Monday, April 16, 2012

Connie Hsu: How I Got into Publishing

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Sweet Valley Twins series. When I was a young girl in Alabama, I was put into a remedial reading group, which was pretty discouraging. I didn’t want to love reading, since I was told I wasn’t good at it. But then I discovered the Sweet Valley Twins, and oh boy did my life change. I couldn’t stop reading those, and when that series was exhausted, I bounced onto more. I challenged myself to read at higher levels, sometimes horrifying myself when I dipped into something too sophisticated for me. *spoiler alert!* When Ginger died in Black Beauty, so did my innocence!

By the end of high school, I had done poorly enough on the math portion of the SATs to know that my path lay in something English-related. But I was afraid to major in English—what was I going to be, a writer? I might as well have gone into art!
I ended up majoring in advertising, after switching from psychology, which involved more math than I could stomach. However, upon graduation, I had a Say Anything moment, during which I realized I didn't want to sell anything. So I went to grad school for a Masters in journalism. After internships at Chicago and Atlanta magazines, I was ready for the world, and I moved to New York City, the city of big dreams. My first job was at Starbucks!

I eventually landed an internship at In Touch, the celebrity weekly, where I wrote an article about Paris Hilton’s dog. I then went on to becoming the online editor at Inside TV, an offshoot of TV Guide. It was a magazine for women who love television, but apparently women who love television don’t read, and the magazine folded within months. To make rent, I found work as a freelance book editor and substitute daycare teacher for first graders.

During this time, I reevaluated what I wanted most out of my professional life. I knew I wanted something that had permanence, that I wanted to create, and that I loved children and their quick, clever little minds. A friend at Scholastic passed along an editorial assistant opening at Little, Brown that addressed all those desires. However, I wasn’t sure if I wanted it, since I hadn’t seriously considered book publishing before. Fortunately, the interview was with Alvina Ling.

I learned that Alvina edited The Year of the Dog, which was a book about growing up Taiwanese in a small town, a book that I would have cherished as one of few Chinese-American girls in Alabama. She told me about her own experiences in finding her path to publishing, and how much she loved her job. Her office was crammed with books and papers: a utopia of organized chaos. And she was the only interviewer I’d ever met that seemed genuinely happy.

My six years at Little, Brown has been wonderful, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share this incredibly supportive and passionate community with future publishing professionals as well as bring more diverse characters to our books. I think Elizabeth Wakefield would be proud.

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