“Wizard of community” and former queen of books on Tumblr, Rachel Fershleiser recently accepted a new position (effective June 20) as executive director of audience development at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In addition to helping make book culture thrive online, Rachel is both a tastemaker (check her Tumblr Book Club picks) and an advocate (check her involvement with organizations like the National Book Foundation, the Brooklyn Book Festival, Lit Hub, and Housing Works).
You coined the term “bookternet” and in a lot of ways you epitomize its greatest values. What’s been the most rewarding experience you’ve had with the online literary community? What’s been the most surprising?
Ha! I think it’s important I clarify that “bookternet” is more of a joke than a Term of Art. There’s only so many times you can say “The people who are big book nerds but also love Twitter and Tumblr and write about books and will show up at kooky readings and talk about your favorite writers and make a lot of dumb jokes about smart things” before you need a semi-ironic portmanteau. For a long time it felt like a lot of “serious readers” and publishing professionals disdained social media, and so defining yourself as someone who didn’t was more important. Now that that’s less true, maybe we can put ourselves out of business. But anyway, I love combining literary culture with online culture. It’s just talking about books! I’m so grateful to have a community of people I can talk to about any book at any time of day or night no matter where they live. I couldn’t have imagined that during my formative hiding-in-the-school-library-during lunch years.
What is it about the books you love that makes you go to bat for them? Why is repping great books important to you?
I tend to read a lot of debuts and a lot of books by women. I think it’s some combination of intention and natural inclination? My Tinyletter is mostly about Women Processing Their Shit books, and it’s fun to help younger women especially to find a book that’s really going to speak to the things they’re thinking about. Because you know what? Female friendship, love, ambition, fertility, sex, fear, growing up, life choices, that shit *is* the human condition. I certainly want to help people find the books I love in a sea of titles, but I also want to help them find the books they’ll love, even if our taste differs. A lot of the work I do is thinking about creative ways to find the ideal audience for every book, from a 700-page literary novel to Notorious RBG. Once you think more about drawing connections and less about having a megaphone, you’re basically a matchmaker. Then the work of marketing books becomes remarkably like helping people find what they’re looking for, and it feels great.
Rachel Fershleiser is one of the 100 most culturally influential people in Brooklyn, read more about Rachel and the other 99 people here.