Literary Fellow Spotlight: Bringing Books to Life

Michelle Rajan:

Like most people in publishing, I’ve always loved to read. I’m a writer, too. And for the longest time, I thought that my path into the industry would be as an author. Don’t get me wrong, that dream still burns pretty bright. It’s just that making a career for myself in publishing never seemed to include anything except writing novels. I’m a pre-med. I’ve been a pre-med since basically the first grade. But when I was studying for the MCAT, or after I’d finish watching a biochem lecture, I’d retreat into the comfort of my favorite publishing podcasts. 88 Cups of Tea, Deadline City, Write or Die, First Draft with Sarah Enni, and more would fill my room with voices of the publishing industry. I drew inspiration from their stories, journeys, dreams. While struggling to find where I belong in the pre-med world, I would retreat into conversations about publishing and all the ways that this industry is built on vulnerability and sharing glimpses of our consciousness with one another. At every stage of publishing, there is someone working to make an idea into a reality for the purpose of changing readers that they may never meet. And the chance to do that for young readers, as someone who has strived to find varying opportunities to work as a mentor for youth, really pulled me in. When I realized that I have the skillset and the drive to address the inequities in publishing while also following my heart and its love for the industry, I realized that I had no other choice than to pursue publishing. It’s always been my source of comfort. Now, I hope to play a role in sharing that comfort with others.

I’m creating Margin Notes Network, an interactive database for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent, and disabled writers, as well as any other writers underrepresented in children’s literature. It is created for marginalized voices, by marginalized voices, as an effort to increase access to information in building a community-focused writing career. Kidlit writers from all stages—drafting, revising, querying, submission, debut, etc.—can rely on the MN Network to guide them on their path to blogs, podcasts, pitch contests, articles, mentors, and more. Additionally, this website intends to address the underrepresentation in the industry. Applicants to editorial, agenting, marketing, and any other position will find roundtable discussions, interviews, and quick tips from publishing professionals in an attempt to making the job application process more transparent. 

The most distinctive aspect of this website will be its Margin Notes feature. Have you ever seen those tweets that are like “hey, my DMs are open for your question!s” but you’re not sure what to ask? Or worse, you might lose track of whose DMs are open. My website will have a collection of authors, agents, editors, and more professionals who all have their Margin Notes DMs open and will even state the topics they are capable of discussing with you. If you see someone you’d like to reach out to, send in your question on my website and I’ll send them a Margin Note. Every month, I’ll make a delivery to them and get back to you with responses.

This project is basically a dedication to my mentor, Emily Forney. I know it might seem like I’m just hyping her up but, really, if it weren’t for all the insight she gave me into understanding the industry, I would feel like there’s no end in sight to reaching my dreams. I have several writer friends who sometimes blame themselves when they’re not getting the success they deserve when, in reality, the system isn’t currently serving to represent them and that needs to change. Also, writers and job applicants are often advised to find whisper networks that can keep them safe or guide them in the direction. Many publishing hopefuls do not have access to those kinds of whispers and so I hope that in creating this more public network, we can work to create a more transparent community. 

[My goal is to become] a literary agent with an immense love for middle grade, young adult, and new adult. For all ages and genres, I will be invested in advocating for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent and disabled communities. I’ll search for stories that are written by these underrepresented voices and demonstrate to young readers that there is power in writing from the margin. I’d love to read about characters in contemporary fiction with protagonists that are living their lives to the tune of ‘this is me trying’ by Taylor Swift (think: Loveboat, Taipei) or fantasies that range from urban (like, Bruja Born) to faraway places (such as anything by Roshani Chokshi!). I’m also a huge Bollywood and K-drama fan so I’d eat anything up with those references. So basically, I’ve got my manuscript wishlist already figured out. I’ve learned how much of a gatekeeping role agents play in the industry so I hope that by attaining the position, I can help in pushing for stories that are not limited to only what I want to read but include what’s necessary for a diverse future in publishing.

I also plan to be a more editorial type of agent because the college Writing Assistant/Tutor in me will truly never leave. I feel that it will make the process collaborative and my authors will grow faith in me as we delve into their stories together. After learning about submission lists and contracts from Emily, I’m confident that my top priority will always be to advocate for my authors and find them publishing homes that are truly genuine fits for their dreams.

Elba Rosado:

 At the risk of sounding cliché, publishing is the only thing that fits. Books have always been a part of my life (Thanks to my mom grounding me in 6thgrade for half a year and letting me do nothing else but read) and for me, reading has never been enough. The same way reading takes people on a journey, I’ve always been fascinated in the journey of a book from conception, creation and execution. There’s so much that goes into creating a book and getting it out in the world than people understand—and I was one of them! I’m still learning all the time (Thanks for the constant lessons, Emily). Publishing is a wonderful industry when the right people are involved. It needs some work, publishing, to help create a safe and inclusive work environment for staff and readers and I want to be a part of the people joining who make it a mission to uplift marginalized voices and communities so anybody can pick up a book and be able to see characters that look like them.

My project is about joining critique partners in a safe and accessible environment. Shooting out a tweet into the abyss on social media doesn’t always reach the right fit, whether it be people who don’t critique in a method constructive to the author, or get ignored because of follower count, or go unanswered. I understand that sharing work is a delicate, nerve wracking process so my project aims to make the approach easier. I’m working on a filtering system to match with someone who has skills you’ll be able to check off that you’re looking for. It’ll also include genre, turnaround time, and the ability to decide whether you want someone from your own community to be a potential match, should you wish.

I would love to work in marketing and publicity. There are so many books that are beautifully written and unfortunately, don’t always get the help it deserves to reach a wider audience. I want to be a part of the journey for the author where they get to put themselves and their book out for the world to see. I want to do everything I can for authors—who have poured their souls into their books—to be able to see that translate in growing an audience and their sales. There is sometimes this misconception that you get an agent, then a book deal and that’s it but it’s a delicate stage, the months, years, leading up to a release. That’s where a lot of those beautifully written books can soar or fall. In marketing, I’ll be able to use my creative and networking skills to help get eyes on books I’m passionate about because I want readers to be able to experience these books they’ll miss out on if not for a good marketing team. 

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