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The Shelf Care Interview: Macmillan Library Marketing Team

Welcome to the Shelf Care Interview, an occasional conversation series where Booklist talks to book people. This Shelf Care Interview is sponsored by Macmillan Library Marketing, the four-person team of book concierges, genre whisperers, and hand-selling professionals who are here for you.

In this episode of the Shelf Care Interview, Susan Maguire talks to the Macmillan Library Marketing Team, Talia Sherer, Amanda Rountree, Emily Day, and Samantha Slavin, to answer the question: Who is this team of book-a-holics and why should librarians give a hoot about their recommendations?

You can listen to this Shelf Care Interview here. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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SUSAN MAGUIRE: Since we’ve got a full house, let’s start off by you all introducing yourselves and talk about what inspired you to go into publishing and library marketing.

TALIA SHERER: Thank you, Susan. My name is Talia Sherer and I’m the Senior Director of Library Marketing at Macmillan. I always wanted to be a writer when I was growing up . . . and I realized that I’m a terrible writer. I found publishing through a New York Times print edition advertisement for a position—

SUSAN MAGUIRE: (hilariously) In the 1930s . . .

TALIA SHERER: (laughs uproariously at Susan’s hilarious joke) For a position with what was then called Penguin Putnam. And I used a fax machine—

SUSAN MAGUIRE: (again, with hilarity) Oh my gosh, it was the 1930s . . .

[Editor’s note: Susan and Talia are the same age.]

TALIA SHERER: And I started in publishing. Next slide, please.

AMANDA ROUNTREE: I’m Amanda Rountree. I am the Assistant Digital Media Manager for Library Marketing. I’ve always been a reader. I was one of those kids who would make weekly visits to the library growing up. So when I finished my NYU Summer Publishing program and saw an open position in a library marketing department, I decided this was fate and this is where I needed to be, and I haven’t looked back.

EMILY DAY: My name is Emily Day and I am the Library Marketing Coordinator and YA Specialist at Macmillan. I actually started out as a teacher. I taught fourth grade for a couple of years, but it wasn’t really my jam. So I started looking into grad schools where I could get my masters in children’s literature. I did a couple of different publishing internships and eventually moved to New York for this job at Macmillan, and I’ve been here ever since.

SAMANTHA SLAVIN: I am Samantha Slavin. I’m the Library Marketing Assistant. So I’m the newest member—I’ve been here for almost a year. I loved ice cream and reading when I was little and I learned in college that it’s not realistic to get a job in ice cream. And then I interned at a publishing company when I was going into my senior year of college. I kind of just fell into it and I realized I can get a job in reading.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: I feel like librarianship and publishing have a similar mythos: that we read for a living, which is sort of true, but it does sort of lead into the next question, which I get a lot from my family. What do you all even do?

TALIA SHERER: I like to say that I spend a lot of time wondering what my dog is thinking about. That cannot be printed. Oh wait, this is a podcast; it’s too late. The best part of my day is actually corresponding with librarians and recommending books. And we do that using spreadsheets and email and catalogs and advanced reader copies. So I’ll let other people chime in.

AMANDA ROUNTREE: Yeah, I would say the short answer in my opinion is that we talk about books all day, and it’s like, how can we talk about these books to make people read them? I feel like we all work pretty closely together, but I handle a lot of our digital initiatives. I work with Samantha a lot on our website posts at macmillanlibrary.com, and lately I’ve been spearheading a lot more of the online content, like recorded title presentations or designing virtual booths at conferences and author takeovers and all of that kind of stuff. So basically it’s just trying to get people to hear about our books.

EMILY DAY: I focus mostly on our YA titles, specifically from Wednesday Books and Flatiron Books. In addition to that, I also run our Instagram account and I do our monthly e-newsletter. So yeah, it’s really just talking about books, writing about books, taking pictures of books.

SAMANTHA SLAVIN: Yeah, I feel like I’m always recommending books, but a lot of what we do is learning about books to teach others about books, to teach librarians.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: I think librarians can relate to the fact that knowing the title of a book is just one small part of it. So is there a formula or something you look for to know that a book is going to be a hit with the library market? Like, is there something about the book or the author or the marketing plan that you’re like, oh, librarians are going to want this? And do your personal reading preferences or expertise ever influence what you think is going to be a hit in the library?

TALIA SHERER: I’ve always believed that librarians want to be the first ones to discover a new author, a new story, something that hasn’t been seen, hasn’t been told before. So my instinct has always been to go after a debut and also those titles that we call “under the radar,” the ones that we know won’t necessarily get the million-dollar marketing budget. Not that those exist anymore . . .

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Not like in the 1930s, when you started.

TALIA SHERER: Exactly, with my white gloves and my cigarettes. The best part is when I get to whisper in a librarian’s ear at a convention—we won’t be doing that anymore—and say, “I know just the book for you,” because this librarian has told me, let’s say, that she likes a mystery, a debut, it’s British. “We have a brand-new author, you’ve never heard her from her before!” And they love to then go hand-sell that.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: It’s readers’ advisory for the readers’ advisors.

