Rachel Zugschwert is the VP of Marketing at Lerner Publishing Group.
What are your job responsibilities?
I oversee all aspects of marketing, publicity and metadata at Lerner for our thirteen imprints, as well as advising our distribution clients on marketing and publicity outreach for their titles. I manage a team of ten. I work very closely with our sales team, our content team, production, and customer service as well. I’m involved with every aspect of a book’s life, from when an editor considers acquiring it to finding ways to bring attention to our deep backlist titles twenty years or more after their original publication. I love being able to see all parts of the publishing process.
How did the classes you took during your time in the program prepare you to work in the industry?
The breadth of expertise from the professors who taught my classes was enormously helpful. I have wound up crossing paths with some of my former professors in a professional capacity which has been delightful. The finance course in particular is something I recall almost every day – understanding how a book makes money is critical to marketing decisions. Almost every marketing decision costs money so understanding how our marketing tactics will influence sales and ultimately make for a profitable book for both the author and the publisher is something we have to evaluate daily.
What were some of the highlights during your graduate experience?
Truly, I enjoyed every class. I’d been out of college for several years when I went back for my masters and it was so different from my undergraduate experience. Being taught by titans of the field was inspiring and helpful. It was so fun to get together after work and discuss books and publishing with other people who were interested in it. It really cemented my commitment to publishing as a career choice. Plus, I now have friends at almost every publishing house which has come in helpful and makes conferences mini-reunions.
Did you have an internship? If so, what was it and how did it prepare you for your current position?
I did not have an internship – I was already working in publishing when I started in the Pace program. But I hire interns now, and my biggest piece of advice for interns is to ask lots of questions – there are no dumb questions! Publishing as a business is pretty different from publishing as an academic domain, even when the professors are professionals. No one at work ever explained to me how a book makes money, or the intricacies of the parts of the publishing process that I was not immediately involved with. Each publishing house is different, so asking questions informed by your studies will catapult you to a higher level of understanding and context which makes you a stronger hire for a permanent position.
What advice do you have for current students in the program?
Look beyond New York for jobs. There are LOTS of publishing houses in the rest of the country. Having NYC experience and/or a Masters from Pace makes you a very attractive hire, and there is a lot less competition in other cities. I worked in New York publishing for five years and it was wonderful – I love New York and I loved Simon & Schuster. But I’ll be honest – I have a way better quality of life in Minneapolis. There’s more than enough publishing here for the rest of my career. I’ve had more varied job opportunities and faster growth up the ladder than I would have if I’d stayed, not to mention the lower cost of living. The Twin Cities have a lot of publishing jobs, as do Nashville, Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and other places.
Where do you hope to be in five to ten years?
Right where I am! I’m having a blast in my current role and feel I still have room to grow and learn. Since the books change every season, it constantly feels like a new job – in a good way.
What are your favorite aspects of the publishing industry?
Being around bookish people. I would read books and talk about them for free, so to get paid to do that is awesome! I get the best book recommendations from colleagues. Learning about all the forthcoming books through networking and journals and conferences is great too. In the current era of book banning, publishing feels more urgent and important than ever as a cornerstone of our democracy. Literacy is an equity issue, and working in kids’ books as I do right now makes me feel like I am making a difference to educate and inform the next generation. It doesn’t all have to be first amendment level stuff either – books as pure entertainment are their own virtue too.
What are you reading right now? Either for work or for pleasure.
I am one of those people who reads many books at the same time. I’m about halfway through A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers, which is lovely. I also just started The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, which I borrowed from a colleague, and my next library book is The Secret Life of Groceries, which is the kind of journalistic nonfiction I love. For work, I am reading through all of the recent Youth Media Award winners from the American Library Association. We were honored with a number of awards, including Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Awards, a Sibert Honor, and a Caldecott Honor for Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, a Pura Belpre Honor for Where I Belong, and an American Indian Youth Literature Honor for Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer. I am reading all of the other publishers’ award and honor books, just basking in the best of the best children’s books from 2021.