December 21, 2022

Avid Reader Press: “Best of Breed”

By Kimran Vora

“We are in service to writers, we are their butlers of dreams and accomplishments,” said Ben Loehnen, co-founder, vice-president, and editor-in-chief of Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. A group of NYU MS in Publishing students were excited to visit this relatively new imprint, founded in 2018. Jofie Ferrari-Adler, co-founder, vice-president, and publisher, made us feel at home right from the get-go, the sentiment intensifying as his co-workers made their warm introductions.

When asked about how the imprint came to be, Ferrari-Adler explained that he and Loehnen, with the full support of Simon & Schuster, wanted to nurture the ‘best of breed’ across categories with the sole purpose of connecting with the readers.The imprint has had extraordinary success, publishing 24 to 30 books a year, with 8 to 10 of them climbing the bestseller list.

The Avid Reader Press team happily shared their perspectives on publishing: From left: Margo Schickmanter, Carolyn Kelly, Jofie Ferrari-Adler, Ben Loehnan, and Lauren Wein

The formula of their success is the emphasis the team places on the relationship among agent, editor, and publicist; when all these parties actively lean into each other’s platforms, that’s when they become a formidable force. They shared anecdotal evidence from their work with Patricia Engel, expressing the gratification of helping  an author grow over the course of an entire career.

The discussion then moved to how the Avid Reader press staffers started their careers,  It clearly became apparent that the path could be winding. Loehnan noted that he started off in finance, and eventually found his way to publishing, “It was clarifying to have a job I didn’t like’, he candidly revealed to a roomful of anxious rookies. Lauren Wein, vice president and editorial director, shared how she was at Grove Atlantic for more than a decade, then worked another eight years at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt before finding her place at Avid Reader Press. For Carolyn Kelly, an assistant editor, the grunt work of sorting box-after-box of galleys helped her understand the inner workings of the industry.

“It was a goldilocks type of situation when I was trying to find out where I fit”, said Alexandra Primiani, associate director of publicity,  She talked about floundering in the quest to find a job that she loved, one that would also pay the bills. This situation was so relatable that almost every head was nodding.

Ferrari-Adler noted that his first job was four people sitting in a room, where everybody did everything since there were no specific departments. “That’s how you learn, by listening, by paying attention, by showing up, and by sticking around. That’s exactly what we look for when we conduct interviews,” added Loenen. “We’ve been in the industry long enough to determine if a candidate has passion and drive.” Added Primiani:  “Our primary goal is to make space for the authors’ voices to shine, to envision the best possible way that their stories can be talked about and shared.”

NYU M.S. in Publishing students with the Avid Reader Press team.

How to get a foot into the door is a burning question all graduates have. “Talk to people, foster connections, build a network in order to get a working view of the industry”, Margo Schickmanter, executive editor,  helpfully suggested. Loenen advised us to “let your work speak for itself, so much so that it creates an echo system that labels you as indispensable.”

We all sat around the table with smiles on our faces, soaking in every word. The knowledge, avidity, and the mutual respect and appreciation the Avid Reader staffers displayed for each other’s work was palpable. The team shared with us a piece of wisdom as the visit concluded: “trust the tingle, don’t bullsh*t yourself into believing that everything works for everyone, trust yourself and your peers. Most importantly, never lose your love of stories.”

Kimran Vora is a 2nd year MS in Publishing student. She hopes to work at an independent publishing house in her home country of India. Kimran's dream is to give a platform to stories written by nontraditional voices. 

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