Finding the Next Bestseller–Our April Alum of the Month

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IES Abroad
April 14, 2015

From television to publishing, Lisa Sharkey (Madrid, Summer 1979) has spent her entire career in the business of storytelling. A two-time Emmy Award winner, Lisa spent 27 years in television journalism—from CBS to Inside Edition to Senior Producer at ABC’s Good Morning America—before taking on her current role as Senior Vice President and Director of Creative Development at HarperCollins Publishers, where she oversees the acquisition and publication of primarily high-profile, nonfiction books.

Read on to see how Lisa’s study abroad experience has influenced her professional and personal life, from host student to becoming a host mother.

IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study in Madrid?
Lisa Sharkey:
I chose to study in Madrid as I was a Comparative Arts major and was a very strong Spanish student, having studied the language for nearly 10 years by the time my study abroad program came around. I have always loved speaking Spanish and my professor, Joseph Schraibman (who is still my close friend and is still teaching at Washington University in St. Louis) thought it would be the right program for me.

IES Abroad: Looking back, how did studying abroad influence you?
Personally, I have always enjoyed different cultures. I studied in Madrid during a very tense political time. I was 19-years-old and had lived on my own at college since the age of 16. While I was used to living away from home, I had never before lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time. My host, an elderly widow, did not speak a word of English. This was before the time of cell phones and the Internet so I was really forced to speak Spanish constantly. Once I realized I had been dreaming in Spanish, I knew I had come a long way in learning to speak conversational Spanish, even to myself. Living in a city where there was the constant threat of violence from Basque separatists was also unsettling and ultimately the seven months abroad turned into only three months abroad.

IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from studying abroad?
My most valuable lesson was how different we all are and yet how much we all have in common. An interesting anecdote about that lesson was that the woman that I lived with had never met a Jewish person before. The television series Holocaust had just been translated into Spanish and was airing on her television. While she watched, she was very emotional and had not realized all the horrors that had taken place during World War II. She was overcome with grief on my behalf. It was touching, and yet it made me realize how different cultures have such different perspectives on historic events, such as the genocide that took place during the Nazi reign of terror.

IES Abroad: How did you get your start in television and what led you to book publishing?
I got my start in television in St. Louis, Missouri, at KETC-TV, which was a public TV station just a short distance from Washington University. Eventually, I landed a job at WPIX-TV in New York City and worked my way into writing and producing positions at CBS, Fox, Inside Edition, and eventually as a senior producer at ABC's Good Morning America. But I always loved books and began working behind the scenes with authors to help their books become bestsellers, and it caught the attention of the then CEO of HarperCollins. We talked on and off for five years until eventually she offered me the position as SVP and Director of Creative Development.

IES Abroad: Tell us about your role at HarperCollins.
My role at HarperCollins Publishers is to acquire and oversee the publication of dozens of primarily high-profile, nonfiction books for all divisions of the company. My team has four editors and three television producers, as I also oversee the production of all videos promoting our books, which comes out to hundreds of videos a year.

IES Abroad: Walk us through the process of identification to publication.
Agents reach out to me many times a day with various book projects. I also run after news stories and hot celebrities and ideas and pursue them with my team, creating proposals to bring to perspective authors. That is a bit unusual for the book business, but my team enjoys this process. It is also a way for me to continue pursuing stories the way I did when I worked in TV news.

IES Abroad: You have overseen the acquisition of many bestsellers at HarperCollins. What story has touched you the most?
A couple of stories that I have worked on have touched me more than others due to the horrific nature of what the authors have gone through and the resilient way that they have lived their lives despite the awful circumstances of their childhoods. The books Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall; Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill; Out of Captivity by Keith Stansell, Mark Gonsalves, and Thomas Howes; and Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra are all first-person narratives told by incredible human beings who have risen up despite horrifying situations to inspire others. Their stories have moved me to tears and caused me to have such gratitude for my own life.

IES Abroad: What new releases you would recommend to those who love study abroad?
There are some very exciting books coming up I would recommend. The Journey Home by lifelong New York Yankee Jorge Posada is coming out in May simultaneously in English and in Spanish, so that brings me right back to my love of Spanish.

There is a book coming out in April called Ashley’s War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, which tells the story of the young women cultural support team members who fought in Afghanistan alongside the special ops warriors. First Lieut. Ashley White was killed in action on the front lines and this is the story of her life and the band of sisters with whom she trained and served. It is a particularly insightful, eye-opening, and never-before-told look at a side of war that most Americans are unaware of.

IES Abroad: Your family has hosted several students studying abroad in the United States. What has your family taken away from the experience?
I have three children, and my youngest daughter (who is 15 years old) has had three different sets of exchange students. This September, we had a 14-year old student from Valladolit, Spain who lived with us for three weeks. Although we were supposed to speak to her in only English I did take the opportunity to converse with her in Spanish which was so much fun. It has been a wonderful experience exposing our daughter and our family to these young students from other countries and cultures.

IES Abroad: What advice do you have for students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?
I think it's a great experience to see how people live in the rest of the world and to open your home to students from other places. As a parent, I think you can benefit from seeing the way other families live and raise their children. As a student, the more you can open your eyes to the rest of the world, the better chance you have of seeing what opportunities exist for you and how you can make a difference in the world.

Photo: Lisa's daugter, Casey (right) with exchange student fom Valladolit, Spain (left), holding the family dog, Carter.

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