On how I got into publishing, why talking about books is important, and a sneak peek into Penguin’s Spring 2017 list by Alexis Watts
I graduated college in 2009 – at the time, I was the baby of the family and the last of my generation to move the tassel. I remember feeling crazy special; my whole family flew in to see me (and I secretly think, to visit San Francisco). There were hugs, and catch-up’s, congratulations, and the inevitable question that came from one of my favorite people: my cousin-in-law, Hillary:
“So, Lex, what’s next?” A hush immediately fell across the dinner table. What. Next. I took a breath, and said that I wanted to go into publishing. There was a beat.
The truth was, I had always been enamored by art, I had studied Art History throughout college because I believed in its power to reflect and change the world. Along the way I fell back in love with books, and I realized I could work in making them come to life. In my opinion, books are the most intimate of arts – in reading, imagining, and interpreting a narrative, you become a part of it. Books can reflect worlds and simultaneously become a vivid part of one’s own.
And so I worked very hard and was very lucky to find myself eventually on the payroll of the book world. The truth I’ve found is that in publishing you do get to be a part of the magic. You get to be a part of bringing pieces of work to life that inspire conversation and possibility and laughter. You get to work on books of hope, of reflection, of change. Myself particularly, I get to put books into the hands of teachers and librarians! It’s not only the coolest cultural impact of my life, but also the most fun.
The truth also is that work is both rewarding and tough. The hours are long; the work (like most work!) is full of a billion emails, rife with endless details, and laden with enormous pressure that can only come from an OG print business in a digital world. Though unlike other jobs, the material you are being tasked to adapt, promote, and sell isn’t just a product – it’s a piece of a creative’s soul, and requires a kind of care commiserate with the trust given to hand it over.
And yet on mornings when the world feels like it’s tipping back in time, or that hate is winning, I wake up and walk into a space committed to making the world a better, more tolerant, place. I get to be on a team full of smart, nerdy, scrappy, tough people who are committed to bringing the best stories to life.
It feels now more important than ever to continue to speak about, teach, and make quality, diverse, books. Books that show that women can be strong, books that show how to exist in a revolution, books that illustrate an immigrant experience. To speak about stories which reveal the importance of dreaming big, of not giving up, and of STEM. To continue to build and believe in books that show how to move through grief with love, that make us laugh, and that show us the universals: good-morning’s and goodnight’s. To do this is to teach the world empathy, to reflect the heart of it into the eyes of readers.
Let’s keep up the chatter.
PS: Heading to NCTE? To hear me rant about books IRL, come by the Penguin booth #412 at the conference.