Several weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend and make a speech at the Random House Children’s Books 2019 Summer Launch. This was an eye-opening experience for me, as someone who had never been exposed to the inner workings of a publishing house before — as well as a huge honor. It was my first time meeting my editor (the amazing Krista Marino) and publisher — and they welcomed me with the entire marketing/sales team of Random House Children’s Books, a lovely group of about 150 people! It was a whirlwind day in the best of ways, and by the end of the day my voice was gone from chatting with so many amazing friends and colleagues of the Random House family.
So, to start (because I had no idea what this was either), a publishing launch is a big event where the entire publishing house gathers to reveal (“launch”) the upcoming titles across all of their imprints and gear them up for marketing. For Random House Children’s Books, as I understood it, marketing and publicity is done at the house-level, which means all the novels across all the imprints go through the same team for marketing and publicity. My editor and my publisher at Delacorte Press had their slot for presentation on Wednesday, June 6, and they launched their titles in front of a room like this:
And — amazingly, the best part — they invited me to come along for part of the ride!
Krista and my publisher, Beverly, really went all-out for me in a full day’s worth of activities. First, we would start with lunch with a dozen members from their marketing/publicity team; next, they would bring my agent and me to the Penguin Random House building across the street to deliver a speech at their launch; this would be followed by a happy hour/cocktails at a bar a few blocks down, and then finally, a small dinner with Krista, Beverly, Pete, and myself to wrap up the day.
The speech was the highlight; this was my one chance to speak before my marketing/sales team, who would be determining the marketing/sales plan for BLOOD HEIR. It was my one chance to make an impression. I was determined to make my speech phenomenal.
I started preparing a week in advance — and, wow, was that a busy week. My first round revisions were due within two weeks of the launch, but I set aside three days to draft, sharpen, and practice my speech. This was, as per usual for me, between the hours during which I work at my full-time job. I literally gathered all the cracks of time I could during those days — lunch breaks, coffee breaks, dinner break, gym time, human-ing time in general — and set to it.
Krista and Beverly said that they wanted the speech to be based on the author’s note that I sent to them back when we were on submissions with BLOOD HEIR. They wanted it to be ten minutes — a speech that would show my personality, yet also deliver punch as to all the reasons I wrote BLOOD HEIR in today’s political climate. They wanted a powerpoint as well, to make it more memorable, so that was yet another thing on my To-Do List that week.
Well, between work and trying to finish some revisions and having just spent the weekend before at BookCon (as a fan/reader!), I was still practicing my speech up to 45 minutes before the marketing/publicity lunch the day of the launch event. Luckily, I live literally less than 10 blocks away from the Penguin Random House office, so getting ready and walking there didn’t take too long!
The lunch was amazing — we went to a French bistro/restaurant (which, funnily enough, I had been to since I’ve lived in the neighborhood for about two years now). It was my first time meeting Krista and Beverly and members of the RHCB marketing/sales team, and I instantly felt like a part of the family. I already have a small stomach to begin with, but I was so excited and talking so much that I barely finished the salad I ordered.
It seemed the launch was running a little behind schedule (I mean, don’t all meetings!) so at 1:50PM, we walked over to the Penguin Random House building. So… this was a significant moment for me, but only because of a small and rather insignificant story that I’ve kept close to my heart. The PRH building actually sits right between my apartment and my boyfriend’s company, so I used to walk past it all the time. I remember every single time, I would stare at building’s shiny glass doors and brightly-lit lobby, at all of the gorgeous books on display, and think: What wouldn’t I give to be published there someday?
That day, instead of walking past that building, I got to walk in.
The launch event was taking place in a huge room that had been laid out like a college classroom (albeit much friendlier-looking and homey-feeling): rows upon rows of desks faced a panel of tables at the front. At the very front of the room was a projector screen and a podium, complete with a nice mic set-up.
Here’s where I’m so glad I majored in finance for college. As part of my major requirements, all the students had gone through a class called Organizational Communication, during which we learned strategies for presenting, and were made to present almost every week or every month in front of an audience. I am also thankful for my job as a sales manager at Citi, because those meetings/presentations with scary clients who grilled me on pricing and financial products really prepared me for public speaking.
So… all I can say is that I think the speech went well, and apparently some people cried, which is always a great sign for us authors, am I right?!
Afterwards came cocktails, and this is where I learned so much about the gears of the great publishing house (and that may very well be because I knew so little going in, lol). From what I understood, it seems that the marketing team at a publishing house is broken down into several larger categories*:
- Marketing Director: Spearheads the marketing for your book and creates a plan to follow, including the budget, target audience, and strategy.
- Publicity Director: Manages your brand and your publicity.
