• Those of you in the publishing world know, the business of printing and selling books is trying. At times, just surviving can be a feat. So when we come across someone who thrives in the world of publishing, we take notice. And when that same person takes on greater responsibilities carrying their passion and vision into selfless projects of altruism, we admire them. So here we inaugurate an occasional series of stories about those people.
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By Kate Travers
Lauren Cerand, an independent publicist based out of New York City, always seems to be a step ahead of the game. She started her self-taught, book-publicity business in 2004, with the auspicious landing of her very first client, author Bryan Keefer, on “The Daily Show” for his book, All the President’s Spin: George W. Bush, the Media and the Truth. This was in the not-so distant past, before publishers recognized that the show could really sell books — that publicity led the book to become a New York Times bestseller. A risk taker, Cerand also focused on what was then alternative media -– the online social network community, websites and bloggers. They were what she saw as a step away from standard print reviews and media coverage, as she says, they were the “dynamic response to the public looking for something progressive, edgier, and engaging.” She sensed the online community would be the next stage in public engagement, presentation, and dialogue -– and she was right.
In the years since then, Cerand has expanded the public relations landscape in many different areas. As she says, the consistent theme that unites all of her projects is that they are “dynamic, meaningful and relate to the way we live in culture now”. She goes places that most independent publicity heads don’t or won’t go: from being the curator for Barnes & Noble’s “Upstairs in the Square” author and musician series, to promoting indie bands like The Growlers and Japanther. You’ll recognize household names like Meg Cabot, whose PR and marketing strategy Cerand has helped develop for years. Cabot’s readership is ever expanding, but the running theme to her characters is that they are consistently strong, independent heroines –- it’s this same spirit that made me particularly aware of Cerand and what has driven me to write about her and her volunteer work with Girls Write Now.
Founded in 1998, Girls Write Now (GWN) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “provide guidance, support, and opportunities for New York City’s underserved and at-risk high school girls.” At the heart of the organization is the one-to-one mentoring program whereby GWN mentors –- a community of highly successful women writers – are matched with a young writer – their responsibility is to help these girls to “realize their writing potential, provide a safe and supportive environment where they can expand their talent, develop independent creative voices, and gain the confidence to make healthy school, career and life choices.” The numbers speak for themselves: For the past five seasons, 100% of seniors have been accepted into college. Over the past four years, the students have won a total of 63 Scholastic Writing Awards. In November 2009, Girls Write Now was named one of the organizations chosen for the Coming Up Taller Award, distinguishing it as one of the top 15 after-school programs in the country by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
Cerand became aware of Girls Write Now in 2004 at a reading she attended where one of the writers performing was a GWN mentor who told her about the organization. She immediately approached Maya Nussbaum, Founder and Director of the organization, with first, a check, and second, a question: “Why do I not already know about this organization?” Asked to be a member of the board of directors of GWN, Cerand immediately threw herself into her own mission to be an advocate for the organization, widening its visibility to the community at large.
Considering Cerand’s unconventional career background, her passion and call-to-arms energy makes sense. A graduate of Cornell University, Cerand’s first calling was Labor and Industrial relations. The stakes for success are, to say the least, much greater than in publishing; in the labor movement if you promote and advocate successfully for the organization, it changes the outlook of a community. It’s this same level of personal responsibility that Cerand brings to GWN. Nussbaum has said of Cerand that she is “always thinking of ways to reach out via creative, innovative means to fundraise.” One immediate change that Cerand brought about in the organization was the formulation of the CHAPTERS reading series, which had previously been on a small public stage. Taking place at The Center for Fiction, CHAPTERS is the public reading series where the GWN students and their mentors present their work. The series, curated by fellow board member Maud Newton, also features some heavyweight authors; for the 2010 spring alone, they had guests Lizzie Skurnick, Marie Mutsuki Mockett and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The spring season culminated with the publication of Where We Live, a companion anthology to the CHAPTERS reading series.
The CHAPTERS series and her work at Barnes and Noble, speaks to the way Cerand reaches to the community to create a dialogue; this infuses every project and client she chooses to take on.
In 1998, GWN was started by women who were hardly older than the girls they were on a mission to serve and was completely volunteer based until 2006. Today GWN has three full-time and two part-time staff members, a 10-member governing Board of Directors, and a 41-member Advisory Board and 150 active volunteers. Currently 55 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 participate in their Mentoring Program, while an additional 150 high school girls annually receive college and career preparation assistance through Girls College Bound, which includes college-essay clinics at Queens Public Library, seminars at GWN, and a College and Career Seminar in cooperation with Barnard College.
Today, Lauren Cerand is the Board Chair of Girls Write Now. Aside from the Chapters reading series, she has been an instrumental leader, raising both funds and awareness of the organization through their annual holiday drive — the Girls Write Now Holiday Soiree — which brought in $75,000 last year, to “Significant Objects”, an online literary fund raising project that recruits top creative writers to invent stories about thrift-store doodads, then sells the paired story-and-object on eBay — proceeds from 50 stories penned by a stellar lineup of contributors, such as Dara Horn, Heidi Julavits, and Rick Moody.
Cerand is clearly not someone who just joins a board and writes a check –- she’s the kind of dynamic, PR and media individual who uses her success and influence to support an organization that she believes in and thinks everyone should, too. Girls Write Now opens the door to education, support and mentorship for the girls who will become women, and who knows, we might soon have Lauren and Girls Write Now to thank for our next literary star.
Visit the website for Girls Write Now
DISCUSS: Who do you admire in publishing?