In the three years since the Affirm Press Kids list launched, the talented editorial team has published CBCA award-winning picture books and ABIA and Indie Book Award notables, among many others. Now we’re delighted to introduce Tash Besliev in the newly appointed role of Kids Publisher. Tash comes to Affirm Press with almost two decades of experience in children’s publishing which has included key roles such as Managing Director of Hardie Grant Egmont and CEO of Bonnier Publishing Australia. Let’s find out what makes this new Affirm Presser tick.
How did you get into book publishing?
I’d planned on becoming a journalist but when I got an internship at a Melbourne newspaper it was apparent that I was not going to be one. You know that sinking feeling you get when you order an interesting ice cream flavour and even before that first lick you can just smell that this flavour is just not ‘you’? Well, I sobbed to my course coordinator of my wasted three years of study and she was generous enough to organise a second internship through a friend who worked at a publishing house. That’s how I ended up in the editorial department at Lothian Books. Long after my formal internship ended I was still ‘interning’ there, supporting my new publishing habit with a retail job. I had well and truly caught the book bug and a few months later got the first entry-level job I applied for at Blackwell Publishing Asia as a marketing assistant. My next job was with then start-up children’s publisher Hardie Grant Egmont as their marketing all-rounder in what was a three-person team. I worked every role in the business across 12 years, eventually leaving as MD. I moved on to CEO of Bonnier Publishing Australia before most recently getting to relive my start-up roots at Five Mile. And now, almost 20 years later, here I am happily at Affirm Press.
What attracted you to children’s publishing?
Initially it was nostalgia for my own bookish childhood. However I quickly learnt that my personal tastes and experiences with books as a kid in the 1990s had absolutely no bearing on my ability to be good at my job! In children’s publishing you are continually connecting with new audiences experiencing a vastly different childhood, tweendom and adolescence to your own. This is one of the reasons why I love working in children’s publishing – it’s an incredible challenge but also an amazing opportunity for constant learning. I genuinely see children’s publishing as the single most important category to future-proof the book industry: it’s our opportunity to broaden our audience and to encourage as many new readers as we possibly can.
How does your background in sales and marketing help you as a publisher?
I think my background in marketing has been the biggest influence on my publishing career. As a marketer my role was often as translator between editorial and sales teams and it was also my responsibility to know the audience of a book inside and out. The latter meant I got to read parenting magazines, attend toy fairs and be current with playground fads. The former meant it was my job to understand what the editorial team were creating and to position it in a way that the sales teams could make a clear case to booksellers about the audience and sales opportunities. Equally, when the sales team spotted hurdles to a book’s success, I had to relay that information back to the editorial team in a way that we could troubleshoot and manoeuvre a solution before publication. In my marketing-middle-man role I learnt that the experiences and opinions of everyone in the chain were valid and important and finding the right balance was always what delivered the best books. I maintain that understanding the audience and having an open dialogue between creative and operational teams is key to publishing the best books.
What do you look forward to most in your new role as Publisher of the Affirm Press Kids list?
I’m really excited to work with the incredible stable of authors and illustrators that have built the formative years of the Affirm Press Kids list and continue to be hugely important to our future. I’m also really looking forward to working with the Affirm Press team. A bit like that first whiff of the ice cream flavour, I knew within 15 minutes of meeting with Martin and Keiran, and later with Meg and Grace and the team, that I had found the right flavour for me. I have long admired the publishing, sales and marketing from afar so to get to work with this talented and committed bunch is going to be inspiring and fun.
What books did you love as a kid?
Argh! I read, love, eat ice cream and drink coffee the same way – in excess – so I have far too many to list! Some especially special books include: Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree series for its adventure, wonder and magic; Jill Murphy’s Large Family series which reflected my own family life; The Diary of Anne Frank which my Grade 5 teacher gifted me and which I re-read every year; The Baby-Sitter’s Club series which was my first taste of feminism and entrepreneurism; basically anything that John Marsden wrote, but especially the Tomorrow When the War Began series which first published while I was a teen just like Ellie and her friends; Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta; and finally a random book that my mum probably got through Reader’s Digest called Fact or Fallacy?, a rather large tome that covered a broad range of phenomena including spontaneous combustion, sinkholes and poltergeists that generally haunted my dreams and/or fuelled my hypochondria, but in any case was a book of particular obsession for me as a kid.
P.S. Sorry for talking about ice cream so much. I have been making and eating a lot of it in iso.