Alumni spotlight

Mary Van Akin '10

Brainstorming campaigns for bestsellers, organizing nationwide book tours, pitching to major media outlets like the Today show, National Public Radio and CNN – it’s all in a day's work for Mary Van Akin '10.

An English literature major with a minor in English communications, Van Akin is the publicity manager for Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, promoting more than 20 children's and young adult titles a year through publicity campaigns.

"A publicist's role within a campaign is to book media and events for the author," she explained. "But more than that, we help direct overall strategy from the time the publishing house acquires the title from a literary agent through the title's publication."

In as little as six years, Van Akin went from interning at a regional magazine in Newport to working for an international publishing company in New York City. She worked at Random House Children's Books and at the Children's Book Council before starting as a publicist at Macmillan, eventually being promoted to publicity manager in January 2016.

Van Akin spends her days working with the Macmillan team to create publicity plans for newly published books. "I love the people I work with," she said. "I genuinely look forward to going to work every day and love learning from the people around me as we piece together book campaigns and discuss strategy."

Organizing national tours, book festivals and other large-scale events are key components of a campaign. According to Van Akin, while the tours entail many moving parts and people, they are her favorite.

"It can be tedious work, but there is nothing more satisfying than when a tour goes off without a hitch," she said. "I feel lucky to get to see the work we do in action on the road, and I always look forward to tour season, even though it can be quite grueling."

Van Akin also ensures that authors and their books get airtime by securing media coverage with national television and radio outlets as well as magazines and newspapers. "Much of your success as a publicist depends on the relationships you build with media contacts, so building that trust and rapport is key," she explained.

Van Akin traces some of her most prized publicity skills to her time as a student. "The close analysis required of an English literature major continues to help me when we're considering a new manuscript for acquisition, and writing articles for my communications courses helped me to be more concise, which is crucial when preparing pitches and press materials," she said.

Van Akin also described her senior-year internship with Newport Life magazine as essential to her career's development. She thought that the editorial aspect of publishing was for her; however, she made a surprising discovery.

"While there was something really wonderful about seeing my articles in print, I found I was the most energized and excited by the publicity and marketing tasks," she said. "I had not considered publicity as a career track prior to this."

The path she chose, though, feels like the right one. "Publicity had never occurred to me as a career path," Van Akin noted. "But, I've found this to be just the right fit for my skill set and personality. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

By Lily Margaret Jones '17

Read more about this program: English and Communications