Julie Leung is an Associate Director of Marketing at Del Rey. She’s also the author of several children’s book! She answered a few questions via email for this interview.
What is your first memory of Star Wars?
I’m the strange unicorn whose first contact with the Star Wars universe was actually through the prequels. (You can blame growing up in a Chinese immigrant household for that.) I remember my local McDonald’s giving away themed medallions of some sort during the promotional lead-up to Episode I. I collected them because I thought they looked cool, having no idea what the movie was about. I still have them taped in a scrapbook somewhere.
Who are some of your favorite Star Wars characters and why are they your favorites?
My first favorite ever was Sabé, aka Padmé’s handmaiden played by Keira Knightley. Seeing as I watched Episode I before watching anything else Star Wars, I fell in absolute love with the costumes and mannerisms of Queen Amidala. Not Natalie Portman’s Amidala per se, but Keira Knightley’s portrayal as her decoy. I was eleven years old and obsessed with child rulers. More recently, I love Kelly Marie Tran and the character Rose. I’ve waited so long to see someone who looked like me in the franchise. I even have a Rose Tico necklace. Don’t think it’s made of Haysian steel however.
You’re currently the associate director of marketing at Del Rey. What was your journey to starting this position and can you explain what a typical day might look like for you?
I grew up on science-fiction fantasy mass market books and am no stranger to the Del Rey colophon on the spine of many favorites. When the marketing job was listed, a friend of mine who also works at the parent company, Penguin Random House, immediately sent it my way, saying I’d be perfect. And indeed, this is my dream job. I get to spend my days thinking of ways to reach the perfect reader for each of Del Rey’s titles — whether it’s coming up with advertising campaigns, tagline messaging, fun promotional ideas and partnerships. To me, it’s getting to play book matchmaker with the world.
What are some of the Star Wars titles you have worked on over the years?
I’ve gotten to work on every Del Rey Star Wars book since Summer 2016, and I would say that some of my most memorable publishing experiences came from 2017’s Thrawn by Timothy Zahn. Until that point, I did not really understand the sheer scale of this character’s significance. Seeing the massive reaction to the new book was my first glimpse at how deep fan passions can run, which can be both challenging and gratifying.
I believe you go to a lot of conventions on behalf of Del Rey. For people who don’t frequent conventions (sadly, all of us now!) what goes on at the Del Rey booth during the con?
I miss conventions so much! I like to think of our booths as book hype stations — where people can come by to meet authors and discover their next favorite reads. I prize these real-life opportunities to hand-sell our books and hear from readers directly about what they like and don’t like. As a marketer, I’m particularly interested in seeing what covers draw people to pick up a title and the kinds of questions they ask about our books. Plus, we always do tons of giveaways at our booth, with the simple philosophy that one good book has the potential to hook a reader for life.
What are some of your favorite Star Wars books?
I love Bloodline by Claudia Gray, Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse, and Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston. The protocols and the intrigue!
For Star Wars fans who haven’t read many Star Wars books – what do you recommend they start with?
I always like pointing to our From A Certain Point of View anthologies to give a new reader a sense of the sheer potential of Star Wars fiction could be.
For people who are interested in publishing and marketing – do you have any career advice?
Lots, haha. Practically speaking, knowing InDesign, Photoshop, and basic HTML will give you a big leg up over the average candidate. Largely speaking, don’t shy away from showcasing your passion projects as an example of your work. For instance, if you’re already taking cute photos of books for your Instagram or running parody Twitter/TikTok accounts, those are all applicable examples of your marketing creativity.
What Star Wars projects are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming years?
The High Republic series! It’s like a whole new area of the sand box has been opened.
You’re also a children’s book author. Can you share some of your books and what inspired their stories? Do you think you might ever write a Star Wars story?
Yes, by night, I write children’s books, most notably Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong and most recently The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee. These stories are my attempt to shine the spotlight on some incredible Asian Americans who have made huge contributions to this country. I generally like to keep some distance between my day job and my writing, but if I ever did a Star Wars story, I would want to write about Fennec Shand because I love Ming-Na Wen.
Can you share any projects you have coming up?
I have two more picture books that haven’t been announced yet. And I’m currently working on a middle-grade book set in the Tang Dynasty.