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Meet Alaina Leary of We Need Diverse Books in Quincy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alaina Leary.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.

Back in high school, I studied veterinary and animal science at an agricultural school, because I really believed at the time that I wanted to become a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals, nature, and the environment. It wasn’t until I was just about to head to college that I realized this wasn’t for me—I’d be heartbroken dealing with sick animals (or worse), and I’m a highly empathetic and sensitive person, which is why I completely avoided any consideration for the medical field.

In undergrad, I wanted to find something that I felt could marry my love of leaving a positive impact on the world with my empathetic, creative soul. I’ve always been a maker and a creator, and so studying English and communications was a natural fit: I could write about animals, the environment, nature, and more, without being exhausted by the day-to-day.

It was in college that I really fell in love with using my creativity to give back—I helped write a proposal for the creation of a veterans’ lounge on campus, spurred by a social justice course on tutoring writing that taught me the foundations of community change. That lounge now exists on campus at Westfield State University, thanks to hours of hard work, research, writing, editing, and grant writing from my incredible fellow writing center consultants.

I decided to go on for a master’s degree in publishing and writing at Emerson College, with the hope of taking my interests in activism and social change with me, which was how I began working with the organization We Need Diverse Books in 2015. It’s been a very rewarding experience, and along the way, I’ve been able to work with other impactful organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Hope for Limpopo, Charity Water, Everyday Feminism, National Eating Disorders Association, and The Deaf Poets Society.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

As someone who has both worked full-time and freelanced, and who has always volunteered part of my time along the way to organizations, causes, and mentoring others—it’s a lot. I was thrown into the work when I interned at Beetle Press in Easthampton, MA while I was a junior in college. My supervisor, Janice, gave me a lot of projects and let me figure them out; for the first time, I was managing social media campaigns for brands and public figures, I was writing press releases, I was writing newspaper articles, I was working on blog content. I had a phenomenal mentor in Janice, who was my first real look at what life might be like if I didn’t work in an office, because she owns her business.

I needed to figure out what would make me happiest and what made sense for my health, since I also have a connective tissue disability—and ultimately decided that working remotely (at least a majority of the time) was right for me. I’ve done that both full-time for organizations and as a full-time freelancer, and it’s amazing how much more productive I am at home and how much more energy I have to give not only to my work, but to every area of my life: Health, relationships, household chores, passion projects, fitness and nutrition, mental health and mindfulness.

Getting to a point where I was able to work full-time remotely wasn’t simple, though. It took a lot of trial-and-error and a few noisy, exhausting office jobs that made me realize how much I needed that restful, ergonomic home office space (and the ability to cook tasty meals made from unprocessed foods whenever I need them!). It was worth the hustle, but there have been periods where I’ve worked 10 or 12 hour days to get everything done because I was building my portfolio, creating relationships, and learning new strategies.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about We Need Diverse Books – what should we know?

I’ve been working with We Need Diverse Books, an organization with a mission of getting diverse authors and stories into the hands of young readers, since 2015, and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. I work with the social media and publicity team, as well as with the internship grants team, and in the past I’ve also helped judge the Bookseller of the Year Award and one of our middle grade anthology contests.

The team at We Need Diverse Books is just so passionate. Everyone is here because we really believe in the power of stories and meaningful change in the publishing industry. I’ve had the opportunity of meeting so many other current and former WNDB team members, and also meeting incredible authors and illustrators who are working to make this mission a reality every single day.  

Additionally, I have a freelance business focusing on editing, social media management, writing coaching, marketing, publicity, and copywriting. I’m particularly talented at growing dedicated and engaged social media followings; working with authors, nonprofits, influencers, and publishers; and working with authors as part writing coach, part developmental editor for their works from short articles and blog posts up to full-length books. I’m so fortunate to be able to do something I love every single day, and to work with so many talented, creative people.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?

I’m very resilient. I enjoy challenges, and I’m not afraid of rejection—because I wouldn’t have nearly as many published journalism clips, as many social media management clients, as many editing projects as I do if I weren’t. You need to learn to be comfortable with risk and rejection early on if you’re working in media or publishing at all, and especially if you’re ever freelancing. It was awkward at first, but I’m now very used to the process of pitching an editor an idea and potentially being rejected; I have a list of publications where I’ll pitch next, as well as a list of dream publications that I’m always working toward. I take that resiliency with me everywhere, and it’s served me well in full-time roles as well, because those are filled with daily challenges and failures, but I’m happy to say that I learn from everything I do, whether I consider it a success the first time around or not.

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Image Credit:
MM Photography

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