The New York Bookwoman

D e c e m b e r   2 0 0 9

Meet a Member

Linda Epstein interviews Meryl Zegarek of Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc


Hi, Meryl, thanks for agreeing to be our December “Meet a Member.”  Why don’t we start off with how you heard about WNBA and became a member?

I heard about WNBA through some friends in publishing, and I wanted to connect with other women in book publishing and learn about the work that they did.  I love to network so I joined when I started my own business.

Tell us about your career path and what led you to your current job.

Well, I was a third grade teacher, and followed that with my first job in book publishing – as an editorial assistant at the Lucky Book Club at Scholastic.  I loved the book club when I was teaching, and it was very exciting to be a part of it.  I even wrote a Clifford Valentine’s Day card that was featured in their February issue!  After a year at Scholastic I went to work with the fantastic and legendary book publicist, Selma Shapiro.  Selma had left Random House and started her own book publicity agency.  I worked with Selma for eleven years, and then went on to publicity director jobs at William Morrow, Bantam Books, and finally two divisions of Knopf, Pantheon and Schocken Books.  Ultimately, I knew I wanted my own business and I’ve had my own agency for nine years now.  It is a great experience. I thoroughly enjoy my work.

Where did you grow up?  What interests growing up helped shape your career?

I grew up in Nassau County, Long Island.  My mother had been a librarian before she got married and started a family, and she instilled a love for books in me.  She was always reading and we had lots of books in our home.  I loved to look at them all.  When I was old enough to decorate my bedroom I insisted on my own bookshelves to house my book collection.  I even created a library in our garage, putting index cards in envelopes glued to the inside cover of my books, and letting my friends sign them out and borrow them!  Friends still reminisce about my library!

What do you like best about your work? What are your challenges?

I love what I promote:  books!  I am lucky to represent some outstanding publishers and authors in the U.K. and in the U.S.  I like the diversity of my list, and I enjoy working with publishers outside the U.S. as well.  It gives me a global view of the book industry and literature.  We have fiction writers from across the globe, and solid non-fiction writers on numerous subjects.  I learn so much.  Serpent’s Tail has had two ‘Nobel Prize in Literature’ winners in the past five years!  Bitter Lemon mystery titles win all the most prestigious awards in Europe, and are set in fabulous locations.   

The biggest challenge of my work can be representing authors brand new to American readers, and also representing books from smaller independent publishers.  But I’ve made that a specialty.  I learned to break out those niche books and authors when I was at Pantheon.  We had such an eclectic and literary list there (The Reader by Bernard Schlink and How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton  are two that I publicized, that transformed from little titles to BIG).  I like the challenge.

What do you do to stay on top of your field and learn more?

I read everything!  Books, magazines, newspapers, and I devour the internet.  I attend workshops on anything new to our industry to stay informed.  I love the new social media.  There is so much sharing of information, it is truly amazing.

What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or pets?

I read of course; often several books a week.  When I can take the time off, I travel, and am often inspired by the books I’ve read.  Hence, a trip to India not long ago.  I also visit authors that I represent who live overseas, which has inspired trips to such places as Indonesia and Africa!  I am interested in photography and film making, and I take photographs and film my travels as well.

I love animals and my Havanese dog, Zoe, is the darling of my office.  She keeps us amused, and has a tranquil effect on everyone when things get hectic.  Zoe loves to sniff out a good book.  Animal stories are her favorite of course.  Ok, I’m a crazy dog person!

On a cold winter day, what’s your favorite kind of book to curl up on the couch with?

No doubt, good literary fiction.  I simply devour beautiful prose and a juicy story.

Thank you, Meryl, for letting us get to know you a little bit better and for sharing your love of books with us.  Regards to Zoe!