- School and Library Marketing
- Digital Marketing
- Trade Marketing
- Account Managers, who are responsible for placing your book into:
- Barnes & Noble
- Others (because I’m terrible and didn’t take enough notes)
- Stock/Print Director: Manages your stock and print runs
*Please bear in mind this is all from memory and is only the gist of what I understood that day — but I thought it’d be interesting to share, as I had no clue any of this existed before I went to the launch.
Cocktails was such a fun and memorable part of my day, and I really got to chat with almost all of the RHCB team there, group by group. I was smiling so much I didn’t think I could be happier, and there were a few times I shrieked with laughter (and probably scared the team, so please excuse me if anyone reads this!) — but all in all, I felt so at home with the RHCB team at the end of the day. Three hours flew by like it was nothing, and I realized when it was time for dinner that my voice was gone.
We had an absolutely lovely dinner with Krista, Beverly, Pete, and me, just to wind down a little and chat a bit. I was so excited but also exhausted that I (once again) did not finish most of my food (are you seeing a pattern?) and spent most of the time happily soaking up the chitchat and letting my voice rest a little.
All in all, this was one of the most exciting days of my publishing career so far, and I’m so honored I had this opportunity to meet my publishing family and to continue to learn about the publishing world.
To wrap up, here’s a section of my speech — the reason I wrote BLOOD HEIR given all that’s happening in today’s world.
… But in late 2016, suddenly my foreign-ness was no longer a joke. By then, I had spent six years in the United States, I had my football teams down-pat (shout-out to my boyfriend), and I felt quite immersed in American culture. I cared deeply about the politics and wellbeing of this country; I had friends of all origins and backgrounds here; I had established myself successfully in my career, and I had found true love here, in this country.
2016 threw that all out the door, and reduced me to nothing but my race.
The post-election climate suddenly turned this nation hostile towards those who did not fit the status quo. “Get out of my country, Communist!” was only one of the slurs that were screamed at me after the election. What I experienced personally, saw across social media outlets and national television broadcasts, all amounted to a hyper-recognition of my foreign-ness, my Other-ness. Facing myself in the mirror at night, I saw, once again, the reality of my skin, my black hair, and my classification as a “Nonresident Alien” in a country in which I do not belong. I was afraid. And I still am.
During the worst of times, I turned to my books and my words. And a story flowed out of me: it was a story about a corrupt empire steeped in winter, filled with morally-gray conmen, deadly assassins, twisted villains, and above all, a young girl with the power to manipulate blood who believes she is a monster.
It took me two years to realize: the monster is me.
Blood Heir explores the demonization of the Other: its central plot hinges on a class of human beings with extraordinary powers called Affinities – some good, some useful, and some terrifying. These humans are feared, reviled, and persecuted for their abilities, for the sole reason that they are different and were born different. The protagonist’s, Anastacya’s, journey reflects my own over the years, as she struggles to reconcile the horrifying quality that she was born with with her place in the world. Her story is an examination of how we internalize hatred and fear towards us, how it can warp your core and turn you into something cruel and twisted.
But ultimately, it is the story of a young girl’s journey of self-acceptance, and a realization that we cannot change who we are nor what we are born with, but we can choose what we do with what we are given. And I hope young readers and children can see themselves in Ana and her struggles – that they can take comfort in the fact that the world can sometimes be a wicked place, but that there is hope in fighting for a better tomorrow.
This brings me to one of my all-time favorite quotes, which has stayed with me over the years of my journey, taken from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables:
“Tant q’uil existera… les trois problèmes du siècle, la dégradation de l’homme par le prolétariat, la déchéance de la femme par la faim, l’atrophie de l’enfant par la nuit, ne seront pas résolus… tant qu’il y aura sur la terre ignorance et misère, des livres de la nature de celui-ci pourront ne pas être inutiles.”
This is from the famous preface of Les Misérables, and translates to a quote that I think many of us will be familiar with:
“So long as there shall exist… the three problems of the age — the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night… so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”
All of which brings us back to the reason we are here today, which is to publish books that entertain, yes, but also books that matter. And I will always look back at Hugo’s words as my spark in the darkest of times, a mission to which I hope I can contribute. I hope to push the boundaries of young adult literature by exploring new, cross-cultural themes, writing with the simultaneous identities of an insider and an outsider, and reconciling the differences in a fast-changing and increasingly heterogeneous world.
Most importantly, I hope for my words to have an impact on my young readers. I want them to know that it is our choices, not our birthright or race or gender or sexual orientation, or class that define us – and we have the choice to stand up and fight for what we believe is right. We live in a world where I see so many others hurting, like me; where I see fear used as a weapon by those who choose to hate; where I see the age-old monster of prejudice drawing lines between those who are different. My pen is my sword, my words are my voice, and I hope Blood Heir will be a comfort and a light to those most in need.