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 July, we introduce you to our contracts director and director of Beacon Press Audio, Melissa Nasson!
What drew you to publishing, Melissa? How did you find your way to Beacon?
Like everyone else who works in publishing, I grew up as a bookworm. My grandfather and my parents used to take me to the children’s section at the Needham Public Library, and we’d leave with more books than I could carry.
In high school, my friend Alex and I were total Harry Potter diehards. We used to make trivia quizzes to determine which of our classmates was worthy of attending the movie premieres with us. So books were always a huge part of my life, but it never occurred to me to make books into a career until I had finished my second year of law school. Luckily, there are plenty of ways in which law and publishing intersect—contracts, licensing, permissions, and more—so I started networking and scouring the Boston area for jobs that combined my interests. When I saw my job posted at Beacon in December 2012, it sounded perfect for me. And it was!
What is one book on our list that has influenced your thinking on a particular issue?
Caged Eyes by Lynn Hall really influenced my thinking on sexual assault on women in the military. I did a legal read of the manuscript, and I was both appalled at the terrible experiences the author endured and struck by her bravery in sharing them so candidly with the reader. At the end of the book, I felt outraged at the way Lynn was treated by her abusers and by the Air Force Academy, and so sad that her dreams were taken away from her. But I also felt a renewed purpose to spread the word about the book and about the mistreatment of women who are trying to serve our country. And despite the horrific things in the book and the anger I felt on Lynn’s behalf, I was so inspired by her resilience. Though she still endures constant pain, she’s an ultra-marathoner who literally runs up mountains!
Also, though the question says choose one book, I also have to mention On Being Raped by Raymond M. Douglas. It seems so obvious, but the book has a simple yet rarely-heard message: men are also victims of rape. It has always disturbed and perplexed me that male rape is mainly treated as a joke in American pop culture, or it goes unacknowledged altogether. As a society, we need to accept that anyone can be a victim of rape so that all victims can get the help and services they need. I’m proud that we published this book at Beacon and that we’re doing our part to shine a light on this topic and normalize its discussion. It’s also a beautifully written and powerful book.
What helps you focus when you’re at work?
If I really need to focus—if I’m working on a negotiation, or just reviewing a very old Beacon contract with antiquated language—I listen to Forest and Nature Sounds on YouTube. If I’m focusing but not laser-focused—like when I’m preparing a boilerplate contract to send out, or sending takedown notices to websites hosting pirated Beacon e-books, or mailing contracts or checks or amendments—I listen to the 90s Alternative station on Pandora.
The most obvious change is the building! It’s hard to believe we moved from Beacon Hill to Fort Point over three years ago. I miss my old office at the Mount Vernon Street location. It had more space for my many spider plants and their ever-growing offspring. But the Fort Point office has so many more opportunities to socialize with other staff members. We’re also publishing more books than we did back then, and we’ve become more selective with what we publish. But Beacon’s commitment to social justice has not changed, and that’s why I’m still so glad to be working here on behalf of the mission.
What other departments does your department interact/collaborate with? And how?
My job gives me the opportunity to interact with every department at Beacon, which is part of what keeps things exciting. I’m lucky enough to attend the weekly editorial meetings and biannual editorial retreats, so I can hear about the latest projects and topics the editors are pursuing. I often interact with the production department in my capacity as Director of Beacon Press Audio—whether I’m checking in with Marcy Barnes and Beth Collins to see when final proofs will be ready to use for the audiobook script, or giving Daniel Barks a heads up that audio files are being delivered so he can transfer them to Penguin Random House, or participating in reprint meetings when we decide whether to pursue electronic or other rights for backlist titles. I have the opportunity to work with the design department on determining the rights status of potential cover and interior photos, and sometimes I pitch in on negotiating agreements with photographers. Occasionally I’ll review a first or second serial agreement for the publicity department, and sometimes I weigh in on whether the marketing department can use certain photos on social media. I could go on, but I’m very fortunate to be able to collaborate with so many of my colleagues on a daily basis.
What are you reading right now?
I have three books in progress: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, and Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson. I mostly read young adult fiction—mainly fantasy and sci-fi—in my spare time.
In an alternate universe, what career would you have?
A marine biologist, or maybe I would run an animal sanctuary. I would definitely be working with animals in some capacity.
Hobbies outside of work?
I love craft beer, so going to breweries and tasting new beers is a favorite hobby. Also following Boston sports teams, knitting, making pickles, gardening, and playing with other peoples’ dogs!
Name three non-office items on your desk and their significance to you.
I have a dog-a-day calendar that I enjoy flipping each day, because who doesn’t like a new cute dog every day? I have a photo of me and my fiancé Amory, which is significant for obvious reasons. And I have a Gryffindor quill and inkwell, which is significant because of my abovementioned Harry Potter fandom. (Though I’m really more of a Ravenclaw, truth be told.)
What’s your commute like? What do you do to pass the time on your way into the office?
I take the B train on the green line from Brighton, which is always an adventure. I always read on my commute. If I can’t get a seat and can’t read comfortably, I’m not a happy camper!
About Melissa Nasson
Melissa Nasson joined Beacon Press after finishing her law degree and interning at the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth literary agency and The Perseus Books Group.