By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Hannah Moushabeck, Marketing Manager at Quarto, to the WNDB blog to discuss her career and working in children’s book marketing.
Tell us a little bit about what you do as Marketing Manager at Quarto. I know the question about a “typical day” is overplayed, so what are some of your favorite things about your role?
Each publisher is different in the way they organize publicity and marketing, and every job I have had has introduced me to new areas of book marketing. At Quarto, I belong to an incredible marketing team who are committed to our books, our company’s values, and each other. Unlike at other publishers, Quarto encourages our team to work on the books we feel passionately about. When allocating who will work on which titles, I have the opportunity to make the case why I want to work on a particular book. This has meant that I have been able to work on some incredible books that are very close to my heart. This Book is Anti-Racist, an anti-racism handbook, for example, is a title that I was incredibly excited to work on. Not only do I work to practice anti-racism in my day-to-day, but the author, Tiffany Jewell, is from my hometown.
Marketing books, to me, is doing all the fun parts of a book’s release. I get to be the cheerleader for a title, work directly with the creators, and book-talk to my favorite people: Booksellers, librarians, and teachers!
In my spare time, I also acquire children’s books for Crocodile Books, an imprint of Interlink Publishing, my family’s publishing house, whose small but mighty list of children’s titles boasts creators such as Julie Flett, Jane Yolen, Marc Martin, and Cynthia Alonso.
You grew up in a very literature-loving, bookish family, and your father is the publisher at Interlink Publishing. How did this impact your decision to pursue a career in publishing? Did you have strong family support behind your career choices? How long have you known you wanted to work with books and did you ever envision doing anything else?
Saying our family is bookish is an understatement! Both my aunt and uncle are independent booksellers, my father, sisters, and brother-in-law all work at Interlink Publishing. My mother and cousins all also work in books.
I don’t know that any of us decided to go into publishing. Or perhaps we (more likely) never had a choice. I grew up surrounded by books. I learned my ABCs as a child in Brooklyn by shelving books in my uncle’s Park Slope bookstore. My weekends were spent playing under the tables of our booth at BEA (now BookExpo). My afterschool was helping to count pennies and shelve books in Booklink Booksellers, my uncle’s store. My house was always filled with visiting authors. Our Thanksgiving dinner conversation is mostly book industry gossip and projecting fourth-quarter sales.
Once you are introduced to the concept that books can save lives, it is very difficult to do anything else. Being raised to value quality publishing has led me to realize its power and importance, both within the industry and the world, particularly as a first-generation Arab American.
You’re proudly Palestinian-American and you have said it’s a driving force behind your diversity work. Why do you think it’s important for kids and teens to see Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans in the media they consume, particularly the books they read?
Growing up, my father always told us “books are the gateway to a country’s soul” and that as Palestinians, it was important that we educated people about the history, art, literature, and beauty that our culture brings to the world; that winning the hearts and minds of our peers would be our resistance to the brutal occupation happening in our homeland, funded with American tax dollars.
When my parents immigrated to the U.S. they were appalled by the media misrepresentations of Arab culture and the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims. These were the days long before hummus became a staple American food and the only images of Arab Americans you saw were in Indiana Jones movies and in violent headlines. My parents started Interlink Publishing to “change the way people think about the world.” After 33 years, Interlink has grown into an award-winning, independent publisher of books with an international perspective, publishing an incredible list of cookbooks, literature in translation, current affairs, and illustrated children’s books from around the world.
In fourth grade, we were assigned the project of drawing the “flags of our ancestors.” When I was unable to find a Palestinian flag in the big book of flags, my teacher recommended I put the Israeli flag instead. While I knew this was wrong, I didn’t want to be seen as “other” (also, I loved drawing stars) so I did.
Many speak about mirrors and windows when citing the importance of diverse books. I could speak at length about the lack of representation of Arabs in the media (beyond the “bad guys” in movies) or what it was like being an Arab American after 9/11, or how I only had one children’s book by a Palestinian American (shukran, Naomi Shihab Nye) growing up. But my experience in fourth grade highlighted to me the actual erasure of many indigenous peoples from our books for children. Like me, the Indigenous kids in my classroom also couldn’t find their flags in the book of flags and were offered the American flag instead.
It is not enough that we feature diverse characters in our stories or publish books by Black, Indigenous, and people of color creators. We need to look at all the books we are publishing and see them through an anti-racist lens, even in a geography book of flags.
You have also expressed that you’re fat positive and that you’re interested in acquiring and promoting children’s books that showcase a wide variety of bodies. Why do you feel it’s important for fat kids and teens to see themselves in literature and for publishing to help normalize fat positivity with these positive representations?
