Product Spotlight
Mary Elizabeth Allen
Interview by Michael Ryan

As a child, Mary Elizabeth Allen thought she would be a veterinarian when she grew up. But she was also an avid reader who loved books and the written word. Now she's a "13th-level druid" and marketing manager of Wizards of the Coast's book publishing department. Clearly, one's childhood dreams can come true.

Just what does Mary Elizabeth do with that title? "I work on all of the product lines that fall under the publishing division," including novels, RPGs, miniatures, and Avalon Hill games, she explains. "I work closely with the marketing director to set marketing plans for the upcoming year's products and see that those plans are implemented. In doing so, I end up working with most of the departments in the company at one point or another, from production to sales." On any given day, Mary Elizabeth might meet with the advertising department about an upcoming campaign, brainstorm with the art director and R&D to concept the look of the next RPG cover, talk to an author about a project for the website, and have a conference call with her distributor in the book trade. "It's largely a matter of making sure we stick to the direction we want our brands and products to go and that we communicate to the fans and our business partners consistently and accurately." Additionally, she travels at least six to eight times a year for meetings or conventions.

Mary Elizabeth entered the publishing industry straight out of college. After double-majoring in British literature and German, she landed an entry-level job with a college textbook publisher. "Much to the delight of the career counselor at my college, I actually used both of my liberal arts degrees in my job," she says. She started off in the editorial department, then moved over to marketing -- a better fit for her energetic personality. She ended up working in both the English and foreign language divisions during that time. Her work in marketing brought her into contact with sales reps and sent her to conventions, experience that lent her insight into how the publishing industry operates -- knowledge that has proven useful at Wizards and helped her make the transition from marketing textbooks to marketing sci-fi and fantasy publications.

Of course, her knowledge of fantasy literature and the gaming industry in general didn't hurt either. "I've been a fan of fantasy literature since I was a kid," Mary Elizabeth says. (Her tastes are actually quite varied, ranging from Victorian novels to Richard Bach to nonfiction. "It all depends on the mood I'm in when I finish one book and am looking to pick up the next. I do confess that I usually have at least four books going at the same time. Crazy, but true.") Fantasy literature figured prominently in her pursuit of higher education. "I wrote my college thesis on heroic characters in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien," she says. "My husband then introduced me to TSR novels not long after we met, and I ended up reading scores of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels." She now splits her time between reading Wizards novels -- keeping up with storylines, authors, and so forth -- and reading other works.

Mary Elizabeth is certain that her familiarity with the company's novels actually helped her land her job with Wizards' book publishing department. "I was hired as the book department's liaison to the marketing division," she says. "They needed someone who understood the ins and outs of publishing and editorial issues to work with the marketing department and provide them with the information they needed to market our products." Of course, as most Wizards employees will testify, the initial job interview was unlike any she'd experienced before. "There were toys and cards everywhere," she remembers. "And I stood out like a sore thumb because I was wearing a suit."

As her third anniversary with Wizards approaches this spring, she considers her experiences with the company "a succession of great moments." From her first GenCon game fair to her first involvement with a Star Wars product, each project has contributed to a career she believes is fantastic. Others think so, too. "For example," she says, "I was coming home from the International Book Expo in Frankfurt, Germany, last year, and was sitting in the Frankfurt airport waiting for my flight. I ended up sitting next to a teenager from the U.S., and we got to talking. Turns out he played D&D! He nearly fell over when he found out where I worked and couldn't say enough about how much he loved playing. Of all the people in the airport to sit next to, I found a D&D fan. Pretty cool, in my opinion."

As for Wizards of the Coast itself, Mary Elizabeth thinks what sets the company apart is that everyone who works there "tries to put some fun into life. All of our products are created to entertain, and I think that fun tends to spill over into work. Even more, though, I work with an incredibly intelligent and dedicated group of people, and that creates a very vibrant place to work." But, she adds, it's not just the company; it's also the industry. "I think that being able to work on the products I work on and actually make a living at it is a huge bonus. I keep thinking that somebody's going to find out how cool my job is and send me back to working on mutual funds (eek!).

"Of course, the fact that I can wear whatever I want to work is great, too"

Currently, Mary Elizabeth is building the 2003 marketing plans for all of Wizards' various categories while simultaneously preparing sales conference materials for the company's book trade distributor and getting geared up for Winter Fantasy this month. Multitasking is, she says, just part of her role as marketing manager. "I think my biggest challenge is just time management," she admits. "With so many products to work on and the potential to do so many interesting things with each one, I find that I'm almost constantly behind! That being said, I think I'm most proud of seeing a product through from start to finish. When you start working on the concept for a new project, then get involved in the production, market that product, talk to fans about it, hold it in your hands for the first time, see the reviews. . . . When I'm involved from beginning to end on a product, and the fans like it and tell us so, that gives me a sense of accomplishment and the conviction that we're going in the right direction."

So then, is the job fun despite the stress of having so many projects going on at once? Mary Elizabeth is emphatic that almost everything about it is fun. "I work on games and books for a living with incredibly creative people, and regardless of how busy we are, we all still find time to engage in the occasional Chiclets-throwing battle or Nerf war," she points out.

And how does being a 13th-level druid fit into her career track? Well, Mary Elizabeth enjoys the outdoors (which, she says, makes living in the Pacific Northwest "ideal for my love of hiking and birdwatching"). But the truth is, her standing Wednesday night D&D game gives her a chance to summon dire bears on a regular basis -- perhaps not a childhood dream, but another wonderful part of her career path just the same.

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