EMILY DAY: We also monitor GalleyChat pretty closely. [Editor’s note: see Twitter hashtag #ewgc for the monthly EarlyWord GalleyChat] Sometimes that will inform us of books that librarians are into that maybe we didn’t have on our radar at first. One example of that was Red, White & Royal Blue, which we all obviously loved—

SUSAN MAGUIRE: One of my faves!

EMILY DAY: Yeah. But we didn’t really know until it was being talked about on GalleyChat that it was going to be such a hit among librarians. So that was definitely helpful for us.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Oh, that’s nice to hear, that librarians help you, too.

TALIA SHERER: Oh, absolutely. My favorite thing to do at a convention—I should just stop saying that because who knows—

SUSAN MAGUIRE: (interrupting AGAIN) Look, there will be some kind of interaction.

TALIA SHERER: Yeah. My favorite thing to do is . . . people usually approach us and say, “Well, what do you recommend?” And then I like to turn it around and say, “Well, what do you like to read?” So we start with what you’re interested in and we work from there. And I just, I love it when people just keep like: “No, but what do you like?” It’s not about me! It’s about you!

SUSAN MAGUIRE: I mean, any librarian who’s ever had a readers’ advisory conversation will find that very familiar and it’s ironic that they’re turning around and doing that to you. So, when you’re talking to folks about a book, what do you think goes into the perfect book pitch or book talk?

TALIA SHERER: Costumes.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Okay. Always very handy.

TALIA SHERER: I’ll let the others answer for once.

AMANDA ROUNTREE: When I’m building my book talks, you gotta throw in some plot cause we need to know what we’re looking at here, but I like to focus on what makes this book different from the millions of other ones that are being published out there. Is there something in the author’s background that makes this particularly relevant, or is it set in an interesting time or location that people want to learn more about? And related to the last question, is it a debut? Is there any sort of diversity? What’s the writing like? So that’s a very long answer to that question.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: A good book talk seems effortless and seems really easy, but that’s because so much goes into building it.

AMANDA ROUNTREE: Exactly. There’s a lot that we’re trying to convey.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: You’re just supposed to see the sausage and not how it’s made.

AMANDA ROUNTREE: Exactly, exactly.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Metaphor.

TALIA SHERER: I love telling the story of how the editor found the book, if they give us enough background and why it spoke to the editor. I like to talk about the editor’s taste. There are certain editors I just trust. And I love to say, “Well, this is the editor of Liane Moriarty, she discovered her.” So I’m paying attention, friend. Or, “This is the editor of Kristin Hannah.” But in some cases, when it’s a new editor, it’s a leap of faith, but I love that too, because then that’s where the librarian comes in. Not only is it a new editor, it’s a brand-new book. It’s a brand-new author.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Yeah. The discovery, like you said before.

EMILY DAY: I would say, going off of what Amanda said, it does have to be something unique, what makes this book different. But at the same time, it’s also really helpful to have good comps. And so it’s like, what makes this book different, but also what is it like? Because that can just be so helpful in finding the right reader.

SAMANTHA SLAVIN: I was going to say that same thing. because you can be giving a whole pitch, and then the second you say a comp that the reader likes or the librarian likes, that’s when it totally clicks.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Right. I mean, as soon as you say Liane Moriarty, it’s like, “Oh, okay. I know the reader for this book.” Speaking of readers for books, let’s talk about you all as readers. What are you all reading right now? Or what have you read recently that is just, like, giving you life and that you want librarians to know about?

TALIA SHERER: Well, in another example of librarians telling me when something is good, I recently read both of Beth O’Leary’s books, The Flatshare and The Switch, and they’re absolutely delightful. I have a couple of categories for books. I have gut-wrenching, gut-punching, heartbreaking, heartwarming. And I’d say that The Flatshare and The Switch are totally heartwarming in different ways.

And the gut-wrenching is Dominicana, by Angie Cruz. We’ll be interviewing her in a few days. And this book is just, I mean, just the entire time like, “Oh, come on!” But like in a good way, of course. She won the Alex Award, so it’s a best adult title for teens. She was longlisted for the Carnegie. And it’s just beautiful writing, but heartbreaking, about this young woman who immigrates to New York after marrying at 15 to a much older man, he’s in his thirties. And it’s her just trying to survive the day-to-day, not speaking the language in a foreign place with no family, no friends.

And then the last book, which is the gut-wrenching or the gut-punching, is We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker. It’ll be out next winter and you’ve got the coolest, most badass 13-year-old protagonist I’ve read in a while. She refers to herself as an outlaw. That’s all I’ll tell you.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Okay. Wow. Awesome. Love it.

