Alexandra Messina-Schultheis, 2014/2016 Alum

Year of Graduation: BA in English – with a concentration in Creative Writing, 2014; MA in Writing and Publishing, 2016

Current Position:
Associate Editor at Cottage Door Press – A Children’s Book Publishing Press

Are you considering continuing your education and completing a PhD or another MA?

“I am always and forever a student.”

Alex always knew she was going to continue her education and earn her Masters after completing her Bachelor’s degree. Although the combined BA in English and MA in Writing and Publishing was not available when Alex was at DePaul, she recommends the program to students who are interested in careers in editing and publishing. Alex says a PhD is in the cards for her, but she is happy with her current position now.

Describe a Typical Day at work.

“Anything that’s got words on it, we pass over our eyeballs.”

As an associate editor at Cottage Door Press, Alex has a hand in all editorial roles in the creative department. Since Cottage Door focuses on publishing title for ages 0-6 years, the books she works on are mostly board books. Her job requires her to maintain relationships with licensers such as Smithsonian, Nickelodeon, Baby Einstein, and PBS kids, though Cottage Door also publishes book that are not licensed. There, the creative process is slightly different than a traditional acquisition process. Traditionally, agents send manuscripts and the press buys them. Instead, at Cottage Door, they work on content creation based on what the sales team determines is trending and popular. Because of this, Alex says she is an editor who also gets to write a lot of manuscripts.
Her day-to-day tasks differ—some days Alex works on licensing books and other days she works on Cottage Door books. Beyond editing manuscripts, Alex also works on marketing materials, social media posts, the catalog, and even wet proofs and soft proofs. On some days, she also works with illustrators.
Alex says Cottage Door is a very collaborative company that sees books from their starts to their ends.

What are some of your favorite books that you have worked on while at Cottage Door?

“I’ll do dinosaur books forever.”

Alex loves working on books for the Smithsonian, particularly dinosaur books. The museum is one of her favorite places to go to because all of the Smithsonian exhibits are purposeful and the curators put such care into their work. Alex notes that the Smithsonian really cares about how children are learning and growing and she loves being a part of the creative process with them.
Her co-editor once asked if she was tired of working on dinosaur books and Alex responded she could never be tired of them.
Working with licensors is one of Alex’s favorite parts of her job, because some licensors allow her to maintain her own creativity and brand. She says it’s amazing to have a hand in making a book that you know will get out to children.
Explain your first job after graduating and how you got it.
Alex first started in the publishing world during undergrad. She was a marketing intern for Albert Whitman and Company, a children’s book publisher in the suburbs of Chicago. When she began her graduate program, Albert Whitman hired her to work part-time in their creative department. Although she was later promoted to a production position, Alex decided to leave when offered a position at Cottage Door.

Advice for students who are graduating soon.

“Even if you think it might not be your realm, it might be helpful moving forward.”

The best piece of advice Alex can give to graduating students is to get an internship to get your foot in the door. She notes that the publishing industry, especially in Chicago, is much smaller than it seems, and everyone knows each other. The smaller pool is fantastic for networking and easier to navigate than in cities with larger publishing scenes. She related this back to her own experience as a marketing intern. Although Alex knew she didn’t have much experience in marketing, her internship was in the industry she hoped to be a part of. So she joined the Albert Whitman team to network with people working in the creative and editorial departments.
Alex says student must be willing to take an opportunity when it comes, especially if it is in the industry that they hope to be in.

Advice to current English majors.

“DePaul is in the greatest city and it has so many opportunities to take advantage of.”

As a commuter student during her time at DePaul, Alex wishes that she attended more events. Within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the English Department, there are several events and opportunities for students to attend. Students may meet the person who helps them get their next job.
Alex says it’s important for students to attend the events to network with speakers, attendees, and professors. Student who put themselves out there and meet people may find professionals who are willing to help. Alex notes that everyone starts with no experience, but students will meet someone who will give you a chance.

How important is networking in your field?

“Never burn a bridge.”

Alex states that individuals in publishing tend to be there because they want to be, and they know about a lot of opportunities. Within the English department at DePaul, there are a lot of professors that are published authors, poets, or editors with connections they are willing to share with students. Alex recommends finding groups such as SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  She adds that there are many events for writers that want to be published or have their works read. Attendees are able to bring their portfolios or manuscripts to the group meetings for others to read including industry professionals.
Alex credits her current position to one of her own connections: her former boss at Albert Whitman knows the boss of her current boss at Cottage Door.

Describe your experience at DePaul.

“The classes and professors helped me become a better reader and a better writer, which is all I’ve ever wanted to be.”

The experience at DePaul that Alex most enjoyed were her professors, specifically in the English Department. A handful of these professors had a huge impact on her life as a writer and a reader⁠—her studies were enhanced by simply being around instructors who are intelligent, helpful, and able to provide real world experiences to share with students.

Profile by Sara Shahein,
Contributor to The Underground