I was fifteen, she taught me how to shake hands without doing the limp fish thing. She taught me how to do informational interviews, why to do informational interviews, and the basics of networking. She taught me about resumes and cover letters and how to research my industry. Additionally, she has helped me navigate the scary shoals of corporate politics, HR departments, how to negotiate for salary, how to quit a job, how to deal with a cruel, crazy boss…you name it. She is one of the first people I call.
In my industry, I’ve had a few mentors, I think it’s important, especially in one’s 20s and early 30s, to make connections with colleagues in the generation ahead who can offer support and advice. But I also get mentoring from a workshop I helped form. The group has changed over time, but there are always about four or five of us. We are in vastly different industries, but there are certain commonalities of experience that professional women have. We give advice, listen to venting, review each other’s plans, and we also hold each other accountable.
What is your best memory of Ellis?
Every day that I spent with Trish ELLIS ’92. We became friends on the first day of freshman year and have stayed best friends continuously since then. I also remember one time showing a short story I’d written to Mrs. Free, and she really liked it. The previous story I’d written…well, I was trying to be literary and deep, and she’d found the nicest way possible to say it wasn’t great by telling me to, “try writing what you know.” So I wrote a science fiction story, and she loved it. Also, being in pottery with Ms. Sturdevant. She was kind and supportive and creative and inspiring.
For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
You do actually need to learn to write an essay. You might not need the exact rigor of the academic style essay formula that we were taught, but you need to be able to decide on and convey an argument and then explain it convincingly and with textual analysis for proof. You will use this professionally all the time.
We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
I believe this is a major piece of what Ellis can do. By being a relatively small school, no one can really fade into the crowd and get lost. As I said earlier, I’m mouthy and opinionated, but the best teachers that I had—the ones I really connected with did not try to silence me.
How do you spend your free time?
Sleeping. Cuddling my cat, Sadie. Reading. Spending time with loved ones. Facebook. Road trips. Binge watching Netflix or Hulu. I still keep a journal (I have done since freshman year at Ellis). For a while, I was making jewelry, but I haven’t had the will to do that for a while. I think this is my life, in order.
If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
This is so tough. I really have to pick just one? Jane Austen. Because she’s absolutely brilliant, but had such a quiet life, never married, and died young. I would want to know who she really was and what she was really like. But I worry that I wouldn’t like her.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the publishing industry?
First, you have to be willing to work very hard. If you want to be an editor, your nights and weekends are not your own, because you’ll be reading and editing. (Much to my dismay. I didn’t actually mean to get into a career with so much homework!) You don’t ever stop just because it’s 5 p.m., you stop when the project is done. You have to be persistent. If you are an editor, you have to work hard and pester and push to acquire the projects and then fight to get them the attention they deserve so they’ll be successful. You don’t get anything by waiting for it to come to you. And I use “fight” euphemistically. It’s really important to be kind, supportive, and ethical. If you are a publicist, you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection and be ready to bounce back and try something else. People aren’t going to answer you right away or give you the answer you want. Achievement comes because you don’t give up easily in any aspect of the business.
What does Esse Quam Videri mean to you?
A lot. I have never been much for what’s on the surface. I’m always digging deeper, wanting to know who someone is really and what they are about.