Meet the ABIA Rising Stars: Shalini Kunahlan
In recognition of the Australian Book Industry Awards’ (ABIA) inaugural Rising Star of the Year Award, Books+Publishing spoke to each of the five shortlisted nominees ahead of the winner’s announcement at the ABIA ceremony on 3 May.
In this instalment, we speak to Text marketing manager Shalini Kunahlan. Text sales director Kirsty Wilson describes Kunahlan as ‘an indie publishing powerhouse in the making’ in her nomination. ‘Shalini’s marketing expertise is comprehensive and deeply impressive, and her digital advertising and engagement skills are particularly strong,’ writes Wilson.
What are the top three things you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
I strongly believe that mistakes are important and that they teach you long-lasting lessons, even if they can be excruciating at the time. But I do wish that I had known to place greater faith in myself and to take more risks—for example, applying for funding and opportunities inside or outside the industry.
Last year, on the encouragement of a good friend, I successfully applied to attend the Commonwealth Bank Women in Focus conference. It was a brilliant experience that resulted in concrete outcomes: for example I have been working with the brilliant Julia Tsalis at the NSW Writers’ Centre to create a mentorship program for early-career Indigenous writers supported by Text. Saying yes to that opportunity made me want to stop placing barriers on who to approach and what I think I can achieve and do. I think there aren’t that many direct opportunities for marketing people within the publishing industry, so it really helps to think outside the box.
Having grown up elsewhere, I also wish I had read more Australian authors before working in the industry.
What has been your biggest achievement/proudest professional moment?
Well, being shortlisted alongside all the other incredible women for the ABIA Rising Star award is pretty amazing and inspiring. But seeing our authors and their books succeed is where I get my satisfaction and drive from everyday. Text is incredible at supporting its staff and giving us the space to participate and achieve. I’ve been a part of acquisitions and campaigns for books that have gone on to win major awards, as well as books that may have only sold 600 copies but resonated deeply with their readers. I shared an awkward hug with a bookseller once when they told me how much they loved Agota Kristof’s The Notebook Trilogy. Yes, you should read it too. Author Jesse Ball thinks it better than the Bible.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned on the job?
To speak up and back your decisions. Working at Text has taught me to put forward my opinion even if it is controversial or inconvenient. We are a small team so it’s very important that everyone exercises their voting rights, so to speak, and give voice to a perspective that only you might have evidence for. If it’s a terrible idea that should go nowhere your colleagues will let you know, but on occasion it can transform the destiny of a book.
What do you think this industry could do better?
I wish we had an award specific to the book industry and structures in place to improve wages and working conditions, such as overtime. I would also love to see an industry-wide mentorship program.
Where would you like to be in five (or 10, or 20) years’ time? And what do you hope the industry will look like then?
I would love to be working with books and have a greater focus on social justice outcomes. In the future, I hope that the industry is able to come closer to addressing some of what I mentioned above and is more culturally diverse as a whole. It’s so very important to have different voices influencing the production of books.