Our rebooted “Beacon Behind the Books” series is on a roll! In these times when readers are responding to our books “more than ever,” when our authors—including Colm Tóibín, Tanya Katerí Hernández, Robin D. G. Kelley, Eboo Patel, and Gayl Jones—are appearing in the media, their ideas going viral on social media, their voices being heard on so many platforms, we thought it would 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 introduces to you a staff member and gives you a behind-the-scenes look, department by department, at what goes on at our office.
To close out 2022, we introduce you Nicole-Anne Keyton, our assistant editor!
What drew you to publishing, Nicole? How did you find your way to Beacon?
In undergrad, when I started working on my creative writing minor, I spotted a course on book publishing in the English department’s catalog. I’d always been “interested” in publishing, and I suppose the books and films I consumed growing up that glamorized the industry fascinated me as someone on the outside looking in—same with my other educational pursuits in film, journalism, art history, creative writing, advertising . . . I owe a tremendous debt to that class, as it made learning about the industry more accessible to those who couldn’t afford an elite summer publishing course or graduate program. From there, I took on a lot of odd jobs, from freelancing as a medical research copyeditor to bookstore retail to tutoring at a writing center, until I found an entry-level opening at Beacon.
What are some of the challenges of being an assistant editor? What do you find most rewarding?
One of the biggest challenges for me is establishing a workflow that I feel works best for me. I’m still testing out different working strategies but have yet to find a routine that sticks. I could spin that as a positive, but on some days, it can get frustrating when it hits 5pm and all the little things I got done in a day seem to amount to very little in the grand scheme of things.
What I find most rewarding, on the other hand, is meeting with authors and agents and getting to know them off the page. I love learning more about others’ obsessions and why they want to write about them.
What is one book on our list that has influenced your thinking on a particular issue?
This one’s a backlist baby, but I was floored by Carole Joffe’s Doctors of Conscience. While I’ve been reading a lot of personal stories about the current state of abortion in the US, I found it just as vital to read about what abortion access looked like before Roe v. Wade legalized it. Doctors of Conscience rekindled some hope in me for a future network of abortion and preventive care that holds strong by way of interstate community networks when our political systems fail us. While the book’s testimony ends in the late 1970s and can’t speak to how abortion access and medical care have evolved since, it’s an essential part of our history that shouldn’t be ignored or discounted in the context of how we got here today.
What’s your advice to someone interested in entering the publishing field?
Your past experiences are much more valuable than you realize. I didn’t enter book publishing through the conventional ways (publishing/English degree, internships, knowing someone who knows someone). I picked up bits of knowledge about the industry and developed certain skillsets through my past lives in workplaces far from publishing. Working at a big-name bookstore taught me the ins and outs of sales trends and how to be a decent human to service workers. Freelancing in medical research improved my proofreading and fact-checking skills. Working in film production strengthened my sense of time management and my eye for detail. Even working as a delivery driver for a Chinese restaurant taught me when to multitask and when to prioritize (and how to serve several plates in one trip). Linear career paths are not the only way to find what you love doing.
In an alternate universe, what career would you have?
I think I would run my own independent bookstore or be a guidance counselor for high schoolers. Or I’d be that one weird literature professor in the English department who openly loathes neoliberalism and teaches the tropical gothic canon. Ultimately, though, “I do not dream of labor.”
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reviewing a memoir from She Writes Press about mixed-race identity, PTSD, and bipolar disorder, which will come out later this month. And I’m reading the latest translation of Albert Camus’s The Plague, which is the first English translation written by a woman!
Hobbies outside of work?
Reading . . . ? I mean, I read a lot outside of work. Thing is, I’m a very slow reader, so I can only get through about thirty books a year. Apart from reading, I write book reviews and short stories. I edit fiction for a small online literary journal. I guess outside of all things books, I enjoy teaching myself how to (properly, scientifically) cook, watching A24 films and Doctor Who, and hanging out with my dog. :)
Favorite book ever?
How dare you.
More About Nicole-Anne Keyton
Nicole-Anne Bales Keyton (they/she): Nicole joined Beacon’s editorial team in December 2019 and assists Editorial Director Amy Caldwell. Nicole received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts-Boston and a BA in film from Virginia Commonwealth University. Nicole is a Kundiman fellow and the fiction editor for Vagabond City Lit. In their spare time, Nicole can be found writing short fiction, creating moody Spotify playlists, making zero progress with their endless TBR bookshelf, and hanging out with their dog, Sassy.