Researching to find my dream job, by Alvina Ling

Alvina LingAlvina Ling, Senior Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, acquires children’s books for all ages (baby through teen), and is particularly interested in literary middle-grade fiction and books with multicultural themes.

Some of her recent publications include the New York Times bestselling picture books Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young, and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown; Eggs by Jerry Spinelli; Edgar Award winner The Postcard by Tony Abbott; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley; The Devouring by Simon Holt; and Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin.

Alvina graduated from University of California at Berkeley with a major in mass communications. She taught English and studied Chinese in Taiwan, then returned to the States to work as a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. She interned at Horn Book and Charlesbridge Publishing before joining Little, Brown, in 1999.

Thank you, Alvina; we’re happy to have you as a guest at the Debutante Ball.

Researching to find my dream job

Thanks for inviting me to the Ball! As soon as I heard the topic was “research,” I thought about a talk I sometimes give at writers’ conferences titled “My path to publishing, your path to publication.” In it, I outline the steps I took to break into the publishing industry, and correlate those steps to what authors can do in their quest to be published. It’s actually one of my favorite talks to give, because I get to talk about my parents and their love story, and how that inspired me in my goal to become an editor. And yes, research plays a role in all of this.

You can read more about my parents’ love story here, but to summarize, my father took a very goal-oriented approach to finding a wife, and was also very methodical about it. He needed to find where he could meet his potential wife, and his research led him to a Taiwanese singles party in New York City. And once there, he decided he would dance with each lady, rank them in order of preference, and then ask them out in order until someone said yes. Well, my mother was ranked #1, and the rest is history. See, he did his research, and that led to success!

Well, when I decided that publishing was the industry for me, and being a children’s book editor was my dream job, I also did my research. First, I bought a book: Making it in Book Publishing. I also did informational interviews with people in publishing, as well as online research, where I discovered editor Harold Underdown’s fantastic website, The Purple Crayon, which at the time had some advice on breaking into the publishing side of the industry. I took an introduction to publishing seminar at the local college. I took a copyediting course. I worked at a bookstore. I talked to everyone I could about my goal, read all the children’s books I could to make sure I knew the business. Research! I moved to Boston, did internships at the Horn Book and at Charlesbridge Publishing while working at Barnes & Noble as a bookseller, and it all paid off in the end. Over ten years ago, on August 16, 1999, I started as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown, where I still am today. And yes, I’m still doing my research — which of course includes reading blogs!

Research is so important in all stages of the writing and publishing industry. As we’ve seen this week, it’s important to research while writing. And it’s also important to research when searching for an agent, or an editor, or a publisher. What kind of agent do you want? What kind of editor? Which publisher releases the type of books you write? What is their submissions policy?

Of course, my favorite kind of research is looking into which restaurant to take an author or agent. What’s your favorite kind of research?

~Alvina Ling

9 Replies to “Researching to find my dream job, by Alvina Ling”

  1. Thanks for sharing your parents’ love story. Made me smile. They sound like great people. And you are very good at restaurant researching…I can attest! Alvina Ling rocks! Word.

  2. I liked reading about how you climbed up the ranks in the publishing world. It’s proof that if you want something, you CAN grab it, if you employ “sticktoit-tiveness” … and do your research. My favorite research is research that restores my faith in humanity, and inspires me. Right now, for example, I’m interviewing Bryn Mawr College students for a freelance story I’m writing; these young women are focused, driven, and eloquent, and they make me feel good about the world!

  3. Wonderful post. It’s interesting because there are so many blogs and discussions relating to how writers can break into publishing, but you’ve made me think about it for the first time from the other side. To make it as an editor takes just as much drive and passion. And I loved your parents’ story, too.

  4. Inspiring! I always tell my students that knowing what you want to do is 99% of the challenge. Then you go after it with everything you’ve got. My favorite type of research is conversing with others. If it’s in the ocean or high in the mountains, so much the better.

  5. Alvina, thank you so much for joining us at the Ball! I loved hearing the story of your parents (my parents met in Taiwan, too!) and hearing about your background! If you come to Hawaii, look me up — I’ve done my research and we have a host of fabulous restaurants to choose from! 😉


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