February 26, 2021

Where are They Now? Five NYU SPI Alumni from the Last Five Years

By NYU SPS Center for Publishing Staff

As we approach the start of the 2021 NYU Summer Publishing Institute, we wanted to catch up with some of our alumni about where they are now. From book publicity to audience strategy, from San Francisco to work from home, our SPI alumni are all throughout the publishing and media industries.

Here are five alumni from the last five years, sharing about their time at SPI, what their jobs are like, and how to stay connected with friends and colleagues in the industry (FaceTime helps!).

Interested in joining us for NYU SPI 2021 Online? Applications are due March 22, 2021!

Headshot of Jéla Lewter

Jéla Lewter
Editorial Assistant, Little, Brown and Company at Hachette Book Group
SPI 2020 & MS in Publishing ‘22

What brought you to NYU SPI and the MS in Publishing program?
I knew that it would be a great opportunity to actually learn how the publishing industry works instead of stumbling around in the dark on my job search. I learned so many important things from my short time in the program that prepared me to be a better job candidate, ranging from how to write a proper reader’s report to literal job-hunting tips. Aside from that, the networking was really important to me, and the connections I’ve made exceeded my expectations!

Tell us about the associate program at Hachette Book Group.
As an associate at HBG, I get to spend the next 12 months rotating through different imprints and departments learning about their roles. It’s an amazing opportunity because I get to explore my curiosities surrounding areas I have less experience in, and can get an understanding of what is and isn’t for me. Not to mention that skills I learn in one area can only make me stronger in another. I love that it’s a learning experience as well as a job experience. (And having a salary is nice, too!)

Your first position as an associate is as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown. What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
I am thrilled to be working so closely with editors and able to witness the process of collaboration with authors. My favorite part of editorial has always been the conversation that takes place around the work to make it the best it can possibly be. It’s exciting to get to see this play out, but even more exciting is that I will get to move around throughout my position: witnessing how something that may have started as a submission while I’m in editorial is handled moving down the line when I work in marketing and publicity.

What did you enjoy most about SPI 2020 Online?
SPI was great for a number of reasons, but I really do love that even though we all met in a virtual space, I have fifty new friends in my publishing network. Fifty new friends whose interests align with mine, who care about my success, who I can come to with questions or frustrations, and who I still talk to every day many months after SPI has ended. I appreciate everything NYU has given me, but especially them!

Headshot of Imani Seymour

Imani Seymour
Marketing Assistant, Scribner, Simon & Schuster
SPI 2019

You’ve had the opportunity to work in publicity, editorial, and marketing departments. Why does marketing stand out to you as where you want to be?
Marketing as a department stood out to me as the perfect medium between author interaction and consumer interfacing. You’re not only presenting a title to the marketplace, but you’re getting to know your marketplace as well! Booksellers, librarians, educators, the everyday consumer, and the author all become the vital elements you serve through the marketing arm of the publishing process.

What has it been like working remotely as an assistant?
As a team we had to readjust to performing tasks that would have otherwise happened in person, via Zoom calls and emails, which was admittedly a bit uncomfortable at first. But as we worked to streamline our processes remotely, the most important element became clear and efficient communication. From there things started to fall into place and our productivity is on par to pre-COVID.

How do you find community in the book publishing industry?
Your fellow assistants have the unique experience of having been in your position and therefore can offer highly curated support as you navigate your first-time experiences in the industry. There’s also a plethora of spaces on social media that have become online congregations of community in book publishing (@pocpub, @rebelwomenlit, & @booksonthesubway are a few of my favorites!).

What advice would you give to an SPI student who wanted to work in book marketing?
Hone in on the conversations, panels, and any subject material related to book marketing (or whichever department of book publishing you’re most interested in)! But keep your mind open to all the possibilities that are within publishing – many departments are adjacent to one another, and the department you start in isn’t necessarily the one you have to stay in!

Headshot of Kayla Kohlmeister

Kayla Kohlmeister
Sales Assistant, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA)
SPI 2018

What’s a typical day look like for you in your role at Chronicle?
A typical day usually involves setting up titles for accounts, managing and submitting purchase orders, organizing inventory for purchase orders, and helping to prepare for any sales calls we might have that week with accounts. I often have the opportunity to get creative by helping to curate sell sheets or even to present a few titles to buyers in some of my manager's meetings. It's so fun to see the titles that accounts are excited about and I love being a part of getting our titles out in the world.

Tell us a bit about the publishing scene in San Francisco.
It’s incredibly vibrant and unsurprisingly close-knit. You definitely feel a strong sense of community out here. Groups like Bay Area Women in Publishing put on really awesome events and are definitely of great support. I also feel like there is a strong independent spirit to the Bay Area publishing scene. There is such a wide variety of wonderful publishers out here and I love how diverse their offerings are.

