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Choose Your Own Career Adventure


Laurel Symonds '10
Laurel Symonds '10

I grew up loving stories, whether it was imaginative play or the classics like Little Women my mom would read aloud. I was not, however, a reader. That all changed in third grade when my teacher, Mrs. Moore, found the right book for me: a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, The Abominable Snowman by R.A. Montgomery. This book, for whatever explicable reason, made reading click for me. By the end of the academic year, not only had I become a voracious reader but a writer, too.

This love of reading and writing made majoring in creative writing at Hamilton a natural choice. It just so happened when I was pondering post-Hamilton options, Caroline Abby ’06 spoke to students on campus about her experience working in publishing. That summer, I applied to a number of internships, and landed with Caroline in the editorial department of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

After that internship, I knew I wanted to be an editor for children’s books in New York City. I never once questioned whether I wanted to work in children’s books or adult books because I also personally knew the power of reading and how building lifelong readers starts at a young age. Finding the right book for each reader is a powerful responsibility.

Fast-forward through graduating from Hamilton and an internship at a literary agency, my first full time job in publishing was the dream: an editorial assistant at the imprint Katherine Tegen Books at HarperCollins Children’s Books in New York City. There, I was able to build on so many skills I had learned as a Creative Writing major at Hamilton, especially how to successfully give feedback and communicate effectively. In my five years at HarperCollins, I was privileged to work on award-winners and best-sellers including books by Katherine Applegate, Merrie Haskell, Mackenzi Lee, Jodi Meadows, Mindy McGinnis, Terry Pratchett, and many more.

Even though that was my dream job, my family made the decision to leave New York City, where the vast majority of children’s trade publishing is based. In the Chicago suburbs, I balanced two roles: a full-time marketing manager for a small publisher of children’s books and a weekend bookseller at an independent bookstore. As a marketer, I had the chance to travel nationwide for trade conferences and especially built strong relationships with and respect for librarians, who are hugely influential in the success of books for children, both on a day-to-day basis and through awarding major accolades like the Caldecott and Newbery awards. Working as a bookseller, though, even just one day a week, has been the most influential role in my publishing journey because interacting with readers — hearing what they like and what they don’t — provides invaluable insights and reminded me why I am so committed to the work I do, in all its forms.

Two years ago, my family settled in a small town in Washington State where there is little in the way of publishing opportunities. I made the biggest transition of my publishing career to a literary agent at The Bent Agency. Working as a literary agent—representing my clients and their work to publishing houses—allows me to use my unexpectedly varied background in editorial, marketing, and sales on a daily basis. It always allows me to work from home on my own schedule, something that has allowed me a healthier work-life balance than a traditional office working  9-5+.

It’s hard to say what a typical day is as a literary agent. It might be waking up early to have a call with my colleagues in the U.S. and the U.K. It might be spending the morning editing a client’s project before submitting it to editors. It might be strategizing on how best to build a client’s career. It’s certainly chasing after contracts and payments and writing many emails. It’s reviewing royalty statements. It’s checking in with our rights agent and film agents to make sure all rights we have on a given project are taken advantage of. And, on the best of days, it’s getting good news from an editor that they would like to publish my client’s book and getting to tell my client that their dreams of being a published author are coming true!

The unexpected trajectory of my career within the publishing industry has been so rewarding and I hope it might demonstrate that even if you know what you want to do right away, as I did, there may be twists and turns. Figure out what is most important to you, personally and professionally, and then keep an open mind — because, like a good book, you never know where it might take you!
 

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