Melissa smiling. Text, "Meet Melissa" and "Marketing."
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Meet Melissa

Joanna joined the INCLUDAS team from September-December 2021 was the Marketing Intern. We were so excited to have her with us!

Tell us about yourself.

I’m passionate about children’s publishing and diversity in children’s publishing. It’s been that way for a long time, even before I decided to pursue it professionally. I love seeing inclusion in publishing growing and evolving every day, every week, every Tuesday, where new books are coming out every week, and there are just so many diverse titles. It makes my heart happy. 

Growing up as a disabled kid, I didn’t really see any authentic representation. It impacts me in a lot of ways, making me want to provide that representation to kids today. It’s finally becoming more common to see disability diversity in publishing, and it makes me happy that teenagers have books with disabled characters now.  

What makes you proud of yourself, and what are your aspirations?

My greatest accomplishment would be completing and selling my debut novel, You, Me, and Our Heartstrings, which is being published Summer 2022. The whole journey has been the most surreal experience of my life. It all happened so quickly—we went out on submission in November 2020 and heard back in January 2021 that I was getting published. When I heard, I preceded to sob at my desk in my office for an hour. I’m just so excited to share the story with everyone. 

My dreams and aspirations for the future are to work in publicity and marketing in a publishing house in New York City and continue my author career. Ever since I figured out I wanted to work in publishing, I’ve realized that I want to balance being in-house and working as an author. I’m already on my way to do it, so I’m really excited about it. 

Why are you interested in working in publishing?

I’m interested in working in publishing because it’s the place I’ve been my whole life. I’ve been involved with books since I was in the incubator. My mom would come to the hospital and read to me every weekend. One time, she was reading a picture book, and there was a picture of a sailboat. Regardless of how sick I was, I lifted my head so that I could see the picture better. My mom said it happened, and knowing my mom, it definitely did. Working in publishing as an adult always seemed like a foregone conclusion because that’s what I’ve wanted my whole life. I want to work in-house because I love seeing how books have evolved, and I want to use my knowledge from seeing that and applying it to future releases. 

Why is disability diversity in stories important to you?

It’s important to me because I’ve been disabled my whole life. I have cerebral palsy, anxiety, and depression. Specifically for cerebral palsy, growing up, there was nothing. It took years for me to even consider writing disabled characters because there was no representation that could inspire me. Disability visibility is there for the kids who are born disabled today, kids who have been disabled for years, and kids who are going to be born disabled. They’re going to pick up those books, and they’re going to see themselves. That reassurance is huge.  

One of my favorite books of all time is The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd Jones, which has a chronically ill mapmaker as the main protagonist. It’s a fantasy novel, and I just want to see more stories like that, where disabled characters just go on a journey, walking through a forest, and battle some monster—where being disabled isn’t their main conflict. Their disability isn’t magically cured. They’re just disabled and happen to be in a fantasy world. 

What’s the most fulfilling part about being on the INCLUDAS team?

 I’m really excited to help promote books through this space because I love doing that on my own time, so bringing those skills in-house is super exciting for me. I love providing for books in any way I can, so being able to read these books and then help introduce them to the world is such a great role for me. 

Any advice for those wanting to work in the publishing industry?

Seek out any opportunity you can because you never know what opportunities in publishing there are until you look for them or ask about them yourself. My friend actually went to the BookTalk panel with Madison spoke on, and she let me know about this house that was run by disabled people for disabled stories. I found the application, and here I am. Everything will fall into place if you follow what you’re passionate about.

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