When Hannah Braaten ’11 graduated with a degree in English, she thought a career in publishing might be for her. Now an editor at St. Martin’s Press, she has taken a turn toward stardom with one of her latest projects, Queer Eye star Tan France’s newly published memoir, Naturally Tan.
France chronicles his rise from awkward kid growing up in Yorkshire, England, to fashion expert to television superstar.
Here, Braaten dishes about what it’s like working with Queer Eye’s fashion guru and how she found her way into the publishing industry.
Q: How did you get involved with Tan France’s book project, and what was your role?
Hannah Braaten: I got involved the usual way: His book agent reached out to me and asked if I was a Queer Eye fan. The whole office had been 100 percent abuzz about this amazing new show on Netflix, so I was super excited to hear Tan wanted to write a book. After I fell off my chair in excitement and begged my bosses to let me acquire it, I got the go-ahead to make an offer that would let me take the project off the table before any other publishers got a chance to bid on the book. That was really exciting.
Q: Tell us a little bit about working with Tan. What would people be surprised to know about him?
Braaten: Tan’s a dream! He was lovely to work with—he is so busy with so many projects that I don’t know how he does it all. You can read the book to find out some surprising facts about him!
Q: What was your editor-writer relationship like?
Braaten: He worked with a co-writer, so the two of them went off and did their thing for a few months, then at the end they sent me a manuscript to read and edit. We went back and forth a few times—there were some places I asked them to add more, but overall it was a smooth process. The book was published just over a year from the day I acquired it, which is super-fast. The publication time of a book is often two-plus years.
Q: What was the best part of this experience? What did you learn from him?
Braaten: The best part was getting to work with someone who represents and espouses the values that I really care about and want the world to hear! Tan’s story proves so much that representation matters, and I’m honored I got to help him amplify his message. There aren’t enough people out there on TV who look like Tan, and he’s doing so much to squash stereotypes and break down false preconceptions.
There was a moment when I was in the green room at the 92nd Street Y for one of his launch events—I was sitting there chatting with Tan and Antoni [Porowski] (whose assistant is also a Wellesley alumna!), and I thought to myself, “Wow. This is weird. I’m talking to two people I’ve spent a bunch of time watching on my TV...” And then when the book hit the New York Times bestseller list, that was a great feeling. A lot of hard work paid off.
Q: What made you pursue publishing?
Braaten: When I first showed up at Wellesley, I was positive I’d be a poli sci major. But then I took a class with Dan Chiasson, and had an aha! moment that maybe I should be an English major. When I took my first class with Lisa Rodensky, my fate was sealed. After graduating, I attended the Columbia Publishing Course, and I was hired as an assistant at St. Martin’s Press not long after the course ended.
Q: What advice would you give Wellesley students looking to break into the publishing industry?
Braaten: You (obviously) have to love books. Like, so much that you’ll be OK when they break your heart in a million different ways.
The pay is heartbreakingly low, and I’m not sure how anyone with student loans can afford to do it, but somehow people make it work.
If you actually want to be a writer, not an editor, it’s not a great gig—you end up spending all your time working on other people’s books, instead of your own.
What an editor is looking for when hiring an assistant (the entry-level position in the industry) is personality compatibility, a cheerful willingness to learn, and a passion for books. You don’t have to know everything about how the industry works, because nearly all of that is learned on the job; it’s very much like an apprenticeship. When you go for an interview, you should have read at least a handful of current books—they will ask you what you’ve read lately, and it’s a mistake to tell them you just loved Jane Eyre! I mean, I love that book too, but in this industry, you have to stay on top of what’s coming out now, not what was popular a hundred-plus years ago.
Q: What can we expect from Queer Eye season four? Any insights or spoilers you are willing to share? (Only if you can!)
Braaten: I know nothing other than it’s going to be amazing! Tan tells me the Japan episodes are some of the best they’ve ever made. (I do get to know some details ahead of time, but not many—Tan is a very good secret keeper!)
Photo: Tan France (left) and Hannah Braaten ’11 (right) take a selfie during a cover shoot for his new book, Naturally Tan.
With reporting by Maggie Olmsted ’21.
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