AMANDA ROUNTREE: I feel like my reading has been all over the place lately. Usually I’m into a ton of the genre fiction of our department, and one book that I read recently that is coming out next March is called The Lost Village, by Camilla Sten. This is technically suspense, but with a hefty dose of horror, about a documentary crew that goes to this remote village where years before, everybody who lived there just disappeared and no one ever knew what happened. So this crew gets there and they’re not there for very long before strange things start to occur. So you’ve got super Blair Witch Project vibes, but I also like to comp it to A Head Full of Ghosts and The Whisper Man, where you’re not really sure if this is real life or something more supernatural is going on. It was a lot of fun to read.

Another one that I read is another one that librarians were going crazy over. And then I was like, okay, I’ve got to try it. This is His & Hers, by Alice Feeney. It’s out now and it is just a great psychological thriller. It’s got multiple narrators, and one is this mysterious narrator that you know is the killer, and you’re sort of trying to figure out who amongst the narrators that person is. And it is just so, so twisty and very well done, with all kinds of red herrings. This is the author of Sometimes I Lie, and I really think this is her best book yet.

EMILY DAY: I’m halfway through that right now. So do not reveal anything.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Oh my gosh. The claws come out!

EMILY DAY: Besides His & Hers, a couple of things that I’ve read recently are two upcoming YA books. One is Lobizona, by Romina Garber. This is inspired by Argentinian folklore and it’s an immigrant story about a young girl named Manuela. She is living in Miami and every month she has these very vivid, very intense dreams that take her to this mysterious world where there are werewolves, witches, and all this magic. And then one day ICE detains her mom. And so she has to run away, she’s on the run from ICE, trying to escape being deported. And while she’s on the run, she makes her way from Miami to the Everglades, and buried deep in the Everglades she discovers her dream world in the real world. So she finds these magical teens that can turn into werewolves and witches. It’s just this beautiful, magical fantasy that will take you away to another world. It was exactly what I needed to read a couple months ago when I read it. It’s just phenomenal, and it’s out now.

Then the other one that I read recently and loved is The Insomniacs, by Marit Weisenberg. Completely different from Lobizona, but it’s a contemporary fiction about a young girl who is a nationally ranked high diver. During one of her dives, she hits her head and gets a concussion and can’t remember anything about what happened. She has some flickers here and there. She’s staying home from school and she just watches the world outside her window. And then one night she’s watching outside the window and notices some strange things happening at the abandoned house next door. Then she discovers that her neighbor, Van, who she also has a crush on, also can’t sleep and has also been noticing strange things at that house. So they spend their sleepless nights together as they uncover the secrets of their neighborhood. And it’s twisty and there’s a sweet romance to it, but there’s also this deep mystery. It’s really fun.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: I’m totally a sucker for a book that has a secret romance plot. Anything else can happen, but if they’re smooching, I’m totally in.

EMILY DAY: Yes, there was definitely some smooching.

SAMANTHA SLAVIN: I’m taking it a little different. I have been trying to read happy things, but I also have been reading a lot of dark books. I just finished All Girls, by Emily Layden, which is a debut. It’s so good. It’s about a boarding school in New Hampshire, and every chapter is about a different girl in the boarding school. They’re all in different grades, and it really goes into the minds of high schoolers, what they’re all dealing with. There is a sexual assault case that is brought up throughout the book, but it’s not totally about that. It’s kind of how they’re all dealing with it coming up, but [the book’s] really good. I was so addicted.

I am now reading The House Uptown, by Melissa Ginsburg. I’m in the middle of it. It takes place in New Orleans. I went to Tulane, so I love New Orleans, and the scenery is beautiful. The descriptions are great, but it’s also a thriller in New Orleans, which is really fun. And I’m really happy I’m not living there while reading it, but there are great relationships in it, and it’s twisty.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: I love it. And I love how many of these books are of the moment, especially, Talia and Emily, you both talked about books that have to do with immigration. I wonder the next time we talk what sort of pandemic books you’ll have for us? Or, what’s the opposite of pandemic . . . to escape it?

TALIA SHERER: Utopian. Takes place in Eden.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Yes, oh my gosh. Utopia is the new dystopia. Yeah.

EMILY DAY: Lots of sweet rom-coms.

TALIA SHERER: Can’t have enough of those.

EMILY DAY: That’s all I want.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: Well, so if folks are intrigued by your book opinions, where can they find more from you guys from Macmillan library marketing?

TALIA SHERER: I’m so glad you asked. Thank you, Susan. We are available on our website, macmillanlibrary.com. We are available on Twitter or Instagram or email. Honestly, if you Google my name, my email address and phone number will pop up. So if you really do want to talk, I’m very easily found. My favorite thing to do is to recommend books and Samantha will tell you, she does spend all day picking the right book for the right reader. That is her job description: pick right book for right reader.

SUSAN MAGUIRE: I love it. That’s the dream, man.

Talia, Amanda, Emily, and Samantha, thank you all so much for chatting with me, and thank you everyone for listening to the Shelf Care Interview.

This Shelf Care Interview is sponsored by Macmillan Library Marketing, the four-person team of book concierges, genre whisperers, and hand-selling professionals who are here for you. Happy reading!

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