Associate Publisher, Choose Your Own Adventure Books
"Turn to page 17 if you want to follow the elf with the pick-axe onto the hot air balloon."
Being able to tell people you work for the Choose Your Own Adventure books, the popular children’s game books where the reader determines the main character’s outcome, is like telling people you’re an astronaut — it’s so effing cool! Associate Publisher Melissa Bounty knows that, which is why she always kept her eye on the prize. When the children’s books came back into print in 2005, the recent BFA grad wanted in. Melissa answered an ad to be an Office Manager with Choose Your Own Adventure, and eight years later, she’s now the Associate Publisher. In other words, she turned to page 21 and chose the path of persistence. (Bad joke. Sorry, had to.)
Let’s talk about college. I had an iffy relationship with college, because I was one of those people who just wanted to get it over with, but I had a number of good mentors who worked with me. I attended Hampshire College for a year, which was a no tests/no grades/no majors nontraditional school in Amherst, Mass.
When I was there I wanted, like any good Hampshire student, to combine all my interests: studies of horticulture and plant science with Being a Poet. I felt at odds with how expensive the school was and how disorganized it made me feel to have no structure, so I transferred to a tiny state college in northern Vermont, Johnson State College, where I received a BFA in Creative Writing. I picked Johnson State because they had a deal with my home state to offer in-state tuition rates for creative writing majors.
I walked in the door saying I wanted to be in and out as quickly and inexpensively as possible so I could get on with my life, but I ended up calming down and really enjoying college there. I made some professional contacts in the writing world, and I used the financial savings to study at the Aegean Center of the Arts on the Greek island of Paros. I did two writing/art residencies down the hill from the college at the Vermont Studio Center, where artists and writers do month-long retreats with professional mentors and work on independent projects. My professors were really nice about it—they would mail my exams to me down the hill to my little art studio and tell me to take my time sending them back.
I never gave up on the plants, either—I worked on flower farms all through college and interned with floral designers for events and weddings and specialty high-end cut flower growers.
What was your first job? I was the “page” at the library in my hometown when I was 15. I took the school bus there and put the books back on the shelves, and then my mom would pick me up when I was done. It was an extremely small library—there was a lot of shelf space devoted to Louis L’Amour. Each day after I left the head librarian would put yellow markers in where I had put a book in the wrong place, and when I went back the next day I’d have to re-shelf the misplaced books before I started on the new ones. (In no way did this job prepare me for publishing.)
I think I stopped reading or thinking for a brief period afterward. I would sometimes go to the bathroom and just freak out for a second before going back in—it was just so repetitive and silent. One of the older librarians was nice to me, but I don’t think the other ones liked their jobs/lives very much.
The job did prepare me for my next job, which was hard labor on a flower farm. After the library, the flower farm seemed like the most beautiful place in the world, even though I was digging ditches and picking nasty bits off geraniums with boys in the FFA program.
What about your worst job? Things pretty much only got better after the library, which is good. A man used to come in to the library who lived off the grid and I used to watch him “research” and think: maybe I can’t have a job. Maybe it is crushing my soul. Maybe I will have to live like he does.
What’s your dream job? I really think I have my dream job. There are times when I dream about being a writer or an artist, or owning my own company, and those things might happen sometime in my life. But for right now I like the security of having people to bounce ideas off of and provide direction and wouldn’t want to go solo. I like that I do really creative, interesting work in a malleable, sometimes wacky environment but there’s a team in place to pay the light bills and handle the taxes.
I know a lot of interesting, creative people in Vermont that run their own businesses and a lot of them work that way because they are very independent. My job’s kind of like a fun little houseboat. It’s little and funky and we all have our own roles, but I have no desire to be, like, a sea captain on a ship of one.
A job you would never want? I think I have a few grooves in me from working at a small company that might never go away. I am probably ruined forever from working in super-corporate America. Especially in sales. I’m a terrible liar. I dress kind of like [The Magic School Bus’] Ms. Frizzle, and I believe companies should have ethics and morals.
So, how did you get this job? I taught at a summer program through Johns Hopkins called Center for Talented Youth every summer in college, and my last summer I was in Los Angeles. I had just finished college in Vermont and I thought, “Excellent, I will find a job here in the cool world and never return.” I think I applied to 5-20 jobs a day that summer and I only applied to one in Vermont. I decided the only way I would move back is to work for Choose Your Own Adventure books.
They were in the very early stages of bringing the series back into print, so the infrastructure was new and things moved quickly. I answered an ad to be the Office Manager, had a telephone interview, flew back, drove four hours from my parents’ house up to Vermont to interview in person and signed a lease all in about a six-day period. It felt sort of cavalier at the time, and I had no idea it was going to wind up being the beginning of a huge career for me. I was soon promoted to Editorial Assistant and then to Managing Editor and then to the position I have today.
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