I came to the fat liberation movement late in life, but I have never looked back. I have reveled in the writing of feminist heroes such as Virgie Tovar (You Have the Right to Remain Fat, Feminist Press) and Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, Harper Collins) who have brought to light the oppressive beauty standards rooted in European white supremacy that are thrust upon us and play a role in our perceived value, especially for those who identify as women or nonbinary.
For many of the same reasons that it is important that we show bodies of all abilities, skin colors, gender identities, it is also important to show bigger bodies in the adults and children that we portray in books. We must go beyond the “issue books” about eating disorders and bullying and see joyful fat children living their best lives (preferably in cute polka dot bathing suits with cat-eye sunglasses).
Statistics have shown that so much damage can be done to children when they feel shame about their bodies. Shame, that years later, many of us are still wrestling with. We have an opportunity in children’s literature that has yet to be fully realized and I hope many will rise to the challenge.
Earlier this year, you and Lexi Walters Wright, owner of the children’s bookstore High Five Books, fundraised for Valley Book Rally to help kids in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts get books during the pandemic. Tell us about the aftermath of that project: How were you able to help local children and what was the most rewarding part of this initiative?
Like many in the industry, and in fact the world, I felt helpless in the first few days of the stay-at-home order. Having been inspired by many in the book world, I decided to put my marketing skills to good use. Together with my friend—and rock-star bookseller—Lexi Walters Wright, we started the Valley Book Rally, a fundraising initiative to put books into the hands of young Pioneer Valley readers in need during the stay-at-home advisory.
To date, we have raised $10.7K and distributed over 700 books to kids in our area. Working closely with local food distribution and housing nonprofits was incredibly rewarding and the response to the books has been so gratifying.
While it might seem silly in retrospect, my favorite part of this project was, after 3 months of isolation at home, was walking into High Five Books and hand-picking books for kids. I didn’t realize how much joy being in a bookstore (albeit a closed one) brought me. It also made me realize my dream of being a professional book shopper with a big budget. Know of any openings?
You have worked at bookstores and book publishers, with your current position as Marketing Manager at Quarto and Acquiring Editor at Interlink Publishing. How did your experiences in bookstores influence your work at publishing houses? What did you learn from your roles as a book buyer and children’s department director that you bring with you to book marketing?
After working in my family’s bookshop, I really started to engage with the bookselling community nationally when I joined The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts as the children’s department director and later as the co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Committee. Meeting booksellers at conferences like BookExpo, Children’s Institute, and NEIBA Fall Conference, opened up my world and confirmed my belief that book people are the best people.
The value of independent bookstores in the book industry ecosystem cannot be understated. Beyond showrooming, booksellers are trusted gatekeepers in their communities and have a wider scope of publishing as a whole than many. Respecting this truth has made me better at my job—as both a marketer and an editor.
I can’t list all the ways being a bookseller helped me as a marketer, it would take too long! I can say, however, that every editor, marketer, sales manager, or designer I know who’s had prior experience as a bookseller is better at their job for it. My advice for publishers, authors, or anyone with questions about the industry: Make friends with a bookseller.
What books are you working on now, either at The Quarto Group or Interlink Publishing, that you are excited about?
There are many books I am excited about that are coming out in the next few months, but I will narrow it down. I love this question because, at the end of the day, I just want to spend all my time convincing others to read the books I love.
I recently acquired a book by Welsh writer, Nicola Davies titled Every Child a Song: A Celebration of Children’s Rights, illustrated by New York Times Best Illustrated winning artist, Marc Martin. This remarkable picture book illustrates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child through the metaphor of a song and explores all the essential things that every child needs to thrive—love, protection, a home, a name, the chance to explore and learn.
In a world where the safety of children, especially Black and Brown children, are threatened daily, I felt it was important to shine a light on these fundamental rights that seemingly many have forgotten.
Interlink has a long history of publishing “humanitarian books” that donate a significant percentage of the proceeds of their books to aid organizations (long before it was trendy). Since 2016 we have raised over $520,000 for food and medical relief for Syrian refugees from the sales of Soup for Syria. The ACLU’s Immigrant Rights project received donations from the sales of The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great. And the Nablus-based Palestinian House of Friendship received donations from the sales of Palestine on a Plate.
Every Child a Song will be Interlink’s first humanitarian children’s book. Five percent of the cover price of each book sold will be donated to The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights which protects and advances the rights and best interests of immigrant children according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state and federal law.
Hannah Moushabeck is a first-generation Palestinian American and a second-generation book nerd. Born into Interlink Publishing, a family-run publishing company, she learned the value of literature at a young age. A former co-chair of the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Committee, and a current member of the executive board of the Boston Teen Author Festival, Hannah has also worked editing and marketing children’s books for Chronicle Books, Interlink Publishing and The Quarto Group. Find her online: Twitter @HMoushabeck Instagram @hannahmoushabeck.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.