You’ve read our classics, such as Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son; and many of you know our current list, featuring books by Cornel West, Lani Guinier, Anita Hill, and Christopher Emdin—books that speak to the condition of the world, and add to our understanding of urgent social issues. Whether it’s the environment or race, cultural or class dynamics, we publish all our books with a purpose. Now you can meet the people who work at Beacon Press in our blog series “Beacon Behind the Books.” Each month, we’ll introduce to you a member of our staff and give you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at our office.
For the month of February, we introduce you to Alyssa Hassan, our senior marketing manager!
What drew you into publishing, Alyssa?
Oh, you know, I followed the usual path; I was pre-vet in college, decided that wasn’t my dream after all, moved toward studying natural resources and the environment, got an internship at an environmental nonprofit in DC doing legislative affairs, made my way into urban and environmental studies with a focus on nonprofits in grad school, and then—thanks to a good friend who was an editor there—found myself working at South End Press when they needed someone to help on the marketing side. So, I never thought of a life in publishing for myself until it happened. My desire to keep working in nonprofits, have a role in lifting up important voices speaking on issues I care about, and my experiences growing up are the kinds of things that guided me to where I am today.
So, all of this is to say: you don’t have to be an English major to get into publishing!
As a longtime member of the Beacon publishing team, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
I’ve been in publishing since about 2000, so a lot has changed! At that point, company websites were just becoming the norm, but direct sales on those sites and content management systems definitely weren’t. Remember a time when social media didn’t exist? I do. We’re much more connected to readers than ever before. I spend a lot of my time working online, so these are some of the things that really stand out for me. There’s so much that has stayed the same, too, but one thing that really sticks out right now is that people continue to turn to books to fulfill basic needs, like finding comfort and solace in others’ experiences. Or to understand a different point of view or find ways to move forward in a difficult time. I worked in publishing in the post-9/11 world, and now we’re in the Trump era, and books continue to matter.
What are you reading right now?
- The Gunslinger, book one of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I grew up reading a lot of horror/supernatural authors, including Stephen King, and in recent years, have come back to these books again, especially King. With the movie coming out this year, I wanted to make sure I read the series before I saw it.
- Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks. It's one of our new February releases, and if you are a writer or have dreams of being a writer, this book is a must-read. I think people who are struggling through complex feelings and need an outlet for getting them out would find Melanie’s book helpful, too. I’ve read so many of the authors she profiles in the book, so it was great to get the inside story of their writing process.
- Toddler 411. I can’t get through a whole parenting book, but when I think something like, “it’s probably wrong for me to keep feeding my son a snack at midnight after he wakes up crying just because it gets him to settle back down quickly, isn’t it?” I grab this book and get a few tips on what I really should be doing.
- My Supernatural bobble-head dolls. See above about my horror/supernatural genre love. It extends to television and movies too! My home and workspace is filled with pop culture gifts from my husband. Do I need flowers? No. A Supernatural coloring book? YES. I’m Team Dean Winchester by the way.
- A picture of two chimpanzees crossing a road. Nancy Merrick, author of Among Chimpanzees, brought in different pictures of chimps she’s observed in her work for some of the staff. She is a former student and colleague of Jane Goodall and works on conservation efforts to protect them. When I look at the picture, it helps remind me why I work here.
- Many pictures of my son, who’s now two and a half. When I returned to work after maternity leave, I thought I’d never get through the day without looking at his face. Then I realized I can just go to my Facebook photo album. So, I haven’t updated the pictures lately, but they make my space feel homey!
How has work changed for you since you became a mother?
I’ve been really lucky to have a supportive work environment where I don’t have to stick to a nine-to-five work schedule every day, and I can work at home a couple days per week. It gives me the ability to juggle crazy daycare schedules with my husband, spend a little extra time with my son on days I’m home because I don’t have the two-to-three hours total/day commute (and I live just outside of Boston with this commute!), and sometimes even get some chores done around the house. Pre-child, I didn’t think anything of getting in early and staying late when I was really busy. That’s not so much of an option anymore, because I want to spend time with my family, so if I need some extra time to get work done, those hours before my son wakes up and after he goes to bed have become productive times for me. It’s also helped prioritize my work, and I think I’m finally starting to realize I just can’t do everything anymore. By the time he graduates high school, I’m sure I’ll have this whole working parent thing figured out.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
Haroon Moghul’s How to Be a Muslim. Given today’s climate, Haroon’s perspective is really necessary. But, I also tend to gravitate toward books like this, because my grandfather is from Palestine and was Muslim. I don’t know much about the Muslim side of my family, and stories like these help me feel like I am learning something about a part of where I come from.
What was the last song you listened to?
“Thirteen,” by this ’90s Boston-area indie rock band, Lump. I basically have them on non-stop rotation every single day. And I’m not just saying that because my husband was the bass player and wrote that song.
But really, the last song I played before I walked into the office this morning was Dear Leader’s “Nightmare Alleys.” I listen to it a lot right now. Aaron Perrino sings the hell out of that song. It’s ten years old and feels so timely again with the new administration and all the fear and anger and anxiety and desperation and the need to respond somehow to all of that.
Favorite sports team?
The Celtics. (My husband is only making me say that a little.) I’m from upstate New York. My teams were the Yankees and the Giants.
My husband is from central Massachusetts, so he’s all about the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, Revolution, and every other Boston-area team. I guess you could say I converted to these teams too. And our son will be raised a New England sports fan.
When we go back to my hometown, we’ll pick up gear for our local minor league baseball team, which has recently changed its name from the Binghamton Mets to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (I come from the carousel capital of the world!), and we’ll still proudly wear that. So, I didn’t give up all NY sports!
The chocolate chunk cookies from Cookie Monstah. Favorite chocolate chip cookie ever. I buy them sometimes and don’t tell my husband because I don’t want to share. I don’t share them with my son either. They’re that delicious.
What is one thing people don’t know about you?
I hated my middle name so much growing up, I lied to our priest when we were preparing for First Holy Communion (I went to a Russian Orthodox Christian church) and told him my middle name was Renée. I liked it better and I figured since it started with an R, like my actual middle name, it wasn’t such a bad lie. At my first confession, I told the truth. In junior high, classmates found out about my middle name—and turns out it’s not such an awesome-sounding name to other kids either. It became kind of a nickname, and that is why in my senior high school yearbook, my nickname is listed as Rosemary. I don’t mind it so much anymore, but I look at myself and still don’t feel like much of a Rosemary.
What’s your advice to someone interested in entering the publishing field?
If you’re interested in a career in publishing, use your school’s alumni community to find people in the industry who may be willing to do an informational interview with you. Apply for internships to explore all the options publishing has to offer. Look for opportunities at bookstores, libraries, literary agencies, and other book-related organizations too.
As someone who has done a lot of hiring in my 10+ years at Beacon, I have so much advice to offer to young people applying for jobs or internships. I could do a whole Q&A just on that! But here are three things:
1) Do your homework on the company you want to work for and make sure that reflects in your cover letter and in your interview.
2) Come prepared with questions to ask. I never like hearing, “No, I think you’ve already answered all my questions.” Ask about work culture, how they got into publishing, what a typical day is like, how new staff adjust to work life, anything. Just come with some questions!
3) I can’t emphasize this one enough—proofread your cover letter and resumé then have someone else do it too!
About the Author
Alyssa Hassan joined Beacon Press in 2006 after five years at South End Press. She has also worked with Z Magazine, Dollars and Sense, and other progressive non-profit organizations. She is a graduate of Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at @alyssahassan.