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Student Spotlight

Leah Szepesi


Bachelor of Arts - English (Class of 2016)


Favourite Book?
“Gemina” by Amie Kaufman –the production value put into both the audiobook and physical book is incredible!

Favourite Course?

My favourite course was my capstone seminar on travel memoirs with Professor Naghibi. Getting to learn in a small, discussion-based setting was an amazing experience!

This is your second spotlight on the website! Previously you worked for Ampersand Inc., a book sales group, now you work for Firefly Books. What was your route from after graduation to where you are now?

In the Spring/Summer semesters between my Fall/Winter undergraduate semesters, I took Publishing Certificate courses and completed a sales internship at EduCan Media which allowed me to graduate in 2016 with my BA Honours in English and my Publishing Certificate as well as some job experience.

I took up the part-time, 8-month contract position as Sales Coordinator at Ampersand a few months before graduation. My next position was a six month contract as the Library Sales Coordinator at Thomas Allen & Son, a book distributor. That was where I fell in love with library sales. When that contract began to wind down, I began searching for a permanent position.

I had my final day at Thomas Allen on a Friday, moved to Markham that weekend, bought a car, and began my new job at Firefly Books as the Canadian Library Sales Associate on the Monday! It was a big adjustment, but I can say with confidence that it has been an amazing experience as I near the end of my first year with Firefly.

What does your new position involve?

I am the Canadian Library and Educational Sales Associate at Firefly Books, which means I am responsible for selling Firefly’s book list to every library in Canada. My core role is to sell books by understanding what a buyer’s company or institution is looking for and directing them to the titles on Firefly’s list that can fill their needs. I attend library shows, wholesaler events, takeaway displays, provide individual sales presentations, and do anything else I can think of to promote our books to libraries and schools!

Because my position also supports American library sales, I have also had the opportunity to travel not just around Canada, but also to Chicago, Phoenix, and California in the past nine months for different shows and conferences. It’s a very exciting and fulfilling position!

A recent book Firefly Books, but more specifically YOU were selling was Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab. Can you give us a small pitch of the book?

This young adult graphic novel, written by Samya Kullab who is a Canadian journalist stationed in Lebanon, tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl named Amina. She is a brilliant young lady with big dreams, until her life is turned upside down and she goes from being a straight-A student to being a Syrian refugee living in poverty overnight. Her determination and strength see her through many difficult situations, and eventually she and her family arrive as refugees in Canada.

This book is written by someone who has seen the refugee crisis first hand in Lebanon and in Canada. Samya was not afraid to write a story that examines how Canada treats refugees and how it feels to be forced to leave your home for a strange new place. This book is full of uncomfortable truths presented in a visual format, and I think we could all benefit from reading and reflecting on Amina’s story.

School Library Journal, one of the most valued review companies in library sales, said that Escape from Syria is “In league with Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, [and] a must-purchase”. I think those comparisons speak for themselves!

For more information, I spearheaded a short film documentary that introduces readers to the author, editor, and basic concept of the book:

What made you want to go into book publishing and distribution?

The obvious answer is that I love books, but more than that, I love selling something that I believe in. Promoting books that are authentic, accurate, educational, and enjoyable is something that I’m very passionate about. I’m also extremely extroverted, so having a job where I get paid to talk about amazing books is the ideal fit for me!

Any tips for someone who wants to follow a similar path?

1) Be confident. Apply for that job –even if you don’t check every box on their list. If you can offer the key strengths an employer is looking for, they may be willing to train you.

2) Write a great cover letter that shows specific knowledge of the company and their books. Give them a reason to want to interview you!

3) Know your value. Focus on what skills you, as a recent graduate, can bring to the table that more experienced but also further removed candidates can’t offer. These will probably be digital skills.

4) Be honest. If you don’t know how to do something, spend your time learning about it, not lying about it. These are some of the skills you can learn to make your resume stand out in publishing: Excel (not just the basics), Indesign, Photoshop, Social Media, Mail Chimp, Survey Monkey, Wordpress, Bookmanager, Catalist, and HTML/other website design skills.

5) Be proactive. Take the publishing certificate program, take on internships, check the Quill & Quire job board regularly for opportunities, and be prepared to jump right in! In the publishing industry, most people go through several unpaid internships and contract positions before landing a permanent job. This means you need to think about living expenses and job applications 1-2 months before your current position is over.

6) Be responsible. I cannot stress this enough –things are going to go wrong, and if you were in charge, you are going to get blamed, even when you couldn’t have prevented the situation! Take responsibility anyways and focus on fixing the problem instead of wasting time figuring out whose “fault” it was. Being known as a responsible person will benefit your career greatly!

7) Be respectful. Publishing is a small industry and negative gossip is not what you want to be known for.

How does an English degree help you with your career (other than the writing aspect)?
Ryerson employs some seriously brilliant professors, and talking to them during their office hours made me a more articulate and well-rounded employee. I think I learned just as many career-relevant skills in my Professor’s lectures as I did talking to my Professor’s outside of class!

Best of all, the English department at Ryerson entertained my very first successful sales pitch –I wanted them to run a fourth year independent project course, and we made it happen! It was the experience of working with various English professors, the student union, and making (several) passionate requests that eventually led to my success. The thrill of making a pitch and having it go through solidified my belief that sales was the right career for me, and I am extremely grateful to the Ryerson English department for getting me where I am today.


Alumni - Class of 2016 - Canadian Library and Educational Sales Associate at Firefly Books