Which Chronicle titles are you most excited about right now?
Dolly Parton, Songteller by Dolly Parton with Robert K. Oermann, celebrates the amazing life and career of the iconic Dolly Parton. It explores her legendary songs and career as a musician as told by Dolly herself in her own words.
I am also super excited about Floret Farm's Discovering Dahlias by Erin Benzakein, with Julie Chai, and photographs by Chris Benzakein. In this book Erin Benzakein shares all her secrets for growing beautiful dahlias and making gorgeous arrangements. Erin is a world-renowned flower farmer and this stunning book highlights her amazing skills and beautiful floral designs.

How did SPI help train you for a career in sales?
It was through SPI that I learned that there were so many great career opportunities for me to explore in publishing, and not just in editorial. Hearing experts in the industry and alumni who had gone into sales talk about their experiences helped me to realize that I had an interest in the sales side of publishing. The projects we worked on also gave me the opportunity to learn more about what a career in sales would look like and armed me with an understanding of what skills I would need. SPI also helped me find numerous ways to look for positions in the publishing industry and gave me the tools I needed to network.

Headshot of Ciara Bergin

Ciara Bergin
Assistant Manager, Audience Marketing & Strategy, Meredith Corporation
SPI 2017 & MS in Publishing ‘19

For anyone who hasn't heard of it before, how would you describe audience marketing?
Put simply, we're able to gain an understanding of who our consumers are and what their interests are based on their online behavior (reading articles, watching videos, or sharing our content to social media, for example) and the products they purchase from us (magazine subscriptions, for example). Using this snapshot of a consumer, we can target them with advertisements we think are best suited for their interests.

With audiences largely at home now, how has your job changed since the pandemic started?
My job has honestly not changed much since I work on the digital side and in data. We just end up Slacking quite a bit more! The important takeaway from the pandemic is to figure out how to balance your work and home life now that your environment does not change.

What do you appreciate most about working in the media industry?
It keeps you on your toes. I learn something new in this field every day; on the digital side, things can change quickly and new things can be introduced quite often.

When you think back to SPI, what was the moment, speaker or experience that influenced you most?
I was actually just discussing this yesterday with my friends from SPI - the four of us still talk every day. I think the moment I reflect on the most was how excited I was on the first day of SPI. We got to listen to Cindi Leive [former Editor-in-Chief] of Glamour Magazine speak about the magazine industry and what it was like. I remember thinking she was the absolute coolest, and I was thrilled by the steps she had taken to focus on empowering women. I knew that I wanted to be challenged every day and work in an environment like that.

Headshot of Andrew Gibeley

Andrew Gibeley
Publicist, ABRAMS
SPI 2016

You’ve been working in book publishing – first at HarperCollins and now at ABRAMS – since 2016. What changes have you observed in the industry in the last five years?
The biggest change I’ve seen is the effect of social media on the industry, whether it be the uptick in celebrity book clubs like Belletrist and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, or morning show book clubs like Jenna's and GMA which all announce their picks online, and Bookstagram culture itself. All platforms have been invaluable and lucrative in terms of author exposure, consumer community building, and sales and marketing opportunities. We’ve also seen a big, continuous boom in audiobook sales and subscriptions, most notably Audible.
Finally, it’s difficult to answer this without mentioning Covid, given the number of changes the industry has seen in just the past year. (I actually started my job at ABRAMS last March, so I’ve still never spent a day in the office or met any of my colleagues in person!) Indeed, the work from home environment has reshaped the industry, as we’ve had to reexamine our galley printing schedules and budgets, work a lot more with PDFs and e-galleys, outline new best practices for virtual event planning and media outreach, etc.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into publicity?
My first job out of SPI was actually in the Special Markets department at HarperCollins. I worked there for just over a year, until I realized Sales wasn’t for me, so when I saw an open publicity assistant position upstairs at William Morrow, I applied right away. If you’re interested exclusively in publicity but there’s not a position available at the moment, I encourage you to apply for a position in a different department and give it a shot, knowing it’ll be a great way to get your feet wet and that you can always find your way later.

Publicity can be very fast paced and exciting. What was your favorite campaign or experience so far?
During my 3+ years in publicity at HarperCollins, I assisted my boss with some very exciting campaigns for celebrity authors, including Nick Nolte, Val Chmerkovskiy, Chrissy Metz, and Dr. Pimple Popper. However, my favorite campaign might have been Dear America by Pulitzer Prize-winning undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas; not only was Jose so lovely to work with, but it felt amazing to work on a project that carried real sociocultural importance, one that could make an impact in addition to sales. Now at ABRAMS I work mainly on fiction, and my favorite campaign so far has been a new novel shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, an exquisite, powerful mother-daughter story set in India about love, betrayal, and the trauma of shifting memories.
The SPI network is very deep and extensive. How do you keep in touch with the friends you made at SPI?
It’s important to remember that the friends you make in this program are not just friends but also potential future colleagues. Keeping a tight network with them in the years following SPI makes networking itself that much easier! The NYU Media Talks and other SPI events have also helped me to reconnect with others I wouldn’t normally see, and the email distro is a great way to keep up on job openings, freelance opportunities, and the occasional available apartment.

Visit our homepage for more information on the NYU SPS Summer Publishing Institute and our other Center for Publishing programs.

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