In these times when readers are responding to our books “more than ever,” when our authors—including Cornel West, Anita Hill, Robin DiAngelo, Charlene Carruthers, Howard Bryant, and Christopher Emdin—are appearing in the media, their ideas going viral on social media, their voices being heard on so many platforms, we thought it might be good to take a break to focus on some of the staff who work hard to find, shape, edit, produce, and promote those works. Our blog series “Beacon Behind the Books” introduces to you a member of our staff and gives you a behind-the-scenes look, department by department, at what goes on at our office.
For the month of November, meet our creative director, Carol Chu!
What drew you to publishing, Carol? How did you find your way to Beacon?
I had a roundabout path to where I am now. I went to a STEM magnet high school and worked at the Army Research Lab in the microphotonics department and figured I would be an engineer. I entered college as an engineering major and minored in art. The whole while, I wrote articles as a student reporter. In high school I was the news editor of our school paper and in college I was a staff reporter for the campus paper. The Asian American Student Union published a newspaper, and the editor-in-chief contacted me for help. I wrote a few pieces and became the editor-in-chief for the next two years. Halfway through my junior year, I switched majors and I graduated with a BA in journalism and a minor in art and worked in a newsroom of a paper and as a writer for a magazine—and found that I was good at layout and composition and went to grad school for design. My thesis was on propaganda in children’s books. The rest is more predictable after getting my masters. I did the NYC thing: working fulltime at studios while freelancing and dog walking and coat checking and barbacking. With my boss’s blessing—because he had illustrated and designed three dozen children’s books—I convinced Random House they needed me and needed to create a position for me, and that was my first job in publishing proper. Fast forward eighteen years, my friend Bob Kosturko let me know of an opportunity at Beacon, and I leapt for it.
What are some of the challenges of being a creative director? What do you find most rewarding?
A seasoned art director once told me, “When a book does well, it’s the story. When it doesn’t, it’s the cover.” That basically sums up how cover design exists to support the story and the words, and yet . . . and yet, it can hold it back. As Beacon’s creative director, I feel a responsibility to deliver designs which are distinct as well as of-the-times and in line with the overall market. The challenge is being as culturally and visually fluent as possible as a designer, to have this sixth sense of what a book buyer sees as they look at your book and create exactly that on as small of a budget as possible and under specific deadlines. I work with an amazing designer, Louis Roe, and the design talks and brainstorming and image sharing from our virtual and real travel is exactly what’s needed to keep creating designs for dozens of books without getting burned out.
What helps you focus when you’re at work?
I always have my earbuds in and I’m usually playing a personal playlist on Spotify. Recently, my partner got me fancy-pants airpods, which are amazing because you can move around with no cord keeping you back. BUT, people don’t see that you have something in your ears sometimes, and I think a few times I’ve not heard someone talking to me while I’m at the cutting table or the copier.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Independent People by Halldór Laxness. It was recommended to me when I was in Iceland this summer. I’m about three-quarters of the way through; I started it late this summer and I think the cooler weather actually has me turning to it more now and I’m going to finish it this weekend.
What’s something you’ve read which made you pause recently?
I just read an article in the New York Times which quoted Carl Sagan. It was, “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic . . . It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.”
Hobbies outside of work?
I refinish mid-century furniture and resell it to a few dealers and collectors. It’s relaxing to sand and stain, nail and reupholster. I also quilt. I actually started quilting in NYC when I’d ask for swatches of the most expensive bolts of fabric at ABC Home. I realized I had a pile of precious textiles and decided to sew a crazy quilt.
About Carol Chu
Prior to joining Beacon, Carol Chu was Creative Director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and has designed and art directed a variety of books for a variety of readers. She has a Master’s in design from the Pratt Institute and has a BA in Journalism. She’s illustrated three books, authored two, and translated one. She’s partial to well-kerned lettering and enjoys a good glyph. Her favorite color is PMS 032c.