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She Ditched Her Traditional New York Publishing Gig For Her Dream Job In Seattle Doing What She Loves Most

Jeryl Brunner

For nearly two decades Sarah Gelman has united her passion with her profession. A devoted reader, she has dedicated her entire professional career to books.
Sarah GelmanCourtesy Amazon Book Review

In her job as Editorial Director of Amazon Books, the Seattle-based Gelman reads hundreds of books every year as she writes and curates selections for Amazon Book Review. She also interviews authors about their upcoming releases and provides book recommendations based on the season or cultural relevance. 

“It’s truly a dream to marry your passion with your career,” says Gelman. “For my whole team, there is nothing better than recommending a book that someone ends up loving, and especially re-igniting someone’s love for reading.” 

Some of Gelman’s earliest memories involve books. She vividly remembers the moment when reading clicked for her. Gelman was sitting on her parents’ bed and reading about Nan the Rat. She can also recall when she was reading Ramona and her Mother and truly understood all the words in a chapter book. “I set up a special reading nook on the floor of my closet so I could hide out and read,” she recalls. “Just like a character in a book I had recently read.”

Gelman didn’t consider books as a profession until her junior year in college when she was studying abroad at the University of Exeter. She discovered heartthrob Jamie Oliver, (aka “The Naked Chef”), signing books at a local store. Gelman stood in line for hours to get her book signed for her mother who is a passionate cook.

Just before reaching him, the woman who she now knows was his publicist cut off the line just before Gelman got to reach him. “Being a rule-breaking 20-year old, I ran around to the back of the bookstore and intercepted him as he was getting into his car,” says Gelman.

Oliver was incredibly kind, signed her book and even took a picture with her. “His publicist was horrified,” Gelman recalls. “That was the moment I started thinking about books as a career. I realized there were more ways to be a part of publishing than being an editor.” She also learned the importance of going after what you desire most.

After studying literature and creative writing at Kenyon college Gelman spent nearly a decade working as a book publicist at Random House before moving to Seattle to work at Amazon.

It was a big leap to leave New York and her publishing job to move to Seattle, where Gelman knew no one, to work for a tech company. “I wasn’t horribly unhappy at the time, but I realized that instead of living my life, my life was living me,” she says. “And for too long I thought someone else would make the decision for me. But I was single and it was just me, so I took a chance.” That chance turned out to be the best decision of her life. “Sure, it was scary and lonely at times. But I’ve never regretted it,” adds Gelman. “I am glad I had the trust in myself to make a big, risky decision.”

Since joining Amazon a decade ago Gelman has appeared on Good Morning America and has hosted Amazon Live conversations with Mindy Kaling, Chelsea Clinton and other notable authors.

Gelman and her team release a monthly feature, Best Books of the Month where they read hundreds of books and debate favorites for an overall Top Ten and create lists in many different categories. These lists feed into their Best Books of the Year So Far that comes out in June and the Best Books of the Year lists. They also plan coverage on books that can appear everywhere from the Amazon Book Review to video interviews on Amazon’s home page.

“Finding a hidden gem and sharing that with customers is one of my favorite parts of the job,” she says. “Barely a day goes by when I don’t stop to think about how lucky I am to be doing something that fills me with so much passion.”

Jeryl Brunner: How did you become an Amazon Book Editor? 

Sarah Gelman: I’m a lifelong reader who has dedicated my whole professional career to books. I studied literature and creative writing in college, and spent nearly a decade working as a book publicist at Random House before making a move to Seattle to work at Amazon. I think my background as a book publicist—and a devoted reader—gives me an interesting perspective on the way people become interested in books. I love making that connection with a reader.

Jeryl Brunner: What might surprise people about what you do? 

Sarah Gelman: To break it down to the most basic level, I am reading books with the goal of helping customers discover their next favorite book or author. The full team of editors take into consideration our own tastes and opinions, highlighting diverse and debut authors, and also what we know excites our customers.

 People are always surprised by how much the team reads. We read all the books we cover and recommend. When I interview an author for our Author Live at Amazon Live series, I try to read everything they’ve written, including their latest book and back catalog, and then dive into other interviews or any associated movies or shows. Research is key. The Amazon Live conversations are an hour-long interview, and I want to make sure the experience is great not only for our customers, but also for the author.

Jeryl Brunner: How do you determine what books to spotlight for Amazon Book Review?

Sarah Gelman: Is it something visceral? Do you have an inner compass when you know something is good? How do you know something is share-worthy? 

 Also, publishers are really great at flagging books they think specific editors will like. They know our taste and genre expertise. We also pay attention to trends. I try to put myself in the shoes of a customer. I think, will that jacket copy appeal to me? What about that jacket art?

Jeryl Brunner: What are some specific wow experiences you have had in your career, where you thought, I cannot believe I get to do this and get paid for it?

Sarah Gelman: I think this every time I get to read an advance copy of a book by an author I love. I’ve been doing virtual interviews for the Author Live at Amazon Live and it’s really surreal to be chatting with someone like Mindy Kaling from my living room, all while wearing slippers and having my dogs at my feet. Barely a day goes by when I don’t stop to think about how lucky I am to be doing something I’m so passionate about.

Jeryl Brunner: What advice would you tell your younger self? 

Sarah Gelman: I have so much advice for my younger self, starting with “don’t quit the soccer team.” But in terms of my career, I would tell my younger self to stop apologizing, keep asking for what you want and deserve and never turn down the chance to expand your network or hear someone else’s perspective.

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

New York City, NY

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