Once I figured out that a book didn’t automatically appear in the world after an author wrote it, and that things like “editors” and “imprints” and “The Big Six” existed, I wanted to work in publishing. And when I was 15 and read my first romance novel (Honor’s Splendor by Julie Garwood, in case you’re interested), I knew I wanted to help get those books into the hands of readers everywhere. And the more romance novels I read, the more I realized that Avon was the top name in the genre. I looked for that little triangular colophon every time I was in a bookstore knowing that if I found that, I’d find a book worth reading. And so my goal became: landing a job at Avon.
I had a vague notion of how to achieve this: major in English; get an internship; apply for jobs; move to New York; then hop, skip, and jump my way over to Avon Books. Check the major in the English; check the internships (small ones in my home state of Georgia). But where were the job offers?
Finally, after 6 weeks at NYU for the Summer Publishing Institute and a 9-month stint back at home to work at Coca-Cola and save up money, I made it to New York—jobless, but hopeful. Three months of a dwindling bank account, countless resumes and cover letters sent, and few interviews made the despair set in. But one day, I was reading a blog for romance readers…and the owner had posted about a romance panel she would be moderating at WORD in Brooklyn that week—included on the panel, she mentioned, would be an Avon editor. I checked in with my shame-meter and confirmed that, no, I was not above stalking.
So the day of the panel came. I made the trek to Brooklyn on the G train (not the most welcoming of subway lines) and into the wilds of Greenpoint (not the most accessible of neighborhoods). I listened to Sarah Wendell, Sarah MacLean, and Avon Editor Tessa Woodward (plus a few others) talk about romance with as much love as I felt for it. Once the panel was over, I marched up and introduced myself to Tessa: “Hi, my name is Jessie, and I want your job.”
This was probably not the most tactful thing to say, but, fortunately, I had a resume with me, convincing Tessa that I wasn’t completely insane. She mentioned that Avon had an opening for an assistant publicist position. Thank you, advice from college advisor! I just happened to minor in PR. She agreed to pass my resume along.
A few days later, I got a call from HarperCollins HR, scheduled an interview, and went in to meet with the guru of romance publicity herself, Pam Spengler-Jaffee. Fortunately, I had been doing my homework for this interview since I was 15, and, with my love for the genre, I succeeded in convincing Pam that I was perfect for the job. Two hours after my interview, I was standing in line at Shake Shack, finally at the front of the line after a 20-minute wait, when I got a call from a 212 number. Oh, crap! Do I order or do I take the call? Duh! I take the call! I shove my purse at my friend, tell her what I want (hello, we’d been there 20 minutes, I was getting my Shack Burger), run outside, and take the most amazing phone call of my life. The HR rep outlined the details of the job for me and asked what I thought. My answer: “When can I start?”
It’s been two years, and I’m now an associate publicist. They say that if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. After two years of working on books that I love, and with authors and coworkers I sincerely love, I can say that that’s the absolute truth.